Harry Price at Borley
After the Foysters' retirement Borley Rectory remained tenantless. Attempts had been made to sell the property or even to rent it, for the ecclesiastical authorities (having first offered it to him) had agreed to the request of the new rector, Mr A. C. Henning, that he should live elsewhere, not only on account of the size and inconvenience of the rectory but possibly also on account of the unenviable publicity which had been begun by the Smiths' somewhat unfortunate approach to the Daily Mirror and by the subsequent activities of Harry Price. As already described, excursions by coach had been organised in order to see the ghost, and these came from as far away as Colchester and Bury St Edmunds, while sensation-seekers disturbed the villagers at night by their torches and intrusions into the grounds and adjacent land. In 1938 the livings of Borley and nearby Liston were amalgamated and Mr Henning took up residence in Liston Rectory.
Price's decision to rent Borley Rectory was arranged through Mr Henning. On 19 May 1937 the deal was concluded and Price became the tenant; Mr and Mrs Arbon were allowed to remain in the cottage where they had been tenants since February 1936. It was to the Arbons (or, when they were away, to a neighbour, Mrs Pearson) that Price entrusted one of the three sets of keys of the rectory - we are not told how many - with instructions not to hand them over to any unauthorised persons, an order not apparently always carried out, since Mr Adcock, one of the official observers, stated in August 1937 that 'the Caretaker gives up his keys very readily to anyone', a habit which was as undesirable as walking about the grounds and pumping water at night. Indeed, Mr C. S. Taylor, who was at the house on 8 January 1938, reported to Price (who did not print his observation) that at 5.25 p.m. a 'dark figure was seen', which turned out to be Mr Arbon who was having 'a look round to see if there was anybody about'. (1)
In the Introduction to this report (see p. 5), we have mentioned the Declaration Form to be signed by all the official observers and the Blue Book of instructions which was ostensibly prepared to assist observation but which, whether by accident or design, certainly had the effect of influencing observation. As Price himself described it, it was a 'sort of handbook to the
(1) See MHH, p. 218. The question of the pump and the movements of the Arbons in the courtyard and in their cottage we discuss elsewhere. See pp. 134-5.
"ghosts" of Borley Rectory, in addition to instructions how to deal with them'. This 'Blue Book', so-called because of its blue paper covers, is now a rare book. Since MHH, in which the Blue Book was reprinted as Appendix B, may not be readily available, it is possible that the reader of this report will find the information which follows new to him and mildly surprising. The Blue Book's cover title read: 'Private and Confidential. The Alleged Haunting of B ... Rectory. Instructions for observers. London: University of London Council for Psychical Investigation, 19, Berkeley Street, Mayfair, W. 1. Mayfair 5453. 1937.' This impressive façade no doubt gave a background of authenticity to some of the more sensational of the instructions in the booklet, and the impression made on susceptible observers must have been formidable. The following instruction on p. 5, for example, does not suggest that the University of London Council were sceptical regarding the existence of ghosts.
FORMS OR APPARITIONS
The Instruction to which the reader was referred said 'for one half hour before, and half-hour after dusk, take up position in Summer-house. Remain perfectly quiet, and watch the "Nun's Walk" on far side of lawn. It is this path that a black, draped figure is said to frequent.' In similar fashion, the Hon. Secretary of the University of London Council for Psychical Investigation (i.e. Price, though his name does not appear anywhere in the book) informed readers of the Blue Book that 'It is alleged that knocks can frequently be heard in the Blue Room'. Instruction No. 18 suggested that they should spend at least a portion of the night, in complete darkness, in the Blue Room. Under the heading 'Possible phenomena which may be experienced', Price told his observers that
there was evidence extending over a period of forty years for bell-ringing, movement of objects, footsteps, apparitions, raps and knocks, perfume, lights, apports, disappearances, and thermal variations at Borley. Small wonder that the advertisement in The Times of 25 May 1937 said that the observers must be intrepid!
As an example of the effect of this barrage of suggestion, which on the face of it must have appeared to the observers to have enjoyed the approval of the University of London, we choose first the experience of Mr Rupert Haig, who was a barrister-at-Law in the Colonial Legal Service and whose hobby was big-game hunting. Describing how he had awakened in the middle of the night at Borley feeling cold all over, he wrote to his cousin Mr Mark Kerr-Pearse on 2 October 1937: 'Immediately before waking you, I had been awake for a considerable time. I cannot say how long, but it must have been at least half an hour. To begin with, I was certainly in a jumpy state. I was expecting footsteps, thumps, knocks, and even to see something, but as time went on and nothing happened I became calmer' (MHH, p. 209). It does not seem unreasonable to postulate that Mr Haig was in a jumpy state and was expecting footsteps, thumps and even apparitions because it had been suggested to him in the Blue Book that it was probable that he would experience one or other of these phenomena.
