Borley Rectory in brief

copyright © 1995 by Vincent O'Neil

nun Why does an alleged haunting from decades ago still enchant and draw so much attention? It might be because Borley offers so many different attractions. It had romance, mystery, intrigue, and even rumours of more than one murder. To top it off, Borley offered every type of phenomena associated with hauntings. It had poltergeists, seances, apports, voices, footsteps, choirs singing, and a sad little nun. The only thing it didn't have was dragging chains, but it made up for that with a rare exhibit of wall writings. It was truly a case of "something for everyone."

Some people believe Borley Rectory was fated to be a haunted house from the start. The rectory was built by the Reverend Henry Bull in 1863, but the church at Borley dates back much further. A.C. Henning, the rector in 1936, discovered that the Doomsday Book told of a Borley Manor prior to 1066, so he concluded a wooden church was probably also built around that time.

Depending on which story is believed, in 1362 Benedictine Monks built a monastery on the site which would later hold the rectory. Legend told of a monk from the monastery eloping with a nun from the Bures nunnery, some seven miles to the southeast. A friend of the monk was to drive the getaway carriage. They were caught - the monk hanged, and the nun bricked up alive in the walls of the nunnery. Tunnels supposedly connected the two locations.

Reverend Henry Dawson Ellis Bull became rector of Borley in 1862. He built a large, brick building the next year. Bull added a new wing to the already rambling building in 1875. He and his wife, Caroline Sarah Foyster, eventually had fourteen children.

P. Shaw Jeffrey witnessed stone throwing and "other poltergeist activity" during his visits in about 1885. This marks the first reported paranormal activity at Borley Rectory.

Other unexplained events are scattered throughout the early years of the rectory.
A former headmaster of Colchester Royal Grammar School said he saw a nun several times about 1885-86. In 1886, a nursemaid by the name of Mrs. E. Byford left the rectory because of ghostly footsteps.

Henry Bull died in the Blue Room of the rectory May 7, 1892. He was succeeded by his son, also named Henry. The younger Bull was named "Harry" to avoid confusion with his father. A nickname for Henry had supposedly been "Carlos." That nickname later became part of the Borley Legend.

On July 28, 1900, three Bull daughters reportedly saw a figure on a path called the "Nuns Walk" to the rear of the rectory. They recruited a fourth sister to help greet the stranger, but the apparition disappeared.

On June 9, 1927 Harry died in the "Blue Room" of the rectory. Earlier, he had said he had "communications with spirits," and that he would throw moth balls after his death. The rectory stood empty for several months. During the autumn of 1927, and while it was still empty, a local carpenter named Fred Cartwright said he saw a nun four separate times by the gate.

Then, on October 2, 1928, Reverend Guy Eric Smith and his wife moved to Borley. Soon thereafter, he heard whispers and moans, including the words "Don't Carlos, don't." While living in the rectory, the Smiths apparently heard the loud ringing of the doorbell, noticed keys disappeared, experienced small pebbles being thrown, heard slippered footsteps, and noticed lights being turned on. A horse-drawn coach was also claimed to have been seen.

The Smiths contacted the Daily Mirror in June of 1929 asking for help. The newspaper, in turn, approached psychic investigator Harry Price. The Daily Mirror sent a reporter named C.V. Wall to the rectory June 10, resulting in the first published report of paranormal activity. Wall listened to the tales of the Smiths, and saw a "mysterious light" in the window during his visit.

On June 12, Harry Price arrived at the rectory for the first time, accompanied by his secretary, Miss Lucie Kaye, and by the reporter. New phenomena included the throwing of stones and other objects, and the appearance of "apports." Wall said he saw the nun.

Price returned for a second visit June 27. Various phenomena were reported, including the appearance of a Catholic medallion and other articles. There was also incessant bell ringing. Despite all that happened to them, years later Mrs. Smith wrote a letter to the Church Times saying the house was not haunted. In his book, Poltergeist, supernatural researcher Colin Wilson guessed this letter "seems to have been a belated attempt to stem the flood of publicity that followed the Daily Mirror story." It didn't work.

By July 14, 1929, the Smiths moved out "owing to [the] lack of amenities and the nuisance created by the publicity." They moved to Long Medford and continued to conduct the parish. They wrote several letters to Price describing unusual events.

