Once Considered England’s Most Haunted Home
Phantom Coaches, Ghostly Nuns, Poltergeists, and Other Mysterious Phenomena
Borley Rectory was once said to be the most haunted place in England. The remains of Borley Rectory are located in Essex.
Borley was constructed in 1863, on the site of a previous rectory,Harry Price, England’s most famous ghost hunter, spent years investigating Borley Rectory starting in 1938. A séance at Borley was conducted on March 27th of that year, with Harry Price looking on. Through the medium, a spirit claimed that the rectory would catch fire and burn to the ground. Exactly eleven months to the day after this dire warning, an oil lamp unaccountably fell over in the hallway and the building became consumed with fire. The once proud Borley Rectory burned to the ground. At the time of the fire, credible witnesses present claimed to have seen ghostly figures roaming around on the grounds and through the flames and a nun’s face was seen peering down from an upper window. Today, hardly anything remains of Borley Rectory as it was completely demolished in 1944. There has been no serious documented ghost activity recorded on the grounds since then. However, visitors today claim paranormal activity is still seen, felt, and heard.
Later, Price’s investigation of Borley Rectory later went under severe scrutiny and some claimed he had hoaxed some of the phenomena he claimed to have recorded.
The first paranormal events at Borley Rectory reportedly occurred in about 1863. Local workers heard unexplained footsteps within the house at about that time. On 28 July 1900, four daughters of the rector, Henry Dawson Ellis Bull, saw what they thought was the ghost of a nun at twilight, about 40 yards (37 m) from the house; they tried to talk to it, but it disappeared as they got closer. The local organist, Ernest Ambrose later said that the family at the rectory were “very convinced that they had seen an apparition on several occasions”. Various people claimed to have witnessed a variety of puzzling incidents, such as a phantom coach driven by two headless horsemen, during the next four decades. Bull died in 1892 and his son, the Reverend Henry (“Harry”) Foyster Bull, took over.
On 9 June 1928, Harry Bull died and the rectory again became vacant. In the following year, on 2 October, the Reverend Guy Eric Smith and his wife moved into the house. Soon after moving in, Smith’s wife, while cleaning out a cupboard, came across a brown paper package containing the skull of a young woman. Shortly after, the family reported a variety of incidents including the sounds of servant bells ringing despite their being disconnected, lights appearing in windows and unexplained footsteps. In addition, Smith’s wife believed she saw a horse-drawn carriage at night. The Smiths contacted the Daily Mirror asking to be put in touch with the Society for Psychical Research (SPR). On 10 June 1929 the newspaper sent a reporter, who promptly wrote the first in a series of articles detailing the mysteries of Borley. The paper also arranged for Harry Price, a paranormal researcher, to make his first visit to the house. He arrived on 12 June and immediately phenomena of a new kind appeared, such as the throwing of stones, a vase and other objects. “Spirit messages” were tapped out from the frame of a mirror. As soon as Price left, these ceased. Smith’s wife later maintained that she already suspected Price, an expert conjurer, of falsifying the phenomena.
The Smiths left Borley on 14 July 1929 and the parish had some difficulty in finding a replacement. The following year the Reverend Lionel Algernon Foyster (1878–1945), a first cousin of the Bulls, and his wife Marianne (née Marianne Emily Rebecca Shaw) (1899–1992) moved into the rectory with their adopted daughter Adelaide, on 16 October 1930. Lionel Foyster wrote an account of strange incidents that occurred between the time the Foysters moved in and October 1935, which was sent to Harry Price. These included bell-ringing, windows shattering, throwing of stones and bottles, wall-writing and the locking of their daughter in a room with no key.
Marianne Foyster reported a whole range of poltergeist phenomena that included her being thrown from her bed. On one occasion, Adelaide was attacked by “something horrible”. Foyster tried twice to conduct an exorcism, but his efforts were fruitless; in the middle of the first exorcism, he was struck in the shoulder by a fist-size stone. Because of the publicity in the Daily Mirror, these incidents attracted the attention of several psychic researchers, who after investigation were unanimous in suspecting that they were caused, consciously or unconsciously, by Marianne Foyster. She later said that she felt that some of the incidents were caused by her husband in concert with one of the psychic researchers, but other events appeared to her to be genuine paranormal phenomena. She later admitted that she was having a sexual relationship with the lodger, Frank Pearless, and that she used paranormal explanations to cover up her liaisons.The Foysters left Borley in October 1935 as a result of Lionel Foyster’s ill health.
Although many now claim the hauntings reported at Borley Rectory were hoaxed, one might wonder why so many credible witnesses reported paranormal activity there. Although the hauntings have been mainly discredited, it is still touted by some as being England’s most haunted house.