Harry Price at Borley


















The Haunting of Borley Rectory - A Critical Survey of the Evidence by Eric J. Dingwall, Kathleen M. Goldney & Trevor H. Hall  (Also known as the 'Borley Report')

tions, he called at Arthur Hall with Mr S. H. Glanville on 29 March 1939 in order to obtain the story.  Sir George had died a year or two previously.  Lady Whitehouse prepared a statement which she sent to Price with a letter dated 2 April 1939.  It seems to us curious that Price, as an experienced psychical researcher claiming to have been engaged in a ten years' continuous investigation of the allegedly most haunted house in England - 'one of the major problems of psychical research' (MHH, p. 59) - should have allowed so many years to pass before approaching Lady Whitehouse.  Her name is mentioned prominently in Mr Foyster's Diary of Occurrences which, as we have seen, was sent to Price on 3 October 1931, and yet he appears to have waited eight years before seeking a meeting with her and endeavouring to obtain a statement.  This delay seems to us explicable only in so far as it is consistent with Price's apparently complete lack of interest in Borley between October 1931, when he saw some samples of the Foyster 'phenomena', and May 1937 when he visited the rectory again to arrange his tenancy for the accommodation of his corps of observers.  Had he obtained the statement in 1931, with the signatures of both the persons concerned, it would have been a more valuable document.

Price says that Lady Whitehouse's testimony confirms the incidents described by Edwin Whitehouse (MHH, p. 88); but this assertion seems to us to be open to doubt.  Lady Whitehouse records an evening visit to the rectory on 4 May 1931 and a brief call in the summer of the same year, but on neither of these occasions, to which her account is limited, was Edwin Whitehouse present, nor does he claim to have been (cf. Chapters XIV and XV of MHH).  The suggestion that Edwin Whitehouse's narrative was corroborated by his aunt must be regarded as carelessly inaccurate or intentionally misleading.

We called upon Lady Whitehouse at Arthur Hall on 3 November 1951 and discussed her experiences at Borley.  She told us, with some qualifications which we cannot include in this report, that she considered that one phenomenon took place in the rectory during the Foyster incumbency that was definitely inexplicable.  When we asked to which incident she was referring, she said 'the fire'.  Her published account of this event reads:

We sat in the kitchen and listened to the Foysters' weird experiences ... After a time, Mr Foyster and my husband started to make a tour of the house and came back in a few minutes to say there was a strange smell, and went out again, only to return saying it was much stronger.  So Mrs Foyster and I went out and she at once said 'It is a fire', and picked up the lamp and we followed her upstairs and along the passage


to the right, where there was a strong smell of burning.  Mrs Foyster started unlocking doors and, at the third, clouds of smoke came out and we saw that a strip of skirting board was charred, and there was a glowing hole in the middle (MHH, pp. 86-7).

Lady Whitehouse seemed to us quite sincere in her puzzled belief that this was the precise sequence of events and that in these circumstances she did not see how Mrs Foyster could have resorted to trickery, presumably by starting the fire herself.

It is true that she was not asked to make a statement until eight years after the event, and it is probably true that her general opinion of the possible paranormality of the events at Borley may have been influenced at the time by the remarkable stories of her nephew, his agitated suggestions that the Foysters should stay for periods at Arthur Hall, and so on.  We suggest that between 1931 and 1939 Lady Whitehouse's recollection of the details of this incident may have become understandably blurred by the passage of time and, as we have had occasion to say before in this chapter, in considering most of the Foyster 'phenomena', it is in the details that the whole point lies.

The Rev. L.A. Foyster gives a detailed account of the incident of the fire on 4 May 1931 in his Fifteen Months.  Before quoting his statement we may say that the inexplicable features of the incident as described by Lady Whitehouse in MHH would appear to be:

(1) The implication that Mrs Foyster was in the kitchen with Lady Whitehouse, under observation, whilst Mr Foyster and Sir George were making a tour of the house, at the time when the fire may be presumed to have been lit, i.e. immediately before the smell became noticeable.

(2) The statement that it was Mr Foyster and Sir George who first noticed the smell and came to the kitchen to report.

