If the 'spirits' of Myers, Gurney and Sidgwick failed to convince the world of the reality of the afterlife, a far more skilful and flamboyant publicist was now preparing to launch himself into the project.
Harry Price, ghost-hunter extraordinary, claimed that he was born in Shrewsbury, son of a wealthy paper manufacturer. A brilliant critical biography by Trevor Hall, The Search for Harry Price, reveals that he was, in fact, the son of an unsuccessful grocer, and that he was born in London in 1881. From then until he was about forty, he seems to have supported himself by a variety of jobs, including commercial travelling, manufacturing patent medicines, journalism and giving gramophone concerts. What is certain is that his lifelong interest in stage magic began at the age of eight, when he saw an itinerant magician and patent medicine salesman, the Great Sequah, giving a public performance. Price began collecting books on magic, and became an expert magician. It may have been the interest in magic that led him to join the Society for Psychical Research in 1920 - the SPR was then, as now, much concerned with trying to detect fraud in mediums. E.J. Dingwall, who was then Research Officer for the Society, asked Price if he would care to come with him to Munich, to attend some séances of a remarkable German medium, Willi Schneider - one of two brothers. The man who arranged the séances was the German investigator, Baron von Schrenk-Notzing, a friend of Lombroso's, and the author of a sensationally successful book called Materialisation Phenomena, which had aroused widespread scepticism in Germany when it appeared in 1914. Schrenk-Notzing himself was something of a flamboyant publicist, and Trevor Hall suggests that Harry Price took his example to heart, and decided that this was the way to achieve the fame he craved. (He admitted frankly that he had always wanted to get his name in Who's Who.)
The Schneider brothers, Willi and Rudi, the most psychic members of a psychic family, were born at Braunau-am-Inn and, according to one friend of the family, the phenomena began after they had spent an evening playing with an ouija board. Willi had then reached the age of puberty - in 1916 - and the family was disturbed by loud knocking noises. Then objects began moving around, andWilli saw a ghost in the sitting room. Neighbours became so alarmed about the racket that the family were on the point of vacating the flat. By means of the ouija board, they tried questioning the 'spirit', which identified itself as a girl named Olga Lindtner, who claimed to be a reincarnation of the notorious Lola Montez. In due course, Willi went into a trance, and Olga spoke through him. In spite of doubts later raised by Harry Price - after he had quarrelled with the brothers - there can be no doubt that the phenomena were genuine. The novelist Thomas Mann attended one séance, and has recorded how, as he pressed Willi's knees tightly between his own, and two other people held his hands, a handkerchief floated into the air, a bell began to ring and then floated into the air, a music box played, and the keys of a typewriter were struck. Mann was convinced that deception was impossible.
Harry Price and E.J. Dingwall witnessed similar occurrences, and also saw a white hand which materialised in front of them; they had no doubt whatever of the genuineness of the phenomena, and said as much at a lecture to the SPR. But by way of keeping his options open, Price helped to edit and publish a book called Revelations of a Spirit Medium, in which a fake medium described the tricks of the trade.
In 1923, Price got into conversation with a young nurse on a train; her name was Stella Cranshawe. He was fascinated to hear that mild poltergeist phenomena occurred around her - a feeling like a breeze, movement of small objects, rapping noises, and flashes of light. By this time, Price knew enough about psychical research to realise that the girl was probably, without knowing it, a medium. He persuaded her to allow herself to be investigated. And at the first séance, a heavy table levitated and moved across the room on two legs, raps sounded, lights flashed, and the temperature in the room dropped considerably. (At later sittings it became very low indeed.) At another séance, the table hit Harry Price under the chin, then three of its legs snapped off, the top broke into two pieces, then the wholetable crumbled into matchwood. Stella herself found all these phenomena rather boring and, after she married in 1928, refused to take any part in further experiments. It is possible, in any case, that her powers would have vanished with marriage; many investigators have noted that there is a connection between sexual frustration and 'poltergeist effects', and that such effects cease when the 'focus' leads a normal sex life. (She may also have felt that séances were bad for her health - they often leave the medium exhausted.)
