Satan at Borley Rectory?
"Tantrabobous" may have played a part in the strange phenomena at the most haunted house in England. Borley Rectory's most famous resident, Marianne Foyster, was a firm believer in the power of Satan. She would not speak his name, but referred to him with her own code word of "Tantrabobous" with hushed respect.
The rectory's most famous critic, Trevor Hall, discovered what could be Satan's influence at the site. After five years of intense research devoted to Borley, he wondered privately if something very evil could very well have been responsible for some of the strange phenomena.
The results of this portion of his research have never been published until now. Borley Rectory was built in 1863 just across the border from Sudbury, Suffolk in the Stour River valley. Although in Essex, the huge, gloomy, red brick building was often identified with Suffolk. Of the many reasons given for the place to be haunted, the most widely accepted was the story of a monk and a nun who were murdered for daring to fall in love and trying to elope. The monk was hung, and the nun was walled up with a loaf of bread and some water. For centuries, the "ghost" of a nun walked the paths of the rectory, and a "headless coachman" has driven pell-mell through the estate.
Sir Edward Waldegrave was granted Borley in 1546 by King Henry VIII and controversy about his tenancy began shortly thereafter. Stories of spies and intrigue abound. It was the time of the Reformation, and Sir Edward was forbidden to say mass, but did so anyway - for Princess Mary. He was imprisoned for his efforts.
Mary came to the throne and Sir Edward was released, but five years later ended up back in the Tower when Elizabeth was crowned queen. He died a prisoner in 1561, and his body was eventually brought to Borley for burial. An elaborate tomb dominates Borley Church to this day, enshrining the bodies of Sir Edward and his wife. No entrance to their crypt has ever been found.
More spying resulted in dire consequences. Arabella Waldegrave was "murdered in 1697 spying for the Stuarts," according to Wesley Downes in The Ghosts of Borley. Her mother, Henrietta Waldegrave, died in 1730 "whilst working as a spy for the then government." Downes explained some of the ghostly sightings at Borley by concluding, "It seems that their spirits are now reunited and have returned to the family church."(1)
The Waldegrave mystique was further enhanced when seances pointed to Henry Waldegrave as having strangled a young nun by the name of Marie Lairre. He supposedly buried her in the garden, and she was later moved to the cellar of the rectory. Parts of a skull believed to be hers were dug up in August of 1943, four years after the rectory was gutted by fire.(2)
Downes told the story of a 17th Century cottage near Borley Lodge that "has the reputation of being haunted by a Thing' which has been described as an embodiment of evil.' However, the residents . . . did not wish to discuss the matter."(3)
A gruesome story was told to Downes of "a terrible tragedy" at Borley that "evoked the utmost evil of mankind." A variation of the monk and nun theory, this report said, "The nun was murdered and the priest was nailed to a cross and crucified in Borley Church. When he was half dead, some Cromwellian soldiers cut him down and hung him upside down in a nearby well."(4)
Downes also related that "heavy stone coffins in the crypt of [the old church] have been moved from their allocated places and left poised at odd angles," even after the entrance had been sealed. The church organ is often played while the building is empty, a vicar from the time of Cromwell has been spotted, and mysterious lights and sounds are constantly being reported.
Various film exposures have shown unexplainable phenomena, and tape recordings have captured many weird sounds. These various phenomena continue to the present day.
Famed paranormal researcher Colin Wilson described Borley as a "place of power" in his book The Supernatural. He declared, "What seems clear from all accounts of the case is that the 'ground' itself is haunted, and continues to be so." Wilson called Borley, "the kind of place that would be chosen for a monastery, and that probably held some pagan site of worship long before that."(5)
Before Borley Rectory was mysteriously destroyed by fire in 1939, some of the most famous paranormal incidents of all time were described by residents and neighbors alike. Not all of the events have been explained away, and it has been suggested an evil force may have been responsible for some of them.
The Reverend Lionel Foyster and his wife Marianne came to Borley Rectory October 16, 1930. Before they left five years later, they were the center of more than 2,000 possible paranormal phenomena. That was the number psychical researcher Harry Price came up with during his investigation of the Foyster incumbency. Although many sightings and unexplained mysteries surrounded the site before and after the Foyster tenancy, it was those five years that drew the most attention of spirits and publicists alike.
Price referred to Satanism in his first book about Borley. In 1940 he wrote in The Most Haunted House in England:
Another suggested explanation of the phenomena is the diabolic theory of the old Roman Catholic theologians. It is useless to speculate about this until we know more about the entities themselves and understand the meaning of the manifestations they produce. One does not hear much these days about evil spirits, devils, and elementals' in connection with psychical research. I think that the experience of most of the Borley investigators is that the entities concerned in the haunting are benevolent, rather than malevolent.(6)
It would be interesting to hear what Harry Price might have to say on the subject today, after 55 years of further research has been done on the site.
