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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')
IV. THE SMITH INCUMBENCY AND HARRY
I ... cross-examined
Miss Mary Pearson, the Rectory maid, as to what she said she saw and
heard .... Mary Pearson, a very intelligent girl, not only saw the nun,
but saw the coach, too, and a headless man. I interviewed Mary and
could not shake her testimony. The following information is taken from
my original notes (June 12, 1929) :
'Mary has seen a
coach on the lawn, with two bay horses. The first time she saw it, it
was going down the garden; the second time, up the garden. When she
stopped to look, the coach disappeared. First time she saw the coach
was at 12.30 p.m.,
three weeks ago. The second time, two days later, from the road.
Coach went through the trees. It was "like a big cab". On both
occasions it was the same coach, with two brown horses. She saw no
coachman. She also saw a man, headless, behind a tree.
She chased it into the garden, where it disappeared. She had also
heard scratchings at the drawing-room window, which could not be
There seems little
doubt that Mary thought she saw the objects she described to us. Young
persons (especially young girls) and adolescents are admittedly good
After tea ... Mr Wall
and I arranged that, when it was dusk, we would take up our vigil in the
garden for a long observational period. So, soon after sunset he and I
made our way to the large summer-house to take up our posts. It was
decided that I was to keep my eyes on the window of Room No. 7,
while my companion kept watch on the Nun's Walk at the point exactly
opposite the summer-house, at the door of which we were standing ....
The maid servant had gone home.
We had been smoking
in silence for more than an hour when suddenly Wall gripped my arm and
said 'There she is!'. With that exclamation he dashed across the lawn to
the Nun's Walk. Taken by surprise, as I was intently watching the
window of the Rectory, it was a second or so before I could direct my
gaze to the spot indicated by Wall. It was nearly dark, but against the
darker background of the trees I fancied I could discern a shadowy
figure, blacker than the background, gliding towards the end of the
garden and the little stream. But I was not certain. From experience I
know what tricks one's eyes can play one when seeing a 'ghost', and a
subconscious elaboration of details, plus imagination, is liable to
deceive. The night was still, and there was no stir amongst the trees
to mislead me into thinking that I saw something move. So I am not
certain that I saw the nun: I
bells could be rung in
the passage as if wires had been pulled in rooms all over the house.
Mrs Smith told us that Mary Pearson, their maid, had shown her this
shortly before they left the rectory.
1 Note the similarity
with the tale (see p. 19) regarding the headless phantom seen by the
Rev. Harry Bull. Since the Smiths described 'the various legends
connected with the place' to Price at lunch, it is possible these may
have included stories told them by the Misses Bull connected with their
brother, and that Mrs Smith had regaled her maid with these tales when
discussing the attitude of parishioners to the rectory.
2 Where the mysterious
light had been seen by Mr Wall the previous night (see p. 35).
merely record the fact that I thought I saw something blacker than the
trees move along the path.
When Mr Wall returned
to me, breathless and excited, he told me his story. As he was gazing
steadily at the Nun's Walk, he saw a portion of the dark background
begin to move. It was a shadowy figure moving towards the stream.
Here is his own story in a few words [Daily Mirror,
Friday, 14 June 1929]:
remarkable happening was the dark figure I saw in the garden. We were
standing in the summer-house at dusk watching the lawn, when I saw the
"apparition" which so many claim to have seen, but owing to the deep
shadows it was impossible for one to discern any definite shape or
But something certainly moved along the path on the other side of the
lawn, and although I immediately ran across to investigate, it had
vanished when I reached the spot.'
