Harry Price at Borley
It has been generally agreed that the most serious attack on Price's integrity is that which arises from the allegations of Mr Charles Sutton, a journalist who accompanied Harry Price and his secretary, Miss Lucie Kaye, to Borley on one occasion in 1929. Nearly twenty years later, following Price's death Mr Sutton published an account of his experiences at Borley in an article which appeared in the Inky Way Annual - a popular publication sold in aid of Press Charities. He wrote:
At the request of the authors of HBR Mr Sutton incorporated what he could still remember of the events at Borley into a carefully worded statement which he forwarded to the authors and duly signed. This more carefully written statement was not quoted in HBR. It is an important document, and is reproduced in its entirety as Appendix A to this paper.
From Mr Sutton's fuller statement certain material points emerge which are not made clear in HBR:
(1) Mr Sutton did not see Price throwing the stones;
(2) Except in one instance Mr Sutton did not even see the stones he thought had been thrown.
(3) All the phenomena Mr Sutton reported were either auditory or tactile; and it is consequently not difficult to think of possible ordinary (non-fraudulent) causes for them.
Let us consider some of these matters in greater detail. Sutton wrote (Appendix A) :
Rather oddly, no attempt seems to have been made to find the pebbles or stones supposed to have been thrown. On the above description, it might reasonably be suggested that the sounds heard were due to crepitation of the floor boards or to falling plaster - not unusual occurrences in an old and empty house that has been shut up, even for a short time; if it is in bad a state of repair.
Mr Sutton also described how, after they had all gone upstairs, 'there was a series of echoing crashes caused by a large stone (I saw it later) rolling down the stairs'. Here again, an innocent explanation is not difficult to find. Only a few days previously, the Smiths had moved out of the Rectory. It is common practice for removal men to use stones or bricks for the purpose of holding doors open whilst furniture is carried through. It would not be unreasonable to suppose that a stone or brick used for this purpose had been left on the landing, and that one of the members of the party (who seem to have had only one hurricane lamp between them) had stumbled over it and sent it crashing down the stairs.
Mr Sutton made a further allegation against Price which is not mentioned in HBR. He wrote:
There is evidence (some of it is quoted in HBR, p. 68) to the effect that voices and other sounds from a cottage nearby could often be heard in the Rectory. Mr Sutton would not have known about this, and it is probable that at this time Price would not have known either. Mr Sutton's allegation is, however, of interest as it formed part of a background of possibly unnecessary suspicion that led him eventually to take the extreme step of seizing Price by the wrists and plunging his hands into his coat pockets.
But even here there are questions that need to be answered.
Thus we may ask the following: (1) Did Mr Sutton actually see the stones or pebbles from Price's pockets? He doesn't say so; (2) If he did not actually see the stones, can we be sure that the objects he felt really were stones or pebbles, and not some other hard objects, e.g. articles from Price's 'ghost hunter's kit' as described on pp. 5-6 of MHH? (3) If he can be certain that the objects were stones or pebbles could there have been some legitimate reason for their presence in Price's pockets? (4) Was Mr Sutton in a sufficiently calm state to enable him to make accurate observations? And (5) Can we rely on Mr Sutton's memory after twenty years in matters of detail? Some, at least, of these questions must be answered satisfactorily before the case against Price can be regarded as proved.
I shall return to these questions later. In the meantime, let us examine a not inconsiderable body of evidence and opinion which conflicts with Mr Sutton's testimony. By no means all of it is mentioned in HBR.
First, there is the opinion of the late S. H. Glanville, Price's right hand man at Borley, and later a neighbour and friend of his in Sussex. Glanville's opinions are important because he was exceedingly well informed about matters concerning Borley, and because everyone (including the authors of HBR) agree that he was a man of outstanding intelligence and integrity. Glanville wrote as follows to Mr Peter Underwood, who had been among the first to handle Price's papers after his death:
Next, there is the evidence of the two ladies who, at different times, worked for Price as his secretary, viz. Miss Beenham, later Mrs English, and Miss Kaye, later Mrs Meeker, who was, of course, actually present on the occasion of the alleged stone throwing. Their reactions to the 'Inky Way' allegations might in both cases be described as astonished incredulity. That of Mrs English, which was made in answer to questions put by one of the authors of HBR, is not quoted in HBR, whilst that of Miss Kaye, which was written in the form of a letter addressed to the Secretary of the S.P.R., is mentioned rather briefly.
