Harry Price - An Appreciation of his Life & Times  by Paul Adams    A short overview of Harry Price's career originally written for The Ghostville Times website (December 2005)

All fields of human activity have their pioneers in whose footsteps the next generations follow, and by laying down the foundations of their particular disciplines they enable these future colleagues to build their contributions and discoveries.  Psychical research is no exception.  In its modern terms as ‘parapsychology’ it has been defined by the work of the American Joseph Banks Rhine (1885-1980), indeed the ‘Father of Modern Parapsychology’ who began carrying out experiments in telepathy, clairvoyance and precognition at Duke University in North Carolina in the 1930s.  Before Rhine, psychical research as it was still termed continued to be quite a mixed bag which the investigators of the time attempted to study and evaluate - séance room phenomena, spontaneous cases of haunting, crisis apparitions, dream cases and so on.  During the early decades of the 20th century, exponents on both sides of the Atlantic continued the study of phenomena that was the staple fare of the Victorian scientists and academics that had founded institutions such as the Society for Psychical Research at Cambridge and the American Society for Psychical Research in Boston.  In particular some of these notables acted as popular educators in bringing the subject of the scientific study of the paranormal before the general public.

In America, British born Hereward Carrington (1880-1958) was a prolific writer who personally carried out much work with spiritualist mediums before the First World War and continued this on into the 1920s and 1930s.  His most famous association was with the great Italian medium Eusapia Palladino.   Carrington was to be followed by Hans Holzer (born 1920) who began to produce a series of popular guides to the supernatural chronicling his investigations in the 1960s.  In England notable Victorian scientists Sir Oliver Lodge (1851-1940) and Sir William Crookes (1832-1919) carried out extensive work with the mediums of the day, Crookes famously with Florence Cook with whose ‘spirit’ entity Katie King he was photographed, but neither men left their academic circles to present the subject of paranormal phenomena and its scientific investigation to the proverbial man in the street.  It was eventually left to one man to provide this crossover link between the public and the world of scientific psychical research.  This was Harry Price, the most controversial, charismatic and ultimately enigmatic psychical investigator there has ever been, and in this short essay the intention is to give a brief outline of his life and career and show that he can truly be regarded as the father of the modern popular ghost-hunting scene that we have today.

Harry Price was born in Holborn in London on 17th January 1881 into a working class family.  His father was a traveling salesman for a firm of paper manufacturers and after trying his hand at several lines of work, which included manufacturing glue and photographing shop fronts in the New Cross area of London to which the Price family later moved, Harry himself entered this line of work, becoming a salesman for the same company as his father.  It might come as a surprise to readers who have read about Price in the past to know that in fact he never left this line of employment. Despite being famous as a ghost-hunter Price never gave up his day job and worked in the paper industry all his life and his working class background was one of the factors that affected his relationship with his contemporaries in the field of psychical research in which he became active after the 1914-1918 War.  Evening classes at Goldsmiths College in London in the years following his leaving school in the late 1890s in which Price studied amongst other things photography, engineering and chemistry gave him practical skills which he would later be able to use to his advantage.

In 1908 Price married Constance Mary Knight and the couple set up their home in the village of Pulborough in West Sussex where they would live for the rest of their lives.  The Knights were a somewhat affluent family, which stemmed from the business dealings of Constance’s grandfather Robert Henry Knight, a London perfumer and property owner.   Constance had the benefit of a small trust fund that supplemented Price’s income as a traveling salesman and enabled him to establish what would become (and still is to this day) the greatest library of literature on magic, conjuring and the occult in the world.  According to his own biographical sources, Harry Price had become interested in magic at the age of eight when he witnessed the traveling show of a quack medicine man and conjuror known as the ‘Great Sequah’ who had set up shop in the market square in Shrewsbury in Shropshire.  Indeed with this Shropshire episode Price opened his autobiography Search for Truth – My Life for Psychical Research that was published in 1942.  Price became a competent amateur conjuror and these skills enabled him to get an insight into the workings of the many mediums that he became interested in before and especially after the Great War had ended.  As early as 1915 Price attempted to get an appointment for a sitting with the famous ‘spirit’ photographer William Hope but he had to wait until 1922 before getting his picture taken as we will see shortly. 