Our other example is of some interest, for it demonstrates a further stage in the mechanism of suggestion. In the report of Mr C. Gordon Glover, it is stated that a Mrs Lloyd Williams was a member of a party of four who visited Borley on 18 February 1938. Mr Glover's report implies that Mrs Lloyd Williams must have been a little imaginative and impressionable. He says: 'While in the scullery Mrs Lloyd Williams said she heard in the passage outside "six quick young footsteps". No one of the rest of the party heard these. It is our opinion that these steps were imagined.' Mr Glover's report said that at 6.10 p.m. Mrs Lloyd Williams said that she saw, during the prescribed vigil at dusk in the summer-house, 'a round dark object' which might, she said, have been 'a short, stooping figure'. None of the other members of the party saw anything and 'the light was bad, it being deep twilight' (MHH, p. 219). In his letter of 26 February 1938 enclosing the report to Price, Mr Glover made it clear that he attached no importance to these incidents, and he annoyed Price considerably by saying that he regarded the evidence for the haunting of Borley Rectory as flimsy, embracing in his comment both the history of the manifestations as related to him by Price and the conditions under which the observational tenancy was being conducted. These strictures did not prevent Price from writing
post-haste to Mr S. H. Glanville on 3 March 1938 to say: 'You will be interested to hear that the wife of a B.B.C. official saw the "Nun" at Borley last Saturday week,' and from stating on p. 297 of his Fifty Years of Psychical Research (London, 1939) that the Borley nun had been seen by 'many people, including ... the wife of a B.B.C. director'. When MHH was published in 1940, Price included Mrs Lloyd Williams, without qualification, in his list of fourteen people alleged to have seen the nun (Analysis of Phenomena, MHH, p. 238) and embellished p. 219 which contained the report of Mr Gordon Glover with the unrestrained caption 'THE "NUN" SEEN AGAIN'. As this was the only alleged apparition during the whole of the observational period, perhaps Price may be excused for making the most of it. Our submission is, however, that had it not been for the Blue Book and the suggestions contained in it, and especially the instruction to watch from the summer-house at dark for 'the black draped figure' said to frequent the Nun's Walk, Mrs Lloyd Williams would have seen nothing.
Nor can one overlook the factor of suggestion between one observer and another. Mr Gordon Glover exemplified this well in his letter to Price of 26 February 1936 when he said: 'The tendency to exaggerate phenomena, be it ever so slightly, we have found to be a dangerous and facile one - even when talking since among our four selves we have found one another guilty from time to time of making fairly sensational statements which were based upon a slender modicum of truth.' Mr M. Savage, in his report to Price of 19 March 1938, put the matter even more simply when he said: 'Frankly the house gave me the impression of being very far from haunted, but from the experiences and data given by Mr Glanville I certainly think that the house has been haunted very recently, and may be so again.' Having noted the preparation given to the official observers through the Blue Book, we will now turn our attention to some of the details of their experiences.
On 2 June 1937 Price, accompanied by Mr Ellic Howe, went to Borley to make preparations for the coming investigators. Little was observed with the exception of what Price called a very striking phenomenon. This was the appearance of 'a long, dirty, mouldy, torn, rather moth-eaten dark blue serge lady's coat' hanging on a peg behind the door of the Blue Room (MHH, p. 111), (1)
(1) In Price's Poltergeist over England (London, 1945), p. 295, it is said that it appeared on 1 June 1937 in one of the cupboards and Mr Howe, in a letter dated 14 June , stated that his memory was hazy but that he thought that it was found downstairs near the kitchen. More surprising still, in Price's little book Christmas Ghosts (London, 1939) the entire visit of himself and Ellic Howe to the rectory in June 1937 is transposed in time to 'about the second week in January 1938' (p. 17) and even 'with a Scotch mist outside' (p. 23)·
a coat to which reference was made on numerous occasions and which was called 'a mysterious coat' (MHH, p. 111), a 'strange coat' (ibid., p. ix), or even, according to Canon Phythian-Adams, an 'apport' (EBR, p. 180).
Now, in July 1937, one of the observers, Mr Mark Kerr-Pearse, saw the Rev. A. C. Henning and the latter's gardener, Mr Herbert Mayes. Mr Mayes said that on 1 June he had been all over the rectory and had looked behind the doors, but that the coat was not there. There was, however, another coat, which he removed and it was put into a Jumble Sale, a fact omitted by Price, who apparently thought that two 'strange' and 'mysterious' coats were more than his readers could swallow. (1)
Since the 'phenomenon' of an old coat was thought worthy of inclusion among the manifestations at Borley, it may be as well to subject the story to a somewhat more detailed analysis.
The first question that must strike the serious enquirer is whether Price was sincere in his suggestion that there was anything strange or mysterious about this coat. Borley Rectory was a large house. It had fourteen rooms on the first floor alone and altogether had twenty-three rooms not counting the cellars. But Price states: 'that coat was not there when Mr Henning and I examined the rectory on May 19, 1937' (i.e. at the beginning of his tenancy). But it is quite possible that they failed to notice it. This does not seem to have been difficult. Colonel Westland mentioned another (?) coat which he found five weeks later on 7 July in Room No.7 (MHH, p. 213), and made a very sensible remark about it. He stated in his report that he 'found a blue serge lady's jacket hanging behind the door of the S.E. Bedroom [Room No. 7] which we had not noticed before. The door opens to the left against the wall and the jacket would not be seen unless one shut the door after entering the room.'