In 1926, Price came upon one of the most remarkable poltergeist cases of all time. In February 1925, a thirteen year-old Rumanian peasant girl called Eleonora Zugun went to visit her grandmother at the village of Buhai, and on the way found some money by the roadside, which she spent on sweets. Her grandmother, who was 105 years old, and had a reputation as a witch, told Eleonora that the money had been left by the devil, and that she would now be possessed by the devil. The next day, stones rained down on the house, smashing windows, and small objects near Eleonora rose up in the air. Eleonora was quickly sent home to Talpa, and the phenomena continued there. A jug full of water rose slowly in the air and floated several feet. A trunk rocked up and down. A porridge bowl hit a visitor on the head and made a nasty wound. Eleonora was sent to a nearby monastery, then shut in a lunatic asylum. A psychical researcher managed to get her removed and taken back to the monastery. There he witnessed all kinds of things flying through the air. The 'spirit' also began slapping the girl. Then a countess with an interest in psychical research - Zoe Wassilko-Serecki - heard about Eleonora, went to see her, and brought her back with her to Vienna. Eleonora was delighted with her new life in the countess's flat, and began training as a hairdresser. And the poltergeist phenomena continued - indicating, perhaps, that a poltergeist does not need a psychologically 'disturbed' teenager for its manifestations. The countess observed what most other researchers into poltergeistactivity have noted: that the poltergeist seems to dislike anyone actually seeing it move objects; the countess noted that various small items would fall from the air without being seen to move from their original place. The poltergeist - or dracu (demon) as Eleonora called it - communicated by automatic writing, and even spoke a few sentences in a 'breathy and toneless voice'. But what it had to say indicated that its level of intelligence was extremely low.
The dracu also punched and slapped Eleonora, threw her out of bed, pulled her hair, filled her shoes with water (the poltergeist seems to be able to create water, as we have seen), and stole her favourite possessions. In March 1926, it began scratching and biting her, as well as sticking needles into her. The bite marks were often damp with saliva.
Price came to Vienna at the end of April 1926, and was soon convinced that this was a genuine poltergeist. He took her back to London, where she was subjected to laboratory tests. The movement of objects was less violent than in Vienna, but the bites and scratches continued to appear. One day, when she was tying up a parcel in front of several witnesses, she gave a gasp, and teeth marks appeared on her wrist, then scratches appeared on her forearm, cheeks and forehead.
Back in Vienna, the movement of objects ceased, but the scratches and bites continued, now often accompanied by quantities of an unpleasant spittle. Subjected to chemical analysis, this was found to be swarming with microorganisms (whereas Eleonora's own saliva was relatively free from them). When she went to Berlin to be studied by Schrenk-Notzing, a researcher named Hans Rosenbusch accused her of cheating - with the co-operation of the countess; but this seems to be typical of the extreme scepticism of certain investigators. Finally, in 1927, the 'spirit' got tired of tormenting her, and went away. She moved to Czernowitz, in Rumania, and ran a successful hairdressing business.
The countess was convinced that Eleonora herself - orrather, her unconscious mind - was responsible for the attacks: she believed that Eleonora had powerfully developed sexual urges, and that these were fixated on her father (it sounds as if she had been impressed by Freud); so the 'attacks' were a form of self-punishment. Harry Price was inclined to agree, likening the bites to the 'stigmata' that appear on the hands of saints and religious fanatics. Yet as we read the account of Eleanor's sufferings at the hands of the dracu (there is an excellent account in Alan Gauld's Poltergeists), these explanations seem more and more preposterous. A girl does not go on scratching and biting herself for two years because she feels guilty about her sexual desires, particularly if she finds herself transformed, like Cinderella, into the protégée of a wealthy countess. Then what exactly happened?
