The Strange Happenings at Borley Rectory
Full Account of England’s Most Famous Modern Ghost by Sidney H. Glanville (Fate Magazine October 1951)
The complete text from an article which appeared in an edition of the American Fate magazine for October 1951. It was written by Sidney H. Glanville who was one of Harry Price’s ‘Official Observers’ during his tenancy year of the Rectory in 1937/38. Glanville gives a concise history of the hauntings as well as describing his visits to Borley in the company of his son, Roger Glanville.
No living man is as well qualified to write this account as S.H. Glanville. Harry Price, in his book, “The End of Borley Rectory,” says of the ‘locked book’: “The contents were compiled by my chief official observer, Mr. S.H. Glanville. If all other existing records of Borley were to be destroyed and only the ‘locked book’ saved, it would form a complete history….of the haunting. It will forever be a model for psychical researchers as to how a report should be prepared.”
ONE OF HISTORY’S MOST AUTHENTIC HAUNTINGS
Borley is a small hamlet in Essex, with a population of about 120 people and lies within a few hundred yards of the Essex-Suffolk county boundary. The nearest town is Long Melford about two miles distant.
The Borley Church built in the 12th Century stands on a hill and contains a fine tomb of Sir Edwards Waldegrave who died in 1561. He was a member of the Waldegrave family who now live in Somerset and who held the Manor of Borley are were patrons of the living for nearly 300 years. In 1362 Edward III gave the Manor of Borley to the Benedictine monks.
The Rectory itself, which was destroyed by fire in 1939, stood about 150 yards from the church and was divided from it by the churchyard and a narrow unfrequented lane. The house was almost entirely surrounded by tall trees which overshadowed it and had a very darkening and depressing effect on the house both inside and out. It was built in 1863 by the Rev. Henry Dawson Ellis Bull, whose family had lived in or near Borley continuously for over 300 years, and who was then the Borley Rector. It was substantially built of brick and stone, all the doors were thick and heavy, the floors were of heavy wood in some parts and stone in other rooms. Some of the windows, such as the dairy, the kitchen, scullery and passages, were iron barred giving that part of the house a rather prison-like appearance. When it was first built it contained 18 rooms but, as Mr. Bull’s family increased, he added a new wing to accommodate them. There were 14 children altogether, of whom 12 survived. The house, when completed, enclosed a central courtyard which had a narrow outlet at one corner. No gas or electricity was, or ever had been available. Lighting was supplied by means of oil lamps and candles; and the only water supply was from a deep well in the courtyard.
The Rev. Henry Bull held the parish for 30 years, from 1862 until 1892, the year of his death. He died in the Blue Room which is immediately over the library and overlooks that part of the garden known as ‘The Nun’s Walk.’ His wife died in the same room. The picture of their father given me by his daughters, shows him to have been an unusual man. He was tall, heavily built and had been a good amateur boxer in his youth. His principal hobby seems to have been shooting and hunting; a typical hard-living country parson of his period. His financial position was secure as, apart from his stipend, he had ample private means.
His son, the Rev. Henry Bull, or
Harry as he was generally known to avoid confusion with his father, succeeded to the living on the death of his father and remained there as Rectory for 35 years, until his death in 1927. He also died in the ‘Blue Room.’
A year later the Rev. Eric Smith, who had lately returned from several years of missionary work in India, accepted the living. He and his wife remained for less than two years, leaving in 1930. When he accepted the living he was a stranger to England and was, therefore, not aware of the fact that some dozen or so clergymen had already refused it. It had a sinister reputation and the huge, melancholy house could not have been very inviting. Also the stipend was comparatively small.
In October 1930 the Rev. Lionel Foyster, a distant relative of the Bull family, was offered the living and accepted. Neither the Smiths nor the Foysters had any children of their own but the Foysters brought with them a small adopted daughter aged 2½ years. Mr. Foyster and his wife had just returned from Canada where they had been engaged in missionary work for some years. At the end of five years in the Rectory Mr. Foyster’s health completely broke down and he was forced to retire.
The reputation of the Rectory by this time was such that the ecclesiastical authorities decided that it was not a fit house for a Rectory and it was permanently closed in 1935.
This then is the chronological history of the Rectory from 1862 when it was built until 1935 when it was finally left alone with its 23 empty and dusty rooms and its ghosts. The once beautiful lawns and gardens became a veritable jungle of weeds and rotting undergrowth. The once fine vinery became a rickety affair of swinging doors and broken glass. The two summer-houses were derelict and decaying.