The Smiths left Borley altogether by April of 1930, and on October 16 of that year, Reverend Lionel Foyster, his wife Marianne, and their adopted daughter Adelaide moved in to Borley Rectory. Thus began the most famous period in poltergeist history. A period Henry Price referred to as "the most extraordinary and best documented case of haunting in the annals of psychical research."

apparition Indeed, Price estimated "that at least two thousand Poltergeist phenomena were experienced at the Rectory between October 1930 and October 1935." This was during the tenancy of Lionel and Marianne Foyster. In later years, Mrs. Foyster came up with explanations for how many of these paranormal events could have happened naturally. There were at least some phenomena she was never sure about, however, including various writings that appeared on the walls and on slips of paper that mysteriously appeared out of nowhere.

During the first fifteen months of their tenancy, Lionel described many unexplained happenings including; bell ringing, the appearance of Harry Bull, glass objects appearing out of nowhere and being dashed to the floor, books appearing, and many items being thrown, including pebbles and an iron. After an attempt at exorcism, Marianne was thrown out of bed several times.

Reverend Foyster and his pretty wife stayed precisely five years in the "Most Haunted House in England." Some have said it was the nightmares that chased the Foysters away from the huge rectory in Suffolk. Was it really the ghost of a nun or a headless coachman that drove them away?

Shortly after Lionel died, Marianne married an American G.I. and a year later left England for America. Before she left England and the memories of Borley Rectory, she adopted me as a "war baby." I never knew about the most haunted house in England until after my foster mother died at the end of 1992. I have now turned my full attention to studying this most famous paranormal site. My research has spanned three continents and several unpublished manuscripts and letters. I have been privileged to see documents not available to other researchers, and lived with the most famous resident of Borley longer than anyone else. This inquiry will continue until I have been able to piece together the entire mosaic of what really happened at Borley Rectory. My research has been compiled into several CD-ROM books.

Contrary to popular belief, the Foysters were not frightened away from Borley. They left only because Lionel's ill health made it impossible for him to continue his work. The Foyster incumbency has been attacked and even vilified from many angles. To eliminate the five year period they were in residence still leaves over 130 years of unexplained paranormal activity. In a 1938 letter to the BBC, Price admitted, "the Foysters play a very small part - so far as we are concerned - in the Borley story."

After the Foyster's left, the phenomena continued. Although the presence of Marianne seemed to precipitate the most paranormal activity, unexplained events occurred at Borley before and after the Foyster incumbency.

Price said "Every person who has resided in the rectory since it was built in 1863, and practically every person who has taken the trouble to investigate the alleged miracles' for himself, has sworn to incidents that can only be described as paranormal."

Nun and coach.  143K

Price had an opportunity to study the haunting further when no one could be found to live in the rectory. After leasing the empty building for a year, he advertised in the newspaper for unscientific investigators who would spend several nights in the abandoned building. The lease began in June of 1937, the eight-year anniversary of his first visit. Little - if any - poltergeist activity was witnessed during this year-long study. The most common occurrence was the movement of objects out of their documented locations, and the sounds of footsteps. A mysterious coat appeared, but no "sightings" were observed. Some witnesses felt a sudden chill outside the Blue Room, and certain parts of the house were consistently more cold than others.

After Price's study group left, the house was eventually purchased, but was shortly thereafter consumed in flames. The new tenant was stocking some bookcases February 27, 1939, when a lamp overturned. Witnesses watching the blaze spotted ghosts in the windows. The site was razed in 1944.

With the scores of witnesses and thousands of events taking place at Borley, could the place really be haunted? Ghost historian Peter Underwood said in his autobiography, No Common Task, "Ninety Eight percent of reported hauntings have a natural and mundane explanation, but it is the other two percent that have interested me." If only two percent of the alleged happenings at Borley during the five year Foyster incumbency were real, there were roughly 40 unexplained phenomena. Marianne tried to explain away most of them, but even she couldn't dismiss everything.

Price summed up the feelings of many about Borley when he told Eric Dingwall in 1946, "if you cut out the Foysters, the Bulls, the Smiths, etc., something still remains."

Indeed, to this date, something mysterious and unexplainable still remains in this remote country valley called Borley.

c. 25 Jan 2011, Vincent O'Neil