Borley Rectory article
submitted to X-Factor Magazine
April 1999

"The X-FACTOR" has articles about cover - ups, the paranormal, mysteries and UFO's. It is published fortnightly.

Subj: Borley Rectory
Date: 4/19/1999 5:07:32 AM Mountain Daylight Time
From: (Spectrum Drama and Theatre Projects)

Dear Mr. O'Neil,

I am writing an article for the "X Factor" magazine on the history of Borley Rectory and was wondering whether you would be willing to help me. I was given your name by the Society for Psychic Research and also found your very extensive website.

For me Borley Rectory has been a mystery all my life in that it was probably one of the first located "ghost stories" that I can ever remember being told about. I was very disheartened then when I discovered the 1950's book "The Haunting of Borley Rectory" which seemed to dismiss outright everything I'd been told.

The intention of my article is therefore to relate the story behind Borley and it's hauntings and to demonstrate an open mind to all events. I agree totally with what you say on your web page that 300 witnesses to paranormal events can't all have been lying or colluded to maintain the legend. There must be something there.

The magazine likes to feature small sections from witnesses or people related to those involved in incidents and when I found your fascinating story I hoped that you may be able to help.

A lot of what I wanted to ask I have found on your website but I was wondering if you would be willing to answer the following questions, in a few brief sentences, in order that I could include your answers. (Unfortunately I can't pay you anything for your contribution but I will include a name check for your book and site in order that you may get some recognition.)

Some of these questions I know are answered on your webpage but it would be great to have the answers from yourself. I have to also be balanced and I apologise if one or two questions may sound a little harsh. If incidentally there is anything else that you would like to point out then please feel free to comment.

I hope that you can help and look forward to hearing from you.
John Bassett

Subj: Re: Borley Rectory
Date: 5/9/1999 6:20:42 AM Mountain Daylight Time
From: (Spectrum Drama and Theatre Projects)
Here it is at last!

Borley Rectory
The Most Haunted House In Britain

by John Bassett
"July 28, 1900. Ethel, Freda and Mabel Bull were returning home from a garden party. The sun had not yet set. As they entered the Rectory, all three saw a female figure, with bowed head, dressed entirely in black with the garb of a nun. The figure was slowly gliding - rather than walking - along the Nun's Walk towards the stream. They stopped and watched her. One of the girls ran to fetch their other sister Elsie. Seeing the figure she said "A ghost? Oh , what nonsense, I'll go and speak to it!". She began to run across the lawn but suddenly stopped as the figure turned towards her. Elsie saw the intense grief on it's face before the figure slowly vanished."

The Legends of Borley

Borley Rectory was built in 1862 by the Rev. Henry Bull as a home for him and his family but it was not until 1929 that the Rectory gained its notoriety as the "Most Haunted House In England". A journalist from the Daily Mirror, Mr. Wall wrote of "ghostly figures of headless coachmen and a nun seen driving an old-time coach drawn by two horses and dragging footsteps in empty rooms".
He invited leading psychic investigator Harry Price to study the phenomena. At the time the rectory was home to the Rev. Guy Smith and his wife. They had moved in in 1928 following the death of the previous Rector Harry Bull, son of Henry Bull. Both the Rev. Bulls died in a room which was to feature prominently in the haunting of the rectory known as the Blue Room.
At the time when Price became involved the rectory was occupied by the Rev. Smith and his wife. Shortly after moving in they heard voices near the Blue Room saying the phrase "Don't Carlos, don't." "Carlos" was apparently a nickname for Henry Bull. They also experienced poltergeist activity with bells in the house ringing of their own accord, pebbles being thrown and keys disappearing. As well as this a mysterious light was seen coming from a room which was unoccupied and the phantom nun had been seen by two of the Smiths maids.
The ghostly nun featured at the centre of a local legend dating back to the 14th century. A local nun had fallen in love with a monk from a Benedictine monastery. The couple decided to relinquish their vows and elope. A friend of the monk was to drive their getaway coach. Before they could make their escape they were caught. The monk was hanged and the nun bricked up alive. When Price retold the legend as a possible source for the ghostly apparitions many disagreed. Coaches, they claimed were not invented until the 16th century and the bricking up of nuns was not regular punishment. This did not deter Harry Price and he started an investigation into the building which was to last for over 10 years. In 1929 the Smiths moved out of the rectory, not because of the ghosts but because the building had no running water and poor sanitation.