Having discussed the
figure, we decided we would remain in the garden no longer as it was now
quite dark. We crossed the lawn towards the house with the intention of
entering the study via the French windows. We had just set foot on the
path under the veranda and were about to enter the room, when a terrific
crash was heard and one of the thick glass panes from the roof fell in
pieces at our feet and splashed us with splinters .... Very startled, we
sought for a possible missile and found a piece of brick or tile on the
floor of the veranda ... we hurried upstairs and again made a search of
the rooms and windows, especially those of the Blue Room and the rooms
overlooking the veranda. We found our seals intact and everything in
order. We descended by the main staircase and had just reached the hall
when another crash was heard and we found that a red glass candlestick,
one of a pair we had just seen on the mantelpiece of the Blue Room, had
been hurled down the main stairs, had struck the iron stove, and had
finally disintegrated into a thousand fragments on the hall floor. Both
Mr Wall and I saw the candlestick hurtle past our heads. We at once
again dashed upstairs, made another search, and found nothing. We
returned to the hall. We turned out all lights, and the entire party
sat on the stairs in complete darkness, just waiting. A few minutes
later we heard something come rattling down the stairs and Mr Wall said
he had been hit on the hand. We then relighted the lamps and found it
was a mothball which, apparently, had followed the same path as the
In quick succession,
and in full light, the following articles came tumbling down the stairs:
first of all some common seashore pebbles; then a piece of slate, then
some more pebbles.
During this eventful
evening bells rang of their own volition. The wires could be seen
moving, and even the pulls in some of the rooms could be seen swinging
when we visited them. The Rev. G. E. Smith
1 Since Mr Wall
presumably did not claim to be a psychical researcher, we must forgive
him that, in these circumstances, he claims that the indefinite shape or
shadow he saw was the 'apparition'.
had been troubled with considerable bell-ringing, and had even cut some
of the wires in an attempt to stop the nuisance. After ... supper ... a
new phenomenon occurred. The keys in the doors of the library and
drawing-room fell simultaneously on to the hall floor. I
carefully examined the keys, and the doors, and there was no sign of any
thread, wire or other apparatus that could have accounted for the fall
of the keys. Actually, it would require considerable mechanism to
duplicate this phenomenon normally … It was suggested that we should
hold a séance in the Blue Room .
The séance began at
about 1 a.m. [Taking part were Price and his secretary, Mr V.
C. Wall, Mr and Mrs Smith, and two of the Misses Bull, sisters of the
late Rev. Harry Bull, who had come over from
Sudbury during the
evening. They adjourned to the Blue Room.] [We] deposited ourselves on
chairs and bedsteads. A powerful duplex paraffin oil lamp was burning.
There was the ordinary bedroom furniture in its usual places, including
a dressing-table in front of the window. On the dressing-table stood a
large, solid mahogany mirror, with a wooden back .... There was no
medium present. In order to open the proceedings, I said ... 'If any
entity is present here tonight, will it please make itself known?' ...
Just as we were wondering whether we were wasting our time, a faint -
though sharp and decisive - tap was heard coming from, apparently, the
window ... the tap was repeated, a little louder this time. All of us
left our seats, land went over to the dressing-table, round which we
stood in a semi-circle. Again the tap sounded, still louder, but this
time it came unmistakably from the wooden back of the mirror, which
acted as a sort of sounding-board. We drew our chairs up to the mirror,
round which we sat as at a regular séance. Then someone suggested that
the light should be extinguished. This was done, but as nothing
happened, we relit it.
Then came a
succession of short, quick taps or raps, and I made a little speech to
the 'entity', ... asking whether it would answer certain questions which
we would put to it. I suggested that the time-honoured 'three taps for
"Yes", one tap for "No" and two taps if the answer were doubtful or
unknown' should be employed. I asked the entity if it understood.
Immediately, three quick, loud taps were heard from the mirror. We
also suggested spelling out the alphabet … I will now quote Mr Wall's
words as to what took place next [Daily Mirror, Saturday, 15 June
‘Our first attempts
were naturally to ascertain the identity of the rapper. We asked if
it were the nun in the old legend or one of the grooms, and a single
rap denoting "no" was the reply.
'Then I suggested
to Mr Price that he should ask whether it were the Rev. H. Bull, the
late Rector. I had hardly finished the name when three hurried taps
came on the mirror, which meant an emphatic "yes".
dialogue then took place, sometimes with the lamp lit, sometimes in
"Is it your
footsteps one hears in this house?" - "Yes."
