Harry Price at Borley
ing, for this portion of the rectory was closest to the cottage and only a few yards from it. (1)
A final example of the lack of a critical approach, and one of much greater interest, is Mr Foyster's somewhat significant silence over the matter of 'Mrs Foyster's wine trick', which has already been mentioned (see p. 60). The incident is not recorded in the Diary of Occurrences since it took place after this was written; but the date, 13 October 1931, is covered by the Summary of Experiences, yet Mr Foyster simply omits any reference whatsoever to what would have been, if genuine, the most spectacular 'phenomenon' of the evening. It seems to us reasonable to assume that he formed some opinion about it and decided that the incident should not properly be included in his account of the Borley manifestations. If this is true, it is not easy to guess the point where his speculations regarding the matter ceased unless, as we have suggested, he was not of an enquiring turn of mind where his wife was possibly involved, however significant the indications. Price gave a full description of the event in his first Borley book, but entirely suppressed it in his second volume, with what must be regarded in the circumstances as a striking example of understatement, merely saying: 'After some refreshments we again examined the house.' It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Price ultimately decided, like Mr Foyster, that it might be wise to draw a veil over a metamorphosis which closely resembled in effect a favourite if somewhat messy feat of juvenile parlour magic, although of course their respective motives for so doing may have been quite different.
In our attempt to analyse some of the alleged 'phenomena' described in the Foyster Diary of Occurrences, we have dealt only with specific events. There are many vague references to dimly remembered occurrences upon which it is impossible usefully to comment, e.g. 'We were comparatively quiet now till the next Thursday .... I think probably there was some bell ringing, but if so nothing worse that I can recollect'. 'Things have been very much quieter during the week - a little throwing and bell ringing now and then, but nothing worth speaking about' (Diary, pp. 8,16).
1 The close proximity of the cottage to the one small opening in the otherwise totally enclosed courtyard of the rectory is fully discussed in the next chapter. When writing Fifteen Months (p. 21) some years after his Diary of Occurrences, Mr Foyster mentioned the possible connection between the smell of cooking and the cottage. He dismissed it on the grounds that the window of the Blue Room, in which the smell of cooking had been noticed, was on the opposite side of the house. This afterthought is scarcely conclusive, for it overlooks the fact that the door of the Blue Room was opposite the landing window, which opened on to the courtyard.
In our appraisal of the incidents which appear to be dependent upon Mrs Foyster's sincerity, even on the basis of her husband's account, we have divided the phenomena into the following classes:
(1) Those incidents alleged to have occurred when Mr Foyster states or clearly implies that he was out of the rectory, in another part of the house, or asleep; and for which there was no subsequent evidence to prove that they had necessarily occurred at all.
As rector of the parish, Mr Foyster was of course out a great deal, and his account makes it clear that many incidents of this type were simply related to him on his return home. Examples are: 'That afternoon I was away and she was alone in the house . . . . Presently she went into the kitchen and found the jugs altogether on a little plate that had also disappeared, on the table.' 'While I was out Marianne heard something bowling along the passage outside her room and discovered it was a nice junk of wood ... so she promptly collared it and took it in and put it on her fire.' 'During the afternoon, while I was out, M[arianne] said a whole lot of things were carried and placed in the kitchen passage.' 'That night I was very tired and slept soundly, but Marianne who was awake quite a lot, said that there were very weird noises going on in the house' (Diary of Occurrences, pp. 6, 11, 13, 27).
(2) Those incidents, commonplace in themselves, which according to Mr Foyster's testimony occurred, and which appear to have been capable of an immediate natural explanation but for Mrs Foyster's denial of responsibility for them.
Examples: 'A few days after this I went with Adelaide up to bed one night, and while I was upstairs heard someone, whom of course I took for Marianne, walking about the hall. When I came down, I found she had not left the room she was sitting in' (Diary, p. 2). It is surprising perhaps to the reader of Price's two Borley books to realise that this is the earliest mention of the footsteps which were stated by Price to have been heard collectively on the first day of the Foysters' tenancy of the rectory (cf. p. 87). Another reference to them, appropriate to the present class of phenomena, appears in the Diary, p. 17: 'I generally think it is Marianne and she thinks it is me, till we ask each other .. .' Another example, ibid., p. 16, is: 'That evening we found our bedroom window[s], which had been left open, shut the wrong way round; the top where the bottom should be and the bottom where the top should.'
