Harry Price at Borley


















An Examination of the 'Borley Report' by Robert J. Hastings (Reproduced from the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Vol. 55, Pt. 201, March 1969)

For the purpose of preparing this monograph, I have been allowed access to all papers and microfilms concerning Harry Price in the Harry Price Library, University of London; and I have seen such of the papers in the possession of the S.P.R. as were considered relevant to my purpose.  Also, I am indebted to Mr Peter Underwood, Chairman of the Ghost Club for much help and encouragement over the years, especially at the beginning of my enquiries; and I am grateful to him, and to Mrs C. C. Baines for many useful items of information from their own archives.

My thanks are due also to Mr R. G. Medhurst and Dr Alan Gauld, Council members of the S.P.R., for their help in a number of ways.  And I am grateful to the Research Advisory Committee of the S.P.R. for a grant towards the expense of such re-examination.

I must also thank Mr Charles Sutton of the Daily Mail and Mrs K. M. Goldney for their willingness to discuss patiently and at length those aspects of the Borley investigation in which they have been personally concerned.

Mr Medhurst, Dr Gauld, Mr Underwood and Mrs Baines have been kind enough to read the present monograph in draft, and have offered many useful suggestions.  Responsibility for the opinions expressed is, however, my own.

Acknowledgments are due to the following for permission to quote material of which they control the copyright: Dr Paul Tabori, Literary Executor for the late Harry Price; Mrs C. C. Baines; Mrs Ethel English; Mr C. Gordon Glover, Mrs K. M. Godney ; Major the Hon. Henry Douglas-Home; Mr Charles Sutton; and to the Executors respectively of the late Lord Charles Hope, the late S. H. Glanville, and the late Rev. A. C. Henning.

Finally, my thanks are due to Mr A. H. Wesencraft and the invariably courteous and co-operative staff of the Harry Price Library, and to the staff of the S.P.R.

R. J. Hastings







The allegedly paranormal events at Borley Rectory, Suffolk, were described by the late Harry Price in a number of books, notably 'The Most Haunted House in England' (1940) and 'The End of Borley Rectory' (1946).  In 1956, eight years after Price's death, a volume entitled 'The Haunting of Borley Rectory' by Dr E. J. Dingwall, Mrs K. M. Goldney and Mr T. H. Hall, was issued simultaneously as part 186 of the S.P.R. Proceedings, and in book form by Messrs Duckworth & Co.  On the basis of testimony of living witnesses, and of Price's own records, the authors of 'The Haunting of Borley Rectory' purported to establish not only that the phenomena at Borley were fraudulent or exaggerated but that it was Price himself who had cheated or deliberately exaggerated.  In the words of a reviewer in The Economist, '. . . the late Harry Price emerges unmistakably as a rogue, a falsifier and a manufacturer of evidence . . .'.

The Borley report, described by the then President of the S.P.R. as '. . . the result of an inquiry conducted ... at the invitation of the Council of the Society for Psychical Research', marked a turning-point, in one important respect, in the history of psychical research.  Although the competence, and sometimes the credibility, of investigators have been questioned in a general way, every so often, ever since systematic work in this field began, here for the first time was an exhaustive, elaborately documented report, published by a learned society, devoted to proving beyond reasonable doubt that a nationally famous researcher had systematically distorted and, according to testimony quoted, had on some occasions himself cheated.  It seems reasonable to suppose that it was this precedent that opened the way to the subsequent wave of denigration of Crookes, Myers, Soal and others.

It will be the sole purpose of this paper to examine the charges against Price made in HBR.  There are at least two initial reasons for regarding these charges with some reservation.

(1) A large part of the case against Price rests on his own writings and papers.  But since these writings and papers had been deposited by Price at the University of London library where they could have been consulted by researchers during his lifetime, it is obvious


that Price himself could not have regarded them as incriminating.  Not only did Price deposit these papers himself, but he told readers in both MHH and EBR that he had done so, and he took pains to see that the papers were conveniently arranged. (1)

(2) HBR is entirely a prosecutor's case.  No systematic attempt seems to have been made to find arguments in Price's defence.

1 Mr A. H. Wesencraft, Librarian in charge of the Harry Price Library, University of London, was invited to comment on this paragraph, and wrote to the editor as follows on 13th June 1967.  'Although Price gave us his books etc., in 1937, it was not until we moved to this building in 1938 that the Harry Price Library was really made available for students....How many came in I am unable to say, but in 1939 (3rd Sept.) it was, of course, closed, and remained closed until 1945.  The room was wrecked by bomb blast, but no books were lost, though some of the pamphlets were damaged by shrapnel.

'I do not know how many people consulted the Borley material during the years when Price was alive; we would not have shewn them anything without first obtaining permission from Price himself, who would probably have come up and superintended.  However, the fact remains that the material was there and that Price said it could be looked at by the bona fide student.  Therefore I am bound to agree that the statement by Mr Hastings is correct in its implications.'


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