"Do you wish to
worry or annoy anybody here?" - "No" … "Are you worrying about
something that you should have done when you were alive?" - "No." ….'
At this juncture I
asked the Misses Bull and Mr and Mrs Smith whether they would care to
question the entity - the alleged Harry Bull - as to certain private
affairs of the family. They said they would and for about an hour a
string of questions was put to the entity ... great difficulty was
experienced in obtaining names or messages by spelling out the alphabet
... whatever it was 'tapping', it did not appear to grasp the technique
of this system of 'communication'.
Obviously, the questions asked by the Misses Bull cannot be printed
The séance lasted for
about three hours, from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m., and about two o'clock in the
morning we were all startled by the new cake of toilet soap jumping
out of its dish, striking the edge of the water ewer, and bouncing
on the floor. The washstand was at the far end of the room; no one was
near it, as we were seated round the mirror; the wicks of the duplex
lamp were raised to their full height and the room was everywhere
perfectly illuminated. Everyone saw the phenomenon ... a perfect and
typical Poltergeist manifestation.
Well might Price sum up
these happenings in the following words: 'And so ended this very eventful
June 12, 1929. A day to be remembered, even by an experienced
investigator. Although I have investigated many haunted houses, before
and since, never have such phenomena so impressed me as they did on this
historic day. Sixteen hours of thrills!' (MHH, p. 43).
Price remained on the
scene merely another couple of days. His secretary, Miss Kaye, stayed on
a couple of days longer, over the weekend. 'As a matter of fact', Price
records, 'very little occurred during the next few days. Some
inexplicable and desultory bell-ringing was recorded, but that was all.'
With the further events
during the Smith incumbency, Price was able to deal quite shortly:
During the next few
weeks I visited the Rectory two or three times, with interesting
results. One evening, a party of us was present when incessant
bell-ringing occurred. This was accompanied by the usual Poltergeist
manifestations consisting of the throwing of small pebbles, a shower of
several keys (which appear to have been collected by the Geist
and then projected into the hall); a small gilt medallion, such as are
presented to Roman Catholic children on their Confirmation; and another
medallion or badge, dated 'AN VIII' (i.e., A.D. 1799) issued in Paris
after the French Revolution. The origin of these medallions is not
On July 28, 1929, the
day of the year when the nun is supposed always to appear, a party of my
friends (including the late Hon. Richard Bethell) visited the Rectory
and stayed two days. Nothing of importance happened ....
Upon another visit an
impressive phenomenon occurred. We had all assembled in the Blue Room,
and someone remarked: 'If they want to impress us, let them give us a
phenomenon now!' A few minutes later one of the bells on the ground
floor clanged out, the noise reverberating through the house. We rushed
downstairs, but could not find even the bell that was rung.
After the Smiths moved
to Long Melford on 14 July, Price visited the empty rectory on only two
occasions while Mr Smith remained rector (MHH, p. 61). Both visits
were in the latter half of July 1929. 'The result', says Price, 'was
almost negative, except that on the first occasion we were rewarded with a
striking manifestation by one of the bells.'
But other memories were different, for the last of these visits was
that on which he was accompanied by Mr Charles Sutton, whose accusation
against Price has already been discussed. Mr Sutton's name nowhere
appears in either MHH or EBR.
'It is not much fun',
says Price, 'investigating a large and cold haunted house, with few
amenities, in the winter months.' In spite, therefore, of having never
before nor since experienced phenomena in his many investigations of
haunted houses which so much impressed him (see his statement quoted on p.