Mrs English was interviewed by Mrs Goldney in 1949 in the presence of Miss Ina Jephson, a Council Member of the S.P.R. who certified that the questions had been fairly put and the
answers accurately recorded, and that opportunity had been given for revision. Miss Jephson added a note of her own saying that Mrs English had struck her as being completely honest, and as having made 'a most genuine effort to record the facts as she remembered them'. Mrs English had been Price's secretary intermittently between 1928 and 1935. She had not accompanied him to Borley during this time, but the following extracts from her testimony are relevant to Borley. She says:
Concerning Price himself, Mrs English had this to say:
The other Secretary, Miss Kaye, also spoke well of her former employer and was astonished and indignant at Mr Sutton's allegations. The following are extracts from a letter she wrote to the S.P.R. on 21st March 1949.
Lucie Meeker (née Kaye)
That Miss Kaye quite genuinely could not recollect the incident Mr Sutton described, and was not just seeking to protect Price's reputation, is shewn by a letter she wrote to Price in 1939 - roughly ten years after the incident in question. Miss Kaye was then no longer employed as Price's secretary, but she kept in touch with him from time to time. She wrote on 13/2/39 (HPL Extract) :
As Dr Gauld, who first drew my attention to this reference, pointed out, this letter tells against Mr Sutton's interpretation of the incident. For if any accusations of the kind alleged by Mr Sutton had been known to Miss Kaye, she couldn't possibly have begun her remarks to Price as she does, or have continued in the same way.
Finally we may note that Price's correspondence files provide no evidence whatsoever of a changed relationship between Price and Sutton following the alleged incident. One would certainly expect such a change if Mr Sutton's account tells the whole story of the affair. Yet relations between the two men continued cordial. Only a month or two later, Price invited Mr Sutton to the resumed Rudi Schneider sittings, and Sutton accepted. There are letters to and from Mr Sutton in 1931 and 1932. All are friendly intone. In a letter to Price dated 24/6/32, Sutton concludes, `I am very well aware of the good work you have done, and probably will do in the future. . .'. And as we have already seen, both of Price's former secretaries have commented on the fact that relations between Price and Sutton in the period following the alleged incident had seemed to be extremely good. But perhaps the most significant item of all, is a letter from Price to J. Arthur Findlay (5/11/1931, copy in HPL) in which Price wrote:
We may think that it would be very remarkable if Price, believing that Mr Sutton knew an incriminating fact about him, had recommended him to another psychical researcher.
Added together, the matters mentioned above amount to strong evidence that not only Miss Kaye, but also Price himself, were genuinely unable to remember the supposed dramatic incident Sutton has described. This is very odd. Is it possible that Mr Sutton has exaggerated? Can there be some other missing link? Certainly on the evidence so far adduced, the case against Price must be dismissed as not proven. The authors of HBR, however, suggest that the case against Price is strengthened by two further factors (a) Price's supposed avoidance of, and lack of interest in Borley Rectory after the date of the alleged stonethrowing incident; and (b) the testimony of Lord Charles Hope. Both these questions will now be briefly discussed.
(a) The authors of HBR allege that Price paid only one visit to the Rectory between 1929 and 1937; and they go on to conjecture that 'the knowledge that he had been caught and accused to his face of fraudulently producing the "phenomena" himself, must have constituted an extremely uncomfortable element in Price's sentiments on Borley' (HBR, pp.42-3). The facts are as follows. Borley Rectory is about 150 miles from Pulborough, where Price lived. A visit to Borley would, therefore, mean at least one night away from home. Price had arranged with the Rector, the Rev. G. E. Smith, to be kept informed of events at the Rectory, but nothing was reported to him that called for a visit. Price had other work on hand, e.g. the Rudi Schneider investigation, (1) concerning which he wrote a book, and he had also been commissioned to write an article for the Enciclopedaa Italiana, which would need research. Clearly there would be only a limited time available for other investigations. Even so, Price seems to have spent a day in the neighbourhood of Borley in the summer of 1930 interviewing various people, and in particular tracking down Fred Cartwright, whose story appears in MHH, pp. 56-7. At this time the Rectory was standing empty, and Borley was without a Rector. Price paid one visit to Borley after the new Rector, the Rev. L. A. Foyster, moved in, and would have liked to make further visits, but was prevented from doing so by Mr Foyster, who broke off relations with Price on advice given to him by the then Hon. Sec. of the S.P.R. That Price would have liked to make further visits is clear from several passages in the correspondence in his files. Thus, in a letter to the Rev. G. E. Smith, 8/1/32, concerning Borley, he remarked:
And three years later, in 1935, he says much the same thing to the Hon. Everard Feilding. In a letter dated 19th August, he wrote:
There are thus no grounds whatever for the authors' suggestions that Price abruptly lost interest in Borley following the Sutton incident.