Fake psychics and phony mediums abounded during the Great War, feeding off the slaughter in the trenches as families sought reassurance that they were able to contact their loved ones again.  Price knew many of their tricks and became ultra critical and exceptionally scathing towards Spiritualism, which he described several times in his writings as being riddled through and through with fraud.  But despite being able to see through much of the deception, Harry Price came to the firm decision that if and when he was able he would establish a scientific facility where mediums and psychics who claimed to possess supernormal powers could be tested to establish the validity of their claims.  At this time, the dawn of the 1920s, the supposed phenomena of the séance room was still the area where psychical research was most heavily involved and into this arena Price was soon to present himself.

Harry Price’s relationship with organized psychical research in Britain began when he was elected a member of the Society for Psychical Research in June 1920 and it was to be an uneasy one at the best of times.  The SPR had been founded by a group of Cambridge academic and intellectuals in 1882 and its Council at the time that Price joined was made up of members of the upper classes.  Although he gave the Society the benefit on loan of his by then vast library of occult literature and treated the subject of psychical research with enormous amounts of energy and enthusiasm, the class barrier prevented many of his fellow members from treating him as an equal with the result that he was looked upon in some ways as an embarrassment and not someone who should be taken seriously.  Price’s own character and temperament should also be taken into account here.  Price came onto the paranormal scene when he was nearly forty and was clearly looking to make his mark in a career in which he was passionately interested.  He developed the notion of being a kind of great amateur scientist and enjoyed the distinguished company of the lettered scientists and gentry that he mixed with as part of this organized psychical scene. As a person he had a great desire to be famous and felt that he had a lot to contribute to the subject.  As can be expected, Price came to resent the attitude that some members of the Society for Psychical Research displayed towards him (Mrs. Sidgwick, one of the SPR founders said that she did not want Price on their Council because he was not “a gentleman”) and this set the seal on the course of future events. He made up his own mind that he would reorganize psychical research in Britain on his own terms and where the SPR was concerned he used the contacts there to gain experience of the scientific study of the paranormal before putting his plans into action.  

His first major solo success took place in February 1922 with the high-profile exposure of the 'spirit' photographer William Hope of the notorious 'Crewe Circle' of spiritualists.  Price turned up for his appointment for a sitting at the British College of Psychic Science armed with a prepared set of photographic plates.  When Hope switched Price's plates for his own in the dark room, a slight of hand which was noted by the amateur conjuror, Price was able to publish a concise report in the Journal of the SPR denouncing Hope as a fraud.  This caused a furore in spiritualist circles as Hope was highly regarded and it opened up a rift between Price and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes and an ardent Spiritualist, which continued on and off right up until Doyle's death in 1930.

Up until this time frauds and fakes were the staple fair that Price encountered in his part-time investigation of the paranormal and he was somewhat disillusioned especially with the spiritualist scene.  This was all to change however when he was invited by a fellow SPR member Eric J. Dingwall to witness the alleged séance room phenomena of the young Austrian medium Willi Schneider who was being tested in Munich by the flamboyant Baron von Schrenck-Notzing.  Price attended several sittings with the young Schneider boy, was impressed with the controlling techniques employed and before they returned to England both he and Dingwall signed statements that they had witnessed genuine phenomena.  This in many ways was the turning point for Harry Price.  Now he had proof that paranormal phenomena existed and he was more desperate than ever to experience it for himself in a situation in under conditions in which he himself had complete and overall control.  He did not have long to wait.  In the following year he met a young English nurse named Stella Cranshaw (known through Price’s writings as Stella C.) who claimed to have had strange experiences, which included poltergeist phenomena and curious electrical effects.  Price wasted no time in organizing a series of sittings with Stella at the rooms of the London Spiritualist Alliance.  The fact that he did not involve the SPR goes a long way to showing his feelings towards that organization and its members.  The results of the Stella C. séances were impressive and Price published the results in a report in the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research the following year.  Price demonstrated his aptitude for the whole subject of psychical research by designing and building specific pieces of apparatus which were deployed at the sittings and his paper was pivotal in his being elected as the Foreign Research Officer of the ASPR in 1925, an appointment which was to last until 1931 when the post was abolished as part of internal changes within the Society.  Price was especially proud of the appointment, had his designation printed on his calling card and wrote many articles for the Society’s Journal. 