(3) Those incidents, supposedly paranormal in origin, occurring in the presence of Mrs Foyster when alone, the results of which were afterwards inspected by the rector.
'One evening in August, I think, I was in the Church when my wife came rushing over and said there was a tremendous noise emanating from my study and she wanted me to come over and see what it was. We went in together and found that the furniture etc. had been thrown about.' (1) 'I woke up soon after 5; Marianne was awake and shewed me a heap of four or five stones that had been piled behind her pillow.' 'I had an uncomfortable feeling that something would happen while I was out, and I was right. When I came back, I found a great conglomeration of things lying on the stairs and in the hall, including clothes, books, etc. I asked Marianne what had happened and she said that an awful noise had suddenly started up in our room (the next to the one she was in)...' (Diary of Occurrences, pp. 13, 27 ,28).
(4) Those incidents, supposedly paranormal in origin, occurring in the presence of both Mr and Mrs Foyster.
'Just after I had finished writing we were having tea in my study. Marianne was just going to sit on a chair when baby called out "Oh Mummy, needle" and there was a pin sticking point upwards in the chair.' 'On Thursday night, however, we had some more throwing after the light went out. Two things were thrown, and then after quite an interval, just as I was going off to sleep, I was roused by being hit on the head by my hairbrush...' 'Later still, shortly before we went to bed, we went into the kitchen together; Marianne was making up the fire and I was going through the door leading out to the scullery, etc. As I was going through the door a stone was thrown from the opposite corner of the room, which hit the door just as I went behind it.' 'That evening while we were having our evening meal suddenly a piece of brick fell right on the table close by my plate. If it had gone an inch or so to the right or left it would have broken something; as it was it just fitted in. Marianne had risen from the table at the moment and had her back turned and neither of us saw from which direction it came' (Diary of Occurrences, pp. 7, 8, 11, 15)·
(5) Those incidents, supposedly paranormal in origin, which were alleged by Mrs Foyster to have occurred in the presence of both the rector and his wife or while they were both in the house together, but which were experienced only by Marianne because of her 'psychic' qualities.
1 In a letter from Mr Foyster to Price of 3 October 1931, enclosing the Diary of Occurrences.
These were limited to apparitions, e.g. 'I cannot remember the exact date, but we had not been in the house very long before Marianne began seeing Harry Bull. This of course might well be imagination, but I mention it as I want to tell everything that we have experienced' (Diary, p. 2). One of the anomalies of the alleged haunting of Borley Rectory is that there is no record of Mrs Foyster ever seeing the 'nun' during her five years' sojourn in the house. The identity of the only apparition apart from Harry Bull which she stated she saw is not disclosed in the Diary, i.e. 'I heard Marianne give a very loud cry somewhere down in the back regions. I was in bed and jumped out and ran on to the landing and called out to know what had happened. She told me afterwards it was something the goblins had done, but absolutely refused to tell me what it was' (Diary, p. 19). We have to turn to Fifteen Months to satisfy our curiosity, for Marianne ultimately did tell the rector. 'No doubt she was right withholding any further explanation just then when I was not well, but subsequently I got to the bottom of the mystery and this was what I learned. [Marianne] was proceeding along the kitchen passage. She had gone almost as far as the kitchen door when suddenly looking up she saw a sort of monstrosity just in front of her. It was shadowy, but seemed to her more like a gigantic bat than anything else. It put out a hand and touched her on the shoulder, and the touch was like that of a hand of iron. Then came the shriek' (Fifteen Months, pp. 71-2). Possibly for the benefit of nervous readers of the first Borley book, not conditioned in their youth by the works of Mr Bram Stoker, Mr Foyster omitted the somewhat sensational description of this apparition in his Summary of Experiences (MHH, p. 79), and the artist who illustrated Price's Poltergeist Over England (p. 291) was evidently spared the full details.