This is how I first saw it in 1937 when my son and I unlocked the heavy front door and stepped from the hot June sun into the dark, chill and echoing hall. Our enthusiasm dropped several points. We knew the history of the house, the alleged haunting and the fantastic phenomena reported from there for nearly 15 years. We planned to spend the night locked in the house.
Apart from the evidence of poltergeist activity, there is the age-old story of the ghostly nun who is alleged by many persons to have been seen walking about the garden. There is the apparition of a coach and horses which drives across the lawn. Legend says that a nun eloped, centuries before, with a monk from a nearby monastery, that they were caught, brought to judgement and condemned to death – the monk to be hanged and the nun to be bricked up in the wall of
a building that once stood on this same site. Later we found parts of the foundation of this old building in the rectory cellars. I express no opinion about the truth of this traditional story but it was told and believed long before the present rectory was built.
Miss Ethel Bull and her sisters Freda and Mabel, daughters of the Rev. Henry Bull, were born in Borley Rectory. They have assured me that on a June afternoon when they were returning from a garden party and had just entered the Rectory garden, they all three simultaneously and quite clearly saw the figure of a nun walking slowly on the other side of the lawn. They were astonished as, although the apparition had been seen many times at dusk, they had never before seen it in daylight. Miss Ethel Bull ran into the house to bring a fourth sister to see the phenomenon and fortunately found her immediately. All four of them watched the grey figure walk slowly across the lawn. As she neared the trees which bounded the lawn the nun gradually faded and disappeared from their sight.
During the past 50 years more than 20 people have reported seeing this apparition. One man, a guest of the Bulls who knew nothing whatever of the story, came into the house one day to ask the Rector about the nun that he had seen walking in the garden. There are people who stoutly maintain that the apparition was seen only a few weeks before the Rectory burned. There is a part of the garden known as ‘The Nun’s Walk.’ She usually appeared from an adjoining field, stepped over a low stone wall and walked across the lawn, to disappear among the trees separating the garden from the lane. There is persistent evidence of this apparition being seen by both the residents of the rectory and by strangers.
Walter Bull, another son of the Rev. Henry Bull, spent a good deal of his life at sea and therefore saw less of these things than the other members of the family. He told me that he frequently heard footsteps following him up the lane both in daylight and at night. Sometimes he slipped behind a tree to catch anyone following him but he never saw anyone. These pattering footsteps also were heard by villagers who used the lane and many of them refused to pass the house after dark if they were alone.
The Rev. Harry Bull would periodically tell his family that he had seen the ‘little man’ again. This was a dwarf-like figure of an old man who he said appeared to him on the lawn. He would raise one arm above his head, then turn and run down the drive and disappear. Miss Ethel Bull is the only other member of the family who has seen this grotesque little figure.
One of the large dining room windows overlooking the drive was
On a June afternoon, returning from a garden party, the three little Bull sisters saw the figure of a nun walking slowly on the other side of the lawn.
removed and bricked up because Henry Bull said that he objected to an apparition peering through while they were at meals.
During the incumbency of the Rev. Harry Bull there was a good deal of paranormal activity which he quite openly admitted. In nearly all parts of the house footsteps were heard, particularly in the bedroom passages. They would reach a door, stop and then three taps were heard, never more than three. The figure of a tall man in dark clothes was seen on many occasions. One of the Rev. Harry Bull’s sisters was awakened several times by a slap on her face. Now and then loud crashes were heard in different parts of the house.
At this time manifestations were heard in the living rooms over the stables which were entirely separated from the house. The groom-gardener and his wife were disturbed night after night by knocks, thuds and sounds of breaking crockery, although nothing was ever found to have been broken or even moved. They put up with these conditions for three years and then left.
There is a hard core of evidence given by reliable and intelligent persons as a result of their own experience and observation which cannot be shaken by examination and questioning. For instance, Lady Whitehouse, who had known the Rectory and its successive residents for many years, assured me that on one occasion when she was helping to nurse Mrs. Foyster she saw a medicine bottle leave the mantel-piece and float through the air, coming to rest on the floor beside the bed. She not only assured me of the complete truth of this incident and many others but voluntarily offered to swear an affidavit confirming them if I wished her to.
In 1927 the Rev. Harry Bull died and the Rev. Eric Smith accepted the living. As has been stated he had lately returned from several years of missionary work in India, so that when he and his wife came to Borley neither of them had any warning or knowledge of its reputation.
I spent a good many hours with Mr. and Mrs. Smith at their pleasant rectory in Kent. They very kindly gave me details of the two years they spent at Borley, years which they described as ‘the darkest years years of their life.’ Actually the manifestations during this time were less numerous and not of the violent character experienced by their successors.
