Harry Price at Borley
This brief account was written by Mr Foyster for inclusion in MHH at Price's request and was prepared between 24 January 1938 and 11 February 1938. Even where events described refer to the short period covered by the Diary of Occurrences (February 1931 to July 1931), the account differs in description and in the wording used. Where later events are described, we have no record to show that there were contemporary notes for Mr Foyster's guidance in 1938. Price reproduced the Summary of Experiences with some variations on pp. 75-83 of MHH and called it 'The Rev. L. A. Foyster's Diary' which of course it was not.
We shall henceforward refer to this third account of Mr Foyster's as the Summary of Experiences.
With the provenance of the three Foyster statements thus examined, we may place them in chronological order with some certainty as follows:
(1) Diary of Occurrences. Instalments dated March-July 1931.
(2) Fifteen Months. Completed after May 1934.
(3) Summary of Experiences. Written January-February 1938.
Being thus provided with a rough and ready bibliography of Mr Foyster's writings, it is surprising to discover, in view of the importance which Price insisted he attached to them, how greatly he confused and misrepresented them in his books. We shall examine some specific details later in this chapter; for our present purpose it is sufficient to draw attention in passing to some of his opening remarks in Chapter XIII of MHH, a chapter which he called 'Leaves from the Foyster Diary'. Price wrote: 'From the very first day when the Rev. L.A. Foyster entered upon his duties at Borley, he kept a diary of the strange events that occurred there' (MHH, p. 74) and that he (Price) proposed 'to reprint [sic] verbatim certain selected portions' (MHH, p. 75). These statements, with which he introduced the reader to what he described as 'The Rev. L.A. Foyster's Diary' (really, as we have seen, the Summary of Experiences written in 1938), would appear to be deliberately misleading.
The necessarily exacting standards of evidence demanded in the investigation of the apparently impossible make it extremely desirable that accounts of supposedly paranormal occurrences should be written as soon as practicable after the events have taken place. Unless this is done there is a risk that after any appreciable interval (in this case varying between some months and some years), the fallibility of memory, later experiences and beliefs, and the opinions of others will inevitably colour the fading recollection when it is ultimately recorded by the percipient. Mr Foyster
himself well exemplifies this hazard. On the first page of his Diary of Occurrences where he reports Mrs Foyster hearing a voice calling 'Marianne Dear' he comments: 'Our first experience of anything at all out of the way was one which generally one would naturally have forgotten', i.e. it would have been forgotten as an everyday incident unworthy of record had it not been for later events and opinions. Only at a much later date was it described as a paranormal occurrence. The evidential value of even Mr Foyster's Diary of Occurrences is clearly open to doubt when scrutinised by these standards, although it is to some extent less vulnerable to suspicion than the accounts written some years afterwards.
In any appraisal of the worth of testimony recorded in these somewhat unsatisfactory conditions, one would wish for the opportunity of investigating (1) the accuracy of the percipient's memory, (2) the sincerity or otherwise of his motives, (3) his state of physical and mental health at the relevant time, and (4) his attitude towards the supernatural. All these matters will be considered in due course, but it may be noted in passing that Mr Foyster's memory was far from infallible. As an example we choose an incident which is clearly a simple lapse of memory. The variation from the facts, and indeed the event itself, has no bearing upon the possible paranormality of the occurrences at Borley. On pp. 130-1 of his Fifteen Months he describes the advent of Price on 13 October 1931 and says: 'Mr Price arrived with another gentleman and two ladies', whereas the party in fact consisted of Price and three ladies, i.e. KMG, Mrs Richards and Miss May Walker, and Mrs Richards' chauffeur. In this instance the details do not matter perhaps one way or the other, but one is entitled to wonder how many of the details of the alleged abnormal events were similarly inaccurately recorded. It is hardly necessary to point out that where occurrences such as the loss of a milk-jug and the finding of a book on the lavatory window-sill are suggested to be of paranormal origin, it is in the details that the whole point lies.