The remainder of the 'phenomena' described in the Diary of Occurrences not covered by the five classifications mentioned seem to us to be the only events which do not depend upon Mrs Foyster's sincerity. We have discovered only two types of such occurrences:
(6) Those incidents, trivial in character, but which were reported by Mr Foyster as having possible paranormal significance.
We have already mentioned on pp. 92-3 the smell of cooking. An interesting example which may come within this class appears on p. 27 of the Diary where Mr Foyster describes 'quite a loud noise soon after 10 a.m., but since we had never had anything so early from the Goblins, I put it down to the puppy'. The fact that
there was a puppy in addition to a cat (MHH, p. 82) in the rectory may offer an explanation of several small incidents.
(7) Those incidents, supposedly paranormal in origin, which took place when Mrs Foyster was not present.
We can find but one example in the Diary. It occurred when Mrs Foyster was away and Mr d'Arles was spending a night with Mr Foyster at the rectory. 'I was just going to my room, when I heard a noise somewhere in the house and knocked at his door to see whether it was in his room. I got no answer, so I pushed the door open and found something put up against it from inside. When I got in I saw it was an empty paint pot. [Mr d' Arles] was asleep, but woke up when I came in. I asked him if he had put the paint pot there, and he said no he had not, and he was not aware it was even in the room' (Diary, p. 31). As we shall be dealing later in this chapter with the testimony of Mr d'Arles, we need not comment upon the evidential value of this incident here except to say that according to Mr Foyster's statement in Fifteen Months (the event is mentioned only at the end of the Diary and is not included in the chronological text) it was apparently the only phenomenon noted by him during a fairly lengthy absence from home of Mrs Foyster. 'And so the time passed till, refreshed in body and mind, Marianne returned. But there is just one thing to record. It happened on the evening Mr [d'Arles] was down staying with me...' (Fifteen Months, pp. 107-8). It is true that during his wife's absence he did not sleep in the house by himself; he either had friends to sleep at the rectory or he himself slept at Arthur Hall (the home of Sir George and Lady Whitehouse) or at the cottage. But this temporary cessation of the manifestations during Marianne's absence from the rectory is nevertheless a remarkable fact, for Mr Foyster's previous entries make it clear that many of the more spectacular phenomena concerned with the overturning of furniture, the precipitation of clothes-baskets, books and smaller objects on to the stairs and so on, had taken place during the daytime. Further, the text of Fifteen Months makes it plain that, following Mrs Foyster's return from holiday, this type of incident had by no means ceased at the rectory. 'I was outside the house but not very far away, when I heard hasty steps coming in my direction. It was my wife. "Oh, [Lionel]," she said breathlessly, "do come. Such strange noises in the library; bangs and crashes, and I don't like to go in alone. Come with me, do. I was in the kitchen," she explained as we made our way back to the house; "they must be throwing the furniture about" ... The room looked
as if a hurricane had passed through it' (Fifteen Months, p. 116).
Treating the bell ringing (which is referred to in general terms and without details in most cases) as a single phenomenon, a page-by-page scrutiny of Mr Foyster's testimony in his Diary yields 103 phenomena. Analysed on the basis set forth above, the following results would appear to be obtained:
Class (1) 24. (2) 11. (3) 25. (4) 30. (5) 9. (6) 3. (7) 1.
These figures would appear to indicate therefore that (a) 99 incidents are dependent upon Mrs Foyster's sincerity; (b) 3 incidents are not dependent upon Mrs Foyster's good faith but may not unreasonably be attributed to natural causes; (c) 1 incident is not dependent upon Mrs Foyster's sincerity and cannot be attributed to natural cause if in this case we accept as evidentially sound Mr Foyster's account of it, i.e. it would appear that the paint-pot was either placed there paranormally, or Mr d'Arles put it against the door for some purpose of his own which he did not disclose to the rector.