The first unusual thing they noticed were the noises in the bedrooms at night. Thuds and knocks were constantly heard, often sufficiently loud to waken them. In an attempt to avoid these disturbances they occupied several rooms in succession but either the sounds were being made in all the rooms at the same time or they followed them about. The noises were loudest and most insistent in the bedroom over the kitchen and in the blue room.
Although no record was kept Mr. Smith tells me that they heard few of these noises on the ground floor and that there was much more noise in the winter than in summer. This bears out an analysis which we made at the end of the investigation to find out what proportion of phenomena happened during the hours of darkness and daytime respectively. The figures show that much the larger proportion happened at night.
Within a week intermittent bell ringing started. The bells are of the old-fashioned spiral spring type and rung by bell-pulls in the rooms. The bells themselves, some 20 of them, were hung high up in the kitchen passage just off the hall. Time after time a bell would ring from one of the rooms though they were all empty since the only people in the house were Mr. and Mrs. Smith. It was rarely that they could prevail on a maid to stop in the house for more than a week.
Keys were frequently picked up and replaced in the locks. The key to the library door was often found at the foot of the main stairs, several feet from the door. At times only an hour or so would elapse between the time a key was replaced and its being found on the floor again. A variation of this phenomena was the locking of doors. This was often extremely inconvenient. On many occasions un-locked doors were found locked, and vice versa. This actually happened to one of our observers who, sitting at the table in the library, heard a sharp metallic click and upon going to the door found that it had been locked from the inside. Several keys disappeared entirely and were never found.
It is not suggested that there is anything of a paranormal nature in the following incident but it proves the house to be a place of surprises to say the least. In the library there was a large glass-fronted bookcase entirely covering one side of the room, the lower half of which contained cupboards. Mrs. Smith found a paper-wrapped parcel about the size of a football. It was not labelled and she proceeded to unpack it. Under several layers of paper she found a human skull. Despite inquiries no information as to its origin was ever discovered. It was not known to have been there at the time of Harry Bull’s death, neither did any of his family know anything about it. Mr. Smith, therefore, buried it in the churchyard with a short burial service.
Soon after this episode a mirror standing on Mrs. Smith’s dressing table started tapping whenever she approached it. The tapping appeared to come from the back and this continued until they left the Rectory. After they left they lived for some time on the East Coast, near Cromer, and the tapping stopped. That was in 1930 and it was not until 1937 that I first met them in their rectory in a village in Kent. By that time I had already spent a considerable time at Borley. Now a very peculiar thing happened. About a week after I visited them and held the mirror in my hands, I received a letter from Mr. Smith in which he said, “I do not know whether you carry ghosts about with you, but the mirror has started tapping again.” I was not able at the time to go down there again and hear it for myself, and I am sorry to say that soon after this Mr. Smith became seriously ill and died. Mrs. Smith moved and I lost trace of her.
The Smiths told me that on several occasions the heavy wood shutters to the French windows in the library, which slid into cavities in the walls, were pulled sharply together. They had been in the room when this happened. These shutters were exceptionally heavy and require considerable force to bring them together. They were each about six feet high and three feet wide. It was a common thing for them to hear the brass rings, which are let into the wood frames and used for pulling them together, rattling. I heard this myself while sitting in the library at night.
At the end of 18 months Mr. Smith became alarmed at the disturbing influences in the rectory and decided that it was time he sought advice with the object of ridding the place of its troubles. He therefore wrote to a daily newspaper asking for the name of a society connected with psychic matters which might be able to help him. The paper not only sent the information but reporters and photographers as well. The immediate result was a flood of sightseers.
Crowds invaded the garden, trampled the flower beds, peered through the windows and generally made life a burden to the rector and his wife. The police had to be called and they gradually restored order and sanity.
This human inundation and publicity had no effect whatever on the phenomena. It continued as before and new phenomena appeared from time to time. There was a bedroom in the ‘new’ wing which was formerly used as a schoolroom. The window of this room was seen, on many occasions, to be lit up although the room was known to be empty. One night Mrs. Smith, together with some members of the choir who were leaving the church after practice, witnessed this phenomenon. The present Rector, who lives in a nearby village, maintains that the large window on the main staircase was seen to be lighted up soon after our investigation ended. The house was then empty and locked up. The light was of an unusual character, no rays were visible but it was rather in the nature of a fluorescence inside the room.
One summer afternoon when Mr. Smith was leaving his bedroom he passed under the arch which leads on to the landing and was surprised to hear sounds of whispering over his head. He described them to me as ‘soft and sibilant but spoken with urgency, and ending in muttering sounds.’ The voice was undoubtedly that of a woman. He continued across the landing and just as he passed under the arch on the opposite side, which leads to the private chapel, they stopped suddenly as though cut off. No words were heard on this occasion but during the next few weeks he heard them again when some words were distinguishable. The words ‘Don’t, Carlos’ were quite clear. Although many enquiries were made no evidence of any person of that name was traced to anyone connected with the rectory.
