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')

Mr and Mrs Guy Eric Smith spent the early part of their married life in India.  Following a serious illness which Mrs Smith had there, Mr Smith decided that, if he could take Holy Orders and obtain a living in England, he would leave the East.  They came to this country, the plan was carried out and, not long after his ordination, Mr Smith became rector of Borley on 2 October 1928.

The cottage adjoining the rectory was unoccupied during their tenancy.  They had one resident maid, Mary Pearson, who was only fifteen years of age when she came to them, soon after their arrival at Borley, from her home in the nearby village of Belchamp Walter.  Mary had a friend, Fred Tatum, a young man of about 16 or 17 years of age at that time, whom she later married.  He was frequently at the rectory, and plays a minor part among the dramatis personae of the Borley story.

The Smiths had not seen over the rectory before their arrival and took it on trust.  They found it in a shocking condition with bad sanitation, broken pipes, lack of water, leaking roof; and were able to furnish and occupy only some of its many rooms.

They had heard nothing of the legendary haunt before coming, but were soon to be made aware of the rumours and gossip connected with the place.  Though they laughed at the tales of ghosts and ghostly activities, they worried over the fact that their parishioners would refuse to come to the rectory for meetings because of its reputation.  Something had to be done, they felt, to put an end to this state of affairs and in June 1929 they decided to approach a psychical research society, hoping that they could obtain an authoritative verdict that there was nothing sinister about the place and naively believing that they could thereby reassure their fearful parishioners.  Not knowing the address of the organisation they should approach, they wrote to the editor of their daily paper - the Daily Mirror - to ask for guidance in the matter.  The result was the immediate appearance of a reporter, Mr V. C. Wall, on 10 June 1929 and in his wake Harry Price, who had been asked by the editor to investigate.

The extraordinary happenings which ensued in the next 24 hours will shortly be described in Price's own words; suffice it to say here that not only were the hopes and intentions of the well-meaning rector and his wife unfulfilled but a spate of physical


phenomena of many kinds immediately broke out around the astonished and bewildered couple.

Succeeding issues of the Daily Mirror brought the tale to the public and hordes of sightseers descended upon the country rectory, invading privacy, trampling down lawns and flower beds while they peered through the windows, and so disturbing Mr and Mrs Smith that they had on occasion to ask help from the police to disperse them.  The Daily Mirror thus described the scene (17 June 1929):

The Rectory continues to receive the unwelcome attentions of hundreds of curious people, and at night the headlights of their cars may be seen for miles around.  One 'enterprising' firm even ran a motor-coach to the rectory, inviting the public to 'come and see the Borley Ghost', while cases of rowdyism were frequent.

Obviously, after the Smiths had taken the irretrievable step of communicating with the Daily Mirror, the situation developed rapidly and was soon out of control.  Moreover, household difficulties wore them out.  'I may mention that we did not even have proper drinking water', wrote Mrs Smith (1949), 'the cisterns were foul and sometimes the well would not work; the bathroom was all broken to pieces; we reported all this to the Bishop and to the Sanitary Inspector.'

The position became intolerable and on 14 July 1929 Mr and Mrs Smith left the rectory and moved into Long Melford, from which nearby town they carried on with the parish duties at Borley until they left the living altogether in April 1930.  


The time during which Mr and Mrs Smith occupied the rectory and were in contact with Price, short and undramatic though it may appear in contrast with what was to follow in the Foyster period, may well be regarded as the kernel-clue to the whole story from the investigator's point of view.  Here in the long history of the Borley 'haunt' occurred a sudden, new development; here there developed the pressure of fresh factors which opened up the course - already marked by the Borley legend - for the torrent which was shortly to race ahead.  With the incumbency of the Rev. Guy Eric Smith we leave behind us the period of legend, of rumour, and of tales told and re-told by word of mouth, and step across a well-marked boundary line into the domain of Harry Price.  The whole picture changes and we meet an onset of physical phenomena of a type and violence hitherto unrecorded.

The incidence of trickery and possible fraud on the part of investigators and residents at the rectory introduces a disagreeable


element into our task and one which we must consider before describing the events of this period in detail.  In particular we are bound to examine serious accusations which have been made against Harry Price.