On the 1st of January 1926, Harry Price’s dream of a scientific establishment for the testing of claimants to paranormal powers became a reality when the doors of his National Laboratory of Psychical Research opened in Queensbury Place in London with himself as the Honorary Director.  This had involved nearly a year of not only hard work but also considerable personal expense on Price’s part as he had equipped the facility to an impressive standard out of his own pocket.  In a blaze of publicity Harry Price was now Britain’s equivalent to Schrenck-Notzing in Germany and his organization, which had its own Council and publications soon became a rival to the long established Society for Psychical Research.  At its height it had over eight hundred members who were able to use its rooms as a kind of gentleman’s club as well as having access to Price’s library of books, now known as the Research Library of the National Laboratory and relocated from the SPR’s headquarters, together with the extensive laboratory facilities and all important séance room. 

The investigation of mediumistic phenomena still took up much of Price’s time but he extended his investigations and took on all sorts of other subjects, which in many ways were determined by the strange array of people who turned up at the National Laboratory seeking to be tested and certified as producing genuine phenomena.  Ever aware of the publicity value of such things Price was prepared to allow all and sundry to be examined including contortionists, thought readers and performance artists whose real homes were undoubtedly in the fairground rather than the laboratory of an organization whose aims were the scientific study of the occult.  This being the case, Price’s National Laboratory attained in the eyes of mainstream science, and particularly bodies such as the SPR, a vaudeville atmosphere which consigned his work to the fringes of recognized science.  A modern example of the goings-on at the National Laboratory in Price’s day is the ‘Million Dollar Challenge’ organized by the American magician and psychical investigator James Randi through his James Randi Educational Foundation who offers the prize to anyone who under controlled scientific conditions can demonstrate genuine occult, psychic or paranormal phenomena.  The kind of response that Randi receives today (and applications to take Randi’s challenge can be viewed on his website differs very little from the applicants whom Price welcomed into the National Laboratory in the closing years of the 1920s.  Price wrote often amusing accounts of many of these experiments in several of his popular books including Leaves from a Psychist’s Case Book (1933) and Confessions of a Ghost Hunter (1936).  The result of all this was that by the end of the decade, Price was becoming increasingly disillusioned with the way his work was not only progressing but the responses it was receiving from orthodox scientific bodies.

The results of Price’s work in many aspects of psychical research show an amazing dichotomy between the undertaking and reporting of serious scientific studies and blatant publicity seeking, sensationalism and thrill making.  Compare his approach and reporting of the séance room phenomena of Willi Schneider’s younger brother Rudi whom Price first brought to England in 1929 following the sudden death of Schrenck-Notzing in Germany for a series of controlled sittings at the National Laboratory, with publicity episodes such as the opening of the mysterious locked box of the eighteenth century prophetess Joanna Southcott which Price carried out in the Church House, Westminster in 1927 and the Brocken Experiment of June 1932 when Price traveled to Germany in an attempt to transform a goat into a handsome young man by means of a magical manuscript which had been delivered to his office some weeks before.  The former, published as a full length book in 1930, is a model of accurate detailed reporting and shows the great pains that Price went to in achieving scientifically acceptable conditions in which to carry out his experiments, while the latter incidents are clearly headline generating escapades designed to keep Price and his organization firmly in the public eye.  Consequently newspaper editors loved him as anything that Price was involved with was guaranteed to generate good copy and Price soon became the most well known psychical investigator during the late 1920s and this notoriety continued into the thirties and forties.  His great ability as a journalist to present his often exciting adventures as readable books during these years set the seal on his fame in the public eye.  Where unexplained happening were concerned, newspapers turned to Harry Price and his National Laboratory of Psychical Research for help and explanations rather than organizations such as the SPR, sometimes with incredible results as we shall soon see.  Incidentally, Price pre-empted James Randi’s now famous challenge by several years (although not to the same monetary degree) when in connection with Rudi Schneider’s 1929 visit to London he issued a challenge in the pages of a London newspaper that he would personally pay £1000 to anyone who could duplicate Rudi’s phenomena under the same control conditions as employed at the National Laboratory.  There were no takers, not even Noel Maskelyne, the greatest stage magician of the day who for good measure Price personally challenged to do the same at a performance at the Coliseum Music Hall in London.  For a traveling salesman who sold paper bags and greaseproof paper Price was doing very well.