It seems to us probable that the explanation of the alleged disappearance and reappearance of the principal coat was a simple muddling by Price of Room No.6, where he records having left the coat on 2 June 1937, with Room No.7, where Col. Westland found it on 7 July. The coat was hanging behind the door in both cases.
(1) It seems possible that there were at least three mysterious coats at the rectory. Mr A. C. Henning, in his booklet, Haunted Borley, states that Mrs Henning found 'an old tattered jacket' hanging in the room upstairs next to the room where Price said, in MHH, that he found one, and where later Colonel Westland saw one hanging. Mr Mayes was told to burn this coat and he assured Mr Henning that he had done so. In addition to this coat being mentioned by Mr Henning, he added that they were 'equally mystified' by an old stocking which appeared on a window sill, so the rectory seems to have been used by the ghosts - or others - as a kind of cloak room for discarded garments.
If we were concerned merely with the throwing of doubt upon Price's insistence that the first coat may have materialised paranormally at Borley, we would need to go no further. However, on the not unreasonable assumption that the coat might have been there before Price leased the rectory on 19 May, it is not difficult to offer a homely explanation of its presence. The coat looks rather as if it may have been a cleaner's coat (see MHH, Pl. 3) and it is not at all impossible to imagine that a cleaner might have been very necessary at Borley during the months prior to the Price tenancy. From October 1935 to May 1937 Borley was without a tenant. Even though in the country, the rectory was not immune to dust and dirt. When Price visited the house on 13 October 1931, when the Foysters were living there, he noticed that the unoccupied 'attics were as dusty as ever' (MHH, p. 68). Since a room was used occasionally for parish meetings and since the owners were trying their best to sell or rent the rectory, it is possible that now and then a cleaner was employed to sweep out some of the rooms. When the rectory was rented to Price her duties would cease and she might have left such an old coat as not worth carrying away.
An interesting confirmation of the suggestion that the rectory was reasonably clean when Price rented it is to be found in the fully detailed account of the activities of Mr Howe and himself when they visited the place to fit up the Base Room (MHH, pp. 111-12). It is interesting to notice that in the whole of this description of their activities there is no mention of any floor scrubbing or anything of that kind, and it is not easy to imagine that there would have been time. It seems to be reasonably obvious that the Base Room was clean. If so, then someone must have cleaned it during the weeks immediately prior to Price's tenancy.
Although this coat was said by Price to have 'disappeared completely for one week, according to our observer's report' (MHH, p. 112 and EBR, p. 39), we can find no account of this either in the printed material or the unpublished mass of documents which we have examined.
Thus, if we consider the story today in the light of what we now know regarding the coats, it is a little difficult to believe that Price had ever the slightest belief in the paranormal appearance and disappearance of the coat. Perhaps it is odd that this alleged apport and startling phenomenon at Borley finds no place in the indexes of either MHH or of EBR, and its omission may be a pointer towards the mind of the compiler of both these volumes.
We think that the above account may be sufficient to dispose of what Price called one of the outstanding phenomena at Borley
Rectory. It is, when all is said and done, merely another example of the kind of trivial occurrence inserted into the record for the purpose of suggesting that, as 'everything is incredible connected with Borley Rectory', so must even the appearance of an old coat fit into the prescribed pattern.
During the Price tenancy forty-eight official observers took part in the enquiry. Some of them took little trouble and clearly had no idea what it was that they were investigating or how to carry out the work entrusted to them. Others took immense pains to conduct their enquiries. Among these were Mr S. H. Glanville and Mr Mark Kerr-Pearse. It is necessary, therefore, to examine their evidence with great care, for some of the things they state they experienced are not easy to explain normally judging from the records they submitted.
Mr S. H. Glanville appeared to us to be a man of great intelligence and integrity and although he had not had much experience in organised psychical research, his testimony is not to be lightly laid aside. Price in MHH (p. 153) stated that Mr Glanville knew 'nothing about spiritualism', but the fact was that he had attended a number of spiritualist meetings and had had several sittings with mediums. He visited Borley on a number of occasions and was sometimes accompanied by his son Roger, his brother-in-law, and other persons. Among the phenomena recorded were thuds, cracks, footsteps, movements of objects, and pencil markings on the walls. It is instructive to read the original Glanville reports and compare them with the printed versions in MHH and Price's comments thereon. It would be tedious to list these, but an example or two will suffice.
Mr Glanville and his brother-in-law visited the rectory on 14-15 August 1937 and according to Price he twice photographed one of the wall-messages. On the second occasion new pencil markings were found near the message which were not there on the previous occasion but which appear on the second negative, proving that they were made while the observers were in the house. The second photograph was made 'an hour or so later', and Price added that the 'two gentlemen were alone in a locked and sealed house and always kept together' (MHH, p. 121). Now the facts are that they arrived at the house at 9 a.m. on Saturday, 14 August. During the morning they apparently photographed four of the wall-messages. That same evening they left the house between 6.15 p.m. and 7.15 p.m. They revisited the rooms at 9.40 p.m., 11 p.m., midnight, and 1 a.m. on Sunday morning, 15 August, and 'between these hours' found some markings that they had not seen before, one of them being close to the message they
had photographed a few hours before. There is no mention in their original report to Price of any second photograph being taken and, in fact, none was taken, as Mr Glanville assured us in a letter dated 13 June 1952. The whole story of the second photograph and the comparison of the negatives was invented by Price, who adds the conclusion (MHH, p. 121): 'If this is not proof of paranormal activity, I do not know the meaning of the word.' Moreover, at the end of his account Price stated that they also 'heard "scrabbling" noises outside the Blue Room', and added that 'perhaps the entity was trying to write some more'. On the other hand, perhaps it was not. At any rate, Mr Glanville's own comment on it in his contemporary report was that these noises were 'attributed to the activities of mice', an observation omitted by Price.