In later years, Marianne admitted to interviewers that many of the incidents recorded at Borley during her stay were "all in fun." She explained that her husband Lionel told tall tales and secretly threw pebbles at visitors just to see their reaction. He intended to write a fictional book about a haunted rectory, and delighted in theatrics. His wife was more than happy to perpetuate the mysticism that was growing about the place. Dragging footsteps, mysterious voices, and the appearance and disappearance of objects, were later explained away as visits by tramps, children playing pranks, and absent-mindedness.
There were phenomena, however, that could not be casually dismissed. Marianne witnessed - but had no explanation for - jars appearing and then being thrown to the floor; a stiletto rising, tumbling, and then gently falling into a visitors lap; lights in the windows; and writings on the walls.
Psychical researcher Trevor Hall spent many years trying to debunk anything mystical about Borley. His investigations resulted in at least three works attempting to tear apart the Borley Legend.(7) He also investigated Marianne with the tenacity of a bulldog, but never published some of the more startling evidence he dug up. While attempting to discredit parapsychology in general, and Borley in particular, he uncovered a darker side of Borley that has never been published before. Among his unpublished papers is the suggestion something more sinister than trickery influenced the Borley phenomena. For example, Hall never wrote about some very curious letters he received from a certain Mrs. Taylor.
Mrs. Guy Taylor of London was so fascinated with the Borley phenomena that she held several seances devoted to the site in 1947. The more she investigated the strange place and its residents, the more convinced she became it was dominated by evil. On January 26, 1957, she wrote to Hall, "I am unalterably convinced that something happened in that countryside in the past that caused it to be disturbed, at times, to this day . . . it was begun by [a priest and two others] who round about 1480 raised something they couldn't control."(8)
On February 22, 1957, she told Hall: My . . . theory was that a local group practiced some form of black magic at [Long] Melford and Borley, and perhaps Borley was preferred as being more out of the way. When we asked [in a seance] if murder or some such crime had occurred at Borley before the 17th century,we got "Death - Violent," and that it was due to Satanism.(9)
In a 1983 letter to the periodical The Unexplained, M.D. Baker explained how on two occasions "colleagues of mine from the [summer] camp visited Borley at midnight on the anniversary of the alleged 'Nun's walk' - only to run into a witches' coven meeting in the graveyard."
Seances held at Borley in January of 1932 by a group from Marks Tey, indicated one of the rectors - Harry Bull - had been murdered there by his wife. A maid to the previous rector - Henry Bull - was supposed to have died while attempting to give birth to the prelate's illegitimate child. Henry, in turn, was supposed to have been done in by his jealous wife. Marianne was alleged to have tried to poison Lionel. Taylor saw a pattern: the perpetrators of these crimes were possessed. Taylor alleged that even Harry Price fell under the spell, and manufactured or misrepresented paranormal evidence about Borley.
Taylor told Hall that a medium who went into a trance at Borley, "woke up in a terrible state, declaring that she had seen the devil and that the whole place was reeking in Black Magic. After that, no medium for miles around would go into trance at Borley."
Captain W.H. Gregson was the last person to live at Borley Rectory. He was there for only a few weeks when a mysterious fire destroyed the place February 27, 1939. During an April 15, 1939 BBC radio broadcast of In Town Tonight, he told of once finding strange footprints in the snow. He declared the imprints were not human, nor were they animal. They were very distinct, however, and have since been referred to by some as the "Devil's hoof marks."(10)
After the rectory burned down in 1939, the Borley Church remained active. The wife of one of its later rectors told Mrs. Taylor, "the whole of the Stour Valley was far more disturbed than anyone knew." The wife of Reverend A.C. Henning explained her story to Taylor, who then told Hall, "when she gave lectures or talks on Borley to the local Women's Institute, women would come up afterwards and under a pledge of secrecy would tell her very similar stories of paranormal happenings in their own households . . . "
Reverend Henning himself was dubious, but wrote in 1959, "It has been suggested to me that the phenomena at Borley are due either to the performance of the Black Mass or to witchcraft or possibly both. The Black Mass (it was contended) had taken place within living memory. I find it difficult to believe that such a service could have been performed secretly at night so near the rectory . . . There seems, however, to be some foundation for the suggestion of witchcraft."(11)
Henning was told the story of a warlock who could "stop a wagon and horses with his eye." He was also told of witch trials being "notorious" in Essex. Henning's investigation took him to the Record Office from which he received a fascinating letter from the staff:
The question of Black Magic has also been mentioned . . . in connection with the Borley manifestations, but while I have no proof of this, it would not - to be quite honest - surprise me to learn that it had been practiced.
. . .I feel that an atmosphere created as a result of evil practices is as strong as that created by good ones. An atmosphere does indeed pervade a building or area to such an extent that its presence is very real, especially to people who are psychic, if I may use the phrase.(12)
Henning finished his work by saying, "there is still something strange and inexplicable lingering in haunted Borley."