"Marianne. please help get"

A year later in 1930 the rectory was taken over by Rev. Foyster and his wife Marianne. The Reverend was a lot older than his wife and suffered from rheumatism. Almost immediately they moved in the activity at the Rectory increased. Ghostly sightings gave way to an increase in poltergeist activity which included the throwing of stones and pebbles, the disappearance and reappearance of objects, floating knives and glasses, frantic ringing of the house bells, furniture was overturned and mysterious voices called out Marianne's name. Some times objects were thrown with great force and on a number of occasions Mrs. Foyster was injured by the flying objects.
In 1931 Harry Price returned to the Rectory to investigate the new phenomena. On his arrival he witnessed not only the frantic bell-ringing but a new phenomena where wine poured out into glasses turned into household ink. Doors mysteriously locked themselves when no keys were around and could only be re-opened by prayers being said. Much of the activity centred on the Blue Room which was Marianne's bedroom. It was also the room in which both Henry and Harry Bull had died. Rev. Foyster kept a diary of the events which include the following entries:
"March 11 Two Anglican priests go thoroughly over the house with Marianne and myself using incense, holy water and prayers. A presence of some sort is felt, but no active demonstration.
March 28 Marianne sees a monstrosity (seen by her and others on other occasions) near the kitchen door. It touches her shoulder with iron-like touch.
January 23 - 24 Spiritualists come with a medium and suggest spending the night in the house. Directly they came, throwing began. They go to get rest of their circle, leaving medium with us. Great demonstrations! Bottles dashed down back stairs; kitchen passage strewn with broken glass bells rang. Quieted down for a time, but racket again when rest of circle returned. Party stayed until 5 a.m. and left when belief that trouble had been arrested."

Perhaps one of the strangest phenomena at Borley were the appearance of messages written to Marianne. The first of these appeared on scraps of paper around the house but later messages appeared written on the walls. They were addressed directly to Marianne and included the request for "Light Mass Prayers". In an effort to find out what these messages meant Mrs. Foyster asked the spirits to tell her more. The replies that came were scribbled and indeciperable.
Lady Whitehouse and her nephew Richard Witehouse, friends of the Foysters, who lived nearby at Sudbury, also witnessed a number of the phenomena at Borley. Lady Whitehouse witnessed a fire which started in the skirting board of a locked room. Her nephew saw a number of the attacks on Mrs. Foyster in the Blue Room and was also present when the mysterious messages appeared on the wall. In his testimony about the events he stated that "an individual concealed in one of the rooms could have written it or, for that matter, Mrs. Foyster or I could have done so. So far as I know, this was not the case."
Rev. Foyster was plagued with ill health and in 1935 he retired and both he and his wife left the Rectory.

Harry Price takes over the Rectory

In October 1935 the Foyster's moved out of Borley and the Rectory remained empty until 1937 when Harry Price decided to rent the building to carry out further scientific investigation. Price was originally approached by a man who wanted him to "go halves" in turning the rectory into a "Home of Rest for Decayed Mediums" but the costs prohibited this happening.
Price advertised in the personal column of the Times for people who were not spiritualists to act as observers in the house and out of 200 applications he assembled a team of forty to help with the research. To each of these he gave a copy of "The Blue Book" , Price's guide on to how to carry out their research. This included instructions on everything from where phenomena could be seen to when to eat lunch.
All objects in the house were ringed with chalk in order to know whether they were moved and cameras and other recording equipment was provided for the observers.
Over the year in which the observations took place a number of objects were moved, including a bag of coal and various raps, taps and knocks were heard. More wall markings appeared including a letter "M" which observers claimed appeared before their eyes. Of Price's 40 independent observers only a few had no paranormal experiences.