De mortuis nil nisi bonum is a good rule to observe except where, as now, larger issues must over-ride it.  The duty of establishing the true facts in this difficult region far outweighs personal considerations, and those who make psychical research their particular study and activity must be willing to subordinate all else to that goal.  By a resolute dissection of the material, we may at least show that we have not shirked our responsibilities in this respect.

An article published by Mr Charles Sutton of the Daily Mail (1) perforce brings Harry Price's character and integrity into the forefront of our enquiry, since it contains a definite accusation of fraud.

It is true that Price himself took a very small active part in the later investigations at the rectory and that the testimonies of his numerous collaborators must be considered on their own merits.  But those testimonies were selected and presented to the public by Price, and it is on his presentation of the material that Borley has become the best known 'haunt' in the world.

The law of libel is a potent deterrent, and it was not therefore until after Harry Price's death that the accusation of fraud was publicly made against him by Mr Charles Sutton. (2) In an article entitled 'The Meditations of Charles Sutton' describing incidents that had taken place at Borley 19 years earlier, he wrote as follows: (3)

From Harry Price, self-styled Director of the National Laboratory of Psychical Research, I learned that in a haunted house you need have no fear of the ghost but you must beware of the ghost's earthly publicity agents.  Many things happened the night I spent in the famous Borley Rectory with Harry Price and one of his colleagues, including one uncomfortable moment when a large pebble hit me on the head.

After much noisy 'phenomena' I seized Harry and found his pockets full of bricks and pebbles.  This was one 'phenomenon' he could not explain, so I rushed to the nearest village to 'phone the Daily Mail with my story, but after a conference with the lawyer my story was killed.  The News Editor said: 'Bad luck, old man, but there were two of them and only one of you.'

Mr Price's secretary, Miss Lucie Kaye (now Mrs Meeker), was the other person present on the occasion, and her testimony was sought and obtained by us.  She had no recollection, she said, of

1 Inky Way Annual, Book 2; World's Press News. London, [1948].

2 Mr Sutton has seen and approved all references to himself in this report.

3 Op. cit., p. 126.


any such incident, though she remembered visiting Borley with Mr Sutton.  KMG's notes of the interview with her record: 'We next asked her bluntly whether, in her long association with H.P., she had ever had cause to doubt his integrity or suspect him in any way.  She replied most emphatically in the negative.  In her opinion he was absolutely and completely straight.'

In another section of these notes comes: 'Lord Charles [Hope] then reminded her of his visit to [Mr Price's Laboratory] and that she herself had referred him to Sutton; but she didn't remember this either, she said.'  Mrs Meeker also sent us her own signed testimony for filing, denying Mr Sutton's story.  'I have no memory whatever of a stone, brick, or pebble episode that evening, and had there been anything drastic or sensational like an "exposure", surely it would have made some impression', she wrote.

Lord Charles Hope's recollection is backed by his contemporary hand-written notes, now in the S.P.R. files, made after a couple of isolated visits to Borley on 5 July and 29 July 1929.  An extract concerning the second visit reads:

Miss Kaye said that last Friday when she was present at Borley with Price & correspondent of Daily Mail – Sutton - they were standing outside in garden when bit of glass was detached, similar to [one] on their 1st visit, from porch over drawing room windows.  A hole appeared in glass of course.  On entering house while all 3 were at door of room (which had been Rev. Bull's) at top of stairs - a large half brick was thrown crashing downstairs.  Miss Kaye said H.P. gave a shudder as this happened but that Sutton accused H.P. of having thrown it & he had to swear by everything that he had not done so .... Miss Kaye has a theory that H.P. attracts poltergeist disturbances as nothing has ever occurred at Borley of that kind in his absence.

Additional information (undated), apparently compiled by Lord Charles from memory at a considerably later date but based on his contemporary notes, (1) refers to yet another occasion when Miss Kaye alluded to this incident.

