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')

examination of the letters 'M', 's', and 'r' in all the messages reproduced in the Borley books seems conclusive on the point.  However, if Plate V is examined, it will be noticed that there are two distinct variations in the care with which the writing of the word 'Marianne' has been executed.  We regard this difference as being exemplified in the top compartment of all (and the left compartment of the second row) on the one hand, as opposed to the right compartment of the second row (and the third and bottom compartment) on the other.  In the first two examples the name is written carelessly, whilst in the second two examples 'Marianne' is written in an appreciably rounder and more deliberate hand.

It seems to us that the most readily acceptable explanation of this feature of the wall-writings, which does not appear to have been the subject of comment hitherto, is that some of the messages were written hurriedly whilst others were executed at leisure.  There is some confirmation of this opinion on p. 25 of Mr Foyster's Diary of Occurrences in his comments upon the discovery of the word 'Marianne' on the wall by the stairs leading down to the bathroom passage. He said: '''Marianne'' appeared one day on the wall of the passage leading to the bathroom. It looked as if the writer had been pulled away just while he was finishing, since the end of the "e" went up in the air and the "i" was not dotted.'

If a normal explanation be suggested, there would appear to be a good reason why some of the messages were written hastily and some at leisure; sometimes the author would be alone in the rectory and at other times not, with a possible risk of detection if too much time were taken.  In this connection it is interesting to notice the circumstances in which the most carelessly written message of all appeared.  We refer to the 'Get light mass and prayers' script on the landing archway near the chapel (MHH, p. 147).  This appeared on 16 June 1931, when Mrs Foyster and Edwin Whitehouse were by themselves in the rectory.  The Foysters had been staying at Arthur Hall for a time at Edwin Whitehouse's suggestion in view of the violence of the phenomena and the alleged weak state of Mrs Foyster's health.  Edwin Whitehouse had suggested making a Novena to ask for special guidance; and he and Mrs Foyster walked up to the rectory each day for nine days to recite the Rosary and examine the house.  On this day, according to the Whitehouse account: 'The Novena over, Mrs Foyster walked back towards the Blue Room to investigate and I thought I would look at the walls downstairs.  I returned a couple of minutes later and Mrs Foyster joined me on the landing.  We compared notes, but neither of us had anything


to report.  Happening to turn my eyes towards a bit of wall that jutted out from the landing, a point directly opposite where we had been kneeling, I was surprised to notice a fresh bit of writing on an otherwise clean bit of wall' (MHH, p. 94).  He goes on: 'One might argue that an individual concealed in one of the rooms could have written it or, for that matter, that Mrs Foyster or I had done so.  To which I can only reply that so far as I know this was not the case' (MHH, p. 95).  If we accept this account, it seems to us that Edwin Whitehouse does himself an injustice in suggesting that it was possible for him to have written the message.  Mrs Foyster and he were on the landing together; he went downstairs for 'a couple of minutes' whilst Mrs Foyster remained on the first floor, i.e. she 'walked back towards the Blue Room to investigate'.  When Edwin Whitehouse came upstairs again the hastily scribbled message was there.

In the lower compartment of Plate V are reproduced some words written by Mrs Foyster.  This message: 'I cannot understand. Tell me more' is in block capitals, but Mrs Foyster has signed her name in normal handwriting underneath.  It seems to us that there is a distinct similarity between the two 'n's' in this name and the 'n's' in the more deliberately written 'Mariannes' in the wall-messages to which we have already referred.  Further, as Mr B. Nisbet has pointed out (Journal of the S.P.R., February 1948, p. 179) there is the matter of Mrs Foyster's curious way of dotting the 'i' in her Christian name by means of a downward dash in her normal signature, which is also a feature of the lower wall message (Plate V).