During the 1930s Price’s organization underwent several periods of upheaval.  The first came about due to the culmination of Price’s investigation of Rudi Schneider who returned to give two further series of sittings at the National Laboratory, the final ones taking place between February and May 1932 which by now had moved to larger premises in Roland Gardens, South Kensington.  Price considered Rudi in many ways to be his property as he had gone to a lot of trouble and personal expense to bring him to London in order for his mediumistic claims to be ascertained.  Rudi’s phenomena, which included telekinetic effects, partial materializations and the production of cold breezes in the séance room, were still impressive especially as Price had employed a seemingly foolproof technique of controlling both the medium and the observers at any one time during a sitting by means of an electrical setup that linked each person together and showed breakages in the chain by means of warning lamps, but towards the end of his time with Price it became clear that his powers were failing.  At a sitting on 28th April 1932 using an automatically operated camera set-up, Price obtained a photograph showing Rudi with one hand free from control (Price himself was restraining Rudi) and apparently faking telekinetic effects.  Price subsequently published the photograph as part of his second book-length report into Schneider’s phenomena showing that even though he championed apparently genuine mediums in whom he personally believed, he would not hesitate to expose fraudulent practices when he experienced them.

But there is more to the story than this.  In between the second a third series of sittings Price found out that Lord Charles Hope and Lord Rayleigh, both members of Price’s National Laboratory, had arranged for Rudi to give a series of séances for the Society for Psychical Research once Price had finished with him.  Apparently enraged with what he considered to be a stab in the back on Schneider’s part for considering to allow himself to be tested by anyone other than his own National Laboratory, Price in fact did not immediately publish his report which included the breaking control incident but held it back for a full year until after Rudi’s sittings with the SPR had gone ahead.  During this intervening time he continued to champion Schneider’s mediumship, both vocally and in print and gave no indication that he doubted the Austrian’s paranormal abilities.  Once the Hope/Rayleigh sittings were finished and both men were preparing their reports Price dropped his bombshell with an article in the Empire News newspaper that he had previously caught Rudi cheating and reinforced this with an extensive report published under the auspices of his National Laboratory which included the now famous incriminating photograph.  Without a doubt it was an attempt by Price to rubbish the SPR results by proving that Rudi was able to evade their controlling procedures.  Such was the controversy of Price’s actions that several Council members of the National Laboratory, who were not even aware of the alleged exposure, resigned in protest.  Price’s reputation in the eyes of the people who were prepared to collaborate with him on a professional level was badly damaged and the following year (1934) Price dissolved the National Laboratory of Psychical Research, taking advantage of the successful result of negotiations he had been making with the University of London to provide and equip a Department of Psychical Research.  On the 6th June the University of London Council for Psychical Investigation was formed, again with Price in the top chair, but despite the title the organization in fact had no official connection with the University although they benefited from the transfer on permanent loan of Price’s laboratory equipment and his extensive library.