Sometime later [i.e. after his first visit to Borley on 5 July 1929], about a fortnight, I think, I went to Queensberry Place to Mr Price's 'Laboratory' to see him about something - l think the proposed visit of Rudi Schneider.  I found only Miss Kaye there.  She told me Mr Price had been ill with a heart attack, and led me to understand this had been brought on by an accusation made against him at Borley Rectory by Mr Charles Sutton, reporter of the Daily Mail who had gone there with him and Miss Kaye to spend the night.  Mr Sutton had accused

1 'Visit to Borley Rectory July 5th 1929. Abbreviated from notes compiled next day.'


H.P. of throwing a large stone and said he had seen him do it.  Miss Kaye seemed upset and at the same time annoyed with H.P., and when I asked what she thought had happened she said I had better see Mr Sutton myself.  This I did by appointment in my flat.  He told me he had quite clearly seen Mr Price throw a large stone (at the top of the stairs, I think) and that he had there and then accused him and made him turn out his pockets in which there were several similar stones.  He explained he had not been able to publish this incident as his Editor had feared a libel action, as there was no witness other than Miss Kaye.

After the publication of the Inky Way Annual accusation, KMG was invited by Lord Charles Hope to meet Mr Sutton at luncheon (January 1949).  'I feel very shocked,' she wrote to Lord Charles 'at what I heard in so great detail.'  Immediate notes were made of all Mr Sutton said.  Mr Sutton also furnished us, for the S.P.R. files, with his own signed statement in far greater detail than the short published paragraphs.

Although this constitutes the only openly published accusation of fraud against Price, the S.P.R. files also contain the signed testimony of those whose observations resulted in very strong suspicions against him.  Lord Charles Hope wrote: 'Although I did not feel certain, I left Borley with the definite suspicion that Mr Price might be responsible for some at least of the phenomena which had occurred while I was present.  The incident of the piece of linoleum on the stairs [described in detail earlier in his notes] struck me as especially unfavourable.'  On 1 April 1932 Lord Charles wrote to Price:

I would be obliged if you could find it possible not to mention my name in connection with your 'Borley Rectory' lecture on Wednesday, or if you do, please say I was not impressed and thought the phenomena were produced by normal means.

Lord Charles's further attendance at the rectory was not sought when Price's later and fuller investigations began (1937)·

Also in the files is correspondence (undated, c. 1943, 1949, and 1953) and a signed statement by Major the Hon. Henry Douglas-Home, who visited Borley with Price in 1937 (see p. 71, and pp. 132 ff.), in which he gives his view that 'phenomena' were produced by Price.  In giving us permission to quote his testimony he writes (2 August 1953): 'I have no objection to any of my observations on Borley Rectory being used ... in fact I would welcome such action as I have always felt that Harry Price by his complete disregard for the truth in this matter did psychical research a grave disservice.'


Again, there is a serious accusation against Price and his 'barefaced hocus pocus' brought by Miss Cynthia Ledsham, on the staff of Time, which will be dealt with in detail later (see pp. 162 ff).

There is little doubt, we think, that the majority of those who shared in the investigations at Borley at no time suspected the bona fides of Price; that there are some who will be outraged at the accusations against him and who will not entertain them for an instant; and yet again others who entertained no suspicions at an earlier stage but who will not be able to escape them now in the face of what has since come to light.  


With this lowering of an unpleasant dropscene as a background to our enquiry, we must now proceed to describe in detail the happenings attendant upon Price's arrival at the rectory.  MHH is now (1955) out of print.  Since, therefore, most readers will be unable to obtain a copy, and since the happenings at this period are of crucial importance to our final judgment on Borley, we propose to quote extensively from it.


(pp. 1-10, 35-43, 59-62)


On Tuesday, June II 1929, ... [the] telephone bell rang ... It was from the Editor of [the Daily Mirror] .... The Editor was rather excited.  One of his staff, Mr V. C. Wall, was at that moment investigating the remarkable incidents that were occurring at a rectory ... The most extraordinary things were happening at Borley Rectory, and the Editor asked me whether I would care to visit the scene of these occurrences and take charge of the case .... [I] said I would make immediate arrangements to join his representative .... the incumbent of Borley was the Rev. G. E. Smith.  As I replaced the receiver, I little dreamt that there was ten years' work ahead of me probing the mystery of what was to become the best-authenticated case of haunting in the annals of psychical research.

