Marianne Reveals More Borley Secrets
In 1977, Pauline Mitchell was a book reviewer and columnist for a local newspaper in Hamilton, Canada about 60 miles from Toronto. She had picked up a book on Borley, and been intrigued by it. She decided to track down Marianne, which she succeeded in doing - finding her at LaCrosse, Wisconsin. She thought it would be a good idea to try and write Marianne's version of the happenings, but having no knowledge of paranormal phenomena, nor of the background of the Borley story, she asked Iris Owen to help her in January of 1977.
Owen told me she "was fascinated that [Mitchell] had managed to find Marianne, and felt that history at least owed her a chance to tell her side of the story. Nobody had ever asked her what it was all about, and I felt a good deal of sympathy for her and the way she had been portrayed." So Pauline made the first contact.
"Marianne was shocked that she had been traced," Owen told me. "She thought it was all behind her. She had known of the things that had been said and written, and felt that everyone concerned was crazy to attach so much importance to something that she regarded as finished with long ago. We had to promise that we would not publish anything until she had died.
"The copy of the report we made was written in 1986. It was circulated privately to a few chosen individuals and investigators. It was never published. We all knew that Marianne was getting on in age, and we knew Trevor Hall was eagerly awaiting news of her death. I think it was Peter Underwood who wrote me that he had heard in 1986 that she had died. Pauline and I tried to verify this - she had left the home where she was working, and they told us they did not know of her whereabouts." (The information was erroneous. Marianne did not die until December 18, 1992.)
On acceptance of the conditions, Marianne agreed to tell Owen and Mitchell her story. Mitchell went to LaCrosse and interviewed her in a local hotel.
Marianne agreed to write and speak to the investigators on the telephone as and when she felt inclined. "She was really reluctant to speak." Owen remembered. "She felt it was all so long ago, and it was not important in her life and to her..."
"We did not make tape recordings," Owen told me. "Pauline and I both received letters, and sometimes just pages of recollections. She had a delightful way of writing - she made things come alive - and to me everything she said made sense. I completely believe that her version of what happened is the correct one." [Emphasis mine.]
"Their real concern at Borley was Lionel's health and their future," Owen continued. I believe Harry Price cheated him out of his manuscript - the original one - which [Lionel] was actually writing in the hope of producing a bestseller which would solve their financial problems. A great deal of the events at Borley bear a striking resemblance to what had happened at Amherst...Marianne had her gynecological operation in Amherst hospital... I also believe that operation made it impossible for Marianne to have further children...but she and Lionel were very fond of children."
Owen told me that Marianne's son Ian, "told Trevor Hall he had visited Borley at times, and on occasion had been outside and pulled the bells 'for a lark' and with Marianne's and Lionel's full knowledge."
Owen told me, "It is my firm belief that what Marianne told us was true. She was, in my opinion, a delightful person - witty, charming (everyone who knew her called her that), clever - but someone to whom life had dealt a hard hand. She did the best she could with the life she had and the circumstances she had to deal with. Both Pauline and I admired her tremendously, and I wish I had an opportunity to know her earlier."
In the fall of 1978, Owen and Mitchell were given a grant to research and publish Marianne's story. The same report was also sent to the Journal of the British Society for Psychical Research. The SPR version of the Owen/Mitchell report was published in September, 1979. The following are excerpts from the original work, including parts that did not appear in the SPR.
by Iris Owen and Pauline Mitchell
[Marianne said], I received a letter [in 1922] from Lionel Foyster, who said he was moving to a new parish named Drummond. I replied and sent a snapshot of myself and my aging grandmother. Lion quickly responded that I'd changed from the sweet child he'd christened. I wrote back, "Thanks a lot, I'm still a sweet person." This tickled Lionel and he began a daily correspondence. I began to reply to his letters telling him of the troubled times (I.R.A.). He told me of the pine forests, fireweed, golden maples, and the foreign born folk he lived among. The next thing he asked me to come to Canada and share his life.
I went to Canada, stayed nearly a month, then went through a ceremony of marriage with Lionel.
We returned to the old country for a vacation in 1924. We had a ball - we stayed with all [of] Lion's folks, and later went to my folks for a visit. Three months passed too quickly and we had to go back to Salmonhurst. Once on shipboard we were very glad to go home.