41), the investigation was abandoned and Price contented himself with
arranging for reports to be sent to him by the Smiths when anything of
It might well seem
strange that a man who gave his working life and a large part of his
income to running a laboratory for the investigation of psychic phenomena
should so quickly leave the scene of such amazing happenings as he
relates. Though he complains of the
discomforts of carrying on such an investigation in the months of winter,
we note that it is in late July that he quits the scene. He comments (MHH,
p. 63) on a letter received from the Smiths dated 7 August 1929 and adds:
'I heard no more until February 22, 1930.' True, his resumed
investigation of the physical medium Rudi Schneider began in November 1929
and would demand most of his attention; but since the visit described by
Mr Sutton in late July 1929 was the last one Price paid to the rectory at
this time (and he was to visit the rectory on one occasion only - in 1931
- between the years 1929 and 1937), one cannot but conjecture that he
might well not wish to be reminded of the unfortunate occurrences on that
occasion. Indeed, if we are to accept Mr Sutton's account of what
occurred, backed up as it is by the allusions in Lord Charles Hope's
contemporary notes, it is obvious that the knowledge that he had been
caught and accused to his face of fraudulently producing the 'phenomena'
must have constituted an extremely uncomfortable element in Price's
sentiments on Borley. Though the accusation received no publicity at the
time, his absence thereafter from the scene for so long becomes
intelligible; he could hardly fail to retain uneasiness.
reader now has Price's description of the 'haunt' during the Smith
incumbency as described in MHH, his first book on Borley, published
in 1940. We are shortly to give the different complexion put on these
events by Mrs Smith. But before doing so we must go forward in time and
peruse the following letter from Mrs Smith which appeared in the Church
Times on 19 October 1945:
- I have read with interest your articles and letters on 'Thump Ghosts',
and as I was in residence for some time at Borley Rectory, Sussex [sic]
('the most haunted house in England'), I would like to state definitely
that neither my husband nor myself believed the house haunted by
anything else but rats and local superstition. We left the rectory
because of its broken-down condition, but certainly found nothing to
neither approached the writer - his 1929 hostess at Borley Rectory - nor
entered the fray, confining himself to an exchange of letters with the
then rector of Borley-cum-Liston, the Rev. A. C. Henning, who had drawn
his attention to what Mrs Smith had written and to whom Price, in defence
of his own position, sent copies of all correspondence between himself and
the Smiths. Some three and a half years later (and after the death of
Price in March 1948), a similar letter from Mrs Smith appeared in the
Daily Mail (26 May 1949), the wide circulation of which paper gave it
Here was something very surprising to those who cast their minds back to
Price's account of the occurrences during the Smith incumbency! What
could lie behind Mrs Smith's letter? The Hon. Secretary of the S.P.R.
immediately wrote to her, and KMG and EJD were deputed to visit her. 'I
should like to discuss Borley with you,' wrote Mrs Smith, 'as it is a
great sorrow to me.' We wondered as we took the long journey on 1 July
1949 what sort of person we should find.
Was our journey to be fruitless? Or was the existing puzzle of Borley,
built up as it apparently was upon the testimony of so many witnesses, to
become even more baffling? We reminded ourselves of the necessity to let
Mrs Smith tell her own story in her own words from beginning to end,
most carefully every illuminating detail, and to put no questions until
she had finished. Here are extracts from KMG' s notes made 24 hours
... we found a
middle-aged, practical, sensible woman; who told her tale consistently
and without contradicting herself during some three to four hours'
conversation and questioning; believing firmly in an after-life, and
open to the possibility of spirit communication and/or expression, but
emphatic in her assertion that the 'phenomena' at Borley were 99 %, if
not 100 % normally produced and that the very few unexplained happenings
would, in her opinion, have had a normal explanation could their cause
have been traced. We had not foreseen the very adverse picture she
would give of Mr Harry Price, though at no time did she show the
slightest animosity towards him: on the contrary, she stated that she
had all her life herself possessed almost a sixth sense of intuition or
perception, and was now convinced that Mr Price, perhaps suffering in
the Beyond for his mistakes and wrongdoings on earth, would welcome any
action taken to arrest the mischief he had done and the untrue picture
of Borley Rectory that he had fostered.
[That same night] KMG
prepared an account of all Mrs Smith had related .... It was agreed
between us that this account should be given to Mrs Smith to sign, after
it had been read over to her with the injunction that she was to stop us
if so much as a single word would, in her opinion, be better altered and
more accurately put otherwise.