To demonstrate that Mr Foyster's later accounts show a tendency to enlarge upon the possibility of the events he describes being paranormal in character, and to document further the ingenuity and lack of impartiality with which Price treated the Foyster testimony in his books, we propose to discuss in some further detail the incident of the voice calling Mrs Foyster's name, because it is stated to be the first untoward occurrence during the Foyster tenancy. The event is variously described by Mr Foyster and Price as follows :
Passing over one's curiosity as to why Mrs Foyster did not respond to the earlier calls she said she heard, it will be noted that the incident relies entirely upon Mrs Foyster's uncorroborated statement that she heard her husband's voice calling her name. This may have been true, as it is possible that the rector may have dozed off and called out in his sleep. No date is recorded for the event but the 'Diary' makes it clear that the Foysters had been in residence at the rectory for some little time at least. It is not suggested that anyone but Mrs Foyster heard anything.
It will be noted that there is a new paragraph after the bare statement that the tenancy commenced on 16 October, the only date which Mr Foyster could remember previous to the milk-jug incident on 13 February 1931 (cf. p. 82).
The new paragraph, of which we quote the first sentence only, commencing 'First experiences', is clearly meant to be a brief account of the early and none too precisely remembered occurrences where dates were forgotten. In the laconic sentence which follows there is no all-important qualification that only Marianne heard the voice. The juxtaposition of the voice and the footsteps (1) might lead the reader of this one document, the only one reproduced in the Borley books, to believe that the voice was heard by four people, even collectively. This is probably accidental; but it is unfortunate that alleged paranormal events should be described with such extreme brevity that the details are liable to misconstruction, when the account was specifically prepared for publication. No mention is here made of the statement in the original document that it was Mr Foyster's voice that his wife thought she heard.
The Most Haunted House in England (1940), p. 75.
Price printed the Summary of Experiences under his own title of 'The Rev. L. A. Foyster's Diary' with the clear implication in the
1 The incident of the footsteps alleged to have been heard collectively is discussed on p. 94.
text that it was a day-to-day account, whilst knowing full well that it had been written at his request in 1938. He does nothing to clear up the possible misconception regarding the number of people who may have heard the voice calling 'Marianne'. This is a serious omission, for he had of course in his possession the Diary of Occurrences and knew full well that only Mrs Foyster heard a voice which she took to be her husband's. What is more serious is that the two paragraphs in Mr Foyster's account (Summary of Experiences) are amalgamated by Price to give the positive impression that the voice and other phenomena were experienced on 16 October 1930. This merger gives two false impressions to the reader. The dating of the events gives the account an air of precision, which we know it did not in fact possess, and makes it look more like a diary written up daily, which we know it was not. Secondly, it falsely groups together on the first day of the tenancy a number of small incidents which occurred over a period, giving an impression of a house very much more haunted than even Mr Foyster presumably intended to convey.
The End of Borley Rectory (1946), p. 47·
In his second Borley book Price says: 'As we have seen, on the very day they moved into the Rectory Mr Foyster, his wife and little Adelaide heard strange footsteps about the house and a voice calling "Marianne dear".' In this final version of the incident, fifteen years later than the original document describing it, subtlety is abandoned and the positive statement is made that three people heard the voice on 16 October 1930.
Thus far in this chapter our investigation has been confined to a scrutiny of some aspects of Price's treatment of the Foyster 'phenomena' in his Borley books as opposed to his privately expressed opinions, and to an examination of the provenance of the three documents containing the testimony of the Rev. L.A. Foyster and the relative degree of their evidential value. Before discussing further the alleged occurrences described in these accounts, it is opportune to consider such information as is available regarding Mr and Mrs Foyster and the circumstances of their tenancy of the rectory.
Canon H. Lawton was locum tenens for Mr Foyster in 1933, i.e. approximately half-way through the latter's incumbency. In his statement to us he described Mr Foyster at the time he knew him as 'a man of about 60, badly crippled by chronic arthritis'. This impression coincides with that formed by KMG on her visit of 13 October 1931; she remembers him as 'a man of between
sixty and seventy, suffering acutely from rheumatism'. (1) There seems little doubt that his health deteriorated steadily during the last fourteen years of his life; there are many references to his increasing illness in the unpublished material. It is curious that in his Borley books Price makes no direct reference to Mr Foyster's ill-health; it seems to have been the physical characteristic first to strike even the casual observer.