It was during this same visit that Mr Glanville and his brother-in-law noticed that the cats' cemetery at the end of the Nun's Walk had been disturbed. An area the size of a small room had been dug up and afterwards filled in again for some unknown reason by some person or persons equally unknown. Mr Arbon was consulted but he stated that he knew nothing about it. Renewed excavations by the Glanvilles uncovered a lot of large bones, like those of horses or oxen. Price suggested amongst other things that a poltergeist might have dug up the cemetery (EBR, p. 25), but it would appear more likely, we think, that someone had an interest in Borley, and it may be that this digging up of the ground at Borley was partially responsible for the mention of digging in the planchette messages which began in October of the same year.
The disturbance of the cats' cemetery by an unknown intruder suggests that some person or persons may have had an interest in the inside of Borley Rectory as well as in the outside. That such intruders gained access to the house is certain. In a report by Mr Glanville, dated 19 September 1937 (and omitted by Price), he said that he discovered that someone had entered the house through the drawing-room window, the marks of nailed boots or shoes being visible on the stone step outside. Mr Arbon was consulted but stated that no one had been given the keys since Mr Kerr-Pearse's last visit which was at the end of August. Similarly in March 1938 Mr Glanville found that the house had again been entered and that the teapot, spoon, towel, and two dishcloths had disappeared, an event which apparently even Price did not claim as psychic in origin.
The method by which uninvited visitors might enter the rectory was pointed out on numerous occasions. Thus in December 1937
Dr P. E. Ryberg told Price that it was easy to enter the house via the cellars and the well in the courtyard, a fact already reported by Colonel Westland in July of the same year. Again, in February 1938, two observers, Mr M. P. Knox and Mr R. Hawkin, entered the house by this route, and in the same year the Adcocks found four men and a woman at 12.30 a.m. prowling round the house and hunting for ghosts. It was to this kind of visitor that doubtless Mr Arbon was referring when, writing to Price on 19 September 1938, he stated that people visiting the place were 'a lot of trouble night and day'.
It seems to us possible and perhaps somewhat probable that someone during Price's tenancy showed an interest in Borley by digging up the cats' cemetery and by entering the house on more than one occasion, transferring objects from one place to another, and perhaps adding pencil markings to the very numerous ones already there.
With regard to the wall-writings, we have already discussed and analysed the early examples and have pointed out how the evidence probably points to normal agency. (1) But while the house was unoccupied and was being visited by the official observers, fresh pencil markings were continually being reported. For example, in July 1937 Price, accompanied by Mr S. J. de Lotbinière of the British Broadcasting Corporation and Major Douglas-Home, visited the rectory. The report in MHH (pp. 216 ff.) is quite definite and it is of some interest to compare this narrative by Mr de Lotbinière and the unpublished comments on the same events by Major Douglas-Home in a letter to Lord Charles Hope written in August 1949. As we have seen, Major Douglas-Home was one of several who suspected Price of active participation in fraudulent practices at the rectory, and he finally came to the conclusion that the facts supported his suspicions and in a letter in our possession called Price by a number of highly derogatory names.
During the inspection of the rectory he noticed that Price always followed the party, just as Lord Charles Hope had noticed on a former occasion when 'phenomena' occurred which could easily have been produced by Price. On this occasion markings only appeared when Price was in the rear. They ceased from the moment when Major Douglas-Home manoeuvred himself behind the little party as they went through the various rooms. With regard to the rustling noise heard by them in the Blue Room (which Price located as coming from the Base Room and which Mr de
(1) See pp. 111 ff.
Lotbinière thought was due to mice), the idea occurred to Major Douglas-Home that it was very similar to that caused by the unrolling and crinkling of cellophane paper, since when he was unwrapping a packet of cigarettes which was encased in cellophane the same noise occurred although on a much reduced scale. Indeed, so convinced was he that this was the explanation that, on the way home in the car, he managed to peep into Price's suitcase and there was a long roll of cellophane paper with a jagged edge. (1)
When we look carefully at the reports of the official observers, and when that look is not through the glasses of credulity and blind acceptance, we are struck by the paucity and insignificance of most of the phenomena reported. Putting on one side the various taps, cracks, thumps, and rustlings, there remain a number of clear-cut events to which those experiencing them attributed a paranormal origin. It will be our task at this point to examine critically some of these occurrences.