Borley burns

In March 1938, Helen Glanville the daughter of one of Price's investigators was experimenting with a planchette (a device for contacting the spirits). She recieved a message saying that "Sunex Amures and one of his men meant to burn down the rectory at 9 o'clock to end the hauntings." It took eleven months for the prophecy to come true and in February 1939 the rectory did catch fire. It was owned at the time by a Captain Gregson who explained how the fire had been caused by "a pile of books falling over onto a lamp and upsetting it". As attempts were made to extinguish the fire a figure was seen by a number of on-lookers of a crying woman in an upper window calling out for help. This figure had been seen on a few occasions before. When asked Captain Gregson explained that there were no women in the house, just himself and his two sons all of whom were safe.
The same figure was seen a month later by a group of who wanted to visit the ruined rectory. They had come hoping to see the nun but were surprised instead to see a girl in a light blue dress at the front of the house on the first floor. When they examined the area they realised that the floor had been destroyed and that no-one could have stood where they had seen the figure.

The Sceptics

In 1955, Eric J. Dingwall, Kathleen M. Goldney and Trevor H. Hall were invited by the Council of the Society for Psychical Research to examine the rectory hauntings and Harry Price's involvement in the case. They interviewed witnesses and published their results in a book "The Haunting of Borley Rectory". In their detailed report they set out using interviews to dismantle the Borley legend piece by piece.
Their conclusions were that most of the happenings at the rectory could be explained away, either as natural occurrences or as fraudulent acts. The two people they accused most of fraud are Marianne Foyster and Harry Price himself.
A maid who worked in the house claimed that she saw Price throw the mysterious coin that had "materialised" and that to get him back she threw some sugar. Mrs. Smith, the Rev. Smith's wife dismissed many of Price's claims for the hauntings attributing the bell ringing and footsteps to rats scurrying about and knocking the bell wires. Harry Price in the "Most Haunted House in England" says that in all his time at the rectory he never saw one rat. Mrs. Smith when interviewed by Dingwall, Goldney and Hall claims that she saw many large rats in the house. When the wine turned into ink a guest at the house told Mrs. Smith that "all this could be done by a clever man" but no-one ever accused Harry Price of anything whilst he was present because "He wasn't a man they would like to offend".
Of all the residents of Borley Marianne Foyster is the one who the three authors blame most for events at the rectory. The implications are that this young woman with her older ailing husband didn't want to live in the "uncomfortable" house, that she was having an affair and that the poltergeist experiences were created by her as an excuse not to stay in the house.
The writing of the wall messages they claim is very similar to the handwriting of Mrs. Foyster and objects seem to be overturned and thrown, only when Mrs. Foyster was on her own. They dismiss other witnesses by saying that: "The influence of suggestion on haunted houses cannot be exaggerated. In every house sounds are heard and trivial incidents occur which are of no importance. But once the suggestion of the abnormal is put forward and accepted then these incidents become part of the "haunt."

Borley now

Since the fire the number of sightings at the Rectory diminished rapidly. A number of sightseers to Borley claim to have witnessed strange phenomena including flying bricks and Harry Price himself in the local graveyard. The villagers of Borley has never liked the attention received from the hauntings and has become almost like a prison trying to keep people out.