There are too many imponderables in the matter at this distance of time, and too few examples of the handwriting concerned, for us to offer any definite opinion without obvious reservations.  However, in justice to our argument we must say that whilst we ourselves have seen no other examples of Mrs Foyster's handwriting, responsible persons who were familiar with it in 1931 expressed the view that the wall-writings were executed by her.  In 1931 Mr W. H. Salter was asked to look into the matter of the alleged manifestations at Borley by Miss Mary Braithwaite, J.P., of Brook House, Long Melford, whose family was acquainted with the Bulls, the Whitehouses, and the Foysters.  In her letter to Mr Salter of 15 August 1931, Miss Braithwaite said that the writing on the wall was 'undoubtedly Mrs Foyster's, as she makes some letters in a funny way'.  In a report dated 13 August 1931, enclosed with a letter to Mr Salter dated 17 August 1931, Miss Braithwaite's brother, Sir John Braithwaite, said that the wall-writing was 'obviously done by Mrs Foyster'.  Sir John's conclusion, after


investigation and participation in a séance at the rectory, was that all the phenomena were produced by Mrs Foyster when not in a normal condition.  This opinion was based upon a comparison between the wall-writings and Mrs Foyster's normal hand-writing and also upon the obvious psychological situation and Mrs Foyster's dissatisfaction with the conditions of her life.  It is of interest to note that the 'paper-message' reproduced on Plate XXVI of EBR was found amongst the Braithwaite papers.

Little more need be said about the wall-messages here.  It seems clear that they could have been produced normally by Mrs Foyster, and we consider that the necessarily meagre clues contained in the writings themselves would appear to indicate, if they indicate anything one way or the other, that they were so normally produced.  But the responsibility for the messages can only be considered fully in common with the whole of the Foyster 'phenomena', of which they form a curious part, in relation to the question of normal causation as opposed to paranormality.


A very curious episode brought abruptly to an end the spate of 'phenomena' which had started soon after the Foysters arrived at the rectory and had persisted for fifteen months to January 1932.  In this month a spiritualist circle in Marks Tey, Essex, offered to rid the rectory of its ghost.  Mr Foyster agreed to their suggestion of spending a night at the rectory and holding a séance, with the medium Guy L'Estrange present, to contact the restless spirit causing all the trouble.  Curiously enough, the name of the nun whose ghost was exorcised by the Marks Tey circle was 'Evangeline Westcott' and not 'Marie Lairre' (EBR, p. 327).  Mr Foyster records the event as follows (Summary of Experiences):

January 23-24 [1932] ... Directly they come throwing begins ... Great demonstrations - bottles dashing down back stairs, kitchen passage strewn with broken glass, etc.; bells ringing.  Quieted down for a time, ... Party [of spiritualists] stay till 5 a.m., & then leave with the belief that trouble has been arrested.  Next morning the house entirely different: demonstrations definitely stop (with two exceptions) ... till 1935. (1)

1935. Some indications of a little trouble starting up again.  A few things disappear in unaccountable ways.

August [5] bank holiday ... Noises, much like a picture falling heard in drawing-room … These continue at intervals, some upstairs.  About 13 or 14 bangs heard altogether.

With these slight exceptions, the 'haunt' appeared to be at an end, and in October 1935 the Foysters left Borley for good.

1 The spiritualists attributed the two exceptions to 'a little spare power floating around unused' (MHH, p. 83).


We shall suggest shortly (pp. 119-20) an explanation for this cessation of the phenomena somewhat less other-worldly than that favoured by the Marks Tey Spiritualist Circle.  It is now our task to discuss the occurrences during the Foyster tenancy as a whole.

It may be that the simplest way in which the part that Mrs Foyster played can conveniently be discussed is by a statement of the case for and against normal or paranormal causation, as it appears to us.  The principal points in the available evidence which would seem to be generally indicative of Mrs Foyster having produced the phenomena 'normally' are as follows:

(1) On 11 August 1950 KMG and Mr W.H. Salter visited the Misses Ethel and Milly Bull and Mr Alfred Bull at their home at Great Cornard.  They were told by all three that no objective phenomena of a supposed poltergeist nature took place at the rectory until the Smith incumbency in 1928-9.  If our conclusions regarding the tenancy of Mr and Mrs Smith are regarded as well founded, it will be accepted that no alleged poltergeist manifestations took place in the Smiths' time which could not readily be accounted for either as the result of accidental, natural causes or possible trickery on the part of Price and others.  If true, this would bring the absence of objective phenomena at Borley definitely to the beginning of the Foyster incumbency, a fact which may be presumed to have been outside Mrs Foyster's knowledge.  Mr Foyster said in his Diary of Occurrences that they had heard of the Smiths' experiences, but the two families never met.  And it is not in dispute that nothing remotely approaching the Foyster manifestations occurred after Mrs Foyster left the rectory.  So unless we are prepared to accept as a fact the suggestion that Mrs Foyster was a focus for phenomena of a type and violence which were never duplicated at Borley during a period of about 70 years (before and after she lived there), we cannot do other than suspect that she may have had something to do with them.

(2) On the one occasion during the active period of the incumbency when we have an account by Mr Foyster of a protracted absence of Mrs Foyster from the rectory, no phenomena were noted with the solitary exception of Mr d'Arles and his paint-pot.  This incident does not impress us as being a paranormal one.

(3) Whilst it may be suggested that the theory that Mrs Foyster was herself a poltergeist-focus might be regarded as partially accounting for the facts gathered under (1) and (2), this hypothesis does not seem to coincide with the fact that none of Mrs Foyster's immediate neighbours at Ipswich, Snape, Rendlesham and Martlesham, near Woodbridge, Suffolk, where she lived successively after leaving Borley, have so much as hinted that there


was anything strange about her in a psychic sense.  Nor does such a theory seem to us readily to explain the events of the evening of 14 October 1931. This was the one occasion when Mrs Foyster was subjected to control by being in the same room as Price and his party.  One alleged phenomenon only occurred, the ringing of a single bell, which was in striking contrast with the previous evening when, after Mrs Foyster had experienced one of her 'fainting fits' and gone to bed, typical manifestations of bell-ringing, bottle-dropping, door-locking, etc., occurred whilst she was alone upstairs.  We shall discuss later, when we set out those points in the Foyster incumbency which we find contradictory, the single phenomenon mentioned above.

(4) We have tried to demonstrate in the analysis of the Diary of Occurrences earlier in this chapter that in general terms it may be said that the phenomena were dependent upon Mrs Foyster's good faith.  We have only her word for it that many incidents occurred at all, irrespective of their explanation.

(5) It is not easy to ignore the fact that, from his privileged position 'behind the scenes' in the Borley story, Price seems to have held the consistent private opinion that Mrs Foyster produced the phenomena normally.

(6) It is clear that Borley Rectory was to some a grim and comfortless place.  It was without central heating, gas, electricity or mains water, and it was so large that many of the upstairs rooms were not needed and were disused.  It was cold and depressing, and Price ventured the opinion that to try to run such a place would break a woman's heart.  Yet it seems clear that the Rev. L. A. Foyster had made up his mind that his duty lay in Borley and that he was determined to stay there despite the discomfort.  In one of his two letters to Mr Smith, dated 4 December 1931, he said: 'This is certainly not a pleasant house to live in, and I think we have had an even worse time than you had; but since the diocese and Q.A.B. have spent a lot of money in repairing it, we are trying to stick it out for a bit.'  He may have been influenced in this determination by the fact that his own cousins were the patrons of the living and had experienced considerable difficulty in filling the vacant incumbency before he came from Canada.  If it is reasonable to suppose that Mrs Foyster wished to leave Borley, whilst her husband was convinced it was his duty to remain, then it may be thought that there was a motive for her to create a superstructure of objective and uncomfortable incidents on the basis of the traditional legend of the rectory, in an endeavour to demonstrate to her husband that life for her in 'the most haunted house in England' was intolerable to the point of adversely


affecting her health.  At the very beginning of Fifteen Months (p. 18), Mr Foyster reports a fragment of a conversation which demonstrated an early tendency towards a difference of view between them which may have been significant.

Now really, nothing bad has happened yet, has it? [Mr Foyster] expostulated.

[Mrs F.]: It is all very well for you to talk; you don't see those sort of things.

These were early days and Mrs Foyster was only referring to her visions of Harry Bull; later on the tempo of the manifestations increased and things did begin to happen.