(b) The authors of HBR introduce the testimony of Lord Charles Hope with the object of counterbalancing Miss Kaye's denials
1 This investigation extended from April 1929 to January 1930, R.J.H.
that any such incident as that described by Mr Sutton took place. They cite two passages from Lord Charles's notes. The first is extracted from notes entitled Story of a Phantom Nun as told to me on second visit by the Misses Bull, and goes as follows. (HBR, p.32):
These notes, though unsigned and undated, were almost certainly written on 29th July 1929, the day after the 'second visit' referred to. Although they confirm, quite convincingly, that an incident took place, they do not describe it in sufficient detail to confirm Mr Sutton's account of the incident to the extent of rebutting the suggestion (should it be made) that he has exaggerated the story in retrospect. There is nothing in these 1929 notes inconsistent with a brick which had been left lying around having been accidentally kicked downstairs. Mr Sutton's reactions are what our own might have been in comparable circumstances, and could easily have been forgotten by the witnesses.
However, a second extract from Lord Charles's notes (HBR, p. 32) does at first sight appear to confirm Mr Sutton's account in sufficient detail to relieve him from any possible charges of exaggeration. The notes from which this second extract is taken are stated (HBR, p. 32) to have been 'compiled by Lord Charles from memory at a considerably later date', but to have been 'based on his contemporary notes' (f.n. 'Visit to Borley Rectory July 5th 1929. Abbreviated from notes compiled next day'). It is also stated that these notes refer 'to yet another occasion when Miss Kaye alluded to this incident'. The extract is as follows:
These notes do much less to support the details of Mr Sutton's story than might at first sight appear. They are not, as claimed, based on Lord Charles's notes of 5th July 1929, and indeed they could not have been based on them because Mr Sutton did not visit Borley Rectory until 25th July 1929. (1) The notes quoted above were probably written, apparently from memory, in or about March 1949 - i.e. about twenty years after the events they describe had actually occurred. This is clearly recorded in a note by Mrs Goldney in the files. (2) Furthermore, before writing the notes Lord Charles had not only read Mr Sutton's story in the Inky Way Annual, but had (together with Mrs Goldney) lunched with Mr Sutton (31st January 1949) for the express purpose of discussing the alleged incident with him in detail. There are good reasons for thinking that the notes compiled by Lord Charles in March 1949 are not independent of Sutton's statements at the luncheon. Mrs Goldney had made notes of what was said at the luncheon and a copy of these was sent to Lord Charles for perusal. In her notes Mrs Goldney reported Sutton as saying that he actually saw Price throw the 'stone'. As far as is known, Sutton never made any such claim, and he certainly denies it now. Whether or not he did say what Mrs Goldney records in her notes is irrelevant. What is relevant for present purposes is that Lord Charles incorporated into his 1949 testimony something which he thought Sutton had said at the lunch party - a clear indication that his 1949 testimony
1 See p. 93 below.
2 Mrs Goldney's notes read: 'The date of this is uncertain; it was almost certainly put together in 1949 (Feb.) after KMG's and Lord Charles's lunch with Mr Charles Sutton of the Daily Mail'. 'The last paragraph ... is handwritten in ink and signed and dated March 9th 1949. It is not clear whether this is the date of the last handwritten paragraph only, or of the whole, but Lord Charles thinks the whole WAS compiled about that time.'
Lord Charles's vagueness is not re-assuring as there is another respect in which the date this document was compiled is important. In 1932, there was a serious quarrel between Lord Charles and Price arising from the investigation of Rudi Schneider, and this was followed by recriminations on both sides which smouldered for many years and were never wholly extinguished. In these circumstances, any notes compiled after the quarrel by either of the protagonists about events concerning the other which had occurred before the quarrel must be treated with caution. - R.J.H.
is not independent of his recent contact with Sutton. In these circumstances it is obviously impossible to regard Lord Charles's 1949 notes as good evidence that in 1949 Mr Sutton was telling the same story he had told in 1929. Moreover, there are a number of small indications which suggest that Lord Charles's 1949 notes are far from accurate. To mention one, he moves the locus of his meeting with Miss Kaye from Borley to Price's laboratory. ('The suggestion in HBR that Lord Charles's notes refer to a 'second' meeting with Miss Kaye is without support in either the 1929 or 1949 notes).
Thus the testimony of Lord Charles Hope, like the argument from Price's supposed loss of interest in Borley after 1929, give no ground for preferring Mr Sutton's account to Miss Kaye's, and for setting aside the fact that both Price and Miss Kaye were apparently unable to recall any such incident as that which Mr Sutton described. We might perhaps argue that the discrepancy between the Sutton material on the one hand and the Price-Kaye material on the other hand may be explained by supposing that the incident which did occur was a relatively mild one (such as that described by Miss Kaye to Lord Charles Hope and mentioned in his earlier notes) and that Price and Miss Kaye forgot about it whilst it grew more dramatic in Mr Sutton's recollection. There is, however, another possible way of reconciling the divergent material, and this will be examined in the next chapter.
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