The University of London Council for Psychical Investigation existed for a further five years until the outbreak of hostilities in 1939 when Price almost immediately closed his office and retired from active investigation.  The period up until the beginning of the Second World War could well be described as Price’s true ‘ghost-hunting’ years as the investigations he took part in were in a completely different vein from the scientific examinations of séance room phenomena which had characterized the undertakings of the National Laboratory of Psychical Research.  As well as the publicity-inspired Brocken Experiment he investigated the bizarre Talking Mongoose case on the Isle of Man and wrote a book of his exploits in conjunction with R.S. Lambert who was then the editor of the BBC’s Listener magazine, carried out a series of fire-walking experiments with the Indian fakirs Rahmen Bey, Ahmed Hussain and Kuda Bux, investigated the classic Indian Rope Trick and made the first live radio broadcast from a haunted house in Meopham, Kent.  Although interesting diversions which reinforced in the public mind Price’s reputation as a daring and charismatic adventurer who was prepared to investigate all manner of reported phenomena in an attempt to get to the truth behind such happenings, the work of the University of London Council for Psychical Investigation was a far cry from the rigorous scientific work that Price had previously carried out.  Despite his continued presence on the paranormal scene, it is evident that Price was missing out on new developments, which were taking place that would revolutionise psychical research as we know it today.  As has been mentioned briefly above, while Price was attempting to track down talking animals and similar headline grabbing subjects, in America at the same time J.B. Rhine was ushering in the new science of parapsychology with its emphasis on the study and creation of the terminology of ESP, and this was something which Price, now in his mid fifties and not in particularly good health was unable to embrace or possibly even take seriously.  When in 1937 Rhine produced his first set of Zener cards for the study of extra sensory perception, Price responded in a typical manner by producing at set of cards to his own design as he had found Rhine’s initial design to be inadequate.  Even at this later stage of his career, Price still felt that he was able to lead when in fact he was by now following himself in the footsteps of others.

However, even at this stage of his career in a subject which was changing around him, the close of the 1930s, a turbulent decade for Price personally and with Europe erupting into full scale war, in terms of classic ghost hunting, Harry Price was still able to produce his magnum opus which sealed his fame forever as the greatest ghost hunter of all time.  This was his investigation of Borley Rectory, ‘the most haunted house in England’.  With this particular case unlike no other, Price laid down the foundations of the popular movement of paranormal investigation, which is everywhere today, making him truly the ‘Father of Popular Ghost Hunting’. 

Borley Rectory has become the classic haunted house case and one which has now obtained legendary status.  Situated in a lonely isolated district of rural Essex, Price first became aware of it in June 1929 when through his good relations with the newspapermen of the day he was asked to assist the investigations of a staff reporter from the Daily Mirror newspaper.  The London daily had been asked by the then rector of Borley, the Rev. Guy Smith and his wife, to find the causes of apparently paranormal incidents which had been disturbing their attempts to run the parish from the huge rambling building built by a previous incumbent, Henry Dawson Ellis Bull for his large family in the middle of the nineteenth century.  Over the years the Bull family who lived at the Rectory from 1863 until 1927 had reported many ghostly incidents which included footsteps, strange lights in the windows and the appearance of apparitions, most notoriously that of a nun together with a spectral coach and horses.  Locally Borley Rectory had a reputation as a haunted house and this reputation was contained within the locale until the new rector and his wife, after having taken up the living following the death in 1927 of the last Bull curate Harry Bull, decided to introduce it to a much wider audience by contacting a national newspaper.  Whatever their reasons for doing so, and there have been several suggestions which include instigating a desperate attempt to persuade the ecclesiastical authorities to move them from a parish in which they were unhappy to providing background material for a thriller novel which Mabel Smith the curate’s wife was working on at the time, the arrival of the Mirror reporter and a day later Harry Price and his secretary, the Smiths set in motion probably the most controversial case in the history of psychical investigation, one which continues to this day.