As we have shown, Mr Foyster's Fifteen Months was being written between 1932 and 1934, i.e. about six years before Lady Whitehouse's statement, and was an uncritical account, tending to overstate the case for the possible paranormality of the events it described and demonstrating a desire to prove that Mrs Foyster could not be responsible for the manifestations by trickery.  Yet of the incident of the fire he says:

We sat down and talked but nothing happened.  We went on talking but still nothing happened.  I looked at the clock; it was getting late; my disappointment was increasing yet still there was time if only they would begin at once.  Then [Marianne] went out of the room.  She returned with somewhat startling news - 'There is smoke in the hall; there is a fire somewhere' she exclaimed (p. 84).


It seems hardly necessary to say that on the basis of Mr Foyster's account this incident simply becomes one of many which depend upon Mrs Foyster's bona fides.  Indeed, it would seem that there is a parallel between the circumstances on this occasion and those of the evening of 13 October 1931, when Price and his party visited the rectory and demonstrations occurred only when Mrs Foyster had absented herself from the room.  It will be observed also (MHH, p. 96) that some time after June 1931 Edwin Whitehouse stated that he witnessed another example of fire-raising and that the physical circumstances were virtually identical.  It was in a disused upstairs room and the fire had originated in a hole in the skirting, precisely as on the previous occasion.  It may, of course, have been the same room and the same hole.  Edwin Whitehouse said that he pulled out from the hole 'some fluff and other material which seemed to have been pushed into the aperture'. (1)

We do not think that we are obliged to spend a great deal of time upon the strange story of Mr G. P. J. L'Estrange (EBR, p. 58), a story which was originally written for a newspaper some eleven years after the events it purports to describe and which was sent to Price on 11 November 1944 for inclusion in EBR, after revision by Mr L'Estrange.  Even as printed in EBR (after being edited by Price) the account is obviously fanciful in many of its details, and Mr L'Estrange admitted that it contained inaccuracies.  In his letter to Price of 6 December 1944 regarding this contribution, Mr L'Estrange said ruefully: 'I was simply staggered to learn that I had made so many mistakes in my article about Borley Rectory.  It just shows what tricks one's memory can play.'  Price appears to have partially corrected the account in a curious way which, possibly by accident, scarcely reflects to his credit as a serious psychical investigator.  Errors which would have been patently obvious to the casual reader of nothing but EBR appear to have been edited; Mr L'Estrange, for example, described the rectory as built of stone which was corrected to 'red brick'. (2) But

1 Since this report was first prepared, however, information has become available which may be regarded as throwing additional light upon the matter of the small fires during the Foyster incumbency.  Miss E. R. Gordon, who lived at Borley Lodge at the time, said in her letter to us dated 26 July 1954 that the child Adelaide was 'very nervous' and talked incessantly of 'having to burn down the rectory'.  Miss Gordon continued 'She [Adelaide] had tried several times to build a little fire in one of the bedrooms, with a couple of pillows or anything she could find-but the smell always gave someone warning and the fire was put out.'

2 One amusing exception pointed out to us by Mr S. H. Glanville is the statement in EBR, p. 60, that Messrs L'Estrange and Foyster could see the bells in the kitchen passage ringing wildly as they watched from the landing.  A glance by the reader at the Plan of the Ground Floor of the rectory (Fig. I) demonstrates that no part of the kitchen passage was in fact visible from the landing.


no attempt was made to remove those examples of Mr L'Estrange's obviously vivid imagination which could not be subjected to critical scrutiny without access to Price's files.  An example is the account of how Mr Foyster saw a pencil, propelled by an invisible hand, rise from his study desk and scrawl words on the wall before his eyes (EBR, p. 59).  Nothing of the sort is mentioned in any of Mr Foyster's accounts; he was at pains to point out repeatedly that because he himself was not psychic he never saw anything whatever of a ghostly nature during his five years at the rectory.  There is no record of any wall-writings appearing in the study.

In the first letter from Mr L'Estrange to Price dated 8 November 1940, written after MHH had been published, he said that the phenomena he experienced at Borley included bottles being thrown and broken, bell ringing, and mysterious sounds: which would presumably limit the manifestations to the customary pattern during the Foyster incumbency.  He added a somewhat restrained comment to the effect that whilst convinced of the genuineness of these occurrences, 'there were one or two disquieting factors in connection with the business' which he did not feel he should mention in a letter but offered to discuss with Price when opportunity offered.  From this it seems reasonable to infer that the more sensational sections of the narrative printed in EBR, i.e. the descriptions of phantoms and so on, were added to Mr L'Estrange's memories on those several occasions when he wrote up his adventures at Borley for the newspapers.