On returning to
the original notes were typed out in triplicate and these copies also sent
to Mrs Smith to sign. An accompanying
letter from KMG stated: 'If on thinking it over since we saw you, you feel
that there is anything not quite right, add a note to this effect.' It
will be seen that we were at great pains to give her every opportunity to
make both her first and final statements as truthful as possible. She was
promised that no publicity would be given to her statement at any time
without her consent. She much dreaded further publicity, remembering the
appalling interference with their peaceful lives which had followed the
newspaper articles of 1929. A second visit to her by all three of us in
August 1952 resulted in her giving us permission to use her testimony in
this report; and we would like to take this opportunity to thank her
publicly for her consent, especially since it was given reluctantly.
MRS SMITH'S VERSION
EXTRACTS FROM HER
SIGNED STATEMENT, 1949
I have no reason at
all to think Borley was haunted [said Mrs Smith]. Of course our minds
were turned towards the subject, owing to so much gossip; but in spite
of this, nothing occurred which I consider
not be explained. One or two items occurred which were not explained,
and I thought 'That's funny' - but surely such things occur in all
people's lives, and only means they were unable to trace the cause. The
things I have in mind are:
(a) On one occasion
I was sitting in the late evening alone in the house. I heard our
gate open and hoped no one was coming to call at that late hour. I
was a little nervous, being alone in such a lonely area, and therefore
did not like to go to the hall door to see what it was, and instead
took a lantern and went to look out of a window to the rear. I saw
two 'headlamps' as I lifted my lantern to look out, but as I looked
these went out - by the light of these lamps I saw the outline of some
sort of vehicle. I did NOT hear any vehicle or car leave. This is
the main puzzling feature of my experiences. I do not consider it
sufficient to consider it was something supernormal or uncanny. But I
can't explain it ... When my husband came in, he said there was
nothing in the drive.
(b) My husband once
heard voices, which sounded like 'Don't Carlos, don't', and he could
not trace the source. But I think it must have come from passers-by
he could not see; and again I do not think it was supernormal.
(c) We sometimes
found doors and windows opened or shut in a way we could not
understand. But I myself feel sure local villagers 'played tricks';
and after we left, they would have been able to climb in if they
wanted to 'play tricks'. As an example, the young man to whom our
servant Mary was engaged, used to walk around sometimes with his coat
right over his head. With all the gossip of hauntings about, this
could well have been turned, in the dark, into a headless figure
walking about, or a hooded figure. There were undoubtedly people who
did not want a new rector occupying the rectory, because it ousted the
authority they themselves had had whilst there was no rector.
(d) There was an
effect of a lighted window in the rectory which could not be accounted
for and which puzzled us for a long time; but eventually I found out
the cause, and this was that it was caused by reflection in the glass
of passing trains. I definitely found this to be the cause, after
puzzling about it for a long time.
When Mr Price arrived
down to investigate, immediately we were astonished at an onset of
'phenomena' - bangs, clatterings, keys thrown, etc. We could not help
being led to suppose that he himself was producing some of the effects.
A vase came crashing down the stairs from my bedroom - or rather it
bumped its way down. Mr Price held a séance in the 'haunted room' and
taps came on the mirror, in answer to his questions, to indicate the
replies 'yes' or 'no'. [Indiscreet questions were asked and the answers
given led Mr Smith to stop the proceedings and refuse to have any more.]
Little lights appeared, like little sparks in the darkness, when Mr
Price was conducting this séance. [Asked whether they were yellow or
blue lights, the answer
'bluish'.] Such things never occurred before or after - apart from this
Another thing. Once
when Mr Price was in a room with me, little pebbles whizzed past me
suddenly. I was astonished. Such a
phenomenon had never happened before, nor anything like it. So I could
not help thinking perhaps Mr Price had thrown them, for, if genuine, why
had they never appeared before?
Again, Mr Price was
having dinner with us. Another guest next to Mr Price had made the
remark 'You know all this could be done by a clever man'. Shortly after
that the water in her glass turned into ink. Mr Price thought it was a
poltergeist phenomenon. The guest believed Mr Price might have done it
- but remarked 'He wasn't a man they would like to offend' and no such
suggestion was made openly.