We propose now to comment upon some of the other testimony for the Foyster manifestations. In his second Borley book, Price said: 'Lady Whitehouse has a nephew, Dom Richard Whitehouse, O.S.B., who has known the Rectory ... since boyhood. Between June and December 1931 (the period when the Poltergeists were most active) he paid some thirty visits to the Foysters and saw the most astounding phenomena. He kindly wrote a detailed account of his experiences for my first Borley book' (EBR, p. 36). The contribution consisted of the whole of Chapter XV of MHH, and was entitled 'What I saw at Borley Rectory' (MHH, pp. 89-101), and Price said that it was one of the most interesting and convincing sections of the book (MHH, p. v).
Edwin Whitehouse took the name of Richard when he joined the Benedictine community. He was ordained on 18 May 1940. During the period of his actual contact with Borley Rectory he was of course known as Edwin Whitehouse, and his letters at the relevant time are so signed. This is of some interest and importance in view of the fact that one of the allegedly paranormal wall-writings consisted of the single word 'Edwin' (MHH, p. 146). Price spoke the truth when he said on the same page: '''Edwin,'' by the way, was a friend of the Foysters,' but it seems curious that he should conceal, by accident or design, that it was in fact the baptismal name of the contributor of a whole chapter.
The testimony of Edwin Whitehouse is on the face of it of much greater importance than the whole of Mr Foyster's accounts. It is apparently the first-hand evidence of an independent, educated
observer who saw and described phenomena for which, it is claimed, no normal explanation can be offered. If true, the paranormality of at least some of the objective manifestations of alleged poltergeist origin would be proved. His account is therefore worthy of the most careful scrutiny.
'What I saw at Borley Rectory' was written eight years after the events it describes. This is apparent even to the casual reader of the Borley books, for the writer says: 'I agree with Mr Price in asserting that this place, which is now a ruin, was once the most haunted house in England' (MHH, p. 101). This sentence places the writing of the account after the fire on 27 February 1939. The unprinted Price-Whitehouse correspondence shows that Price wrote on 24 April 1939 seeking a contribution to his forthcoming book, and the completed account was sent to him on 31 July 1939. We have already discussed the fallibility of memory and the influence of later beliefs and the opinions of others when accounts of allegedly paranormal incidents are prepared long after the experiences they describe. Mr Whitehouse's account seems a good example of this. With this criticism Price himself would probably have agreed had the case not been Borley and his own, if we are entitled to judge him by his remarks on p. 280 of his Fifty Years of Psychical Research (London, 1939). In a somewhat acid criticism of the circumstances in which Miss Moberly and Miss Jourdain wrote their accounts of their experiences at the Petit Trianon at Versailles (An Adventure, London, 1911), he deals with some severity with these ladies' failure to prepare their written records immediately. He says (the italics are his): 'But a week later, when the trip was being discussed for the first time, something was said that caused them to wonder whether everything had been quite normal ... They were so excited that they sat down and wrote independent accounts of what they thought they saw on that "historic" afternoon. But their reports were written just a week too late to be of any real value.'
At first sight it might be thought that the Whitehouse evidence is of some scientific value, yet indications of its unreliability and bias are apparent throughout his testimony. To illustrate this, we may select four of the most striking phenomena reported by him.
In June 1931, a note written by Mr Foyster and brought by a boy summoned Mr Whitehouse from Sudbury to see what the poltergeists were doing. On arrival he found that 'almost the entire contents of a bedroom' had been scattered on the main staircase and lower floor. He was told that after a loud noise had been heard the objects had been precipitated in an unaccountable
manner (MHH, p. 90). A simple normal explanation of this incident is not hard to find, since Mrs Foyster was in the next-door bedroom, supposedly ill, and clearly may have been responsible. Later that morning, a further incident occurred. Mr Whitehouse was sitting on Mrs Foyster's bed when suddenly a stiletto or paper knife fell on his lap, and Mrs Foyster told him that she had watched the knife rise up from the floor behind him and perform one or two curious convolutions in the air before coming to rest on his knees, with the added information that the knife was always kept in the study below (MHH, p. 93). It seems clear that in order to produce that part of the incident which Mr Whitehouse actually experienced, as opposed to the more startling remainder of which he was merely told, all that Mrs Foyster had to do was to divert his attention for a few seconds. Yet Mr Whitehouse stated in MHH that in his opinion this phenomenon could not have been manufactured by Mrs Foyster. Indeed, after distinguishing the incident as the one which had most impressed him at the rectory, in his letter to Price of 2 March 1941 he said that after witnessing it he 'never doubted the objectivity and reality of the paranormal happenings at Borley'. If any significance is to be attached to this occurrence it would appear to lie in its demonstration of the fact that Mr Whitehouse evidently accepted without question the incredible story told by Mrs Foyster, and according to his letter to Price based upon it his judgment of the Borley phenomena as a whole. In this may well lie the clue to the rest of his testimony.