Perhaps one of the most puzzling of these was the movement of the pile of books which set off an electrical circuit to which a bell was connected. This is recorded in MHH, pp. 214 ff., although the account of the incident, especially as regards the arrangement of the books and their relation to the apparatus, leaves much to be desired. It is clear that any disturbance to the books and electrical circuit must have involved some force; and the investigators (Dr H. F. Bellamy, his son, and Mr H. E. Fee-Smith) were quite unable to account for this phenomenon. In the original report furnished to Price it is stated that a cat had been found to have entered the house the evening before the disturbance to the books occurred, which latter event was noted at 12.50 a.m. on the next day. This cat had, it is reported, been ejected at 6.20 p.m. but it might be asked whether the animal had not again succeeded in gaining an entrance. The door to the room containing the apparatus was not locked. Whether it was latched or not we are not told, neither have we any information as to whether a cat would have been able to effect the displacement of the books on the mantelpiece as noted by the observers. It is, perhaps, significant that all mention of the cat was omitted by
1 From Major Douglas-Home's letter it is not very clear to which rustling sound he was referring, since in his account he refers to the noise as that of 'Miss Bull's gown ascending the stairs' , a phenomenon not apparently noted by Mr de Lotbinière unless it is the same as that he attributed to mice. In any event, according to Major Douglas-Home the noise must have been made by Price with his cellophane paper when they were all together in the dark. But if this were so it is not easy to see how they located the noise in the Base Room when they were seated above in the Blue Room.
Price in MHH. It seems possible it might have entered on other occasions also, and caused various noises and scratchings.
As has been said above, Mr S. H. Glanville was one of the best and most careful of the official investigators; his testimony and that of Mr Mark Kerr-Pearse, another excellent witness, is therefore of especial importance. It may be desirable, therefore, to choose a few of the better examples of 'phenomena' experienced by these two observers and subject them to a brief analysis.
At 2.40 a.m. on Sunday, 24 October 1937, Mr Glanville, his son, Mr Kerr-Pearse, and Mr Alan J. Cuthbert were at Borley Rectory, Mr Cuthbert being asleep in the Base Room. The other three were seated on the landing when they all 'heard heavy muffled footsteps walk across the hall, just under us. They were quite distinct and no mistake was possible. There were accompanying sounds of general movement of a body. We went down almost immediately but found nothing but Alan, still soundly sleeping in the Base room'.
Now there is no doubt that the whole question of the footsteps heard in the rectory was neglected by Price and by nearly all the observers. Apart altogether from the possibility that some of the footsteps may have been hallucinatory, they may have been the actual footsteps of living persons who were not inside the house but outside. If evidence could be obtained that footsteps outside the house sounded as if they were inside, (1) it would go some way towards weakening the theory of the paranormal nature of these sounds. Such evidence exists, although little of it will be found discussed either in MHH or EBR.
In discussing MHH with Lord Charles Hope, Major Douglas-Home made a number of startling statements on the possibility of normal noises being misinterpreted by watchers in Borley Rectory. He declared that Mr and Mrs Arbon used to work the hand pump in the covered passage in the courtyard very late at night and that from it issued 'thumps, groans-galore' and that 'their footsteps were clearly audible in each [Major Douglas-Home's italics] room of the house as they moved across the courtyard'. Indeed, he continued, 'Arbon's footsteps (owing to the silence of the rectory) sounded as if they were in the corridor of the house', and even words spoken outside the pantry by the Arbons' cottage, which at its nearest part was only some 18 feet off, were strongly heard in the Base and other rooms.
On 16 December 1937 one of the official observers, Mr J. Burden of Christ Church, Oxford, heard 'shuffling footsteps'
(1) The words 'muffled' and 'shuffling' might perhaps suggest this.
coming from the direction of the scullery, that is to say from the direction of the cottage, and on 18 December he again heard 'talking and footsteps' which he thought 'must come' from the Arbons' cottage although they could not be seen. This supposition on the part of Mr Burden had (unknown to him) been confirmed by Messrs Bailey and Wintour on 19 July of the same year. At 10 p.m. they heard 'ghostly footsteps' which they promptly investigated and soon found that they came in reality from the courtyard and were made by Mrs Arbon - a finding omitted by Price. Similarly on 20 December 1941, Messrs E. N. J. Angelbeck and A. J. B. Robertson heard a peculiar knocking which 'sounded as though it might have been a person operating a small hand-pump for water, but it seemed rather a peculiar time for this (12.35 a.m.)'. They add that they 'could not find any person who might have produced the effect', although they do not state the time when they investigated it (EBR, p. 152).
How many of these mysterious sounds heard at Borley Rectory originated in the cottage, not 25 feet away, we shall never know, and nothing illustrates better the lack of experience of the observers than their failure to appreciate this crucial point and their neglect in investigating it. Price did nothing. The more noises the better; and the likelihood that the more critical observers interpreted many noises as normal sounds, and therefore did not report them, makes it all the more difficult at this stage to determine the probability of the' queer' noises being normal sounds outside the house erroneously located and interpreted. Moreover, the various cracks and thuds heard in the great empty house might well have been purely normal in many cases, just as Mr Burden noted in the case of the fire in the Base Room which made 'bumping noises' in the chimney which sounded rather like a dog 'jumping on the floor in the Blue Room above'. It was this same observer who recorded in 1937 that many pieces of rags and paper kept coming down the chimneys and as, when the wind was high, 'a strong draught' blew through the house, (1) these objects were found away from the hearths and 'might be mistaken for apports', although, we may add, not by Mr Burden.