Clearly, the grandmother was in some way responsible for 'triggering' the attacks. Eleonora had reached the age - thirteen - at which such things happen; she was not particularly happy in her present surroundings in Talpa, so there was an underlying sense of frustration. Peasants are superstitious, and when her grandmother told her that from now on she would belong to the devil and never get rid of him, the effect must have been traumatic. Eleanora's energies began to 'leak'. And some delinquent entity saw its chance, and made use of them. It may or may not be relevant that her grandmother had a reputation as a witch. If magic - and presumably witchcraft - makes use of 'spirits', as Playfair suggests, then her grandmother's house may have been the worst possible place for a frustrated adolescent like Eleonora. (This matter of witchcraft is a subject to which we shall return in the final chapter.)
As to Harry Price, he continued his triumphant career as the chief Public Relations Officer of the spirit world. He investigated fire walking and the Indian rope trick, organised séances, was photographed in 'haunted beds' (with 'Professor' Joad), and staged an experiment on the summit of the Brocken to try to change a goat into a youngman. (This was a failure.) Price loved publicity, and lost no opportunity to be photographed by journalists. He was delighted that so many correspondents seemed to think that his name was Sir Harry Price. Yet he also made the general public conscious of psychical research in a way it had never been before. Because Price emphasised that he was a sceptic and a scientist, not a Spiritualist, people took him more seriously than they did a 'believer' like Conan Doyle or Sir Oliver Lodge. When he announced in 1933 that he now felt that Rudi Schneider might be a fake, and produced a photograph that seemed to show him cheating during a séance, people felt that he was showing unflinching honesty. (In fact, the photograph was later shown to be a fake; Price's 'motive was almost certainly desire to get his own back on Rudi for, as he saw it, 'deserting' him for another investigator, Lord Charles Hope, whose findings Price denounced.)
Yet in spite of his craving for publicity and his desire to get into Who's Who, Price did much important and valuable work during these years. In a sense, his motivation is irrelevant; he was a genuine enthusiast for psychical research. The majority of his investigations were not spectacular: just the plodding, day-to-day work of a patient researcher, sitting with mediums, psychometrists, healers, miracle workers. And, if anything, Price was inclined to be over-critical. In Norway, he visited the home of Judge Ludwig Dahl, and had a sitting with the judge's daughter Ingeborg, whose 'controls' were her two dead brothers. While not regarding her as a downright fake, Price was unimpressed. Yet one of the dead brothers prophesied that their father would die on 8 August 1934, seven years later, and this was precisely the day on which he did die from a stroke during a swim.
A case which certainly deserves mention in any account of Price's career is the curious affair of the talking mongoose of Cashen's Gap. It was far from being one of Price's successes; yet it remains an intriguing mystery.
In 1932, Price heard about a farmer called Irving, atCashen's Gap on tile Isle of Man, who had made friends with a mongoose that could speak several languages. It could also read minds and sing hymns. Price could not find time to go to the Isle of Man, but a friend of his, a Captain M.H. Macdonald, offered to go.
It seemed that the Irving family - who (significantly) had a thirteen-year-old daughter named Voirrey - had been disturbed by noises from behind the panels of the house: barking, spitting and blowing noises. The farmer lay in wait with a gun, without success, and tried putting down poison; the creature eluded him. So the farmer tried communicating with it, making various animal noises; to his astonishment, it seemed to be able to imitate them. Voirrey tried nursery rhymes, and it began to repeat these. Finally, it showed itself - a small, bushy-tailed creature that claimed to be a mongoose. They called it Gef. And Gef told them he was from India. Mr Irving seldom saw Gef, except in glimpses, as he ran along a beam, but Voirrey and Mrs Irving often saw him face to face.
Macdonald arrived at the farm on 26 February 1932, and saw nothing; when he left to go to his hotel a shrill voice screamed: 'Go away! Who is that man?' The farmer said this was Gef. The next day, as Macdonald was having tea with the Irvings, a large needle bounced off the teapot; and Irving remarked that Gef was always throwing things. Later, he heard the shrill voice upstairs talking with Voirrey and Mrs Irving; when he called to ask if the mongoose would come down, the voice screamed: 'No, I don't like you.' He tried sneaking upstairs, but the mongoose heard a stair creak, and shrieked: 'He's coming!' And from then on, Macdonald saw and heard no more of Gef.