When I returned to my office ... I found the clippings from the Monday morning's papers, giving an account of the Borley happenings up to the previous Sunday night, which Mr Wall had telephoned to his paper.  Here is Mr Wall's report [Daily Mirror, Monday, 10 June 1929] :

'Ghostly figures of headless coachmen and a nun, an old-time coach, drawn by two bay horses, which appears and vanishes mysteriously, and dragging footsteps in empty rooms.  All these ingredients of a first-class ghost story are awaiting investigation by psychic experts….. The scene of the ghostly visitations is the Rectory at Borley…… The present rector, the Rev. G. E. Smith,


and his wife, made the Rectory their residence in the face of warnings by previous occupiers.  Since their arrival they have been puzzled and startled by a series of peculiar happenings which cannot be explained, and which confirm the rumours they heard before moving in.

'The first untoward happening was the sound of slow, dragging footsteps across the floor of an unoccupied room.  Then one night Mr Smith, armed with a hockey stick, sat in the room and waited for the noise.  Once again it came - the sound of feet in some kind of slippers treading on the bare boards.  Mr Smith lashed out with his stick at the spot where the footsteps seemed to be, but the stick whistled through the empty air, and the steps continued across the room.

'Then a servant girl brought from London, suddenly gave notice after two days' work, declaring emphatically that she had seen a nun walking in the wood at the back of the house.  Finally comes the remarkable story of an old-fashioned coach, seen twice on the lawn by a servant, which remained in sight long enough for the girl to distinguish the brown colour of the horses.

'This same servant also declares that she has seen a nun leaning over a gate near the house .... (1) Peculiarly enough, all these "visitations" coincide with the details of a tragedy which, according to legend, occurred at the monastery which once stood on this spot.'

Mr Wall stayed at the Rectory over the week-end and sent a further report of his adventures to London [Daily Mirror, Tuesday, 11 June 1929]:

'With a photographer, I have just completed a vigil of several hours in the "haunted" wood at the back of Borley Rectory ....

Although we saw only one of the manifestations which have, according to residents, occurred frequently in recent years, this by itself was peculiar enough.

'It was the appearance of a mysterious light in a disused wing of the building - an appearance which simply cannot be explained, because on investigation of the deserted wing it was ascertained that there was no light inside - although the watchers outside could still see it shining through a window!

'When we saw the mysterious light shining through the trees we suggested that somebody should go into the empty wing and place a light in another window, for the sake of comparison ... the Rev. G. E. Smith, the Rector, who does not believe in ghosts, volunteered to do it.

'Sure enough, the second light appeared and was visible next to the other, although on approaching close to the building, this dis-

1 Price's account in MHH, p. 9, states: 'Another maid, the one they brought from London, saw a figure dressed in black leaning over the gate.  It so frightened her that she stayed only two days.'  On p. 36 he alters this to: 'Of the two maids employed by the Rev. G. E. Smith, the first, brought from London, stayed for two days only.  She was frightened by a nun, wearing a hood, that she had seen at the gate at the bottom of the garden.'


appeared, while the Rector's lamp still burned.  Then we were left alone to probe the mysteries of the haunted wood.' (1)

After reading Mr Wall's accounts of his adventures at the Rectory, I sent a telegram to the Rev. G. E. Smith, asking whether it would be convenient for my secretary and me to visit the Rectory on the following day.  In an hour or so I received the necessary permission ....

I was astonished at the great size of the house.  We were welcomed by the Rev. G. E. Smith and his wife .... During lunch I heard the whole story of their adventures.  It tallied with what Mr Wall had printed in his paper.  But the following is a more detailed account ....

The living of Borley had been offered to, and refused by twelve clergy before Mr Smith accepted the living ... He was not informed that the Rectory was alleged to be haunted.  The house was found to be excessively cold and difficult to heat.  The water supply was quite inadequate for their needs, there being no pipe supply inside the house (later installed).  All water had to be obtained from a well.  The house was so large that some of the upstairs rooms were not needed and were permanently closed ....