Initially Price was unimpressed with Borley and made no attempt to carry out an investigation of any kind.  No doubt he was pleased to have been summoned to investigate what, thanks to the Mirror’s reporting, was a briefly sensational and headline-grabbing case but at this time he was busy in London with the Rudi Schneider séances which were more pressing.  Almost certainly for the benefit of the newspaper reporter and for his own personal amusement he embellished the haunting with a series of poltergeist effects, which created a broken verandah roof, and a cascade of stones and broken ornaments down the main staircase during his initial visit.  Price showed members of the National Laboratory around the Rectory in the weeks following his first contact with the case but at the end of July 1929 when he accompanied another newspaper reporter with whom he often collaborated and who had requested a brief tour of the building before leaving for America, Price apparently threw one stone too many and was caught out.  According to the revelation, which only came out in the years immediately following Price death nearly twenty years later, Charles Sutton of the Daily Mail claimed to have caught Harry red-handed with a pocket full of stones but thanks to the libel laws of the land, Sutton was unable to print his exposure at the time and the incident was dropped.  Not surprisingly Price did nothing more with Borley at this time, the Smiths soon left and he concentrated on other things.

In October 1930 the Reverend Lionel Foyster and his wife Marianne together with their adopted daughter Adelaide took up the Borley living.  During his time at Borley the Reverend Foyster kept a diary in which he chronicled the apparently paranormal events that his family experienced – these included bell ringing, movement of objects, apparitions, smells and so on.  A year after the Foysters moved in, members of the Bull family who were living locally to Borley visited Price at the National Laboratory in London and urged him to visit the place again.  The new rector and his family were apparently experiencing phenomena which was eclipsing anything that either Price or the Smiths had experienced previously.  Together with Kathleen Goldney, a member of Price’s own organization as well as the Society for Psychical Research, Price visited Borley again in October 1931 but again was unconvinced about the genuineness of the phenomena he experienced.  Price told Lionel Foyster to his face that he believed the rector’s wife was behind the poltergeist outbreak and the two men parted on bad company.  The Foysters left Borley in 1935 after which time the building remained empty.  The parish of Borley was combined with that of neighbouring Liston and the new cleric Alfred Henning elected to reside in Liston Rectory.  Harry Price did continue to correspond with the Bull sisters who reported apparently continuing activity at the Rectory but Price stayed away for over five years and did not set foot inside the building until 1937.  In May of that year Price, despite previously showing no belief in the genuineness of the alleged haunting, decided that he would use the building in an experimental capacity.  By keeping it under constant observation for a period of twelve months he intended to find out whether in fact he had been wrong and that Borley Rectory was indeed the most haunted house in England. 

At a meeting with the Reverend Henning at Liston Price rented the Rectory for a year and through an advertisement in The Times newspaper he organized a rota of forty eight observers to spend periods day and night in the building and its grounds with instructions to report anything unusual.  The ‘Official Observers’ as they have become known duly sent reports to Price at his London office where he catalogued them for future use.  These reports included transcriptions of impromptu séances and table turning sessions which some observers carried out in the building, one of which (carried out remotely from Borley in South London at the home of Sidney Glanville, one of the most dedicated of Price’s team) foretold the destruction of the building by fire.  As most people know, Borley Rectory did indeed catch fire, not on the night of the séance in Streatham but eleven months later.  What at first appears to be a supernatural prophesy fulfilled was in fact nothing but an insurance fraud.  Following the end of Price’s tenancy the Church authorities sold the Rectory to a man called William Gregson who preferred to be known by the title of ‘Captain’.  Captain Gregson bought the building with the express intention of capitalizing on its haunted reputation, even asking the advice of Price on how best to organize sightseeing tours to the Rectory, but when his plans did not bring in the required revenue on the night of 27/28th February1939 he fired the place instead, reducing the ‘most haunted house in England’ to a burnt out shell which was eventually demolished in 1944.  A year earlier Price carried out excavation work in the ruined cellars in connection with theories that had been put forward as to possible causes of the haunting. 

