Harry Price at Borley
The reported evidence of paranormal activity at Borley Rectory in the presence of Mrs Marianne Foyster, wife of the then rector, the Rev. L. A. Foyster, and Edwin Whitehouse, later Dom Richard Whitehouse, nephew of Lady Whitehouse, constitutes perhaps the most sensational of all the phenomena stated to have occurred at Borley. It is plain therefore that Dom Richard's evidence is of prime importance. No less an authority than Sir Ernest Jelf, who was then Senior Master of the Supreme Court, studied MHH, which included a whole chapter presenting Whitehouse's evidence, and stated that his conclusions, after making every allowance for witnesses not coming up to their proofs, was that a very strong case existed.*
Over the past twenty years I have personally contacted practically every person who was connected with the Borley hauntings: from surviving members of the Bull family including Miss Ethel Bull, and people like the Rev. Clive Luget, Mr J. Harley, Captain V. M. Deane, Dr Richard Prewer and others who knew the Rev. Harry Bull right up to the present occupants of the cottage at Borley, who have all experienced strange and seemingly inexplicable happenings. My files on everyone who has had anything to do with the Borley case are unique and I open the one on Dom Richard Whitehouse at this time because I feel that it is important that his side of the story be told.
During the course of research for a projected volume on the Borley hauntings I received an unsolicited letter from Dom Richard offering help as far as his evidence was concerned. At my suggestion we met in London and discussed the Borley case in general and Dom Richard's and Marianne Foyster's evidence in particular during the course of a meeting lasting several hours. Afterwards I suggested that he supply me with a written account of his evidence and views and this he did in a letter dated August 6th, 1956. While respecting confidences placed in me by Dom Richard concerning certain facts, I have been glad to permit my friend and fellow member of the S.P.R., Mr R. J. Hastings, to
* Law Times, August 9, 1941
peruse my correspondence with Dom Richard Whitehouse and Mr Hastings and I have discussed this matter and many aspects of the Borley case on a number of occasions.
The phenomena allegedly witnessed by Dom Richard and Marianne Foyster included bottle smashing, objects thrown about, the materialisation of a bottle in mid-air, door locking, keys disappearing and re-appearing and bell-ringing.
It would appear from the S.P.R. files that the authors of HBR were under a misapprehension concerning Dom Richard and certainly they published their criticism of his testimony without having interviewed him - but they acted in the same way with the evidence of Mr G. P. L. L'Estrange, a person of considerable local standing, and they had to publish an apology. However, to return to Dom Richard, one of the authors of HBR, at least, was uneasy about the matter for Mrs Goldney, at her own expense, she informed Mr Hastings, went to the Benedictine Abbey at Ramsgate and saw Dom Richard in the presence of his Abbot. But this was after HBR was published and Dom Richard told me that the meeting was in no sense of the word an interview; he and the Abbot merely listening to what Mrs Goldney had to say.
There is no need for the present writer to repeat or reply to the HBR authors criticisms of Dom Richard's testimony for this he has done adequately himself, but first it may be of interest to quote briefly from his article 'Why I became a Catholic' which appeared in the Spring, 1956, issue of the Thanet Catholic Review, a quarterly published by the Benedictines of Thanet. He wrote:
HBR], the authors attempt to undermine the evidence of facts and the validity of my testimony by ascribing my statements as being unworthy of credence due to my ill health, and even suggest I wrote about phenomena which I may not have witnessed at all. But on this matter I intend to deal fully elsewhere.
His opportunity to do so came when he contacted me and after exchanging a number of letters we met on July 24th, 1956. As
already stated he was good enough to supply me with a written account of his evidence and views and I gratefully acknowledge his permission to use this letter which is reproduced verbatim.
1) It is is most significant that the authors make no reference whatever to my notes - surely a revealing suppression!
On p. 93 of MHH I say 'In my notes I have recorded the fact that on one of our visits I found a bed overturned. These observations, I repeat, were made during the period when the house was empty'. This shews I was keeping notes within ten days of arrival at Borley in June, and in actual fact I drew up my Ch. XV in 1939 from the contemporaneous notes I had kept in my possession since June 1931. Why should I have got my information from Marianne seeing I was describing what I witnessed! In one part of the stiletto incident I acknowledge that Marianne told me she saw it rise up from the floor and twist in the air, but I utterly refute the interpretation that 'I based my judgement of the Borley phenomena as a whole on her story' - Nonsense! I based my conviction of the paranormality of this incident on the fact that it was levitated on my lap while I was actually looking at Marianne who had not moved hand or foot.
They omit references to three other bottle incidents occurring on Nov. 13th. These were astonishing and startling phenomena, but they were described soberly and factually and I SHALL NEVER GO BACK ON WHAT I SAID in Chapter XV - re stiletto, bottles and tumbler incidents. I again refer to my notes on pp. 100 MHH - two references (last two paragraphs). Price was wrong to embroider what I said about the bottle poising in mid-air with his own statements about materialising in the air and changing from mushroom
1 The error to which Whitehouse draws attention here occurs on p. 37 of EBR. In mitigation it may be said that during most of the time Price was writing EBR he was literally without a copy of MHH to refer to, and evidently wrote some parts from memory, intending to check his work later on. His difficulties were brought about by a series of mishaps which could only have occurred in war time. Anticipating a second printing of MHH, he had disposed of all his own copies of this work only to find that there was to be no reprinting after all. It was now impossible to obtain second-hand copies. Later, when he wanted a copy of MHH to send to a firm of publishers with whom he was discussing the possibility of a paperback edition, he resorted to the expedient of withdrawing the copy of MHH he had presented to the University of London library. Then this copy was mislaid by the publisher, and there was a long delay before it was found. In the meantime Price had begun to write EBR. - R. J. H.