Soon after Mr Smith and his wife moved into the Rectory, certain minor demonstrations of a supposed psychic nature occurred.  For example, one summer afternoon, when Mr Smith was alone in the house, he left his bedroom and upon passing under the archway leading to the landing, heard distinct sibilant whisperings over his head.  He was at a loss to account for this, and walked slowly across the landing, followed by the sounds.  As he passed under the archway leading to the chapel ... the sounds instantly ceased, as though a wireless set had been switched off, though there was no radio instrument in the neighbourhood. (2) He returned across the landing, but nothing further was heard.  These sounds were heard several times afterwards, though no words were distinguishable.

Upon another occasion, at dusk, when he was crossing the landing, he was startled at hearing a woman's voice again coming apparently from the centre of the arch leading to the chapel.  The voice started with a moaning sound, gradually rising into a crescendo and ending with the words: 'Don't, Carlos, don't!' dying away in a sort of muttering.  The volume of sound, at its highest pitch, was slightly louder than would be used in ordinary conversation ....

Other phenomena experienced at the Rectory included mysterious bell-ringing, the slow and deliberate footsteps that patrolled the passages and upper rooms, and the apparitions seen by the two maid-servants successively employed by Mr Smith.

When Mrs Smith was returning from church one night, after dark, and was entering the house by the back - or scullery - door, she noticed that the window of the schoolroom ... was lighted up, and presumed that the maid was there with a lamp.  Upon [her] entering the house ...

1 For Price's very important omission here, see p. 25.

2 Lord Charles Hope, in the notes of his visit three weeks later on 5 July 1929, mentions the wireless in the Smiths' drawing room.


the girl told her mistress that she had not been upstairs at all.  They therefore went up together, and found the room in darkness.  The same thing happened on a later occasion, when the choir had just finished their evening practice.  Mrs Smith took all the members of the choir and showed them the lighted window.  Then they all went up to the room, but it was again in darkness.

Mrs Smith also told us that when she has been in the dairy in the evening, she often saw a figure leaning over one of the drive gates.  The figure was always dark and shadowy.  She several times went out to investigate, but never found anyone there ....

One of the maids employed by the Smiths was quite definite that she saw the traditional 'coach'.  One afternoon she ran to Mrs Smith with the news that she had seen 'such a funny old coach' on the lawn .... As to Poltergeist phenomena, the most peculiar was the 'shooting' from the locks of their keys - found usually two or three feet away.  This happened periodically and I, too, witnessed this phenomenon.

On another occasion, a vase that normally stood on the mantelpiece of their bedroom was found smashed to pieces at the foot of the main stairs.  No one was in the house at the time, the Smiths being in the garden.  Curious sounds in various parts of the house were heard from time to time, but except for the figure leaning over the gate, nothing was seen that could not be accounted for. ...

By the time we had finished lunch I had heard the whole story of the manifestations, the history of the Rectory, the various legends connected with the place and other information ....

I found the Smiths very intelligent, delightful, and much-travelled people who were, like myself, utterly sceptical as regards 'spirits'.  They knew nothing about psychical research .... Though puzzled by what they had seen and heard they, being God-fearing people, were not afraid that anything would harm them.  What finally drove them from the Rectory was the lack of amenities there and not the 'ghosts' ....

After lunch on June 12, 1929, my secretary and I began a minute examination of the Rectory from rafters to cellars .... We measured every room ... we sounded the walls ... we sealed the door behind us.  As we came to a window, we sealed that, too .... [We] satisfied ourselves that at least the upper portion of the house could not be invaded without our knowing it.

Returning to the ground floor, we re-examined every room and the domestic quarters, looked in ovens and copper, tried to move the fixed pieces of furniture, such as dressers and shelves, and found everything normal.  We particularly examined the numerous bells in the passage, traced each wire from its respective bell right through the house up to the rafters.  We tested each bell as we traced its course through the house. Some of the wires were broken, or had been cut, in order to stop the incessant ringing .., (1)

1 It is a pity Price did not discover the fact, related to us by Mrs Smith, that there was a place in the pantry where over a shelf there was a cluster of exposed bell-wires coming from various parts of the house to the row of bells in the kitchen passage, and that by standing on a chair and pulling these wires the



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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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