According to Irving, who kept a diary, Gef talked in a language he claimed to be Russian, sang in Spanish and recited a poem in Welsh. He killed rabbits for them - by strangling them - and left them outside. He claimed to have made visits to the nearest town, and told the Irvings what various people had been doing; Irving checked and found this was correct. He was able to tell Irving what was happening ten miles away without leaving the farm. And when he was asked if he was a spirit, Gef replied: 'I am an earth-bound spirit.'
In March 1935, Gef told Irving that he had plucked some hairs from his tail and left them on the mantelpiece; these were forwarded to Price, who had them examined. Theyproved to be dog hairs - probably from the collie dog on the farm.
When Harry Price was mentioned, Gef said he didn't like him because he 'had his doubting cap on'. And when Price finally visited Cashen's Gap, the visit was a waste of time.Gef only came back to the farm after Price had left. And this, virtually, was the end of the story - although Macdonald paid a second visit to the farm and again heard the mongoose talking in its shrill voice.
It is possible, of course, that the Irvings were hoaxers. But they struck the investigators as honest. And it is difficult to see why, if they wanted attention, they shouldinvent anything as bizarre as a talking mongoose. Why should Irving have invited Price to stay if he was simply a hoaxer?
What seems rather more probable is that Gef was a poltergeist - an 'earth-bound spirit', as he himself claimed. Voirrey was a lonely girl who had just reached puberty. Thedisturbances started like most poltergeist disturbances, with noises in the woodwork, scratchings and other sounds. Later small objects flew through the air, and Gef was assumed to have 'thrown' them. But he also seemed to be able to cause 'action at a distance'; when a saucepan of water turned over on the stove and soaked Irving's shoes, he assumed this was Gef. The clairvoyance also sounds like a poltergeist, and the knowledge of other people's affairs. And it seems odd that the rabbits were strangled - not a mongoose's normal method of killing. In fact, the Gef case seems to belong on the borderland between the straightforward poltergeist and the elemental or hobgoblin. (In the mid nineteenth century, as Robert Dale Owen points out, the word poltergeist was usually translated hobgoblin.)
Trevor Hall is of the opinion that the poltergeist case which Price claimed to be his first experience of 'ghost hunting' was pure invention, and he could be right - Price says that it took place when he was fifteen at a village which he calls Parton Magna; but since the rest of the details concern his wealthy relatives and his return to a public school, we are probably safe in assuming it never took place. But with Price, one can never be sure. In Confessions of a Ghost Hunter (1936), he has a chapter called 'The Strange Exploits of a London Poltergeist', in which he states that he is forced to disguise the names and the location because it occurred so recently. But the case which he goes on to describe is thoroughly well authenticated, and is, in fact, one of the most remarkable of this century.
It actually took place in number 8 Eland Road, Battersea, and began on 29 November, 1927, when lumps of coal, chunks of washing soda, and copper coins began to rain down on the conservatory roof. The house was occupied by an eighty-six-year-old invalid, Henry Robinson, his son Frederick (twenty-seven) his three daughters, and a grandson of fourteen, Peter. When some of the falling objects smashed the glass, they sent for the police. As the constable stood in the back garden, a lump of coal knocked off his helmet. He rushed to the garden wall and pulled himself up - but there was no one around.
The Robinsons' washerwoman was terrified when she went into the wash-house and found the place full of smoke, and a pile of red hot cinders on the floor; she gave notice.
Then the poltergeist began to get into its stride - and it was an exceptionally destructive spirit. Ornaments smashed against walls, articles of furniture overturned, windows were broken. When they moved the old man out of his bedroom, a huge chest of drawers toppled over; a few minutes later the hall stand began to move, and broke in two when Frederick tried to hold it.
In January, an out-of-work journalist named Jane Cunningham was passing the house when she heard an almighty crash. A young man in shirtsleeves ran out. Jane grabbed her notebook and went in to investigate. This time, the poltergeist had smashed the whole conservatory just as if it had placed a bomb in it - all over the garden there was glass, lumps of coal and washing soda - and pennies: Her report on the occurrence led to widespread press interest in the case.