Mr Price told my
husband he (Mr Price) saw the last rector, Mr Bull, standing behind him
in a dressing gown, which he described. Somebody who had known Mr Bull
said he HAD had a dressing gown like that .... [In reply to KMG' s query
as to whether she was sure it was Price himself who maintained he saw
this spirit form, Mrs Smith replied 'I am quite, quite certain it was Mr
Price himself who saw this phantom behind my husband at that moment and
that he was not describing someone else's vision.]
I cannot explain
these happenings while Mr Price was present; but such things had never
occurred before he appeared, and we knew he was an expert conjurer and
had our suspicions as well as being puzzled. I never actually saw Mr
Price throw anything himself. ... Our servant Mary also had the same
suspicions, and after he had gone she told me openly 'It was that man
threw that coin - so I threw some sugar'. I know she did produce some
of the 'phenomena' in a spirit of childish pranks and to add to the
At a later date Mr
Price's secretary, Miss Kaye, came down alone and we sat for hours
talking - but there were no phenomena at all, everything was perfectly
normal and quiet. I said to her that it was extraordinary that all
these things should suddenly start when Mr Price came, and she answered
that he did seem to attract the attention of spirits wherever he went
Both my husband and
Mr Price have now passed over. Why may they not have met? I believe Mr
Price must now recognise the harm he produced by adding to all the
absurd rumours and getting so much publicity for silly tales, and I feel
he must now want it all to stop, and that I may bring rest to him by
helping to bring this about. This is why I am telling all this to
investigators from the Society for Psychical Research, and why I wrote
to the paper when there was a fresh rumour of haunts and phenomena at
Admittedly we had a
terrible experience at Borley - but not from haunts or poltergeist
phenomena, but from the publicity which brought hordes of sightseers who
trampled down our lawn and flower-beds,
1 Cf. p. 32, Lord
Charles Hope's contemporary notes on his second visit to Borley with
Miss Kaye: 'Miss Kaye has a theory that H.P. attracts poltergeist
disturbances as nothing has ever occurred at Borley of that kind in his
broke our windows, and so disturbed our peace that we had to get police
to disperse them.
Ghosts would never
have frightened us, as we believed in Higher Protection; I have gone
upstairs in the dark at Borley and watched in the supposed Haunted Room
and looked from the windows, and the result has been always 'Nil' - only
bats and the scratching sometimes of rats.
This ended the first
statement. Mrs Smith sent additional comments to
to add to the statement, which included the following:
I state emphatically
that I saw enormous rats in the place, and am sure these were
responsible for bell-ringing and many noises attributed to the
supernatural; they would scratch the boards. The house had been empty
for a long time, and rats had taken up abode in kitchens and cupboards.
On one occasion, when
coins were thrown about (which were warm to the touch when picked up as
if held recently by a human hand), we had grave doubts as to the
existence of any poltergeist; also when we were told by Mr Price that
they were so strong that the soap had jumped out of the
washstand???????? We did not consider it a joke when we found a large
red cross had been drawn on our bedroom door; especially as a red pencil
was seen next day in the vicinity of Mr Price; it started us guessing.
Much of Mrs Smith's
character and outlook is indicated in her story. It should be compared
with Price's version (pp. 34 ff). 'I do hope and pray', she wrote, 'that
we may be shown a clear way of righting Borley.'
'I admit I am shocked
at Mrs Smith's statement,' wrote KMG on 11 July 1949 to Mr Salter, 'for,
though I credited [Price] with intellectual dishonesty, I had not imagined
he would ever himself stoop to fraudulent actions.'