On p. 37 of EBR Price describes 'the most astonishing phenomena' witnessed by Edwin Whitehouse, i.e. the bottle-dropping demonstration in the kitchen of Borley Rectory on the night of 13 November 1931, when he was keeping Mrs Foyster company during her husband's absence in London. Price says: 'They all saw another bottle materialize in the air above them. First it was of mushroom shape, then its form changed to that of a bottle. It hovered in the air for a few seconds and crashed to the floor at their feet.' Edwin Whitehouse in his account says: 'A bottle poised itself in mid-air within a foot or so of the kitchen ceiling. It remained there for a second or two and then fell with a crash on the floor before us' (MHH, p. 98). The reader may consider that the source of the description of the poising of the bottle in mid-air may not have differed from that of the convolutions in the air of the stiletto in the previous episode. We have carefully examined the original report and the whole of the available Price-Whitehouse correspondence and we can find no hint or suggestion in Mr Whitehouse's testimony of the transformation from mushroom-shape to bottle introduced by Price in EBR. We think it
unfortunate that this addition, favouring as always a paranormal explanation, should have been introduced by Price in his description of an incident which seemed startling enough already. Why Price should have thought it desirable to colour this testimony is a matter for conjecture. Perhaps he wished to convince himself as well as his readers that the bottles dropped in November 1931 were genuinely paranormal ones, for as we have seen, he himself witnessed a demonstration of bottle throwing and breaking on the evening of 13 October 1931, i.e. only one month earlier than the performance watched by Edwin Whitehouse, and had been satisfied that Mrs Foyster was responsible.
The fourth incident is one of the most interesting as it not only illustrates Mr Whitehouse's inaccuracies but also the state of his mind and possibly the source of some of his most striking statements.
When the first edition of MHH was published in October 1940, Price sent Edwin Whitehouse a complimentary copy. The latter replied to Price on 6 November 1940, to acknowledge it and to say that he found he had made several mistakes in his published account as regards the identity of the rooms in which the alleged phenomena occurred. One of the incidents, listed by Whitehouse as the fifth, incorrectly described Mr Foyster as being ill in bed in the room adjoining the Blue Room (MHH, first edition, p. 100, line 6), whereas Whitehouse explained in his letter that the location was in fact the Blue Room itself. In the second edition of MHH published in March 1941, Price made this alteration but most surprisingly did not include a further correction made by Whitehouse in his letter. We propose to quote the account printed in the second edition of MHH in full, followed by Whitehouse's qualification, so that the reader of this report may share our surprise at discovering yet another example of the sort of evidence for the haunting of Borley Rectory which, had it been known, would surely have prevented jurists of reputation from describing the testimony in the case to be of such a calibre that it would appear to be unshakeable in a court of law. Whitehouse's account of the incident he tabulates as No. 5 reads (MHH, second edition, p. 100, line 6):
The correction to the above account in the letter from Edwin Whitehouse to Price of 6 November 1940 reads:
From this it can be gathered that the only phenomena I witnessed affecting the Blue Room were the ones under 6 and 5, although to be strictly accurate I did not witness No 5, arriving as I did just after it had taken place.