One of the most striking incidents occurred when Mr Glanville and Mr Kerr-Pearse were both at the rectory in October 1937 (MHH, p. 211). Returning from Long Melford at 7.25 p.m., they both heard 'a succession of heavy metallic sounds' apparently coming from the bathroom and lasting some 20 to 30 seconds, as they were standing in the carriage way just under the bathroom window. According to Mr Glanville, who narrated the incident
(1) Omitted in MHH.
to us during an interview, the noise persisted when he entered the house to investigate but ceased before he reached the bathroom. However that may be, the fact remains that both Mr Glanville and Mr Kerr-Pearse believed at the time that the noise - or 'shindy' as Mr Glanville expressed it - originated in the bathroom, and that apparently it never occurred to either of them that it might have been in the cottage not very far off or have been caused by an intruder (possibly a thief after the bathroom fittings) who had slipped away before Mr Glanville reached the bathroom, finally making his exit via the back stairs and scullery down to the courtyard.
It would, we think, serve no useful purpose to analyse in detail many of the supposed inexplicable incidents that occurred during the enquiries of Mr S. H. Glanville and Mr Kerr-Pearse. We shall, therefore, content ourselves with a few brief remarks on a few of the other incidents that struck the observers as especially remarkable.
On 20 November 1937 Mr Glanville and a few friends were in the Base Room at 8.25 p.m. They noticed that the edges of the blind, which had been lowered, 'were waving regularly' as if being blown, but all decided that there was not sufficient draught to account for it, which fact, if true, inclined them to the belief that the movement was not normal. Now, anyone who has lived in a house where blinds are used must have constantly observed the movements made by them, and the little real attempt made to investigate the 'phenomenon' on this occasion indicates the small scientific interest that those present took in the occurrence in spite of the statement that they could not explain it.
This apparent lack of appreciation of the degree of importance to be attached to certain events in view of the conditions obtaining at the time, is also to be seen in Mr Kerr-Pearse's treatment of the movement of a sack of coal (MHH, pp. 121, 208).
This occurrence took place on 21 September 1937. With his cousin, Mr Rupert Haig, Mr Kerr-Pearse was standing on the landing outside the Blue Room at 8.30 p.m. A rustling noise was heard below and on descending the stairs it was found that a sack of coal, weighing about 50 lbs., had been moved by about 18 inches. It is not clear why this 'rustling noise' was attributed to the alleged movement of the sack. It might, it seems, be plausibly attributed to other causes such as creepers against the outside walls or paper being blown about in a draught. The sack's previous position is said to have been fixed by Mr Kerr-Pearse who had noted a stain on the floor close by where it was lying on its side. (1)
1 Mrs Henning, in a lecture she and her husband gave in London on 23 July 1952, stated that the sack was ringed with chalk but nothing of this was mentioned by Mr Kerr-Pearse in his reports to Price.
From what Mr Kerr-Pearse reported to Price it appears that the sack must have been bought some time after 1 p.m. on Tuesday, 21 September, when it was placed in the passage. Although Mr Kerr-Pearse stated that he had particularly noted its position by the mark on the floor, we cannot suppose that he had paid any very particular attention to it as he had not marked it with chalk and, even after it had apparently moved, he reported no attempt to discover whether any marks on the floor suggested that it had been lifted or dragged along. Thus from his own report it is clear that at the time (whatever his later views) he could not have regarded the alleged movement as one of particular significance as, had he done so, it is likely that he would have reported the occurrence in much greater detail; for example, he would have stated how the bag was lying in its relation to the wall, which end of the bag moved and other points, all of which are important in appraising the value of the incident as a paranormal event.
One further occurrence with Mr Kerr-Pearse will be sufficient. On 26 October 1937 he was sitting in the Base Room at 10.48 p.m. when he heard a small click which he put down to a draught shaking the door. On trying to leave the room a few seconds later he found that the door was locked on the inside, the key being in the lock. Price, in commenting on this incident (MHH, p. 210), wrote that 'whatever it was that locked the door must have been in the room' while Mr Kerr-Pearse was having his supper. Now here it seems that the reader can have the choice of two alternatives. Either the key was turned paranormally, or Mr Kerr-Pearse turned the key without thinking before sitting down to his meal and the click was, as he thought, due to the door being shaken. Of these two alternatives we prefer the second. It might here be noted that both Mr Glanville and Mr Kerr-Pearse appear to have been careful in locking and sealing the house at night. In view of the large number of rooms, etc., this must have been quite a ceremony and an habitual action is seldom consciously remembered. The fact that there was a key in the Base Room door would appear to be prima facie evidence that it was a door which was normally locked and unlocked as a matter of routine.
