I guess you could say I have always had a fascination for the supernatural, but there is just something about Borley Rectory that always spoke to me like a spirit from beyond the grave. My parents used to have an old Reader's Digest book which featured fascinating articles from around the world, and the one article that stood out to me the most was about Borley Rectory - England's most haunted house.
I poured over this article constantly, learning the clues and the secrets of the Rectory's hauntings. I always wanted to visit the site of the Rectory one day, and I even purchased The Most Haunted House In England: Ten Years' Investigation of Borley Rectory, which is an account by one of the original investigator's Harry Price and originally published in 1946. It's a fascinating read, and I devoured it like a monster.
So I thought it fitting to revisit one of my favourite tales of haunting for This Side of Sanguine.
Borley Rectory was originally built in 1362 as a monestary in Borley, Essex in England but destroyed in a fire in 1841. During the time that the Rectory was a monestary there were several rumours and legends that a Benedictine monk living in the monestayr had conducted an illcit affair with a nun from a nearby convent. After the affair was discovered, the monk was executed in shame and the nun was bricked up alive inside the walls.
This nun is important, as many sightings of the nun followed in years to come, so remember her and we will get back to her.
After a mysterious fire burnt the monestary down in 1841 it was then rebuilt in 1862 to home Reverand Henry Dawson Ellis Bull and his family of fourteen after Reverand Bull was named the rector of the parish. The first paranormal events of the Rectory than began occuring in 1863 where the ghost of the nun was sighted around twilight about 40 metres from the house, and unexplained footsteps were heard throughout the house. Many visitors also claimed to see a phantom coach driven by two headless horsemen on the roads near the area, and the family were convinced that the apparitions were real.
Despite their belief in their hauntings, the family didn't move, and once Reverand Bull died in 1892 his son Harry Bull took over the Rectory until his death in 1928. Soon the parish than fell into the hands of Reverand Guy Smith and his wife, who soon discovered more haunting attributes, such as the discovery of a skull of a young woman, as well as the sounds of servant bells ringing despite the bells themselves being disconnected. Hearing that they were also experiencing the same hauntings of a horse-drawn carriage and unexplained footsteps that had been rampant with the Bulls years earlier, the Smith contacted the Daily Mirror who sent out the paranormal researcher Harry Price from the Society of Psychical Research to investigate the house.
After his arrival (which has all been documented in his book that I have personally read) Price was subjected to throwing stones, spirit messages being tapped out on the mirror, and the original phenomenia that the Smiths and the Bulls experienced. However, many pyshical researchers and paranormal investigators at that time have discredited Harry Price's investigations, which still remains in question and speculation despite spending almost 19 years investigating the Rectory.
Once Price left the Smiths moved out due and the haunting died down until 1930 when the Rectory was again occupied by the Reverand Lionel Foyster and his wife Marianne. The hauntings than began to reach their fever pitch as strange incidents such as bell-ringing, window-shattering, stone throwing, and the sighting of the nun again. Marianne seemed to be the most suscpetible to the hauntings, as scribblings started to appear on the wall that clearly cried out for Marianne. Some of the writings said "Help! ***** has gotten me!" and her name was clearly written in many of the scrawlings.
Marianne tried to contact the spirit through responding via the wall writings, and even by exorcism, but this seemed to aggrivate the spirits to the point where Marianne was thrown from her bed and also awoken in the middle of the night to a slap in the face. Two spirits - one of a man in a tall top hat - even appeared at the end of their daughter Adelaide's bed before disappearing again.
The Foysters eventually moved out of the house in 1935 and Harry Price moved back in for further extensive investigation. During the year many researchers experiences similar hauntings, and Harry came to the conclusion after a seance that the legend of the nun was true, believing her to be a woman named Marie Lairre who left her convent to marry Henry Waldegrave, a member of the wealthy family who manor once stood on the site of Borley Rectory. He believed that Henry strangled her and buried her remains in the cellar, correlating with the ancient legend of the phantom nun and the written messages. He theorised that the reasons behind the hauntings were because the former nun had been buried on unconsecrated ground. 1
After the investigation the Rectory then fell into the hands of it's final owner - Captain W.H Gregson. Unfortunately Gregson accidentally knocked over an oil lamp in the hallway while he was unpacking boxes and the fire quickly spread, damging the Rectory to beyond repair. After a brief investigation it was concluded by marshalls that the fire was dilerbate. Using the charred remains as a good reason to investigate further, Harry Price once again went back to the Rectory to search for the remains of Marie Lairre. In August 1943 the dig of the cellar discovered bones thought to be of a young woman, and some religious medallions. To help appease the spirit of the nun, Price then conducted a Christian burial of the bones in the small village of Liston near the remains of the Rectory.
The building itself was fully demolished in 1944 and a few bungalows and cottages remain on the property today. None have highlighted or reported any disturbing hauntings or nuns to this day and the house, as well as Harry Price's investigations have been deemed to be all an elaborate hoax, likely explained away by fraudulent claims, wind howling through the house, or rats in the floorboards. Disappointingly, Marianne Foyster even later admitted that she had seen no appariations and had made a lot of the haunting experiences up, even claiming she was having an affair on her husband and used her paranormal investigations as a cover up to conceal the affair. 2
Whatever the belief and the truth of the matter is, there is no denying that the tale of Borley Rectory is one of the most interesting investigations into the paranormal, or one fascinating hoax!