Price went to see the house, and the poltergeist threw a gas-lighter past him; otherwise, nothing much happened. Soon afterwards, Frederick had a mental breakdown and had to be sent into hospital. Chairs marched down the hallway in single file. When Mrs Perkins - the mother of the boy Peter - tried to lay the table, chairs kept scattering all the crockery.
Price assumed that Peter was the 'focus' and suggested he should be sent away; he went to stay with relatives in the country. But the poltergeist remained. Objects continued to be thrown around. The old man had to be removed to hospital, and one of the daughters fell ill. The police could only advise the family to vacate the house for the time being, which they did, staying with friends.
A medium held a séance in the house, and began to shiver. But she was unsuccessful in identifying the 'spirit'. Price paid another visit, with a newspaperman, and more objects were thrown - although not when anyone was watching. Finally, Frederick Robinson came home from the mental home where he had been confined, and quickly moved the whole family elsewhere. This was virtually the end of the story.
Yet there was a postscript. Price had heard that small slips of paper with writing on them had fluttered from the air. Frederick, sick of the whole business, declined to comment. But many years later, in 1941, he broke silence in the Spiritualist newspaper Two Worlds, stating that slips of paper had fallen from the air, and that some of them contained writing made by tiny pinholes. (The Seeress ofPrevorst also produced sheets of paper with geometrical drawings made by the same method.) One of these messages read: 'I am having a bad time here. I cannot rest. I was born during the reign of William the Conqueror.' It was signed 'Tom Blood'. Other messages were signed 'Jessie Blood'.
The Battersea poltergeist seems to be in every way typical of the species. Whether or not it was genuinely an earthbound spirit from the days of William the Conqueror must remain in doubt; poltergeists are not necessarily truthful. (But, as the Rochenberg-Rocha case shows, the dead have no sense of passing time.) The chief mystery of the case is where it obtained the energy to continue the 'haunting' after the boy Peter left - for it seems reasonable to assume he was the 'focus'. The answer may be provided by Price's observation that at the back of the house there was a mental home. Price actually suggested that some ex-servicemen patients in this home might have thrown lumps of coal (but this is probably an example of his desire to be regarded as a hard-headed sceptic). The mentally disturbed are often the 'focuses' of poltergeist activity, so it seems possible that the 'spirit' found a convenient reservoir of surplus energy just over the garden wall.
The case with which Price's name has become most widely associated is, of course, that of Borley Rectory. And in spite of the 'debunking' that has taken place since Price's death in 1948, it remains one of the most interesting hauntings of the twentieth century. After Price's death, a whole volume of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research was devoted to The Haunting of Borley Rectory, 'A Critical Survey of the Evidence', by Dingwall, Trevor Hall and Kate Goldney. They allege that Price probably produced some of the 'poltergeist' phenomena himself by tossing pebbles - which, from our knowledge of Price, must be admitted as possible. Their overall conclusion is that there are so many doubts that it would probably be simplest to regard the haunting of Borley as a fairy story. But this is to ignore the fact that stories ofhauntings were common long before Price came on the scene, and have continued since he left it. Anyone who feels that the SPR survey proves that Price was a liar should read the long account of Borley in Peter Underwood's Gazetteer of British Ghosts, with Underwood's own firsthand reports from interviews with witnesses.
Borley Rectory was built in 1863 on the site of Borley Manor House, which in turn seems to have been built on the site of a Benedictine abbey. It was built by the Reverend H.D.E. Bull. It is difficult to pin down the earliest known 'sightings', but it is clear that during Henry Bull's tenancy, a number of people saw the apparition of a nun. Henry Bull himself knew of the legend that a nun and a Benedictine monk had tried to elope, been caught, and had both been killed, the nun being bricked up alive. Bull's daughter Ethel confirmed in a letter to Trevor Hall in 1953 that she had awakened to find a strange man standing beside her bed, and had felt someone sitting down on the bed on several occasions; she also told Peter Underwood how, on 28 July 1900, she and her two sisters all saw a nun-like figure gliding along 'Nun's Walk', apparently telling her beads. The other sister, Elsie, saw the nun, who looked quite solid, and went to ask her what she wanted; the nun vanished.