The only instance of material damage being done while they were in the rectory happened on an afternoon when they were sitting in the drawing-room. They were alone in the house. Suddenly smashing sounds were heard and they both ran out into the hall. There they found the pieces of a china vase that normally stood on the mantle-piece in their bedroom, which was the Blue Room. By some unaccountable means it had moved from the shelf, travelled out of the room, across the landing and dropped into the hall below where it was shattered on the floor.
Footsteps, thuds, knocks and bell-ringing were an almost daily occurrence. There was no real peace or rest by day or night.
Mr. Smith was anxious about the state of his wife’s health, which was showing signs of strain. They felt it was not possible to continue living under such conditions and
Mr. Smith regretfully tendered his resignation. It was not easy to find a new incumbent as Borley had become notorious. The Smiths moved into a hostelry in Long Melford and from there Mr. Smith carried on his clerical duties for several months. In August, 1930, he relinquished his work and left. To the end of his life he maintained that the house was a center of some unknown and malign influence.
In October of the same year the Rev. Lionel Foyster, M.A., a scholar of Pembroke College, Cambridge, and his wife and two-year-old adopted daughter came to the Rectory. During their five-year occupation phenomena reached a state of activity and violence never before experienced. Mr. Foyster very kindly sent me over 100 pages of a diary he kept for a period of 15 months, recording some of the events which took place during that time. There are only two copies of this record, one in the safe keeping of the University of London Council for Psychical Investigation, and my own.
Mr. Foyster starts with this head-note, “The only pretensions that these notes claim is the very simple one that it is a record of facts and is, therefore, true. Experiences recorded can be vouched for by my wife and myself; many were also witnessed by other disinterested people. They have been recorded just as they happened.”
Within the first weeks, while Mrs. Foyster was going upstairs on her way to the Blue Room which the Foysters were using as their bedroom, she heard footsteps following her and, turning around, saw the apparition of a man. She continued on her way and when she reached the handing it had disappeared. Some time later she was shown a photograph of the late Harry Bull and recognized him as the man of the apparition. It appeared to her on several occasions attired in a dressing-gown and carrying a small case or wallet. She never saw this figure in any other part of the house, neither was it ever seen by anyone but herself.
The next episode, although less alarming, was more material and exceedingly annoying. She had gone into the bathroom to wash her hands and taking off a wrist watch which was set in a gold bracelet put it on a shelf. Then, having washed and dried her hands, she turned to pick up the watch. To her astonishment she found only the watch, the bracelet had disappeared. It has never been found.
This bracelet was not the only thing that disappeared in an extraordinary way, but it was the only object of any value that was lost. On the other hand things had an odd habit of appearing from no-where. A small silk bag containing lavender was found one day on the mantel-piece in the sewing-room. The Foysters had never seen this
bag before and never did trace an owner. It would disappear for a few days and re-appear in one of the other rooms. On one occasion Mr. Foyster found it in one of his coat pockets. After several months of this jack-in-the-box existence it disappeared for good.
Books also appeared spontaneously. The first one was found on the bath-room window-sill. Mr. Foyster took little notice of this, thinking that his wife had left it there. She in turn thought that he had put it there. Other books were found in different parts of the house; all of them were over 100 years old and of a theological nature. Later it wa discovered that they had belonged to the Rev. Henry Bull and had been stored on the top shelf of a cupboard in the kitchen. Mr. Foyster says in his diary, “…exactly how many times this happened I have not kept a record, but one day, as a variation, a book was thrown on to the floor on the further side of a closed door in the passage leading to the bathroom.” Going into the kitchen one afternoon he found a whole collection of books placed on the rack over the kitchen range. No one had ever seen any of these books before, and an hour or so later the cover of a book with two pages still adhering to it was found on the bathroom floor.
At 11 o’clock one night Mr. Foyster was in the bathroom when he heard his wife cry out and then heard her running down the passage. He rushed out. She said, “I had been in the bedroom (Blue Room) and had just come out onto the landing when something hit me in the face and nearly stunned me for a moment. I was carrying the candle but saw no one or anything.” The blow had in fact made a cut under her left eye and the blood was running down her face. Nothing was found that could have caused such a wound.
As a result of this Sir George Whitehouse and his wife, who were living at Arthur Hall, Sudbury, a few miles away, and who had themselves witnessed many incidents at the Rectory, insisted on Mr. and Mrs. Foyster coming to stay with them for a few days. For the next several years these friends had them over to stay when things got too bad at the Rectory.
