The Borley Legend: 1066-1930

To try and understand the Borley Legend, it helps to put things in some sort of chronological order. That isn't easy. Over the years covered by each story, facts and dates contradicted one another, and some events that are taken for gospel probably never really happened at all. The following chronology lists all available data - all the reported sightings and suggested causes - with no attempt made to verify authenticity. These incidents form the basis of the Borley legend.

Borley parish is tucked neatly inside a slight bulge in the northeast corner of Essex County, very close to Suffolk County. The nearest towns are Sudbury, a couple of miles to the east, and Long Melford, an equal distance to the north east. Both communities are in Suffolk County, and Borley has often been erroneously identified as a part of Suffolk. The parish nestles comfortably in the Stour River valley, just less than 60 miles from London.

1086 Domesday Book lists Borley Manor.

April 28, 1236 Peter de Cacheporc installed. Initial portion of the current church built.

1362 Benedictine Monks build a monastery on the site which would later hold the rectory. Edward III gives monks Borley manor.

13?? A monk from the monastery elopes with a nun from the Bures nunnery, some seven miles to the southeast. A friend of the monk drives the getaway carriage. All three caught - the monk is hanged, and the nun is bricked up alive in the walls of the nunnery. Tunnels connect the two locations. Alternate story has the nun falling in love with a coachman. He is aided during their elopement by a fellow coachman. The two men are beheaded, and the girl is walled up.

June 1, 1381 Local benefactor, Simon of Sudbury beheaded near Tower of London.

1500 A tower and brick porch are added to the church.

1538 Monastery abandoned, then destroyed.

1546 King Henry VIII grants Borley to Edward Waldegrave.

1553 Waldegrave knighted, later imprisoned. Disapproves of reformed services at Borley.

September 1, 1561 Waldegrave dies in the Tower of London. Returned to Borley for burial in a massive tomb inside the church.

1642 Civil War begins. Vicar John Deeks murders many people.

1645 Loyalist cavalier killed at Borley Lodge after escaping Battle of Naseby .

1655-1658 Oliver Cromwell, as Lord Protector, prohibits Anglican services. Catholic priest named either Dominic or Enoch falls in love with nun. She is murdered, he is crucified. While still alive, he is cut down by Cromwell's soldiers and hung upside down in a well. Cut down three days later, the body falls into well. The soldiers steal church valuables, kill many, burn cottages, and throw weighted bodies into nearby pond. [The Ghosts of Borley, Wesley Downes, p. 28.]

1656 Church records begin without indicating dedication.

May 17, 1667 Marie Lairre strangled and then buried at rectory site after she leaves convent at Le Havre to marry Charles Waldegrave.

1730 Henrietta Waldegrave, acting as spy for the British government, murders her daughter, Arabella - a spy for the Stuarts. Both are nuns. Nicholas Waldegrave murders Henrietta; this portion of story never told. (1)

1777 Map shows a "fairly wide road" crosses the present one.

17?? Two coachmen beheaded for murder at Borley Inn. [Downes, p. 25]

1807-1819 Small rectory built by Reverend Will. Herringham or Reverend John P. Herringham in 1819. William "had experiences" never documented. (2)

1819-1861 Ghosts of puritans and nuns seen but never documented. (3)

1836 Legend of nun traced back at least this far by Henning.

1841 Fire may have destroyed rectory. (Downes) Ivan Banks, p. 131 - ". . . a Rectory or chaplain's house. . . .existed before Borley Place was built, a house which now seems almost certain to have been PULLED DOWN to make way for Herringham's Rectory." p. 25 - ". . . the old Herringham rectory. . . .was DEMOLISHED to make way for Henry Bull's pile."

1861Gravestone. "In memory of John Philip Herringham - 42 years - Rector of this Parish - died 4th Dec: 1861 - Aged 72." Photo by Chris Wright, 1995.

1862 Reverend Henry Dawson Ellis Bull, a relative of the Waldegraves, becomes rector. Ancestor may be related to Anne Boleyn.

1863 Bull builds a large, brick building on the former rectory site.

18?? "Screaming girl" falls to death from window trying to escape attacker in "Blue Room." [MHH, Price, p. 33. The Enigma of Borley Rectory, Ivan Banks, chapter 22.]

1875 Bull adds a new wing to the already rambling building. He and his wife, Caroline Sarah Foyster, eventually have 14 children.

About 1885 P. Shaw Jeffrey witnesses stone throwing and "other poltergeist activity." First reported paranormal activity.