Paranormal author Joan Forman was sent a letter from Mrs. Violet Sorfleet [pseudonym?] detailing a night-time visit to the ruins in the late autumn of 1939. The subject and two friends were walking by when they stopped to lean against the gate and discuss the haunting. They were skeptical. Then, "out of nowhere came the most evil, filthy presence. We were surrounded by a moist, misty, something, which hid us from each other and terrified us. My hair stood on end, and I leapt off the gate ran like hell to some cottages about a mile away." Laughter followed the young woman as she and her friends ran away. Forman says, "The sensation of infinite corruption and defilement is often associated with evil. It is also associated with a certain type of psychic manifestation known as an elemental."
Just after World War II, Noel F. Busch wrote in LIFE magazine:
. . . during the recent war. . . . a U.S. bulldozer, widening a road at Scrapfaggot Green, in the village of Great Leighs, Essex, not far from Borley, overturned a 2-ton stone marking the grave of a witch who had been buried with a stake through her heart in the 17th Century.
Shortly afterward strange things began happening. The tenor bell in the church tower tolled in the early morning. The church clock lost an hour. Chickens drowned in water butts. Sheep got through unbroken hedges. A large boulder was found in front of the Dog and Gun. At midnight on Friday, October 13, 1944 the villagers restored the 2-ton stone to its proper position on the witch's grave, whereupon the manifestations ceased.(13)
Even though Trevor Hall tried to dismiss the Taylor theory as unfounded, he left the question basically open. At one point in his unpublished papers he wrote, "I do not at any rate accept Mrs. Taylor's theory that there is evidence to show that certain people behaved criminally because they came to live in the supposedly evil orbit of Borley."(14) However, he later added, "The number of reported cases of haunting and poltergeist activity in the Borley district . . . is a little surprising."(15)
Hall concluded, "It is extremely improbable that any murders took place at all during the Bull incumbencies, despite the widely held belief that they did."(16) Still, he wrote, "I have often thought . . . it might be of great interest to live in the Stour valley for a year, making a thorough investigation of all these stories . . . It is possible, too, that a year would be a sufficient period to ascertain whether any spiritual danger exists at Borley, assuming that I was vulnerable to its sinister influence."(17)
Lionel Foyster died in 1945 of natural causes, fully ten years after leaving Borley. Marianne then married an American G.I. named Robert O'Neil. Before leaving England she adopted the author, and they came to the United States in August of 1946. During the remaining 46 years of her life, she never talked to anyone in her family about Borley, but she made it very clear she believed in Satan and in his powers. The author was not to invite Tantrabobous into his life by encouraging devilish talk. She believed it was Satan's influence that caused the author's father to become an alcoholic. She crossed herself when language in the home became violent or abusive. She wore a religious scapular while at Borley, and she retained one of those protectors throughout her life. Prayers for protection and thanksgiving were a common staple in her American home.
While Marianne Foyster was not "frightened" away from Borley, she made it very clear in later interviews with Borley investigators that many of the phenomena at the rectory did not have any explanation. She never elaborated about the dark side for fear that Tantrabobous would overhear and react. That she feared Satan, there can be no doubt. That Satan influenced Borley, remains to be settled.
1. Downes, Wesley H. The Ghosts of Borley. Clacton-on-Sea: Wesley's Publications, 1993. p. 22. Research by Paul Kemp.
2. Price, Harry. The End of Borley Rectory. London: George Harrap & Co. Ltd., 1946. Chapters 12, 13.
3. Downes. op. cit. p. 26.
4. ibid. p. 28.
5. Wilson, Colin. The Supernatural. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers Inc., 1991. p. 238.
6. Price, Harry. The Most Haunted House in England. London: Longmans, Green and Co. Ltd., 1940. p. 184.
7. Dingwall, Eric J., Goldney, Kathleen M., Hall, Trevor H. The Haunting of Borley Rectory - A Critical Survey of the Evidence. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd., 1956. Mr. Hastings and the Borley Report. London: Journal of the Society for Psychical Research. Vol. 45, No. 741, June 1969. Hall, Trevor. New Light on Old Ghosts. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd., 1969.
8. Hall, Trevor. Marianne Foyster of Borley Rectory. Unpublished, 1958. Volume III. p. 59.
9. ibid. p. 59.
10. Price. op. cit. The Most Haunted House in England. p. 175.
11. Henning, A. C. Haunted Borley. London: The Shenval press, 1959. p. 50.
12. ibid. p. 51.
13. Busch, Noel F. "A Who's Who of English Ghosts." LIFE. September 22, 1947. p. 134.
14. Hall, op. cit. p. 64
15. ibid. p. 67.
16. ibid. p. 64.
17. ibid. p. 68.