Not long after this another curious thing happened. One evening Mr. Foyster left the sewing-room to get some papers from the library. As he turned into the hall he was startled to find that all the pictures, with one exception, had been taken off the walls of the staircase and laid face down on the hall floor. The exception was a particularly large picture, and that was hanging crookedly as though it had been pushed aside.
The spontaneous appearances of the lavender bag and the books have been mentioned, but many other articles turned up from time
to time. A plain gold ring, presumably a wedding ring, was found on the landing outside the Blue Room. There were no signs of hard wear and the hall-mark showed it to have been made in Birmingham in 1863, the year the Rectory was finished. No owner for any of these things was ever found.
Walking sticks kept in the corner of the library were seen to move. On one occasion one was seen to travel the entire length of the room. Books and papers were moved. Sometimes the draft of Mr. Foyster’s sermon for the following Sunday was moved into another room. Then one day he decided that if he put it in a large Bible that stood on his desk it might be safe. This he did and in the morning found it intact. He thereafter made this an invariable practice and it was not moved again. The kitchen table was thrown over and the crockery shot onto the floor on many occasions. beds were turned onto their sides and the bedding thrown onto the floor. One morning, upon entering the kitchen, it was found that all the linen from the airing cupboard had been strewn over the floor. Unaccountable footsteps were continuously heard in all parts of the house, a manifestation that had been going on unceasingly for 50 years.
There remains the most contentious of the phenomena – the psychic writing on the walls. These were photographed and carefully traced before the rectory burned and are, therefore, permanently recorded.
One peculiarity of these writings and markings is the height at which they were written. This varies from four feet three inches above floor level to four feet eight inches, which is the highest. No adult would normally write at this height. It is alleged that these writings appeared spontaneously and there is good evidence to support this contention. Some of them are meaningless scrawls. Many of them take the form of the letter ‘M’, and may be an attempt at the beginning of the name ‘Marianne’, the person to whom the messages are addressed and to whom they appeal for help. Marianne is Mrs. Foyster’s Christian name.
The first writing appeared on the wall of the kitchen passage, between the kitchen and the sewing-room. It consists of the words, ‘Marianne get help – ‘, then some words that are indecipherable. Under this Mrs. Foyster herself wrote, ‘I cannot understand, tell me more.’ A few days elapsed and then overnight these words had appeared, ‘lights – Mass and prayers.’ On the opposite side of the kitchen passage wall, another clear request appeared which asked, ‘Marianne please help get.’ The longest piece of continuous writing
was on the side of the arch on the landing, the arch which leads into the private Chapel, and reads, ‘Get light and prayers here,’ and ending with a few indecipherable words, the last of which may be ‘his body.’
A great deal of consideration has been given to this alleged paranormal writing with little result but there are several points of general interest. The writing was done with a graphite pencil (some of this was flaked off and analyzed). It is quite characterless and if some unknown entity was responsible for them we must presume it to be about for feet six inches in height, or an adult of average height in a kneeling position. Practically all of it has the appearance of being done with difficulty and with great urgency, as though in fear of interruption. In some instances the interruption seems to have occurred. All of the messages start with clarity and firmness, but after a word or two seem to weaken as though energy was dwindling. The photographs and tracings have been examined by doctors, physiologists, physicists, graphologists and church dignitaries, but none has been able to offer an acceptable explanation. They remain a mystery.
In 1935 the Foysters had been living under these fantastic conditions for nearly five years. If they had been a large family living a busy and happy domestic life, it would not have been so bad. With only two persons and a young child living in this great rambling house with its 23 rooms, some of them unfurnished, without electricity, gas or main water, it is not surprising that Mr. Foyster’s health deteriorated. He also felt that the circumstances did not allow him the peace and quiet necessary for a clergyman to carry out his duties properly. After long consideration he reluctantly decided to resign his living. In October of 1935 he closed the door of the Rectory and retired. Retirement, however, did not restore his health and he died not long afterwards.
The ecclesiastical authorities decided that the rectory should be permanently closed. The parishes of Borley and Liston, a small adjoining village, were combined and the present rector, the Rev. A.C. Henning, carries out the duties of both from his rectory in Liston.
After Mr. Foyster’s retirement the rectory remained locked up and empty for two years. The owners were unable to sell it nor could they find a tenant, which is not surprising. The late Harry Price, then Honorary Secretary of the University of London Council for Psychical Investigation, rented the house and grounds for 12 months with the object of making a sustained examination of the place to decide whether phenomena was still active and, if possible, to trace the cause. Mr. Price did not visit the Rectory during the period of the tenancy as he wished to form his own con-
In a cupboard Mrs. Smith found a parcel. She unwrapped it, found a skull.
clusions from independent evidence, and entrusted this writer with the task of drawing up a full report, upon which he wrote his book, “The Most Haunted House in England.”