Canon Lawton told us that Mr Foyster was greatly liked and thoroughly respected in Borley and its neighbourhood. Lady Whitehouse, their neighbour, said that the help and hospitality which she had afforded to the Foysters were entirely due to her respect for Mr Foyster. Price described the rector somewhat heartily as 'a delightful, typical cultured parson of the best type, a scholar, a Cambridge (Pembroke College) M.A. and much travelled'.
Canon Lawton told us that in 1933 he 'judged Mrs Foyster to be between 25 and 30, physically attractive and to all appearances in excellent health'. His reference to Mrs Foyster's appearance of physical well-being is confirmed by KMG's impression of her when she visited Borley with Price in 1931. She records that they were all very surprised to find that the rector's wife was a young woman of between twenty and thirty, (2) 'looking extremely vital and healthy.' Major Douglas-Home said in a statement to Lord Charles Hope that he had been told that Mrs Foyster's health 'was superb'. These opinions are important because of the repeated references in Mr Foyster's accounts and Price's books to Mrs Foyster's frequent illnesses, fainting fits, and so on.
On the evening of 13 October 1931 Mrs Foyster collapsed in an apparent faint. The rector was extremely concerned and KMG gave 'first-aid' to his wife, at the same time taking the opportunity
1 According to Mr Foyster's death certificate he was 67 when he died in 1945 and would therefore be 52 or 53 in 1931. No doubt his rheumatism made him appear somewhat older.
2 These opinions of Mrs Foyster's age at the relevant time appear to be reasonably accurate, whilst the documentary evidence we have been able to obtain is surprisingly contradictory. According to her birth certificate at Somerset House, Marianne Emily Rebecca Shaw was born at 5 Guy Wood Cottages, Romiley, near Stockport, Cheshire, on 26 January 1899. On 22 August 1922 under the same name she married the Rev. Lionel Algernon Foyster at Salmonhurst, New Brunswick, Canada, and in the marriage certificate her age is stated to be 23. On 11 August 1945, rather less than four months after Mr Foyster's death at Dairy Cottages, Rendlesham, Suffolk, she married Robert Vincent O'Neil, a bachelor of 29, at the Registrar's Office in Ipswich. In her signed application for the licence she gave her age as 32, and stated that both parties to the marriage were living at 229 Ranelagh Road, Ipswich. Neither we nor the Registrar have been able to trace the existence of this address either today or in 1945 and Mrs Foyster was in fact living at the time at Dairy Cottages, Rendlesham, Suffolk, where she was known as Mrs Fisher, and where Mr Foyster was generally assumed to be her invalid father.
of feeling her pulse which, she tells us, seemed to be normal. KMG and the rector assisted Mrs Foyster up to bed and shortly afterwards there was a crash caused by 'an empty claret bottle ... hurled down the staircase well' whilst 'one of the bells (the pull of which was in one of the upstairs rooms) started to ring violently'. These events were followed by the noise made by some 'small pebbles' which 'rattled down the stairs', and by Mrs Foyster 'calling out in alarm' because she had been locked in her bedroom. In the opinion of KMG, who has had hospital training, not only was Mrs Foyster's pulse normal, but she showed no signs of genuine physical distress.
Lady Whitehouse told us that she thought Mrs Foyster's fainting fits might be trances, but this suggestion is not borne out by other testimony. It is true that in Mr Foyster's letter to Mr S. H. Glanville of 2 September 1937 he said 'my wife is very psychic', and Price tells us that 'Mrs Foyster is said to come from a "psychic" family'. (1) But Mr Foyster, who refers repeatedly to his wife's ill-health in simple physical terms such as 'feeling absolutely rotten', 'somewhat collapsed for a time', 'had a very bad turn', describes how during a visit of a party of spiritualists in January 1932 Marianne came into the room, immediately saw the ghost of Harry Bull and went into a trance herself. (2) The inference is that Mr Foyster distinguished his wife's trance from her fainting fits. (3)
There is evidence that Mrs Foyster had distinct leanings towards Roman Catholicism. She wore a scapular as a protection against the poltergeists (Fifteen Months, pp. 122-3). On the evening of 14 October 1931 when, after a vigil of some hours, it seemed evident that no manifestations were going to occur while Mrs Foyster was in the same room as the investigators (as opposed to the many phenomena during the previous evening when she was upstairs alone), KMG tells us that Mrs Foyster flung herself upon her knees and prayed aloud to St Anthony for vindication. (4)
So far as we have been able to discover, Mrs Foyster did not share her husband's unqualified popularity in Borley. Her neighbours apparently showed no special restraint even at the risk
1 We have visited Mrs Foyster's birthplace near Stockport. Her parents, Mr and Mrs William S. Shaw, are remembered by the present tenant of the cottage in which they lived. Nothing is known of the family being 'psychic'.