It may be as well if a few words were said concerning the moving luminous patch on the ceiling seen by Mr S. G. Welles in the Blue Room on 16 February 1937 and described in MHH (pp. 224 ff.). From the account of this event in Mr Welles's record it is certainly difficult to suggest any normal cause for this light, which can be compared with the rather similar luminous patches seen by Mr A. J. B. Robertson on 31 October 1941 (EBR, p. 150)
and by Mr J. P. Grantham on 27 February 1942 (ibid., p. 152). It is possible that these appearances were hallucinatory and Mr Robertson, in the account of his own experience, stated that no great weight should be attached to it although without giving any reason for this opinion. Whatever may have been the explanation of these lights it would be hazardous, we think, to maintain that they were in any way indicative of paranormal activity. We should indeed be fortunate if we were able to give clear-cut explanations after this lapse of time of every event recorded during the many years of investigation of the 'most haunted house in England'.
With regard to the messages and wall-writings, the situation is so chaotic that any discussion would be merely a waste of space. There seems to have been no co-ordinated scheme to deal with these; and their number and nature made the attempts of the observers to note, ring and date them almost farcical. Thus Colonel Westland on 7 July 1937 noted that in the scullery on the left of the back door was written the word 'Adelaide' and above it a figure '4' and above that a 'P'. Now on 13 July Mr Kerr-Pearse made a summary of 'all writings and marks on the walls' which presumably included those, if any, to be seen on the doors. Nevertheless, there is no mention whatever of the 'Adelaide' inscription which Colonel Westland noticed a few days before.
The same muddle and uncertainty surrounds all the ringed objects which littered the rectory. For instance, Flight-Lieuts. L. F. Caunter and R. C. Jonas visited Borley on 29 June 1937. They found a blue box which Colonel Westland had noted on 25 June, but in addition, and apparently in the same cupboard, they found a nail file which, it seems, had not been noticed by Colonel and Mrs Westland. We say 'it seems' since Colonel Westland's reports are scrupulously honest in their repetition of the fact that their finds - or lack of them - may have been due to their own forgetfulness, omissions and lack of any kind of systematic and controlled observation'. (1)
Indeed, throughout the whole of his tenancy Price made no attempt to direct the investigation, kept no log book, but left each batch of observers to fumble around as best they might and conduct an enquiry in which hardly any had had previous experience or any prior training. (2) Moreover, since there was no systematic
1 Price, however, in MHH, p. 240, lists what is presumably the episode of the nail file under 'Phenomena of true Poltergeist Character' and had the nail file photographed and prints taken for his Borley file.
2 As an example of the confusion which reigned during the period under discussion we can do no better than to mention the observers who, in measuring and preparing plans of the rectory, made pencil marks upon the walls, to be followed by another group of investigators who solemnly noted, ringed and dated the same marks as probable paranormal wall pencillings.
plan, events occurred which must have upset those acting as the official observers. For example, in November 1937 Price gave permission for the outside of the house to be painted; and thus Mr Glanville reported that when he arrived on Saturday, 20 November, 'we found the house open as the painters were at work on the outside of the house.' It was the foreman painter who told Mr Glanville that, some years before, when working in the rectory, one of his men called him into the library and pointed 'to a column of smoke rising vertically from the centre of the lawn'. According to Price's version of the incident, 'immediate investigation provided no clue to the mystery' (MHH, p. 202), although we are not told whether the 'investigation' was made during the actual rising of the smoke which is said to have lasted for one or two minutes, or immediately on its cessation. This sort of careless reporting makes any useful comment impossible.
Similarly, the enquiry into the alleged lights (apart from the luminous patches described above) seen at the rectory does not appear to have been conducted with any care, and Price omits the evidence which points to normal origins. Lights had to be 'strange' at Borley since everything was strange connected with the enchanted rectory. In November 1937, the Rev. A. C. Henning wrote saying that a light had been seen in the window of the room looking south at the corner of the house (1) and that Mr and Mrs Payne of Borley Place and Mr Mayes had seen it. In discussing the incident Mr Henning made a few remarks (omitted by Price) which are of some interest. He stated that Mr Arbon used to leave his lantern alight in the courtyard now and then, and that at night a faint light was sometimes seen in the window at the end of the south wing but that this light was due to a reflection from a light at the cottage. On this occasion, however, the light appears to have been too bright for an explanation of this kind. One of us (EJD), when in conversation with a local farm worker, was told that when lights were seen at the rectory these were not due to 'them ghosts' but to reflections from other sources - among them being the lights of Sudbury; a statement which, now that the rectory has disappeared, cannot be verified. (2)
From what we have said above it is obvious that one of the first things that should have been investigated by the official observers was the relation of the cottage, the farm buildings and structures adjacent to the rectory. There may be various reasons why this was not done. It is possible that the visitors did not wish to
1 Possibly Room 7 is meant and not Room 11 as stated by Price in MHH, p.236.
2 Cf. also Mrs Smith's testimony, pp. 45; 48.
disturb the Arbons, whose property was not being investigated, while at the same time incurring the displeasure of Price who objected to the observers being too critical and impatient. On the other hand we think it remarkable that none of these possibilities was discussed by Price, and this omission suggests that he suspected that any enquiry into the relation of the buildings might lead to unwelcome discoveries, since he must have been aware of these possibilities.