Guy L'Estrange was a very well-known physical medium, whose mediumship was in abeyance, he reports, in 1944.  In writing to Price, however, he claims that it was his own powers which were responsible for laying the haunt when the Marks Tey Spiritualist Circle visited the rectory for that purpose in 1932 and the phenomena suddenly ceased (see p. 115).

One of the minor problems of the Foyster tenancy is offered by the mysterious Mr François d' Arles, to whom we have referred briefly, but whose name is never mentioned in the Borley books.  According to Mr Foyster's accounts his name was Peerless during his first contact with Borley, but he later resumed or assumed the name of d'Arles.  He was a French-Canadian, and a widower, and advertised for a home for his little boy in The Times.  His advertisement was answered by Mrs Foyster, and his small son lived with the Foysters as a companion for Adelaide.  Mr d'Arles spent a good deal of time at Borley and later, as already mentioned, entered into a partnership with Mrs Foyster in a flower-shop in London for a period between 1932 and 1934 lasting eighteen months to two years.  According to Mr Foyster, Mr d'Arles


alleged that he experienced some sensational phenomena in the rectory.  On three occasions apparently he saw a shadowy figure in Room No.3, and after the last of these experiences, appeared at the breakfast table with a black eye which he alleged had been inflicted upon him by a phantom with which he had endeavoured bravely but unsuccessfully to grapple.  On another date Mr d' Arles is stated to have seen a shadowy figure proceed along a passage and enter the Foysters' bedroom.  These somewhat incredible events are described on pp. 145-7 of Mr Foyster's Fifteen Months, and there is what we take to be a description of Mr d' Arles' struggle with the ghost on p. 60 of EBR.  It is unfortunate that no corroboration or first-hand account is available of these remarkable experiences.  It is, however, clear that François d' Arles and Edwin Whitehouse must be regarded as rival claimants, if their stories are to be credited, as the only two persons who actually witnessed visual ghostly phenomena at Borley during this period, apart from Mrs Foyster herself.  It seems a curious business, when it is recalled that Mr Foyster never saw any of these apparitions, bottles poised against the ceiling, and so on, during the whole of his five years' sojourn at the rectory.  We are told, of course, that Mrs Foyster was 'psychic' and that Mr Foyster was not, but it seems a test of our credulity to accept the coincidence that Whitehouse and d' Arles, fortuitously brought into contact with Borley and Mrs Foyster, should both be sufficiently 'psychic' to share her experiences.


Canon H. Lawton has already been mentioned as having spent one month in August 1933 at Borley Rectory with his family as locum tenens for the Rev. L. A. Foyster.  Admittedly he stayed there while the phenomena were in abeyance; nevertheless, the impact of a normal family on 'the most haunted house in England' for as long a period as a complete month, may be regarded as a useful and refreshing source of first-hand evidence, which we are fortunate in having available.  When MHH was reviewed in the Spectator on 18 October 1940, Canon Lawton wrote a letter to that journal describing the complete normality of his life at Borley, and this communication was printed in the Spectator on 8 November 1940.  Price commented upon it with some asperity (EBR, pp. 93-4) but suppressed Canon Lawton's name.  This is curious, for the text of EBR contains the names and addresses of all correspondents whose testimony and views support the alleged phenomena.

We followed the matter up and have been very fortunate in obtaining detailed statements from Canon Lawton.  He told us that he owned neither of Price's Borley books.  His evidence was


confined to the experiences of his family and himself at the rectory in 1933, and his many conversations with those people with whom he became friendly in Borley and its neighbourhood.  His younger daughter was born in September 1933, and for obvious reasons Mrs Lawton spent comparatively little time away from the rectory.  Canon Lawton, however, was a keen tennis player and spent a considerable amount of time in the afternoons and evenings at tournaments and so on, and made a number of friends during his stay in the district.  During the month spent at Borley no phenomena of any kind whatsoever were experienced in or near the rectory by Canon Lawton or by any member of his family.  This evidence may be regarded as of considerable importance in several respects :

(1) During the whole of their stay in the rectory, Canon and Mrs Lawton slept in the Blue Room, reputedly a centre of numerous manifestations.  Not a solitary rap was heard.