2 Fifteen Months, p. 114; and see also ibid. pp. 180-3.
3 The suggestion that Mrs Foyster was mediumistic and a focus for violent poltergeist activity is not confirmed by her immediate neighbours at Ipswich, Snape, Rendlesham and Martlesham, near Woodbridge, Suffolk, where she lived successively after leaving Borley in 1935. None of these persons, whom we have interviewed in our unsuccessful endeavours to find Mrs Foyster, have so much as hinted that there was anything extraordinary about her in a psychic sense, at least.
4 This occasion is discussed further on p. 121.
of offending her. According to Mr Foyster's account (Fifteen Months, pp. 61 and passim), she was repeatedly 'openly accused even to her face' of staging the whole of the phenomena at Borley during her husband's incumbency. There are indications also that, not unnaturally perhaps in view of her youth and physical attractions, she did not undertake with any consistent enthusiasm the prosaic duties of a country rector's wife. She seems in fact to have been in the habit of spending a good deal of time away from Borley and her husband. Mr Foyster says that in June and July 1931, for example, Mrs Foyster, exhausted by the phenomena, 'went right away and paid some visits' and 'had a thorough change and rest'. Canon Lawton told us that in 1933 Mrs Foyster was part-proprietor of a flower-shop in London with Mr François d' Arles, and according to a statement made by Mr Arbon, a later occupant of the cottage, to Mr S. H. Glanville on 4 November 1937, this partnership continued for some eighteen months, Mrs Foyster returning to the rectory only at weekends. (1)
We have already indicated that in our view any detailed consideration of Mr Foyster's testimony should be limited, faute de mieux, to his earliest account, i.e. the Diary of Occurrences. It covers the period from October 1930 to July 1931 and is therefore an extensive cross-section of what were largely repetitive 'phenomena' during the 'active' part of the incumbency, i.e. October 1930 to January 1932. We shall in addition comment upon the more important of the later occurrences when we subsequently discuss the testimony of Edwin Whitehouse and Guy L'Estrange. The evidential standard of the Diary of Occurrences is somewhat unsatisfactory for reasons which have already been advanced; but it was at least written within a matter of months as opposed to years of the events it describes, and was not prepared for publication. It should, however, be borne in mind that while in our analysis we shall for convenience treat those portions of the narrative which are not simply hearsay as if they were evidentially sound, the Diary of Occurrences should in fact be regarded with some general reservations in view of the circumstances in which it was written.
On p. 1 of the Diary of Occurrences Mr Foyster remarks: 'We had, before we came here, heard about my predecessor's experience.' He was a first cousin of the patrons of the living, the Misses Bull, and, as already stated, when he first returned to England in 1929 he lived for a time at Great Cornard, Sudbury,
1 Miss E. R. Gordon, who lived at Borley Lodge during the Foyster incumbency, in her letter to us of 26 July 1954, stated that although she knew Mr Foyster quite well she saw little of his wife who was generally away in London.
