On the evening of the 29th May 1945, the Rev. Alfred Clifford Henning, then Rector of the combined parishes of Borley and Liston officiated at a small ceremony in the churchyard at Liston. Accompanied by his wife Annette, young son Stephen, and together with Harry Price, the Honorary Director of the University of London Council for Psychical Research and Eric Calcraft, a local photographer, Mr Henning gave Christian burial to the human remains which had allegedly been found in the cellars of Borley Rectory by Price and himself two years previously.
The bones, part of a human jaw and a skull, popularly thought to be the mortal remains of Marie Lairre, the ghost nun who haunted (still haunts?) the Rectory site were placed in a wooden box and lowered into a small hole dug by the Rector earlier in the day. Price describes the proceedings in some detail in his second Borley book (The End of Borley Rectory, Harrap, 1946, pp. 288-290) and Calcraft’s photograph of the event which Price published has been reproduced in several further books & articles since and is familiar to most Borley enthusiasts.
On a previous visit to Borley in August this year, Eddie Brazil, Robert Vajna and I spent a short time at Liston church and discussed the whereabouts of the remains which Henning and Price buried back in 1945. It appeared that there was some ambiguity as to the exact place where the bones were laid to rest but without Calcraft’s photograph we were unable to say with any accuracy where the spot might be. Eddie and I had arranged to meet up again at Borley early in December to do some field work on a joint article on the lights seen in the windows of the Rectory during the Smith incumbency and I thought this would be a good opportunity to return to Liston and spend time trying to locate the site of the nun’s grave. We eventually got together on 25th January 2004 and as part of our Borley visit we again went to Liston, this time with a copy of Price’s End of Borley Rectory.
Liston church and its churchyard is a peaceful place and has an intimate atmosphere all of its own. We arrived at 11.00am and by referring to Calcraft’s photograph it was relatively easy to find the final resting place of the Rectory bones. The spot was actually in neither of the places that we had suggested – Price and Henning had laid the nun to rest on the North side of the church, close to the hedgerow which separates the churchyard from the neighbouring field, in an area which at that time had not been used for burials. In the intervening years since that time there have been several new graves in this area, those closest to the site where the bones lie date from the late 1970s. The two white-edged graves immediately to the right of Henning in Calcraft’s photograph are dated 1924.
It is interesting to speculate what, if anything remains of Price’s ‘well-made and dovetailed cedarwood casket measuring five inches by four’ and the bones it contained at Liston today. Given the proximity of the new graves nearest to the spot it could be that any traces could have been dug through and obliterated in the 1970s, especially as the hole that the Rev. Henning dug does not appear to have been exceptionally deep. On the other hand maybe the box and its contents are still intact and lie in the place where they were given Christian burial in the same month that the war in Europe ended in 1945. Indeed, Eddie Brazil commented to me after seeing the photographs that it was a somewhat eerie thought that I was literally but feet from where the nun lies and within shaking hands distance from Harry Price. Quite a thought indeed!
Eddie and I returned to Borley to take photographs for this article on 31st January 2005 and one of my sons took this photograph of us near to the site of the Borley bones in Liston churchyard.
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