(2) Canon Lawton frequently came downstairs during the night to obtain drinks and so on for his young children if they awoke, which necessitated a visit by candlelight or in darkness to the kitchen at the far end of the house, down the stairs and along the haunted kitchen passage.  Canon Lawton considers that it might be thought that these solitary peregrinations during the 'witching hour' would have proved an irresistible temptation to the poltergeists allegedly infesting the rectory to demonstrate their presence by at least one small manifestation for his benefit and edification.  But he neither saw nor heard anything untoward.

(3) Mrs Lawton was especially fond of the view from the sitting-room across the lawn, bordered by the Nun's Walk.  It was a dry and hot August, and on most evenings Mrs Lawton would draw her chair close to the open window to rest and sometimes sew while the light remained.  Canon Lawton told us that he would frequently arrive home from tennis in the evenings to find his wife in her favourite seat in the twilight, under precisely the appropriate conditions to see the phantasm reputed to haunt the garden.  But nothing whatever was seen.

(4) Canon Lawton told us that the high rectory building produced a peculiar acoustic effect in the courtyard which it almost wholly enclosed.  He said that sounds in the courtyard echoed loudly inside the rectory.  It seems a curious coincidence that during his stay at the rectory the cottage was without a tenant and that at the same time the frequent knocks, taps, footsteps, rumblings and occasional voices which were heard during the observer period four years later, i.e. when the Arbons occupied the cottage, were completely absent.


Price implies (EBR, p. 93) that Canon Lawton was at the rectory for too short a time to expect to see or hear anything, but this suggestion does not bear examination.  Canon Lawton lived at the rectory continuously for a month, which is a longer period than for any of the official observers with the possible exception of Mr Mark Kerr-Pearse.  Further, he was there with his family including his little girl aged seven; and Price emphasised (MHH, p. 190 and elsewhere) that the best conditions for the production of phenomena were satisfied when a family was living there.

We do not suggest that the testimony of Canon Lawton is conclusive evidence in itself that Borley Rectory was not haunted, but we do suggest that, when considered in conjunction with the other facts which we have tried to assemble in this report, it appears to be of considerable significance.  It may also perhaps be regarded as curious that Price, who seems to have followed up with the greatest zeal any testimony supporting the alleged haunting of the rectory, however remote and uncorroborated (Fred Cartwright is a good example), made no attempt to see Canon Lawton and obtain a statement from him.  And yet here he had available to him the evidence of a cultured, highly intelligent and first-hand witness with the corroboration of his family.  Pnce appears to have limited his efforts to an endeavour to diminish so far as possible the effect of Canon Lawton's letter to the Spectator and at the same time to have refrained from making available the Canon's name and address to readers of EBR.

We have been fortunate in obtaining the testimony of Mrs Edith May Wlldgoose, S.R.N. (née Dytor), of Littleover, Derby, who lived at Borley Rectory from April to November 1932 as nurse-compamon to Mrs Foyster.  Mrs Wildgoose's employment resulted from Mrs Foyster's adoption of a baby, which unfortunately died when a few months old and is not mentioned in the Borley literature.  Mrs Wildgoose was aware of the sinister reputation of the rectory from the beginning of her stay there and was allowed to read Mr Foyster's account of the alleged manifestations, but nevertheless she remained for eight months which speaks well for her courage and common sense as a young girl of twenty-one.

She had no unaccountable experiences during her residence in 'the most haunted house in England', and has willingly allowed us to quote her convinced opinion that the rectory was not subject to paranormal disturbances.  Mrs Wildgoose told us that it was a strange household, apparently dominated by Mr d' Arles; that


Mrs Foyster 'loathed' Borley; and that active preparations for the flower-shop venture were being made in 1932. (1)


We must now consider the wall-writings at Borley.  In this chapter we shall refer only to the 'Marianne' messages, etc., which appeared during the Foyster incumbency, and which are described by Price in Chapter XXIV of MHH.

He says:

I agree with Dr J oad that the idea of a Poltergeist 'apporting' a pencil from somethere and then materializing fingers with which to use it, is 'incredible'. But everything is incredible connected with Borley Rectory.  My task has been to collect and present the evidence - of which there is more than ample - for paranormal pencillings.  And I do not think that this evidence can be shaken (MHH, p. 152).