After the Reverend Henry Bull's death, his son, the Reverend Harry Bull, took over the rectory. He was interested in psychical research, and claimed that he saw many ghosts. His daughter told Price that he had seen a legendary phantom coach (in which the lovers were supposed to have fled) and that, one day in the garden, the retriever had howled with terror, looking towards some legs visible under a fruit tree. Bull, thinking this was a poacher, followed the legs as they walked towards a postern gate; at which point he realised that the 'poacher' was somehow incomplete. The legs disappeared through the gate without opening it.
Harry Bull died in 1927, and the rectory was empty until 1928, when the Reverend Guy Smith and his wife moved in.One stormy night, there was a furious ringing of the doorbell; when Smith arrived there, he found no one. It happened again later - a peal so prolonged that Smith was able to get to the door before it stopped; again, there was no one. After that, all the keys of all the rooms fell out of the locks overnight; later, they vanished. Then they began hearing slippered footsteps. Stones were thrown - small pebbles. Lights were switched on. One day, Mrs Smith thought she saw a horse-drawn coach in the drive. Mr Smith thought he heard someone whisper, 'Don't, Carlos, don't', as he was walking into the chapel. The Smiths decided to contact the Daily Mirror, who asked Harry Price if he would be willing to go along with an investigator. They told Price their story, and gave him every facility to investigate. But within nine months, they had had enough of the place - perhaps because its plumbing left much to be desired - and moved to Norfolk. According to the SPR report, the Smiths only called the Daily Mirror because they were concerned about all the stories that the house was haunted, and wanted to reassure their parishioners by getting the place a clean bill of health. This story sounds, on the face of it, absurd. Moreover, there exists a letter from Mr Smith to Harry Price stating: 'Borley is undoubtedly haunted.' (It is true that Mrs Smith wrote a letter to the Church Times in 1929 saying she did not believe the house to be haunted, but this seems to have been a belated attempt to stem the flood of sensational publicity that followed the Daily Mirror story.)
In October 1930, the rectory was taken over by the Reverend L.A. Foyster, and his much younger wife Marianne. Foyster, oddly enough, had lived near Amherst at the time of the Esther Cox case, and the SPR survey makes much of this coincidence; however, it seems doubtful that the vicar would attempt to fake disturbances on the model of his earlier experience. Certainly, the Foyster incumbency saw the most spectacular exhibitions of the Borley poltergeist. Foyster kept a diary of the disturbances. Bells were rung, bricks thrown, footstepsheard and water out of a jug poured over the couple when in bed. Foyster was even awakened by a violent blow on the head from his own hairbrush. They saw a number of apparitions,, including the nun and a clergyman who was identified as the Reverend Henry Bull, the builder of the rectory. Writing appeared on the walls, asking for a mass to be said, and asking for 'Light'.
There is much independent confirmation of all these events. A Justice of the Peace named Guy L'Estrange visited Borley at the invitation of the Foysters, and wrote a lengthy account of it. As soon as he arrived, he saw a dim figure near the porch, which vanished as soon as he approached. Mrs Foyster had a bruise on her forehead - something 'like a man's fist' had struck her the previous evening. The Foysters were telling L'Estrange about mysterious fires that kept breaking out in locked rooms when there was a loud crash in the hall; they found it littered with broken crockery. Then bottles began flying about. L'Estrange notes that they seemed to appear suddenly in mid-air. The bottles were coming from a locked storage shed outside. All the bells began to ring, making a deafening clamour - but all the bell wires had been cut. L'Estrange shouted: 'If some invisible person is present, please stop ringing for a moment.' Instantly, the bells stopped - stopped dead, as if each clapper had been grabbed by an unseen hand. Later, sitting alone in front of the fire, L'Estrange heard footsteps behind him; he turned, but the room was empty. The footsteps had come from a part of the wall where there had once been a door. In bed, L'Estrange felt the room become icy cold, and saw a kind ofshape materialising from a patch of luminosity; he walked towards it, and had a feeling of something trying to push him back. He spoke to it, and it slowly vanished. He was luckier than another visitor who thought that the ghostly figure was someone playing a joke, and tried to grab it; he was given a hard blow in the eye.