My son and I first went to the rectory on the 19 of June, 1937. It has been mentioned that the house was cold, dark and depressing, and during that first night we were struck by two things, the intense cold for that time of year and the almost uncanny silence. Other observers agree that they had never been in any building where the intense quiet was so marked. The only sounds heard were the scuttling of a few mice and the intermittent and mournful calls of owls in the trees; very rarely a belated vehicle would pass through the lane. Otherwise there was a cold silence that was most oppressive.
After examining the gardens, stables, outbuildings and conservatory, we inspected the whole house from the attics to the cellars. Every window and door was sealed with thread and wax or adhesive tape. The only exceptions were the main entrance door in the hall, which we always kept bolted from the inside, and the French windows in the library which were also bolted inside. It was not possible for any person to enter the house without our knowledge and I am quite certain that no one ever did. At fairly regular intervals we made a tour of the whole house, visiting every room and passage, including the attics and cellars.
One of our little difficulties was the continual strain on our ears to catch sounds, especially during the first few nights. Some of these appeared to come from distant parts of the house and often could not be accurately located. Others occurred in the room we were using at the time, usually the library, and were obviously within a few feet of us. This intense listening was no so difficult up to one or two o’clock in the morning but it became very tiring towards five and six. The first light of dawn coming through the dusty windows was very welcome. Certain sounds could be located and accounted for quite
easily, a rose bush scraping a window, a dripping tap, the very rare scrambling of mice and so on.
There is one episode which, although it is not suggested that it was paranormal, left us completely mystified and was never explained. For many years the Bull family had kept a number of cats about the place and as they died, these were buried in the garden. The whole of the large garden had become an overgrown jungle and in places was almost impenetrable with weeds and bramble. Making our way through this tangle early one morning, we found a half-rotted head board marking the grave of one of the cats. The name and date was cut in the wood. Tearing away some more undergrowth we found several more. This was only of passing interest and we did nothing further about it. On our next visit, a few days later, while walking in the garden we were astonished to find that a pit about five feet in diameter had been dug, the earth thrown up in a ring around the pit, and the head boards thrown about indiscriminately. We made the most careful and guarded inquiries. There were only a few cottages within a mile of the Rectory. We were unable to find any explanation. Someone spent a lot of time labour digging this huge hole – who and why? What were they looking for?
The recital of all the taps, knocks, thuds, scraping and shuffling sounds we heard would be monotonous but some of them were of greater interest than others. On one occasion we had two Royal Air Force Officers with us. My son was a Squadron Leader during the World War, and all of them were seriously interested in psychical matters. During the afternoon my son and I had to go into Long Melford to get oil for the lamps and left the other two alone in the house. Upon our return they reported that, while sitting in the library with the door open, they distinctly heard whey they described as, ‘light tripping footsteps’ coming down the stairs. Having apparently descended the stairs they stopped. Nothing was to be seen. The bottom step of the stairs was about eight feet from where they sat.
One of our most active and valuable observers was Mark Kerr-Pearse, now one of our pro-consuls in Prague. He was the only one of us who actually lived at the Rectory during the investigation. This he did for several weeks continuously, staying in the house for most of the day and sleeping in the large summer house in the garden.
One hot August day three people called, two of them were known to Kerr-Pearse. The third was their friend, a Miss -, who had expressed a wish to see the Rectory. Although they were not official observers they were taken over the house. Everything was quiet and nothing un-
usual happened until they were crossing the landing outside the Blue Room when Miss R- suddenly came to a standstill saying that she had a feeling of indescribable terror. She had a sensation of ‘pins and needles’ in her hands, which were icy cold. She was trembling violently and asked for help, as she was unable to move. It was as though she was fixed to the floor. About 15 minutes later she was prevailed upon to go to the landing again at which time she experienced exactly the same sensations to a lesser degree.
A month later, a friend of ours, a Group Captain in the Royal Air Force, brought a lady down who was reputed to be hyper-sensitive to ‘psychic’ conditions. We hoped that her presence might induce unusual activity. They also were shown over the house. Nothing happened until they came to the landing where on exactly the same spot this lady experienced the same feeling of horror that had so affected Miss R-. An important point is that neither of these persons had any knowledge of Miss R-‘s visit or experience. The exact position of this spot was marked on the floor but great care was taken to make the mark invisible to anyone unless they got down on their knees to look for it. Neither was it known to anyone except my son and myself. As will be seen later, this particular area seemed to have a special significance.