In 1940 and 1946 Harry Price published two full-length books on Borley Rectory (The Most Haunted House in England and The End of Borley Rectory), which are now his most famous works.  These flank his final contributions to the literature of psychical research, his autobiography (1942) and a study of poltergeist phenomena Poltergeist Over England (1945).  What is in fact probably his best contribution to the subject, his Fifty Years of Psychical Research had already appeared in 1939.  In both Borley books he reports on his complete involvement with the alleged haunting in which he states his total belief as evidence for a genuine haunting.  Price was preparing a third book on the Borley case when he suffered a massive heart attack and died at his desk at his home in Pulbough on Easter Sunday, 28th March 1948. 

Borley Rectory was a tragedy for Harry Price in many ways.  The case came to him at a time when he had lost - for some of the reasons outlined above - his initial critical stance as a practical and skeptical investigator.  With the watering down of his own organization to little more than an honorary title he used Borley as a means to generate interest in not only himself but also the subject in which he was still passionately interested – psychical research.  By playing up the sensational side of the case (the turbulent Foyster years in particular which in the main were the product of a bizarre psychological and emotional relationship in the Foyster household) and by ignoring the rigid scientific approach demanded by orthodox science he in fact missed the evidence which does exist for a genuine case of haunting at Borley.  When looked at critically, despite the rubbishing of the case in the years following Price’s death by a report commissioned by the SPR which involved none other than Price’s former colleagues and collaborators Eric Dingwall and Kathleen Goldney (The Haunting of Borley Rectory – A Critical Survey of the Evidence [1956]), particular aspects of the haunting, specifically the footsteps in the building (which were reported by several of Price’s observers in 1937), the window lights and sightings of the nun-like figure point to what amount to genuine paranormal activity which, if he had been less interested in the sensational side of the case Price may well have picked up on and given it more detailed and less romantic attention.  The third author of the SPR report Trevor Hall went on to develop a particular hatred towards Price which culminated in a series of biographical essays published as Search for Harry Price in 1978, a direct play on the title of Price’s own autobiography.  Hall’s style is particularly malicious and although at times Price was his own worst enemy he does not deserve the treatment which Hall deals out, which often uses flawed and inaccurate research.  A particular tragedy is that the Borley case itself has diverted the attention of subsequent commentators on Price’s work from the areas where he contributed the most, specifically the séance room investigations of Stella Cranshaw and the Schneider brothers.  Here, by using the stringent methods demanded by the orthodox scientific fraternity he clearly demonstrated the existence of paranormal forces, which at the present time this same orthodox science cannot explain. 

  The above is a fairly brief look at the life and career of Harry Price.  He is often described today as a ‘psychic journalist’ which is partly correct.  One major criticism is that he only reported on the phenomena he experienced and did not put forward any specific theories to explain them.  Despite some terrible puns his books are very well written and particularly readable.  Often commentaries in the past tend to be somewhat polemic in their appraisal of him, picturing him either as a kind of psychic saint or a sinner and often using the Borley case as evidence either way.  The British writer and ghost-hunter Peter Underwood (born 1923) corresponded with Price towards the end of his life and himself has taken on the mantle of a popular educator of the paranormal, producing many guides to ghosts and haunted places.  Underwood has spent many years researching the Borley Rectory haunting and made the following comment on Price as part of his entry on the man in his 1978 book Dictionary of the Supernatural which I think sums Price up quite fairly.  Underwood writes:

“An informed but impartial estimate of the character of Harry Price suggests that he was neither a totally dedicated, saintly, much-wronged scientific researcher, nor an out-and-out fraud on whose views or whose word no reasonable person could ever rely.  He was a mixture of the two, and he possessed a genuine and very knowledgeable enthusiasm for all facts of psychic research, mysteries and the unknown, and devoted much of his time, energy, money and ingenuity to these interests.  On the other hand, there is evidence that, where his personal self-esteem was involved, he was capable of the most extraordinary double-dealing, spite and intrigue.”

  In 1929, Harry Price turned up at Borley Rectory as the model of the modern psychical researcher with a suitcase bristling with gadgets and equipment.  A quick look around the Internet will soon reveal that for better or for worse nothing has really changed.  One thing is for certain; all active ghost-hunters owe much to Price and his adventures over half a century ago.


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