2 "Jonquille et Cie" 20A, Worple Road, Wimbledon, S.W.19. - P.U.
In his New Light on Old Ghosts (Duckworth, London, 1965) T. H. Hall recounts how Marianne's son, who is referred to as `X', approached the University of London after publication of HBR and how, through him, Marianne Foyster was traced in America. In due course a 'legally qualified investigator' visited her in Jamestown and she was persuaded to visit the Parapsychology Foundation in New York where a statement was recorded on tape. It is stated that most (my italics) of what she had to say was corroborated by 'X' who admits to finding anything 'spiritualistic' anathema. Marianne Foyster now says she does not believe in ghosts or poltergeists and that Borley was not haunted when she lived there. She states that she never saw a monstrosity or apparition of any kind on any occasion and she has no recollection whatsoever of any incident involving a stiletto.
It has already been pointed out by R. G. Medhurst in a review of New Light on Old Ghosts, published in the S.P.R. Journal dated June 1967, volume 44, number 732, that neither the 'confession' nor T. H. Hall's own researches into the lady's affairs appear to be available for study and if this is so it must diminish the evidential value of an abbreviated paraphrase of Mrs Marianne Foyster's alleged remarks to an unnamed interviewer. T. H. Hall's collection on Marianne Foyster and a tape, which he presented to The Harry Price Library at the University of London, was returned, I am informed by Mr A. H. Wesencraft, Librarian in charge of The Harry Price Library, because it was felt that it was not a suitable addition to the collection there and could not have been made available for consultation.
It might be suggested that Marianne Foyster's 'confession' shows that none of the phenomena associated with her was genuine and hence that the approach taken in HBR to the Whitehouse testi-
mony is basically sound. Several comments are relevant concerning this argument.
There is a great deal which could be said about the 'confession', the circumstances in which it was obtained, its content, and the abridged paraphrase of them which T. H. Hall gives, and it would have to be said if the present purpose were to discuss the genuineness or otherwise of the phenomena. I was in contact with Marianne Foyster and the Foyster family before HBR was published and it is interesting that the Foyster family have always been on friendly terms with her; and still keep in touch. For the time being perhaps it is sufficient to remark that although Whitehouse's testimony is apparently contradicted by Marianne Foyster's 'confession' (made thirty years after the events concerned), his account was based on notes made at the time (notes of which contents are partly confirmed by contemporary letters from Lady Whitehouse in the S.P.R. files); he was not in the throes of a nervous breakdown at the relevant time; and his sincerity and integrity have not for one moment been questioned by anyone. Those who believe phenomena of the kind to be impossible may well wish to side with Marianne Foyster.
Even if Marianne Foyster's 'confession' were accepted at face value the arguments levelled against Whitehouse in HBR are still quite unsound, as his own handling of them amply demonstrates. Bad arguments are not made into good arguments simply because the position they are intended to support happens to be valid. This point is no trivial one in the present instance for the following reason: if Whitehouse really had been the hopeless dupe that HBR makes out, Price, as a shrewd investigator, must have realised this. If Price could see that Whitehouse had obviously been duped by Marianne Foyster, Whitehouse's testimony could not possibly have helped to change Price's mind about Marianne Foyster and have induced him to believe that some at least of the phenomena associated with her were after all genuine. In that case it would follow that he must have been dishonest in his later statements of belief in the phenomena. But R. J. Hastings has already presented evidence in his present work to show that Price's change of attitude to the phenomena was sincere. There is nothing in HBR's criticisms of Whitehouse's testimony to make it seem even likely that Price could not have honestly believed in it.
One further point: regarding the 'wall writing' Marianne Foyster is quoted by T. H. Hall as blaming these 'on the village youngsters, who freely used the rectory bathroom and toilets after the church service, and frequently scribbled on the passage walls'. This is in direct contradiction to T. H. Hall's contribution to HBR
where he cites the evidence of Miss Mary Braithwaite, J.P., who has said regarding the 'wall writing', categorically: 'undoubtedly Mrs Foyster's, as she makes some letters in a funny way.' We are told that the Braithwaite family was acquainted with the Bull's, the Whitehouses, and the Foysters. Furthermore, Miss Braithwaite's brother, Sir John Braithwaite, stated in a letter in the S.P.R. files that the 'wall writing' was 'obviously done by Mrs Foyster. Soon after Price's death when I was working on a projected reexamination of the Borley Rectory hauntings I intended to include a detailed analysis of the 'wall writings' by a professional graphologist, Mr Lewis T. Ackermann, and his considered opinion was that all the Borley writings were executed by the same personality with the single exception of the word, `Edwin'. Whatever the origin of these 'wall writings' Mrs Marianne Foyster's present 'explanation' of them seems unlikely, to say the least.
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