Lion had a bout of bronchitis, but not too bad, and before we knew it we were home at Salmonhurst. SURPRISE - during our absence the people had put a new furnace under the house for us. We were truly home. We were glad to have this wonderful addition to the house because New Brunswick winters were very cold. But hearts were warm.
That winter Lion produced a really nice children's operetta and everyone pitched in to make costumes. Lion worked like a dog - he was a good cleric - and never spared himself. If he had stayed home in cold weather it would have been better for him.
The next summer  we went to Prince Edward Island for a vacation. And then Lion had a heart attack while swimming - mild, but enough to warrant no more water sport. That winter he had a sudden onset of arthritis. Life wasn't so good after that. He knew we had to have lighter work, and began to enquire about a new parish.
[In 1930] Lion had the opportunity to become rector at Borley. He realized [there would be] no more Canadian winters for him, no more fighting the elements. I guess we both hated this part, for Canada had been good to us. We both worried about returning to a land we both knew had changed so much.
We sailed away to England after spending some time in Salmonhurst. Once in England, we went to Ireland for a short time, then we went to stay in private lodgings in Cornard Magna, quite near the Bull residence. We attended Cornard church which was high Anglican, and Lion really loved it.
We visited often at the Bulls and we were glad of this opportunity. The Bulls - first cousins of Lion's - were really delightfully different. We really liked them, and they liked us.
We visited Borley Rectory and supervised some of the alterations, or should I say renovations. We fell in love with the terrace garden, really a sort of elevated rock garden. There was a cedar tree with a round flower bed beneath it. Gerald Bull had started this bed many years before. It was lovely in the spring with scillas, gray hyacinths, snowdrops, crocus, and Star of Bethlehem. The narcissus and jonquils followed later.
The rooms inside were enormous. The floors we varnished [as well as] the front hall stairs. [It] really looked beautiful, but [it] was hard to keep up.
The rector's warden, Sir George Whitehouse, and Lady Whitehouse, called upon us immediately. He had been knighted for a bridge he had built in India. They were both plain people, kind and down to earth. They were avid gardeners and Sir George grew -------- which had to be seen to be believed. We met their sons, Langford and C'Bre, and visited Arthur Hall, their residence. We met their nephew, Edwin Whitehouse.
Edwin was a guest at Arthur Hall. He seemed to be at loose ends, having given up a teaching position, and was attempting to discover if he had a vocation. Edwin had been in World War I as a midshipman and this had apparently taken toll of his nerves. Lion liked him very much; so did I, for we found it pleasant to have someone friendly and uncritical to talk with.
[Our adopted daughter] Adelaide was lonely without other children. We answered an ad in the Times, and from this we acquired a little boy named Francois. He was a beautiful child, a few months younger than Adelaide, and we offered him a month's vacation. But long before that time was up, Lion and I adored him, and so did all who came in contact with him. [He had] big blue eyes and brown curls, and an ever present smile. He was a chubby lad.
At no time did his father pay us anything in the line of cash. The father, Francois d'Arles, visited him every weekend at first. He did some handy work around the place and was good about the garden.
Lionel's health deteriorated rather rapidly, and we were somewhat disconcerted by happenings taking place.
Of course the Foysters knew of the history of Borley before they took the living; as well as hearing all about it from the Bulls when they visited in 1924, and in 1926, they had met Mrs. Smith and heard from her at first hand of the Smith's experiences. (Marianne said she felt Mrs. Smith was confused, and felt that after being talked to by Harry Price, Mabel Smith did not know what to believe!)
Marianne's own attitude when they went there was that it was a "lot of tall stories," and she was impatient and annoyed at being stopped by the local people every time she "put her nose out of the door" to be asked for the latest. Probably Lionel Foyster got the idea of writing a book about a haunted rectory as a result of the intense interest of the local people - Marianne says he had the idea at an early stage. They were not happy with the villagers, and especially the local gentry (with the exception of the Whitehouses). The villagers thought they were too friendly with the wrong kind of people - the lower classes. Lionel Foyster, especially, was a man who was friendly to everybody; he fed the local tramps, and let them sleep in the outhouses; he loved children; he adopted stray dogs and cats, and kept an open house; doors were never locked, Marianne says.