In view of the fact that during the residence of the Foysters so many objects had been unaccountably moved and even transported from one room to another, we placed different things on shelves, window-sills, mantel-pieces and so on, in the hope that they would be moved. These were all ringed with chalk and dated so that we should be able to check any movement at once. Among them was an empty tobacco tin which was placed on the drawing-room mantel-piece. For some time none of these objects showed any signs of movement. But on September 19 we walked into the drawing-room and immediately noticed that the tin from the mantel-piece had gone. We went on our way through the house and on the landing found the tin. It had been placed with almost mathematical accuracy on the very small mark that we had made on the floor to mark the area where the two ladies had been so acutely affected; where Mr. Smith had heard the whispering; where the wedding ring was found and where Mrs. Foyster had been struck in the face.
Another contrivance we set up somewhat in the nature of a trap, was a simple piece of apparatus consisting of an electric bell, a battery and a pile of five books. Into the lower book had been fixed a paper break-contact so that if the books were moved the spring contacts would close and the bell would ring
continuously. This was placed on the dining-room mantel-piece.
I was unable to get down to the Rectory the following week and had to hand the keys to a doctor friend, who is now the Director of Pathology at one of our large national hospitals. He and his son and a friend, both engineers, were with him. All of them had been to the Rectory before. They made a tour of the house just after midnight and at 12:50 a.m. were in the Blue Room when they heard the bell ringing. They hurried down but by the time they reached the dining-room the bell had stopped ringing. They found that all the books had been pushed to one side and the contact withdrawn. The window and door seals were all inspected and all found to be intact. Yet something had moved the books. The question of trickery can be ruled out completely. The incident was not subjective. Indeed it was very material. It was no manifestation of mental phenomena. Energy was used, and if appropriate preparation could have been made the force used might have been measured in foot pounds. And so it joins the other hundreds of incidents for which there is no explanation.
One of the features of Borley was the variation in the type of phenomena experienced there. We observed an odd incident one night when sitting in the library. Everything was quiet, with the usual oppressive silence. The blind, which reached from the ceiling to the floor, was drawn over the French windows. Dr. B…..y, Captain H…..n, my son and myself were all there when the blind, which was of a heavy canvas-like material, started to move. We watched it and thinking there might be a draught tested the air with smoke, but it was quite still. The movement was undulating, just as though the thing was breathing deeply. The undulation started at the top and spread gradually downwards to the floor. We all stood round watching it for nearly five minutes when it stopped quite suddenly. This sounds a very mild affair but was one of so many unaccountable things that happened. We never saw this again.
The majority of noises were heard during the hours of darkness but just after ten o’clock one morning I was sitting alone in the library when I heard three heavy blows overhead, apparently on the floor of the Blue Room. I immediately called Kerr-Pearse who had gone into the kitchen and just as he entered the room we both heard two more blows. We went up to the Blue Room but it was empty and quiet. The house was still sealed and the doors locked. No one else was in the house.
One night, it was actually 1:10 a.m., Dr. B…..y and my son were having a few moments sleep, while I was sitting at the table reading.
I heard a sound such as would be made by a chair being dragged across the Blue Room floor overhead. There followed a tremendous blow, which seemed to come from the top of the large bookcase within a few feet of where I was sitting. This woke both the doctor and my son. It was the loudest single noise that we heard during the whole investigation. It is of interest that this noise was made while two persons were asleep. I suggest that the state of sleep, when the conscious mind is at rest, may possibly be of some importance in connection with paranormal activity. The evidence to support this suggestion is not negligible.
Another incident which took place during a ‘sleep’ period may be mentioned. Squadron-Leader Alan Cuthbert was with us on this occasion. He was suffering from a very heavy cold and we prevailed on him to lie on the camp bed in the library and get an hour’s rest. This he did and was soon in a deep sleep. About 2 a.m. we decided to leave him and go up onto the landing and sit in complete darkness in the hope that this might produce some phenomena.
After sitting there for 40 minutes, during which time we did not speak, we all simultaneously and distinctly heard footsteps, such as would be made by a heavy man, cross the hall immediately below us. We knew at once they they could not have been made by such a lightly built man as Cuthbert, but we went down to investigate. Everything was quiet, the library dimly lit by the oil lamp and Cuthbert still slept soundly.
One more like instance occurred when a visitor on leave from overseas asked to be allowed to spend a night at the Rectory. He was a man of about 40, athletic, used to big game hunting and certainly not a temperamental type of individual. Kerr-Pearse was alone in the Rectory on this day and welcomed the visitor. Towards three o’clock in the morning they went into the library, made up the fire, and decided to have an hour’s sleep, the visitor on the camp bed and Kerr-Pearse on the floor. About an hour later Kerr-Pearse was awakened by his companion, who was obviously in a state of high nervous tension. He quickly gave an explanation to account for his agitation.