The rector and others tried praying in the chapel, taking with them a relic of the Cure of Ars, and then went aroundthe house making signs of the cross. Finally, they all spent the night in the Blue Room, where Henry Bull (and others) had died; they asked that the entity should stop troubling the inmates of the house; a black shadow began to form against the wall, then dissolved. But after this, temporary peace descended on Borley Rectory.
In 1935, the Foysters decided they had had enough, and moved. Price rented the rectory in 1937, and arranged for a team of investigators to go in. But the major phenomena were over. Even so, the chief investigator, Sidney Glanville, a retired engineer, became completely convinced of the reality of the haunting.
In March 1938, the team were experimenting with a planchette, which wrote the message that Borley would be destroyed by fire. This happened in February 1939, when the house mysteriously burned down. Yet the phenomena continued; a Cambridge team investigating the ruins heard footsteps, saw patches of light, and recorded sudden sharp drops in temperature.
In August 1943, Price decided to try digging in the cellars at Borley - which he had been advised to do by a planchette message which claimed to come from 'Glanvil' - the same Glanville who wrote the account of the Tedworth drummer. They found a cream jug, which had also been referred to by the planchette, and some fragments of a human skull. The jawbone showed signs of a deep-seated abscess - Peter Underwood speculates that this is why the phantom nun always looked miserable.
The SPR survey on Borley, which appeared eight years after Price's death, had the effect of seriously undermining his credit. Trevor Hall's Search for Harry Price (1978) completed the work of destroying his reputation. Yet although this leaves no doubt that Price lied about his origins - perhaps romanced would be a better word - and hungered for fame, it produces no evidence that Price was not exactly what he always claimed to be: an enthusiastic scientific investigator of paranormal phenomena. To assume that, because Price wanted to be thought a'gentleman', he was also dishonest as a paranormal researcher, is surely poor psychology. Price was one of those ambitious men who crave an outlet for their energies. He was forty years old before he found the opportunity he was looking for - a long time for a man of Price's impatient temperament. It came when Dingwall invited him to Munich to study the Schneider brothers. From then on, Price had discovered his vocation; at last, he had found the outlet he needed for his explosive energy and romanticism. And when a man as energetic and romantic as Harry Price finally finds what he is looking for, he does not risk spoiling everything with a little cheap skullduggery. It only takes one scandal to destroy a scientist's reputation. But to put it this way is to imply that Price disciplined his natural dishonesty solely to maintain his, reputation and this is to miss the real point; that once a man has found his vocation, he pours into it all that is best, about himself. Bernard Shaw has left an interesting description of the socialist Edward Aveling, who was Eleanor Marx's common-law husband; he was an inveterate seducer and a borrower who never paid his debts, yet where socialism was concerned, he was fiercely sincere. Everything we know about Price reveals that, where psychical research was concerned, he was totally dedicated - although not above grabbing publicity wherever he could find it.
In short it would be of no advantage to him to pretend the Borley phenomena were genuine when they were not. His reputation was based on his scepticism as much as on his support of the reality of psychic phenomena. Possibly - like most of us - he was capable of stretching a fact when it appealed to his romanticism. But in the case of Borley, there was no need to stretch facts. The haunting of Borley does not rest on Price's evidence alone; there are dozens of other witnesses, such as Guy L'Estrange - or Dom Richard Whitehouse, cited by Underwood, who witnessed just as many incredible occurrences: flying objects, ringing of bells, writing on walls, outbreaks of fire, materialisation of bottles.