The authors soon found there was no point in questioning Marianne about detailed events that were alleged to have happened, as she stated flatly that by far the majority were completely invented by Lionel, as part of his book. However, she stated that from time to time odd things would happen of a poltergeist nature, which would puzzle her, and which she did not think Lionel or anyone else was responsible for. Footsteps were heard when nobody really appeared to be around, and some of the things that happened when Edwin Whitehouse was present bothered her. She felt the wall writing originated in some way from him, although they would all "reply" to the comments and questions - she specifically said she herself wrote, as did Lionel and Ian, when he stayed with them on holiday. But now, all these years later, she seems reluctant to believe that anything was of a supernormal nature, and feels it was more likely that someone was playing tricks. She believes Harry Price performed a magic trick when he converted the wine, but does not accuse him of any other trickery.
One has to remember when talking to Marianne that the paramount concern in her life was Lionel Foyster's ill health, and the fact he would soon die and leave her unprovided for.
She still says she cannot understand why everybody made such a fuss about a "bunch of tall stories," and finds it difficult to believe anyone takes ghost stories seriously. . .
Certain important factors have emerged during interviews and correspondence with Marianne Foyster which shed a very different kind of light on the happenings at Borley during the years the Foysters were in residence. For some reason that has become recognized as the "key" period; the time which has been regarded as affording most proof of the alleged hauntings. The happenings during the Foyster incumbency were more of a poltergeist type in nature, and the general view prevailing at the time was that either this type of event was entirely fraudulent, or if the phenomena did occur they were caused by "entities" or spirits, very often mischievous or lying spirits, but spirits nevertheless.
It must be noted, however, that many of the events that took place during the Smith's incumbency were of a poltergeist type, accompanied by stories of ghostly apparitions, and the Foyster's experiences were, so to speak, a continuation of what had been reported as having happened to the Smith's. . .
But during the Foyster incumbency there was more than just a mild poltergeist outbreak. From what Marianne has told us, three main strands weave their way through the story of the Borley hauntings. First of all, there were some inexplicable happenings of a poltergeist nature; secondly, there was undoubtedly an amount of trickery; and thirdly, there was misrepresentation and misinformation as to what actually happened. . .
It is important to understand that the over-riding and dominant factor in the lives of the Foysters at that time was not the hauntings and ghosts - it was the fact that Lionel Foyster was living through a death sentence. He had returned from Canada knowing that his illness was going to worsen progressively until he became helpless and bedridden, and that he would finally die of this disease within the next 10-15 years. He did die, in fact, 15 years after his return from Canada, following ten years during which he was completely confined to wheelchairs or bed.
Marianne, his wife, was 21 years younger than him, and was 46 years of age at his death. When the Foysters took the living at Borley, they knew it would be a temporary arrangement, and they were concerned and anxious about the future. They were aware it was only a question of time before Lionel would be completely unable to continue his ministry.
Lionel Foyster was an educated, fun-loving man, with a tremendous love of music and theatricals. Marianne has told us he always felt he could have become a great actor if he had not been in the Church. This love of music was the initial bond between Foyster and Marianne's family. Marianne's father, Mr. Shaw, was an organist who had a great love of classical music. He and Foyster collected...a small group of people who played and sang...together. Marianne tells us all of her family were musically inclined.
As a churchman, Foyster was a high Anglican, with a love of ritual. He liked to write church music, and Marianne says he wrote new masses and tried out new forms of communion services. He produced operettas, pageants, and plays in his various livings, and much enjoyed this side of his work. He took great pleasure in training his church choirs himself; Marianne uses the word 'drilled.'
He was a man who throughly enjoyed his life and his church work. But by the time they arrived at Borley, Foyster had become obsessed with concern about his future, and was worrying about what would happen eventually to Marianne and Adelaide. He became increasingly concerned about his financial state; he had lost most of his own personal money in some venture in Canada in 1928, Marianne told us. He would not be eligible for much in the way of a pension when he left Borley, if indeed he received any at all.
In actual fact, Marianne says they were penniless when they left the rectory and relied solely on what Fisher allowed her at that time, and what she was able to make working as an usherette in the local cinema. Marianne herself, of course, had very little training that would enable her to earn a living. The whole of the Foysters life in England was lived against the backdrop of this anxiety and concern about the future...