(7) At the relevant time Mrs Foyster was a young woman of about 31 and physically attractive.  Mr Foyster was a man of 52 to 57 years, suffering from chronic arthritis.  It may be thought that in the isolation of Borley, limited more or less to the companionship of her husband, Mrs Foyster may well have suffered from boredom, frustration, and even unhappiness.  She may have discovered that her life became a good deal more tolerable so long as the manifestations were taking place.  She would no doubt find herself the centre of a good deal of attention from interesting people like Edwin Whitehouse, Sir George and Lady Whitehouse, the various spiritualistic groups who visited the rectory, and so on.  Indeed, in June 1931 Sir George and Lady Whitehouse were so sorry for the Foysters after the alleged events at Borley had been reported to them by their nephew, that they took Mrs Foyster away to Arthur Hall as their guest for some days on at least one occasion.

The possibility of the motives outlined above is, we think increased by the later event of the partnership between Mrs Foyster and Mr d' Arles in the London flower-shop, reported by Lady Whitehouse, Mrs Wildgoose, Canon Lawton, and Mr Arbon.  If this story be true (and we have no reason to think otherwise), then it seems clear that in the later stages of her husband's incumbency Mrs Foyster took the opportunity offered of living away from the loneliness and discomfort of the rectory (to which she returned only at weekends) in the completely contrasting environment of London.  As her husband's health was deteriorating, and since she must have realised that there would be village gossip regarding this procedure, it seems reasonable to assume that she must have had a strong motive for doing so.

(8) Mr S. H. Glanville stated that Mrs Foyster was subject to considerable emotional outbursts and was unconventional in the social sense.  It is clear that she suffered from ill-health or pre-


tended to do so.  It is difficult to appraise her personality from these and other fragmentary clues, but from other information in our possession it appears that her approach to the problems which beset her may have been unusual judged by normal standards.

(9) There are slight indications here and there that Mrs Foyster herself did not take the alleged hauntings too seriously in matters of practical politics.  Room No.3, i.e. the bedroom over the kitchen, was reputedly very much haunted, and it was in this room that it is alleged that Mr d' Arles saw phantoms and Adelaide received a bruise.  But this does not appear to have prevented Mrs Foyster from choosing this room as Adelaide's bedroom (MHH, p. 82).  She also seems to have been lacking in enthusiasm over the rector's use of creosote as a protection against the poltergeists.  Mr Foyster says: 'So I went round again and fumigated more thoroughly and there was nothing more. This seemed an easy way of getting rid of them, but unfortunately Marianne hates the smell of creosote smoke almost as much as the goblins' (Diary of Occurrences, p. 22).  Thereafter creosote was not used again, despite its apparent effectiveness.

(10) There are some indications that Mr Foyster had occasional doubts about his wife and the phenomena.  His omission in his later accounts of all the striking incidents alleged to have been witnessed by Edwin Whitehouse is a curious example.

(11) It is not easy, after reading Mr L'Estrange's somewhat fantastic narrative, to believe that he was successful in 'cleansing' Borley Rectory on the night of 23 January 1932.  Apart from anything else, one would have to account for the fact that alleged paranormal incidents recommenced as soon as the official observers came into action in 1937.  The fact remains, however, that the phenomena ceased more or less abruptly in January 1932, and that after the visit of the Spiritualist Circle this state of affairs continued virtually until the Foysters left Borley in October 1935.  If a normal explanation of the phenomena is considered, it seems to us that there may be a fairly ready explanation.  We have shown that strong suspicions grew in Borley that Mrs Foyster was producing the phenomena by trickery.  During the latter part of 1931 these suspicions seem to have multiplied from several quarters.  Mr Walter Bull called, and Mr Foyster says of his visit: '[Mr Walter Bull] was a sceptic on the subject and wanted to see for himself.'  He was told that if he had been at the rectory a few days previously he would have been convinced.  '''H'm. - we saw nothing of this sort when we lived here" [he] remarked.'  Just as the visitors were departing and on the doorstep, Marianne uttered a cry from inside the house.  They rushed in, and she was standing at the foot of