And is there evidence that Price did stretch the facts? The SPR survey cites as an example of his dishonesty the episode of the pair of legs that Harry Bull saw walking through the postern gate. Price says, admittedly, that when the man energed from behind the fruit trees, he was headless. But the report then goes on to cite Price's original notes, which reads: 'Rev. Harry Price saw coach, Juvenal, retriever, terrified and growled. Saw man's legs rest hid by fruit trees, thought poacher, followed with Juvenal, gate shut, but saw legs disappear through gate.' Clearly, what Bull saw disappearing through the gate was not a complete man, or Price would not refer only to the legs. It sounds as if the upper half of his body was missing - in which case, headless is a fair description.
What seems clear from all accounts of the case is that the 'ground' itself is haunted, and continues to be so. Like Ardachie Lodge, Borley is a 'place of power', the kind of place that would be chosen for a monastery, and that probably held some pagan site of worship long before that. In the Rectory's early days, Harry Bull himself - son of the Reverend Henry Bull - was probably the unconscious focus or medium; Paul Tabori says that he was probably psychic. This is borne out by the fact that young Bull saw so many of the 'ghosts', including the coach and the nun. It is important to realise that not all people can see ghosts. The 'ghost hunter' Andrew Green describes, in Our Haunted Kingdom, a visit that he and other members of the Ealing Psychical Research Society paid to Borley in 1951.
Green had only heard the 'rustle of trees and bushes, as if something was walking through the undergrowth. We may assume, then, that if Green had been a tenant of Borley before its destruction, he would probably have seen no ghosts. Bull was, it seems, enough of a 'medium' to see the ghosts. And Marianne Foyster was a far more powerful medium who changed the character of the haunting into poltergeist activity. (Most of the messages scrawled on walls were addressed to her.) The reason that the subsequent investigation of Borley (during Price's tenancy) was so unsuccessful was that there was no medium present to provide the energy.
Asked about the 'ley system' of the Borley area, the ley expert Stephen Jenkins replied as follows: 'Norfolk and Suffolk are a spider-web of alignments, many of which are linked to curious manifestations. Borley church stands at a node where four lines cross, one going from Asher church to Sproughton church . . . ' After giving further details of the ley system, he goes on:
incident of Sunday the 28th of August, 1977, on the road north of Belchamp Walter Hall. The time was precisely 12.52 pm, and we were driving south west along the minor road which marks the north end of the Hall grounds, when on the road in front, in the act of turning left into the hedge (I mean our left, across the path of the car), instantaneously appeared four men, in black - I thought them hooded and cloaked - carrying a black, old-fashioned coffin, ornately trimmed with silver. The impression made on both of us was one of absolute physical presence, of complete material reality. Thelma and I at once agreed to make separate notes without comparing impressions. We did so, and the descriptions tallied exactly, except that she noted the near left bearer turn his face towards her. I did not see this as I was abruptly braking at the time.
What I had seen as a hood; she described as a soft tall hat, with a kind of scarf falling to the left shoulder, thrown across the cloaked body to the right. The face was that of a skull. The enclosed sketch gives a fair idea of what she saw.
The next day we returned to the precise spot at exactly the same time and took a picture. It is a Kodak colour slide. In the hedge near the gap where the 'funeral party'vanished (there is a path there leading to Belchamp Walter churchyard) is a short figure, apparently cloaked, its face lowered with a skull-like dome to the head. A year later I returned searching the area where it had apparently stood. There was nothing, no post or stump that might have provided such an image, nor was there the slightest sign of the ground having been disturbed by the removal of anything that might have been rooted in it. The image is simply there on the film - we saw nothing wrong with the eye.
That minor road alongside the north edge of the Belchamp Walter Estate precisely coincides with a line passing through the node in the water west of Heaven Wood. That node itself linked with the node at Borley.
He adds a postscript: 'I hazard a guess that the dress of the coffin-bearer is that of the late fourteenth century. There seems to be no local legend of a phantom funeral.'
If Price invented the ghosts of Borley, he must have been in collusion with a remarkable number of people.
These words were written by another man who deserves to be remembered as one of the prominent ghost-hunters of the twentieth century. Unlike Price, Nandor Fodor seems to have had no great compulsion to achieve personal glory; the result is that, since his death in 1964, his name has been largely forgotten, and most of his books are out of print.
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