Lionel Foyster was well aware that Walter Hubbell had made a great deal of money from the book he had written about the Amherst poltergeist, and he conceived the idea of doing the same thing by writing a book about Borley. This would solve his financial problems. The three documents, which have been so extensively quoted in all the reports about Borley, were just the bones of a story that Foyster was hoping to turn into a best-seller. The Summary of Events was the basic plot, so to speak. The book was to take on the form of a Diary - Fifteen Months in a Haunted House would be the final title. Marianne says that everyone in the household knew of this, and she believes that Harry Price was aware that the accounts were mainly fictional. However, it seems that on the occasion of his first visit to the rectory during the Foyster incumbency, Price was shown Foyster's Diary of Occurrences and he reacted as if he believed the account to be a truthful repetition of what had actually happened. Price talk a lot about his own researches, including his work with Rudi Schneider, and it was on the occasion of this visit that he accused Marianne of being responsible for the phenomena. Both Foyster and Marianne were upset that she should have been more or less publicly accused, and said they did not want Price to visit again. It is not possible to ascertain so much later in time whether Foyster actually told Price that the account was fictional, or whether he deliberately allowed Price to believe it was genuine, or whether, as is most likely, Price was aware of the fictional nature, but it suited his purpose to pretend to believe it as truth.
Marianne describes Price as "a clever one," and is herself of the opinion that Price must have known that the Diary was fictional. However, Foyster was hoping that Price would endorse the book when it was completed (a forward perhaps?) And he may have been uncertain as to how Price would react to a purely fictional account, and so he may have left the matter open. Foyster certainly wanted to make use of Price's expertise and knowledge of the subject, and also of his assistance and contacts when it came to publishing the book.
Foyster continued to correspond with Price after that first visit. Marianne says it was against her wishes; she did not like or trust Price. But, she says, Lionel could be obstinate, and he was obstinate on this point. Price persuaded Foyster to lend him the Diary of Occurrences in order that he could use some of the material in one of his own books, add when he failed to return the manuscript some months later, Marianne phoned Price to request its return. Price claimed that he lost it.
Foyster, however, still had his Summary of Events, and after they had left Borley he recommenced writing the book, this time under the title Fifteen Months in a Haunted House. This fact explains the reason for some of the observed discrepancies in the various accounts.
Foyster, well aware that his account was fictional, did not bother too much with minor details, or attempt seriously to reproduce the lost Diary. After Foyster died, Marianne gave his books and papers to his sister Hilda. Marianne says she wanted no part of them. In fact, she was not very interested in the Fifteen Months manuscript while Foyster was writing it; she regarded it as something to keep him amused while he was confined to bed. Marianne assumes that Price acquired the Fifteen Months manuscript from Hilda after she - Marianne - had already left for the U.S.A. This would agree with the comments in the SPR report, The Haunting of Borley Rectory, page 83, where Price, in a letter to Dr. Dingwall dated October 17, 1946 is quoted as saying "I have now acquired Foyster's complete Fifteen Months in a Haunted House."
As we have already said, it is difficult to be certain whether Price was aware that this account was fiction or not. Price only visited Borley himself twice during the Foyster incumbency. On the first occasion in October 1931, when he stayed overnight, and subsequently intimated that he believed Marianne was fraudulently producing the phenomena; and again, on a later occasion, when Marianne tells us, he arrived unheralded and uninvited, following the report of a fire having occurred in the schoolhouse wing of the rectory.
Marianne says Price heard of the fire through al lady in the neighborhood with whom he corresponded, and turned up at the rectory doorstep. She says he had others with him, and they brought a picnic hamper and wine, and she places the incident of the wine becoming ink as occurring on this occasion. She relates it as "one of Harry's magician's tricks," and did not regard it as anything other than this. There was apparently a similar incident when Price was dining with the Smith's.
Lionel Foyster continued to correspond with Price during the whole time they were at Borley, feeding him with stories of the alleged happenings, evidently to gain Price's opinion, and to obtain background knowledge for his book.