In this connection, incident No.6 was the precipitation of the objects from the bedroom described above, an incident which in MHH Mr Whitehouse admitted he did not witness. There is, of course, the possibility that by mistake he wrote 'No.5' when he meant 'No.6', but this interpretation would involve the not inconsiderable task of fitting the description of his arrival 'just after it had taken place' to the interval of at least one hour which must have elapsed between the occurrence of incident No.6 and the arrival of Mr Whitehouse at the rectory in response to Mr Foyster's note. Further, if this alternative is considered, it would have to be suggested that at the very time when Mr Whitehouse was correcting mistakes in his report and was, as he says, being 'strictly accurate', he made a further major error, a fact which hardly encourages us to rely on his testimony. Moreover, in his account of the incident it is perhaps significant that he commented on the strangeness of the fact that the glass did not break and not on its much odder behaviour in 'circling round' him. Indeed, it might be thought from this that the circling of the glass, like the convolutions of the stiletto and the poise of the bottle, was put into his mind by Mrs Foyster and that perhaps when writing his account eight years later, he confused what he had been told with what he himself had actually witnessed.
Mrs Foyster and Edwin Whitehouse were approximately contemporary in age and appear to have been on terms of friendship. He appears to have been ready to put himself to considerable trouble to protect her from the criticisms of the sceptics in Borley. As already described on p. 52, he made a special journey on 19 December 1931 to see the Rev. G. Eric Smith, whom he had not previously met and to whom he had to introduce himself for this purpose. He said in his letter to Mr Smith of 18 December 1931: 'I am hoping you will be able to tell me something of your experiences ... so that I can add further evidence which I can use to answer those who very rashly suggest and insinuate that the phenomena are being manufactured by somebody in the house.' It seems to us possible that this anxious and active consideration for Mrs Foyster may well have been the unconscious cause of Edwin Whitehouse's testimony being biased towards a paranormal
explanation - biased indeed, as we have seen, to the point of describing, in sensational detail and under the chapter heading 'What I saw at Borley Rectory', phenomena which he may not have witnessed at all.
When KMG visited Borley in October 1931 she met Edwin Whitehouse and had some conversation with him. He told her that he had had a nervous breakdown, had felt in need of a holiday, and had gone to stay with his aunt and uncle at Arthur Hall, Sudbury, thus coming into contact with Borley and the Foysters. This information was confirmed by Lady Whitehouse, to whom we are indebted for both help and hospitality when we all three visited her at Arthur Hall on 3 November 1951. We may suppose therefore that Edwin Whitehouse had not fully recovered from this breakdown during the period when he witnessed 'phenomena' at Borley Rectory.
Unfortunately, his recovery was not permanent, and two letters from him to Price dated 20 and 26 February 1937 indicate that he was suffering from a further maladjustment of some severity, i.e. between his experiences at Borley in 1931 and the preparation of his statement for MHH in 1939. This fact may be considered of some importance in a sympathetic but necessarily critical examination of his testimony.
A final comment upon the Whitehouse evidence may be regarded as being of some significance. The three most sensational incidents in Chapter XV of MHH are probably those of the stiletto (8 June 1931, p. 91), the bottle dropping (13 November, p. 98), and the tumbler (14 December, p. 100). If Mr Foyster's Summary published in MHH is consulted (MHH, pp. 75-83), it will be found that he gives details of none of these alleged occurrences. His treatment of Whitehouse's testimony appears indeed in some ways to resemble his silence over the matter of 'Mrs Foyster's wine trick'. Of equal interest is Mr Foyster's omission in the Summary of any mention whatsoever of the famous wall-writings. Two of the three 'Mass-light-prayers' messages, which to Edwin Whitehouse as a Roman Catholic were of such absorbing interest that he visited the rectory continuously from June to December 1931, were discovered by Mrs Foyster and him on 16 June 1931 whilst by themselves in the rectory, one being actually written on that day (MHH, pp. 94-5)·
The testimony of Lady Whitehouse is contained in Chapter XIV of MHH and is entitled 'Personal Experiences of Sir George and Lady Whitehouse'. Price says that when he heard that Lady Whitehouse had had personal experience of the rectory manifesta-
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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