the back stairs with a piece of metal in her hands.  She alleged that the poltergeists had thrown it and hit her on the head.  The sceptical Walter was not convinced (Fifteen Months, pp. 63-4).  Later on (unfortunately none of these events is dated), a party of spiritualists staged a séance at the rectory and their leader informed Mr Foyster that Marianne 'was behind it all' (Fifteen Months, pp. 117-18).  Later still a further group of spiritualists visited Borley and expressed the opinion that the phenomena were due to human agency (Fifteen Months, p. 124).  Then came Price and his party in October with the same accusation.  Finally came the Marks Tey circle and Mr L'Estrange with their offer to 'cleanse' the house.  It might be thought that, if Mrs Foyster were indulging in trickery and were worried by repeated accusations from all sides to this effect, this proposed visit might be an opportunity to bring the matter to an end, without incurring further suspicion, by a complete cessation of the phenomena immediately after the 'cleansing'.  The argument might have been that if spiritualists succeeded in 'cleansing' the house, it must indeed have been spirits who were driven away.  This possible motive might be regarded as strengthened if it were thought that by January 1932 Mrs Foyster had finally realised that her husband was not going to leave the rectory because of the phenomena, and had already begun to consider the flower-shop project in London.  It is unfortunate that we are lacking in some vital dates, but we know from Mrs Wildgoose that preparations for it were being made in 1932 and from Canon Lawton that the shop was in operation during the following year.

(12) It is not easy to dismiss the suspicion that the striking similarities between the Esther Cox case and the Foyster incumbency may have been more than coincidental.  The Foysters' sojourn in Sackville in Nova Scotia, five miles from the Amherst of Esther Cox, immediately before coming to Borley, and the use of the pseudonym 'Teed' in Fifteen Months in a Haunted House (cf. pp. 80; 82), are contributory factors in the suspicion that the two cases are not unconnected.  If normal causation at Borley is assumed, it can scarcely be denied that a textbook was available in Walter Hubbell's The Haunted House ... The Great Amherst Mystery.

The following points relate to certain of the Foyster phenomena which to us are frankly puzzling and apparently at variance to some extent with the hypothesis of normal causation.

(A) Under (3) we stated that only the one phenomenon of bell-ringing occurred on the evening of 14 October 1931 when Mrs


Foyster was under strict control. Price describes the incident as follows:

... a bell in the hall passage suddenly rang furiously.  I ran out to see if I could identify it, and found it was a bell connected with one of the upstairs rooms.  From the hall I could not tell which room so, with our torches, we at once went to the first floor and explored.  I opened up room after room and when I entered Adelaide's room, I saw the remnant of the bell wire slowly swinging.  This then, was the room in which the bell-ringing had originated.  Adelaide was in bed, but awake.  In any case, our entry into the room, and the flashes from our torches, would have awakened her.  On a previous visit to the room I had noticed that the wire of the bell-pull had been broken off close to the ceiling, and it would have been a physical impossibility, I think, for a 3½-year old child to have pulled the wire, even if standing on a chair.  And certainly I had no right to suppose that an infant so immature in both body and mind would play such a trick on us.  But no other mortal person could have entered the room without disturbing our seals.   The ringing of the bell was the sum total of phenomena we heard, saw, or felt that evening (MHH, p. 73).

In spite of this view expressed by Price in 1940 when writing MHH, KMG records (from memory) (1) that in 1931, though puzzled, Price refused in the circumstances to agree to Mr Foyster's insistence that he should now admit the paranormality of the phenomenon, though he readily agreed that Mrs Foyster was not directly responsible.  He still held the same disbelief in 1936 for, as we have shown on pp. 76-7, in the first edition of his Confessions of a Ghost Hunter published in that year, he stated that 'the supernormal played no part' in the Foyster 'phenomena'.