It also seems that Foyster himself was personally responsible for some apparent phenomena, probably produced for effect, to see how people would react. Marianne says that Lionel threw objects many times, especially when the group of spiritualists from Marks Tey were present. He threw things in order to observe their reactions and to note what they would say. She says the minute these people left the house, all such throwing of objects stopped. The phenomena ceased completely when Lionel became confined to a wheelchair.
Marianne says she herself was never sure who threw what, because she says, other people would join in, particularly the village children. Foyster's intention was not to frighten and deceive so much as to observe and test people's reaction to the phenomena. Marianne says he would relate, with great relish, stories of phenomena that were alleged to have happened, and which the family members present knew were not true, in order to observe his visitor's reactions.
In addition, the house was always wide open, the villagers came and went; some of the rooms in the house were used for parish and church business and meetings; the only toilet facilities were upstairs, thus affording [an] excuse for people to wander all over the house, and much of the time she did not know who was in the house or where they were.
She tells us that Lionel was very fond of children, and of the local tramps and down-and-outs. These people were fed at the back door and allowed to sleep in the outhouse. She believes that on cold nights they crept into the kitchen for warmth. The house was never locked; the keys had long been lost; the house had four outer doors and three staircases. They also possessed a dog and a stray cat or two. One can understand how easy it would be for anyone to produce fraudulent phenomena and it is equally easy to realize that if any genuine phenomena took place they might not be recognized as such.
Marianne says that sometimes there were events and happenings that puzzled them. They did hear footsteps from time to time, when there really did not seem to be any cause. Objects did sometimes appear to move entirely on their own.
The wall writings were an example of phenomena that puzzled them. These would initially appear, apparently from nowhere, although she admits that she herself, and other members of the family "answered" the remarks by writing underneath them. But she denies responsibility for initiating them, and remarked that she was mad when they first appeared as the wall had been recently redecorated and it took her hours to clean it up. But she says the writings only appeared when Edwin Whitehouse was in the vicinity, and she felt he was in some way responsible, either deliberately or unconsciously.
Edwin was a very emotionally disturbed young man, judging from both previous reports about him and from what Marianne says of him now. He was obsessed with discussing religion, could not decide whether to become a spiritualist or a Roman Catholic at one time, and he was always praying and holding long conversations. He and Foyster played a lot of chess together, and spent much time in each other's company. [Leading some to question their sexual preferences.]
Marianne says Edwin was at a loss initially as to what to believe about the "hauntings." He had been skeptical until he talked to Harry Price, who apparently convinced him of the reality of paranormal phenomena. Later, while in the rectory, he himself witnessed some phenomena (see page 100 of SPR Report The Haunting of Borley Rectory), and Marianne says he became totally confused about the reality of the subject. She gives the picture of the three of them playing dice and word games for hours in the evenings, when Lionel and Edwin would discuss the poltergeist events and religion, and she observes, "Often I did not agree with either of them." Again, there are two possible explanations, and one can never be sure of the truth so long after the event. Edwin Whitehouse could well have been the focus of such genuine poltergeist activity as occurred, and this is probably the most likely assessment, especially since Marianne herself says she witnessed some of these things when Edwin was present and finds them puzzling.
But it is also possible (although perhaps less likely) that Edwin was a confederate of Lionel's and would "create" phenomena when Lionel was not there to do so himself. They were very close friends and Edwin was continually at the rectory. Marianne says the meals at Sir George Whitehouse's home were light, and Edwin had a healthy appetite - she fed him at the rectory on most days.
It is also noteworthy that the poltergeist phenomena finally ceased after Marianne says she pleaded that the house be "cleaned." She wanted a religious service. Edwin arranged for a mass to be said, and Lionel officiated at a religious service. This also coincided with the time that Lionel became permanently confined to his wheelchair, and Edwin had decided to become a Benedictine Monk, and left the village. From then on the phenomena ceased completely.
Again we are left with the two possible explanations - the phenomena ceased because Foyster could no longer throw things without being detected, and Edwin left the neighborhood. It would be interesting to know whether Edwin experienced continuing poltergeist phenomena in his monastery! We cannot now decode whether Edwin was the center of genuine poltergeist phenomena, or whether it was all trickery.
Marianne herself confirms that the events of the bottle, tumbler and stiletto happened as described in the SPR report, but with the exception of the wall writings, which she definitely attributes to Edwin's conscious or subconscious self, she still thinks there is a possibility that it was trickery. Edwin, of course, knew of the book, and that it was meant to be a fictional account, and could have been, as we have said, a confederate of Lionel's. . .