Case Notes

  • Harry Price - Born in 1881, Harry Price became known as the leading psychic investigator of his day. As Founder and Director of the National Laboratory of Psychical research, much of his work was carried out investigating mediums and assessing their claims. He tried wherever possible to take a strictly scientific approach to this research work, putting in place a number of controls to detect fraud. He devised a number of pieces of equipment for use in this work and for cases such as Borley had his own "ghost-hunting kit" which included such items as "felt overshoes for creeping, unheard about the house", lead post-office seals, cameras and portable telephones. By today's standards many of these items were very basic. Amongst his most famous cases are those of Rudi Schneider, a medium who he worked with for a number of years and felt to be genuine and the famous ectoplasm producing medium Helen Duncan who he felt was a fraud.
    Borley Rectory became his most famous case and he spent many years of his life researching and writing about the haunted building. He died in 1948 but is believed to haunt the graveyard near the rectory having passed a message on to clairvoyant Lilian Bailey saying "The rectory is definitely haunted. Borley will prove itself and I will be vindicated, even if I have to go there and manifest myself."
  • Vincent O'Neil - O'Neil discovered after his adopted mother's death that she was none other that the Marianne Foyster of Borley Rectory. He has made extensive investigations into the rectory and written a number of books including "Borley Rectory - The Ghosts That Will Not Die". The X Factor spoke to him about his mother:
    Q - As Marianne Foyster's son, how do you feel when people like the authors of 'Haunting of Borley' try to discredit your mother's story?
    A - Trevor Hall was a mean spirited person who attacked people, not phenomena. Sceptics like him are often overbearing, and not willing to examine all sides of an issue. Thank goodness for open-minded people like Peter Underwood and Ivan Banks who at least try to present both sides of the story.
    Q - Did your mother ever talk about her Borley experiences?
    A - Never
    Q- Do you feel she may have been a focus for paranormal activity?
    A - In that particular place and time, yes. Borley has a unique history and I believe she was sensitive to it.
    Q - Did anything paranormal ever happen to you when you live with Marianne?
    A - Ghosts are territorial. If there were any at Borley, they stayed there when we moved to the United States. We never lived in a haunted house in America. After my father died, my mother was literally haunted by him, telling me over and over "He's calling me. It's my turn next." We moved out of that house as quickly as possible, and she worked very hard at packing, etc. She was 82 at the time.
    Q - Have you ever experienced any sighting or paranormal phenomena at Borley or anywhere else?
    A - Not at Borley - I was way too nervous for any phenomena to present themselves if they had been there! While I was growing up, I wanted to "turn myself in" to some paranormal laboratory for psychic and telekinetic study, but I never followed through with the idea. There was some brief exploration while in college, and I believe I could have developed a latent psychic ability if I had concentrated on it.
    Q - In your book you compare the wall writings with your mother's signature. Do you think she may have been responsible for them?
    A - Initially I wondered about it, but after studying testimony I believe that she was not responsible - at least consciously. Many of the marks on the walls appeared when neither my mother nor Harry Price were present. Some appeared even as observers were watching.
    Q - Do you believe Harry Price faked some of the events at Borley?
    A - He may have thrown a pebble or two, but I am convinced he did nothing of a serious nature. I am not sure about turning wine into ink - I know my mother DIDN'T do that one. Too many creditable people have given testimony before and after the Harry Price visits as well as the Foyster tenancy for it to be all fraudulent.
    Q - From the reports you are gathering have the sightings at Borley diminished?
    A - They have diminished considerably which is understandable. The Rectory is gone, and over the decades any real ghosts would probably have moved on. None of the current residents have made any claims and they are more concerned about thoughtless tourists and vandals than they are about ghosts.
    Q - Do you think that some of the current sightings are just "wishful thinking"?
    A - Absolutely. Some - but not all.


    Much of what happened at Borley rectory happened over sixty years ago and relies on eye witness testimony of Harry Price and the other residents of the Rectory. Price in "The Most Haunted House In England" states that "No case in the annals of psychic research has been so fully documented." and goes on to say that in his time "100 witnesses" have experienced and recorded the happenings at Borley. "If half the number of these witnesses was eliminated, the evidence would still be sufficient".
    In answer to the question was Borley haunted Price answers "Yes, decidedly! It is difficult to put into cold print the enthusiasm with which I record the affirmation. But then the reader has not had a glass candlestick hurled at him from above when he knew there was no one above him to hurl it!"