KMG admits that the incident puzzled her, coming as it did immediately upon Mrs Foyster's appeal to St Anthony to vindicate her (see p. 89), and, while it is not in dispute that Adelaide was awake, it is not too easy to believe that a child not quite four years old who had been left asleep would awaken at that moment, would get out of bed and stand on a piece of furniture, and pull a bell wire near the ceiling. (2) Because of the crudity of the performance during the previous evening and Price's entire lack of belief in the Borley 'manifestations' at the time, further investigation was abandoned.

The incident is an unsatisfactory one, and Mr Foyster's account of it in Fifteen Months is confusing and contradictory.  He says (pp. 135-6) that the bell rang twice, once whilst the investigators

1 Contemporary notes were not made by KMG.

2 See footnote I, p. 106, however, as regards Miss Gordon's comments on the possible connection between the child Adelaide and the occurrence of fires in the rectory.


were in the kitchen and again as they reached the first floor.  He says that the bell rang not from Adelaide's bedroom but from the unoccupied room next to it.  This is not in accord with KMG's recollection or Price's account.  He says that while Price's party was still in the rectory the front door bell also rang and Mr François d' Arles appeared, to vouch for Mrs Foyster's innocence in the following terms: 'One thing I do know, and that is that it can be neither Mr nor Mrs F[oyster] who is responsible.  I have heard noises in the night and have got up and looked in at the door of their bedroom which happened to be open and seen them both asleep in bed' (Fifteen Months, p. 136).

The presence of Mr d' Arles in the vicinity of the rectory, Mrs Smith's account of how all the bell-wires could be operated from the scullery, and the problem presented by the physical possibility of the child having rung the bell, combine to render the mystery incapable of solution twenty-four years after the event.  The reader will form his own opinion about it, and in so doing he may regard it as significant that Price omitted all mention of this incident, and indeed of the entire evening of 14 October 1931, in EBR.

(B) It seems curious in circumstances of presumed trickery that Mrs Foyster (so far as we know) never said she saw the phantom of the nun during her five years at the rectory.  The traditional legend was there ready for use, and yet her 'visions' seem to have been confined to an apparition of Harry Bull and the batlike monstrosity with its 'touch like iron'.  This problem is complicated further by the fact that the wall-messages, on the face of it, would seem to be consistent with the legend of the nun.  If Mrs Foyster had constantly said she saw the nun during the one period in the history of the rectory when the wall-writings appeared, it seems to us it would have made a more consistent story.

(C) The hypothesis that the phenomena were normally produced by Mrs Foyster would imply an active interest on the part of Edwin Whitehouse and François d' Arles in fostering belief in her, at least to the point of telling 'tall stories' about their observations.  These two men come into quite a different category from Mr Foyster, who was prepared to vouch for the fact that he saw the results of alleged objective phenomena, but was at pains to point out repeatedly that he himself never saw anything of a ghostly nature.  But Whitehouse and d'Arles alleged that they saw, respectively, a materialised bottle poised against the ceiling, and a monstrosity in the corridor.  We think it may reasonably be suggested that the testimony of Whitehouse is open to considerable doubt, and we have no first-hand account from d' Arles and know little about him except that he changed his name, that he domin-


ated the Foyster household, and that the Misses Bull told Mr Glanville that he was an 'extraordinary man'.

It is our hope that the facts concerning the extraordinary events in a country clergyman's home more than twenty years ago have been assembled and examined in a dispassionate way.  The most we can attempt to do is to enable the reader to obtain a somewhat clearer picture than heretofore of the problems of Borley Rectory, one of the foremost of which is presented by the mystery of Marianne Foyster.  A complete investigation in terms of finality is not now possible after two decades; the golden opportunity which was presented to Harry Price is not available to us.


As this report goes to press we have received a signed statement from Dr J. R. A. Davies, formerly a member of the Society for Psychical Research, who made some enquiries into the haunting of Borley Rectory himself in 1941, and had some correspondence with both Mrs Foyster and Price.  Dr Davies informs us that in his convinced opinion the wall-messages were executed in a thinly disguised version of Mrs Foyster's own handwriting.



Pages 75-83     Pages 84-92     Pages 93-103     Pages 104-112     Pages 113-123     Previous Chapter      Next Chapter  

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  .  VIII. Conclusions

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