About 1885-86 Former headmaster of Colchester Royal Grammar School sees nun several times.

1886 Nursemaid Mrs. E. Byford leaves rectory because of ghostly footsteps.

May 7, 1892 Henry dies in the Blue Room of the rectory from syphilis. Is succeeded by his son, also named Henry. The younger Bull is named "Harry" to avoid confusion. A nickname for Henry had been "Carlos."

July 28, 1900 Three Bull daughters see a figure on Nuns Walk to the rear of the building. They recruit a fourth sister to help greet the stranger, but the nun disappears when approached.

November, 1900 Ethel Bull and a cook see the nun again.

Early 1900's Ethel Bull awakes suddenly and sees an old man standing by her bed. She also feels someone sitting on her bed.

1916-1919 Groom-gardener, Edward Cooper, see coach and horses. Mr. and Mrs. Cooper hear dog walking, and see nun "many times." They see a black shape in their bedroom.

1920 Harry Price becomes lifetime member of SPR.

1922 Harry Bull tells Mr. J. Harley he has "communications with sprits."

1926 Price forms his own organization for psychical research.

June 9, 1927 Harry dies in the Blue Room after saying he would throw moth balls after his death. Claimed he saw many ghosts. Rectory stands empty for several months.

Autumn, 1927 Fred Cartwright, a local carpenter, sees nun four separate times by the gate. Rectory empty.

1927-28 Twelve clergy refuse the position at Borley.

October 2, 1928 Reverend Guy Eric Smith and his wife move to Borley. They are not told it is "haunted."

1928-1929 Reverend Smith hears sibilant ['sh' sound] whisperings over his head outside his bedroom. Sounds abruptly cease "under the archway leading to the chapel." Repeated several times later.

Reverend Smith hears a woman's voice coming from the archway. It starts "with a moaning sound, gradually rising into a crescendo," and ends with: 'Don't Carlos, don't.'

Smiths hear loud ringing of doorbell, notice keys disappear, experience small pebbles being thrown, hear slippered footsteps, notice lights being turned on, see horse-drawn coach. Mrs. Smith finds skull of a young woman wrapped in paper. Reverend Smith buries it in the churchyard.

June, 1929 Smiths contact Daily Mirror asking for help. Newspaper contacts Harry Price.

June 10 Daily Mirror sends C.V. Wall, resulting in the first published report of paranormal activity. Wall sees "mysterious light" in the window.

June 12 Harry Price arrives at the rectory for the first time, accompanied by his secretary, Miss Lucie Kaye and Mr. Wall. New phenomena include throwing of stones and other objects, messages tapped out on a mirror, appearance of "apports." Wall sees nun.

June 12-13 Early morning seance in Blue Room with Harry Price, two Bull sisters, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Mr. Wall, and Lucie Kaye. Harry Bull appears. Soap jumps to the floor.

June 13 Suffolk and Essex Free Press tells about maid - Mary Pearson - who faints after seeing nun. She sees phantom coach on two occasions, and a headless man on another.

June 27 Price returns for a second visit. Various phenomena witnessed, including appearance of Catholic medallion and other articles. Incessant bell ringing.

1929 (?) Price and Miss Kaye stay over night. He volunteers to sleep in the Blue Room, and awakens Kaye in the middle of the night asking for a ride to the train station. Told there are no trains at that time, he manages to rest through the night. He was "so scared" she later wrote to Mrs. Cecil C. Baines.

July 5, 1929 Lord Charles Hope, Harry Price, and Miss Kaye visit, experience additional phenomena, including ringing of all the bells at once.

July 10 Smiths see small table in the Blue Room thrown across room.

July 12-14 Smiths move out "owing to [the] lack of amenities and the nuisance created by the publicity." Conduct parish from Long Medford, write several letters to Price describing unusual events.

July 25 Charles Sutton of Daily Mail visits with Price. Claims Price threw stones at him, but publisher won't print that part of the story.

July 28-29 Lord Hope, Miss Kaye, and others visit. Price ill and not able to attend.

August 7 Window opens although rectory is empty and locked.

April, 1930 Smiths leave Borley altogether, and for 17 months Price is supposedly not informed of any manifestations. Price apparently in area collecting information and interviewing Fred Cartwright.

October 16, 1930 Reverend Lionel Foyster, his wife Marianne, and their adopted daughter Adelaide move in to Borley Rectory.



1. Kemp, Paul. Private research as told to him by Waldegrave descendant.

2. Kemp, Paul. Private research. Described to him by granddaughter of Herringham maid.

3. Ibid.