Summing up, then, the investigation of Borley Rectory during the Price tenancy (19 May 1937 to 19 May 1938), we can say, we think, with some degree of assurance that the evidence for any paranormal activity is so slender as to be scientifically worthless. It is clear that Price had no intention of making any investigation of the rectory that would be of solid and permanent value. What he wanted was stories and reports of witnesses who had had but little experience in such matters, and he got precisely what he required. All is confusion; even on the occasion of his last visit when he and Mr G. H. Motion discovered a wedding ring - 'the golden apport' - he is very careful to say that it was possible that 'the ring found its way into the Blue Room in a perfectly normal manner', and this after he had stated that it was unthinkable (his italics) that it had not been seen before. At this stage it seems that all we can do is to agree with him about the possible normal explanation of the golden apport, to which may perhaps be added the other 'phenomena' occurring during the Price tenancy.
Before closing this chapter a word should be said on the information given to various persons through table-tipping and the planchette as recorded in MHH (pp. 153 ff.) and EBR (pp. 276 ff.). These started on 23 October 1937 at the rectory, Mr Roger Glanville, Mr A. J. Cuthbert and Mr M. Kerr-Pearse participating. On this day and the following day answers by tipping were given to a whole series of detailed questions. Sentences and statements do not appear to have been spelt out: the information was merely given by tips for 'Yes' and 'No'. We cannot suppose that this series of sittings has much evidential value. The first of the planchette series was on 25 October. Unfortunately we have not been given the content of these scripts although Price stated that 'the results were not very encouraging' (MHH, p. 159). Since these were the scripts that were shown to Miss Helen Glanville, who later produced a mass of material, it would naturally be of some interest to know what they contained, and Price's omission of any details both in MHH and EBR is, to say the least, suggestive. For, only a few days later Miss Glanville, who had
never used a planchette before, produced a considerable amount of detailed material in which was built up the story of the murdered nun, giving the name Mary or Marie Lairre, and on which a remarkable series of speculations by Canon Phythian-Adams and others was founded. (1) Now, this planchette writing so far as it has been printed consists mainly of answers to questions and not of statements concerning data of which the automatist was ignorant. Moreover, it is quite clear that Miss Glanville must have known a good deal about Borley which enabled her to ask so many detailed questions. As Price himself said, before he saw the publicity value of elaborate historical theories to bolster up the flimsy structure, these scripts 'contain little or nothing that can be easily proved or disproved' (MHH, p. 163). It was only the script containing the threat by 'Sunex Amures' to burn the rectory on 27 March 1938 that Price seized upon after the actual fire on 27 February 1939 in order to show that a former prophecy had been fulfilled. To the question where the fire was going to start, the reply was 'over the hall', and that, stated Price (MHH, p. 164) 'is exactly where it did start'. Explaining this further, he went on to say that the first part of the house to burn was immediately over the hall; but in the account in the East Anglian Daily Times for 1 March 1939 it was said that the burning oil, from the upset lamp in the hall which caused the fire, spread among the packages on the ground and that in a few minutes the hall was a mass of flames: an account presumably considered accurate by Captain Gregson, who then owned the rectory, since he stated that the reports he had seen in various papers gave a full account of what occurred.
Amongst the many replies to questions put to the planchette in the various sittings, we fail to find any of outstanding interest and the theories built upon the few names and alleged facts that were given do not appear to us to be worthy of any long and sustained examination. It is true that one or two of the statements seemed difficult to explain until later enquiries threw some light upon them. For example, the name of Katie Boreham (2) was given and the information that the date of her death was in April 1888, and consultation of the Borley Church Registers showed that a Kate Boreham of Sudbury died on Easter Day, 1888, aged 31. This appears to be more than a coincidence and the only normal source of knowledge would seem to have been the Registers or the grave on which may have been inscribed the relevant particulars. In a letter from Mr Glanville dated 8 July 1952 in response to an enquiry as to whether he had looked at the Borley Registers
1 Cf. p. I5.
2 EBR, p. 125 and passim.
prior to the appearance of Katie Boreham in the planchette scripts, he stated that he had inspected them prior to this date, and therefore the possibility remains that he (and possibly others) saw this name in the lists and registered it mentally, whence it later emerged in the scripts. Although this cannot be proved, it disposes of the supposition that the appearance of the name of Katie Boreham must necessarily be due to paranormal agency.
In conclusion we would lay stress on the flimsy nature of much of the evidence once it is subjected to a critical and informed scrutiny. With a few exceptions, which are difficult to examine after so long a time and concerning which the precise details are lacking, it would seem that the case for paranormal phenomena occurring at Borley during this period is weak indeed. The design of the experiments was faulty, the overall conduct of the enquiry deplorably lax, and the absence of any central control foredoomed the investigation to failure from the scientific point of view. These things did not matter to Price. He got what he hoped and expected to get from his body of untrained observers who constituted the bulk of the witnesses during the period under review. All he had to do was to write up and carefully edit their stories for publication. And this was the record which the reviewer of MHH in Notes and Queries for 5 October 1940 declared was 'a model of what such a record should be'.
Contents . Note & Preface . Diary of Events . I. Introduction . II. Topography & Legends . III. The Bull Incumbencies . IV. The Smith Incumbency & Harry Price . V. The Foyster Incumbency . VI. The Price Tenancy . VII. Later Borley . VII. Conclusions
The Base Room .
Séance Room .
Famous Cases .
Borley Rectory .
Books By Price .
Writings By Price .
Books About Price .
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