some three or four miles from Borley. It seems probable that the Foysters would be regaled by the Misses Bull, also living at Sudbury, with the details of the previous alleged hauntings, as had been Mr and Mrs Smith. The phraseology of every page of the Diary of Occurrences leaves it in no doubt that Mr Foyster was at least outwardly convinced from the early days of his tenancy that the rectory was haunted, and the smallest untoward event was, without qualification, attributed to the 'goblins' as the Foysters called them. Mr Foyster was well acquainted with the traditions of Borley Rectory as early as 1895, for in a letter to Mr S. H. Glanville dated 2 September 1937, already quoted, he says: 'I remember staying there less than three years after he [Harry Bull] came as Rector, & hearing ghost stories from the younger members of the family.' We have dealt with the psychological mechanism of suggestion in the Introduction to this report and have tried to exemplify its effect when dealing with the Smith incumbency; it is therefore unnecessary to repeat the argument here. Mr Foyster's expressed belief in the paranormality of the events at Borley appears to have been obstinately strengthened (at least outwardly) rather than diminished, by the belief in the district that Mrs Foyster manufactured the 'phenomena'. It is perhaps for this reason that the Diary of Occurrences in many places gives an unfortunate impression of over-statement. If the assumptions contained in this paragraph are well founded, a comment by Price upon the point under discussion makes curious reading. He says:
Another feature of the Diary of Occurrences is that it is a wholly uncritical account of a series of events which, by the very nature of the writer's interpretation of them, should have been recorded with the qualifications and reservations obviously demanded by such an incredible narrative. (1) According to a statement made by Miss Ethel Bull to Mr S. H. Glanville on 25 June 1938, Mr Foyster was and always had been deeply in love with his young wife Marianne, a fact which is confirmed by his references to her in his testimony, which consistently display an affectionate and implicit trust. Admittedly in these circumstances it would be unreasonable to have expected him to write his account around
1 Mr S. H. Glanville, commenting on Fifteen Months in a Haunted House, said in his letter to Mr Foyster dated 8 October 1937: 'I must say that it is the most astonishing document I have ever read. Compared with my own experience of a few mild taps, it is simply astounding.'
the possible hypothesis that Marianne was indulging in falsehood and trickery in order to shake his determination to endure the discomforts and isolation of the rectory. But this admission scarcely justifies the inclusion in his narrative of events which would appear to the normal observer to be clearly related without, apparently, his recognising the connection or commenting upon it.
As our first example we have chosen occurrences which are described on successive pages of the Diary of Occurrences and which one would imagine therefore could not have escaped the notice of the writer. On p. 3 Mr Foyster says: 'A wonderfully delicate perfume would come into the house and especially into our bedroom and on the bed.' This 'phenomenon' was evidently objective, for the more prosaic Mrs Bigg of Borley Place 'remarked about it and called it lavender'. On p. 5 Mr Foyster describes the finding of a bag of lavender on the mantelpiece of 'Marianne's room' (presumably their bedroom or possibly the Sewing Room) which Mrs Foyster said she had never seen before. A few days after it had 'disappeared', Mr Foyster discovered it in his coat pocket in the bedroom. It seems curious that Mr Foyster should apparently see no connection between an allegedly paranormal smell of lavender and the physical presence in the rectory, and indeed in the bedroom, of a bag of the same substance. (1)
The point is, we think, exemplified further by Mr Foyster's description of the 'odd smell of cooking' which was noticeable at times between 11 and 12 p.m. (Diary of Occurrences, p. 4). He does not appear to have connected this somewhat homely 'phenomenon' with the Mitchells, 'the people from the cottage' (p. 5), who may quite conceivably have prepared a meal at a late hour on occasions. If Mr Foyster considered this prosaic explanation as a possible alternative to the activities of the 'goblins', or made any simple enquiry to satisfy himself one way or the other, he makes no mention of doing so in the Diary of Occurrences. On one occasion at least it would appear that no investigation was made of this phenomenon because of Mrs Foyster's alleged fear of the outcome. 'They are at it again,' said Marianne. 'I would not go down to the back premises now for any money' (Fifteen Months, p. 21). It is curious that the 'back premises', by which Mrs Foyster presumably meant the kitchen and scullery, should be mentioned as the approximate point of origin of the smell of cook-
1 It is perhaps typical of the way the Borley legend grew that a year or two later, when Mr Foyster enlarged his story from 31 sheets to Fifteen Months, with over 180 sheets, the 'phenomenon' became (on p. 22) 'Perfumes ... wonderful, fragrant, almost overwhelming', with the comment that the smell was oftener than not suddenly noticed some time after the Foysters had retired to bed: a delayed action which was not mentioned in the earlier account.
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 . VIII. Conclusions
The Base Room .
Séance Room .
Famous Cases .
Borley Rectory .
Books By Price .
Writings By Price .
Books About Price .
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