One of the most striking - if not the most striking - aspects of the haunting of Borley Rectory is the writing on the walls.  I think I am right in saying that this phenomenon is unique in the annals of psychical research (MHH, p. 144).

This is incorrect, as we have pointed out.  In Nova Scotia, within five miles of Mr Foyster's parish previous to Borley, writings addressed to Esther Cox had appeared on the walls of the Teeds' house.  Price might have said with more truth that the writings were unique in the annals of the Borley manifestations, for according to Mr Foyster's Diary of Occurrences these messages appear to have been executed during the summer of 1931, and it does not seem to be in dispute in the printed Borley books that, apart from this brief period in 1931, nothing else of the sort occurred during the 81 years' life of the rectory and its remains.  It is of course true that in his report of 11 July 1937 Lt.-Col. F. C. Westland, one of Price's observers, said that on 7 July he had discovered 'a new writing' in the kitchen passage reading 'Marianne light mass prayers', a phenomenon which appears to be confirmed when we turn to the report of Mr Mark Kerr-Pearse of 19 July 1937 describing his visit of 3 and 4 July.  Mr Kerr-Pearse says: 'I would point out here that on my visit of 3rd/4th July I am positive that the "Marianne Light Mass Prayers" was not then written as it is most conspicuous and I examined all walls on that visit' (Report, p. 9).  The attitude of Price towards these discoveries on

1 Mrs Wildgoose's stay at Borley began only after the abrupt cessation of the phenomena in January 1932, following the attentions of the Marks Tey Spiritualist Circle.  Her opinion is, however, based upon her fairly intimate acquaintance with the circumstances of the rectory household at the relevant time.


the part of his observers in 1937 appears to have been one of kindly tolerance coupled with an understandable desire not to confuse the readers of his books, for he omitted all reference to these incidents in his reproductions of the reports of Col. Westland and Mr Kerr-Pearse and stated positively: 'It is a fact that no messages appeared after the Rev. and Mrs Foyster left the Rectory.  Those cryptic and rather pathetic appeals that successive observers discovered on the walls all "appeared" during their occupation of the house' (MHH, p. 144).

No doubt Price was influenced towards this opinion by virtue of the fact that he had read Mr Foyster's Diary of Occurrences (and therefore knew that this message had appeared six years previously) whilst his enthusiastic helpers had not.

If we accept Price's statement, confirmed as it is in this instance by Mr Foyster (who was entitled to speak with authority) that the wall-writings all appeared in 1931 and that the period of their execution was in fact limited to the summer of that year, we are entitled to wonder a little why this should be so.  If the pencillings were paranormal, why did these phenomena occur during a brief fraction only of the 81 years' life of the house, which we are told was haunted from the earliest days of its existence?  Price suggests that the messages were directed to Mrs Foyster and to no one else, probably because she was young and sympathetic and most likely to help (MHH, p. 144); but this argument scarcely seems conclusive.  During the first Bull incumbency there were fourteen young people living in the rectory, but no appeals were made to them.  An alternative solution is offered by Dr W. J. Phythian-Adams in his comments upon the graphological analysis of the wall-writings by Mr Lewis T. Ackermann, both of which were sent to Price for inclusion in his projected third book on Borley.  Dr Phythian-Adams suggests that the 'entity' responsible for the appeals borrowed the hand and arm of Mrs Foyster to write the messages, and that she was quite unconscious of the actions.  The Canon argues that Mrs Foyster was the only person resident at Borley Rectory sufficiently 'psychic' to make such an accomplishment possible.  A third solution which must be considered is the one which we may reasonably infer to be included in Price's repeatedly expressed private opinion that Mrs Foyster was the conscious source of all the phenomena during her period at Borley.

In his analysis of the wall-writings prepared for Price's intended third book on Borley, Mr Ackermann states with conviction that in his view, that of a professional graphologist, all the Borley scripts with the exception of 'Edwin' were executed by the same personality.  Here we shall merely observe that it seems to us that an



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ContentsNote & Preface  .  Diary of Events  .  I. Introduction  . II. Topography & LegendsIII. The Bull Incumbencies  .  IV. The Smith Incumbency & Harry Price  .  V. The Foyster Incumbency  .  VI. The Price Tenancy  .  VII. Later Borley  .  VII. Conclusions

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