Mrs Smith's additional
comments ended with the words:
I feel very strongly
on the point that Mr Price had promised us that our names would never
appear in anything he wrote, and now I am told we appear in his book The
most Haunted House in England; I only wish I had read this book at the
time, but I was just bereaved, and in scorn, I threw the copies sent me,
on the fire. I think the Title should read 'The most Maligned House in
Since Mrs Smith stated
she had not to that day read either MHH or EBR, KMG sent her
both books and asked her to refer to the index and send back her
annotations to each item referring to themselves. When doing so Mrs Smith
wrote (4 August 1949):
1 KMG knew at this date
of Mr Sutton's accusation. She meant here that she had not imagined in
earlier years that Price ... etc.
My impression on reading the volume was utter astonishment at the clever
mixture of legend, truth, phantasy, and disregard of the intellects of
intelligent people; the facts are so twisted ... ; I cannot think how so
many country people were bewitched into giving such testimonies, but you
know what the country is? Throw one stone into the water and the
We now give some of Mrs
Smith's annotations to Price's account in MHH, but most of these
are omitted since they repeat comments already quoted in her testimony.
The footsteps my
husband heard we attributed to rats; his stick never whistled through
the air; he simply took the stick to frighten mice or rats away. [cf. p.
Some time after, I
proved that the lights seen [in the rectory window] were but reflections
of light on Vita glass viz., lights lit in the landing over the kitchen,
would show through to the windows opposite to the courtyard; this gave a
reflection of double lights in the room we called the Schoolroom. [cf.
statement (p. 37) that Mrs Smith had often seen a figure, dark and
shadowy, leaning over the gate]: This is not in accordance with facts; I
repeated what I had heard from the Bulls and otherwise, but I myself
NEVER SAW A FIGURE AT ALL. The tale has been thoroughly mixed up.
Mary told me she had
only seen the coach once, and as she was laughing when she made this
statement, I think she knew it was not quite accurate .... As for
chasing a headless man; in my opinion this is just a fabrication. Mary
was a sensible, nice, girl and we both used to laugh at ghosts, and I
know she did not believe a word about the legend etc .... she did it all
as a joke. [cf. p. 38.]
I, too, heard the
scratching at the drawing room window [cf. p. 38] but we both thought it
was some animal, or RATS. I have seen a
big rat sitting on its haunches licking its paws, so how can people say
there were no rats?????
It is not correct
that the soap jumped out of the dish when we were all present. We could
not sleep and I suggested to my husband that I should make tea and take
some along to the others in the Blue Room ... in the Blue Room was
darkness. We went in and they told us they had heard tappings and that
the most extraordinary thing had happened viz., the soap had jumped out
of the washstand .... Certainly knocks came from the mirror, but I often
wish I had examined it closer. I think that 'tricks' were being played
all around us .... [cf. pp. 40-1.]
occasion after they had moved to Long Melford, when Price and friends
visited the empty rectory]: On this occasion, the Rectory was empty and
devoid of any furniture; there were several people present, one, an Army
man, had a loaded revolver under his coat and I warned Mary and Fred to
keep out of the way. We sat on the stairs until midnight when someone
must have entered the study from the garden, as the large shutters were
pulled together with a loud noise;
these were on runnels; ... I was convinced someone had been waiting
outside to play this trick.
… We heard scratchings and the ridiculous element entered when we heard
the voice of a chauffeur who had just heard someone say 'Are you there
Mr Bull' reply in a guttural voice 'He's dead, and you are daft'.
we take a look from another angle at the occurrences of June-July 1929 -
poltergeist or human, as you like it, described by Price (EBR, p.
33) as including 'many phenomena under perfect conditions of control'.
Mrs Smith's account is
admittedly from memory and twenty years after the event; but we found that
she gave us some details which Price chose to omit in MHH and
EBR, but which were subsequently corroborated by correspondence in
Price's files, to which Mrs Smith has certainly had no access. This spoke
well for her evidence and the accuracy of her recollections in general.