After the 'house-cleaning' [for ghosts] and Edwin's departure to join the Benedictines, Marianne writes "the house stayed quiet. Lionel's arthritis wasn't too bad. We built a doll's bungalow for Adelaide. Lion and I played Snakes and Ladders with the children... Some really happy months passed. Then Lionel's arthritis caused him to be hospitalized."
From then on the Foysters became increasingly concerned about Lionel's health and their financial future. This was the period during which Marianne tried various jobs, including the flower shop venture with d'Arles.
She started to foster children for long and short periods. These children were mostly placed with the Foysters by the Church of England Children's Society. This is a voluntary society run as a charity...which looks after children in need, provides holidays for children from poor areas, [provides] temporary foster homes for children whose parents are sick, and runs an adoption agency for children of unwed mothers [when] the mother is unable to provide for them.
The Society looks for accommodations for these children from among members of the Church of England, and it was a completely natural thing that the rector of the parish would be asked to help find homes for needy children. The Foysters had already demonstrated their generosity in this respect by their adoption of Adelaide before leaving Canada, and they started looking after children again at this time.
Marianne told us that Lionel and she both loved children, and she stated they 'did not receive a penny' for looking after the children they took in at Borley. However it is very likely they received money for the children's upkeep and clothing.
Marianne tells us that Lionel managed the family finances, and he looked after the money form the flower shop.
. . .The facts of Lionel's illness and its prognosis make a tremendous difference when looking at the many suppositions put forward from time to time about Marianne's possible motivations for fraud. Far from wishing to leave the rectory, as has been alleged, they were happy there. She commented to us that anyone who had lived under the circumstances of their early days in Canada would regard living at Borley as a luxurious way of life. The Misses Bull had had some extensive re-decorating done before they moved in, and Marianne says she loved the place - especially the garden and the grounds.
But whether they had liked Borley or not, they had no money, and knew that when they left Borley it would be because Lionel would no longer be able to continue his ministry, and they would have no home to go to. Since the rectory did not belong to them, they could not be accused of trying to profit should its reputation for being haunted increase its value in the real estate market!
. . . we feel that what Marianne has told us makes sense. It is logical, and, what is more important, everything she has told us fits in with what is already known about the Borley hauntings during the Foyster incumbency. To us it has the ring of truth.
. . .one has to recognize that we are relating only what Marianne has told us. There is no way of proving that one opinion as to the truth of the matter is more believable than another, except by comparing the accounts and trying to see which version makes most sense. . .Her own reaction when first contacted was of dismay and horror. She wrote back to say that she was "under the impression that I had at last achieved privacy. I have suffered much at the hands of sensationalists. . .I was not a central figure (at Borley). . .unhappily I happened to be there when the time was right for the sensationalist to make heyday. . .I am the innocent victim."
. . .Marianne also told us of the interview granted to Mr. Robert Swanson of the Parapsychology [Foundation] in May 1958. She gave us permission to use these tapes if we wished, to check the story she is telling us now. She said that during those interviews she had been questioned on a yes-no basis, and remarked that the lawyer seemed more interested in her sex life than on what really happened. She maintained that she had told him then that most of the events alleged to have happened [at Borley] were fiction and not fact. She said if she had been asked she would have related the whole story then, but she felt she was being threatened, and decided to only answer the questions put to her. Due to the generosity of Mrs. Babs Coly, President of the Parapsychology [Foundation], we were furnished with a transcript of those interviews, or rather with as much as remains, some of the material having been lost during a flood in the basement of the [Foundation]...
. . .In the interview in 1958 she allows it to be believed that Foyster did not know of the existence of her son, Ian, and that he was passed off as her younger brother... It would have been impossible for Marianne to have pretended Ian was her brother and not her son, when her husband was still in such close touch with her parents. Apart from that one instance, there are no important discrepancies to the questions put by Mr. Swanson, and the information Marianne has given us in the present interviews, letters and telephone conversations...(1)
1. Owen, Iris; Mitchell, Pauline. Marianne's Story. Toronto: New Horizons Research Foundation, 1979. pp. 29-62.