Before leaving the Rectory in the morning, he wrote a short report in which he says, ‘- before waking you I had been awake for a considerable time, I cannot say how long but it must have been half an hour. Everything was perfectly still and I saw and heard nothing, but the air had become icy cold, my hands became numbed, in fact I became cold all over. I was rigid. It was so unpleasant that, in spite of an effort to control my nerves, I was eventually compelled to wake you.’
In view of these many incidents
I submit that there is a possibility that the state of sleep may beget phenomena. It seems as though energy can be drawn from a sleeping person, and used to produce phenomena of different types. Whether this energy is controlled by an entity or is simply a spontaneous and uncontrolled outburst is a matter for conjecture.
The following occurrence might be cited to confirm that there may be some conscious intention behind the use of such energy. It took place during the same night as the incident just related. That afternoon Kerr-Pearse had ordered a sack of coals to be delivered which had been dumped against the wall in the hall just outside the library. It weighed 56 pounds. At 8:30 p.m. he and his companion were going up to the Blue Room and had reached the landing when they heard a scraping and shuffling sound below them in the hall. It did not recur and after waiting a few moments they went down. To their astonishment the sack of coals had been moved along the floor for about eighteen inches. This would not have been so noticeable had not the sack been put on a patch of un-stained floor where a stove had formally stood, the measurement could therefore be seen fairly accurately.
Kerr-Pearse had a rather uncomfortable experience. He was along in the house on an autumn evening, and was sitting in the library reading when he heard a sharp metallic click. These sounds were not unusual and he took little notice. But after a few moments the thought occurred to him that the sound was like a lock being turned. Going over to the door he found that it had been locked, from the inside.
After a few visits to Borley I remembered an old planchette and rescued it from a lumber room where it was stored. We used it first late one night in the library. No sooner did our fingers come into contact with it than it started to write in large and well formed letters. It ultimately produced words, phrases, dates and even drawings. Some of it was unintelligible, some demonstrably untrue, some impossible to confirm but a certain amount of it was factual and confirmed later. One of the most startling things written was a clear prophecy that the Rectory would be burned and under the ruins would be found the bones of a murdered person. This was written on March 27, 1938. Exactly 11 months later, on February 27, 1939, the house caught fire and was practically destroyed.
In 1943 we made another visit to the site of the house for the purpose of digging in the cellars. The brick well in the further cellar was emptied of its contents of stone, brick and accumulated rubbish. At a depth of five feet six inches a silver-plated jug was found. This was
submitted to experts and was found to be about 80 years old, making the date of manufacture 1893, the year the Rectory was built.
Next, the passage at the foot of the cellar steps was excavated. Owing to the fallen debris from the burned building this was a much more arduous task and more than a ton of rubbish was removed.
At a depth of three feet a human jaw bone was found and, five minutes later, part of a human skull. These were immediately submitted to an eminent pathologist who described them respectively as, the left mandible with five teeth and left parietal and temporal bone, both belonging to a woman probably about 30 years of age. The name of this long dead lady will almost certainly remain an unsolved mystery, but the fact remains: a woman was buried at the foot of the cellar steps – a strange thing with a churchyard only 100 yards away.
On the publication of these facts we received hundreds of letters pointing out that they must be part of the remains of the nun. But, tempting as this suggestion is, it cannot be accepted without much more evidence than is available at present.
An analysis of the total incidents of a paranormal character, covering many years, shows that 80 per cent occurred during the hours of darkness or dusk, that 46 per cent happened on the ground floor, 37 per cent on the first floor, and 17 percent on the main or back stairs. Paranormal activity was most active during the months of June and July. Sundays and days of Religious Festival were undoubtedly the quietest. Phenomenon does not appear to be influenced by air temperature. There is very good evidence to show that the presence of certain persons made manifestations more active. The state of sleep of one or more persons in the house may have a bearing on the type and frequency of phenomena.
During the whole of its 77 years of existence the Rectory seems to have been the focal point of phenomena outside normal human experience and understanding. One of the last things the Rev. Eric Smith said to me was, ‘the house was evil from top to bottom and it should have been burned to the ground years ago.’ Now all the rectors who once lived in it have passed away – and the house has burned. But if the reports that filter through to me are to be believed, although the ghosts are homeless, they are still there. Evidence obtained after the house was destroyed was too late to be included in the two books already published. But a third and final book will be published, probably next year, which should complete the story of this sinister house.