We left Mrs Smith
favourably impressed by her if taken aback at her story of the
unscrupulous methods apparently employed to heighten and re-incarnate the
Borley tradition of the supernatural, and at the very different complexion
she put upon the events presented by Price in MHH. She had
explained the 'phenomena' in terms of village gossip, the traditional
legend, rats and mice, practical jokes and light-hearted stories invented
by her maid, etc., coupled with the assertion that Price distorted and
exaggerated the facts for the purpose of publicity, and rather more than a
suggestion that Price produced some of the 'phenomena' himself on
occasions by trickery. Here, it seemed, was a clear-cut example of
suggestion, distortion, fraud and near-fraud
1 This incident was not
described by Price.
2 The following are
among many examples:
(a) In her written
comments to us Mrs Smith said that she had heard a rosebush knocking
against the window and making 'taps'. As we have shown (p. 4), Mr Mark
Kerr-Pearse, in the part of his report to Price of 26 June 1937 omitted
from Appendix C of MHH, mentioned a rose tree which was repeatedly
blown backwards and forwards against the wall causing knocks which 'might
provide an excellent "ghost" for the imaginative'.
(b) In her written
statement Mrs Smith said that Borley Rectory was infested by rats and mice
(pp. 47-8). We have shown (pp. 66-7) that in his books Price denied the
presence of these rodents in the house, but that amongst those reports
from his observers which he elected not to publish there was ample
confirmation of the truth of Mrs Smith's comment.
(c) Mrs Smith reported
to us that Mr Wall, the Daily Mirror reporter, had mistaken her
maid Mary for a ghost; this statement led us to seek out the original
Daily Mirror articles where her recollection was corroborated by
paragraphs omitted by Price in his quotation (see p. 25).
(d) Mrs Smith reported
that Price's secretary said to her that 'he did seem to attract the
attention of spirits wherever he went' (see p. 46). Lord Charles Hope's
private contemporary notes (see p. 32) stated: 'Miss Kaye has a theory
that H P attracts poltergeist disturbances as nothing has ever occurred at
Borley of that kind in his absence.'
used for publicity purposes to build up a worthless legend upon the simple
foundation of a puzzled country rector and his wife, anxious to dispel the
hampering miasma of local superstition they found awaiting them at Borley.
It became obvious that
the continuing publicity for this 'most haunted house in England' must not
pass unchallenged and that it behoved the Society for Psychical Research
to make a detailed and critical examination of all the available material.
We now turned to the
voluminous file of Price's correspondence on Borley which had reached us
from the Harry Price Library in London University, and imposed order on
the impressions and experiences of the 95 persons listed by Price in
MHH, Appendix E, as the 'List of official Observers and others,
referred to in this monograph, who witnessed phenomena or alleged
phenomena.' A list of 100 further persons who experienced alleged
phenomena is given in EBR, Appendix 1.
Among these letters
were those received from Mr and Mrs Smith at the time of Price's
visitation; in the nine months following it while they remained
responsible for the parish though no longer living in the rectory; and
also an occasional letter after they had left Borley altogether but
retained an interest in its further history. We received letters from
them to Lord Charles Hope, and his notes on meetings with them. And
finally there were letters that passed between the Smiths and Mr Glanville
in 1937 when he visited them at Sevington, Kent, to record anew their
impressions of Borley and to take them with him to re-visit the rectory
for a night and take part in a planchette séance there.
Now it was obvious to
us on reading the Smiths' letters that the case was not so simple as it
had appeared at first sight. Their attitude at the time was not quite in
line with Mrs Smith's present contention that there was nothing which did
not admit of a perfectly normal explanation, nor with her letters to the
Church Times and Daily Mail which stated: 'Neither my
husband nor myself believed the house haunted by anything but rats and
local superstition' - indeed, sentences in almost every letter might be
used in evidence against this assertion. Nevertheless, the letters also
contain phrases indicating an undercurrent of doubt. We give examples,
and quote at some length in order that the reader may have all the main
instances of contradictory material.
1 Dr Tabori's biography
of Harry Price was published in London in 1950 (Harry Price: the
Biography of a Ghost-hunter) and a third book on Borley, a symposium
to be compiled from further material in Price's files, was planned. This
project has since been abandoned.
Pages 51-62 Pages 63-74
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 . VII. Conclusions