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)
Chapter 4     'The Curious Matter of the Medals'

The allegation which the authors describe as the 'curious matter of the medals', is represented on p. 64 of HBR, as being-

... of the first importance in this investigation, in that it is an indication that Price did not scruple on occasions to 'prove' legends and theories supporting the Borley story by the production of evidence seemingly in existence beforehand, but which one is bound to suspect may have been introduced at a later date.

In making this allegation the authors do not appear to have noticed that when it is reduced to the simplest terms it amounts to accusing Price of perpetrating fraud in order to support 'legends and theories' in which, I propose to shew, he states explicitly and more than once he does not believe.

The basic facts are somewhat complicated.  They may be summarized as follows.  Some time in June or July, 1929, a number of small objects, mostly keys and pebbles 'appeared' at the Rectory as a result of alleged Poltergeist activity.  Among them was an eight sided brass medal or medallion which bears on one side the head of St Ignatius, and on the other, the word 'ROMA' beneath a design which incorporates two human figures.  I propose to refer to this as Medal A, following the lettering used by the authors in Plate II of HBR.

Price reported the appearance of Medal A in the Journal A.S.P.R., for August, 1929, describing it as a 'Brass Romish medallion which the Rector could not identify'.  But ten years later, when he came to write MHH, he did not describe Medal A as having 'appeared', but instead he described two other medals as having 'appeared' at Borley about the time in question, though he did not state the exact date of their appearance.  But in the 'Chronological Record' which forms an Appendix to MHH, he recorded the appearance of only one medal, giving the date of its appearance as June 27th. This entry reads: (MHH, p. 246);

June 27.  Price and party visited the Rectory.  A Roman Catholic medallion and other articles 'appeared'.

We thus see that the description of the medal given in the Appendix to MHH agrees with that given in the A.S.P.R. Report which was


made at the time, but that the description of the two medals given in the text of MHH does not agree with either the Appendix of MHH, or with the A.S.P.R. Report.  Quite obviously there is a mistake.

Unfortunately, perhaps because of the war, these discrepancies were not noticed during Price's lifetime, so we do not, therefore, know how he would have explained them.  But as they are discrepancies between published statements (in one case between two statements in the same book) which would inevitably have been noticed eventually, it seems more likely that they are due to carelessness rather than to any deliberate intention to deceive,

It is impossible now to reconstruct how the mistakes might have occurred as many of the documents relating to the earlier part of the Borley investigation are missing.  It is not known when these papers were lost, but there are reasons for thinking that they may have been missing when Price wrote MHH.  MHH was published in 1940 - Price would still have been working on it, therefore, in Sept. 1939 when war was declared.  It is known that on the outbreak of war he closed his office in London, almost at once, and released his secretary, then Miss Beenham, for other work.  These are circumstances in which original documents can easily get lost.  It is significant that Price does not say very much about the medals in MHH.  Indeed, the restraint and slight vagueness with which he writes, when compared with other passages in his writing, suggests that he may here have been writing from memory.  What he says is as follows (MHH, p. 59) :

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 known, and I will remark in passing that many of the phenomena at Borley are connected in some way with Roman Catholicism: the `nun' and monks; the medallions; France; the 'messages' on the walls (of which I will speak later), and so on.

That is all Price has to say about the medals in the text of MHH.  It is of some interest to note that all three medals were found in Price's files after his death, though the authors do not apparently know whether they were found together or separately.


The authors launch their allegations in the following words (HBR, p. 63):

Price was, or had been, an enthusiastic numismatist and possessed an important collection of rare coins and medals.  It seems to us that the indications of substitution are clear beyond reasonable doubt, and it merely remains to examine the probable motive.  It will have been observed from his article in the Journal of the American S.P.R. that in 1929 Price apparently believed that the rectory was built on the site of a 13th-century monastery, and he repeated the 'guilty-monk-and-nun' legend of that period, with its entirely English background.  If the hypothesis of trickery is accepted, it does not seem unreasonable to assume that Price introduced into the house at the time a medal which Lord Charles Hope described as 'a medallion with Latin words on it and the head of a monk' in order to bolster up the evidence for the haunting and its supposed historical background.  However, in 1937 the planchette séances took place and the more attractive 'French-Roman-Catholic-nun' story emerged in which a monk played no part.  Furthermore, in 1938 Price was even forced to abandon his belief that Borley Rectory was built upon the site of a monastery.

The following comments may be made.

(1) There is no evidence that Price had ever collected foreign medals.  He had once been a collector of English (Sussex) coins, but his interest even in this field seems to have diminished when his collection was stolen in 1923.  Even so, it is likely that he would have known where medals might be purchased.

(2) Price does not mention the word 'monk' in his article in the Journal A.S.P.R.

(3) The authors' use of the word 'substitution' is questionable in view of the fact that all three medals were found in Price's files after his death.  We may think that if there had been deliberate substitution Price would have taken the precaution of removing the medal that was not appropriate from the files where its continued presence would be likely to arouse suspicion.  It must be remembered that he deposited his files at the University of London where they would have been available to bona fide research workers during his lifetime.

(4) An even more serious objection to the 'substitution' allegation arises from the fact that Price has not exploited to the full the fact that the 'substituted' medals were French.  Although both of the 'substituted' medals were in fact French, Price only informs readers of MHH that one of them is French, and even his mention of this fact is incidental to his description of the medal, and he makes no specific attempt to connect it with the planchette story.  It is surely absurd to suggest that Price would have gone to the


trouble of substituting two medals for the purpose of establishing a link with France and so bolstering up the French nun story, and then have neglected to let his readers even know that one of the 'substituted' medals is French.  But unless Price does tell readers that the medal which he describes as a 'small gilt medallion, such as are presented to Roman Catholic children on their Confirmation' is French, there could have been no possible point in the substitution, since without the knowledge that it is French, this medal can do no more towards bolstering up the French nun story than the St Ignatius medal which it replaces could have done.

This difficulty is somewhat glossed over by the introduction by the authors of what appears to be a fictitious quotation.  In Plate II of HBR, opposite p. 98, we find the following words beneath an illustration of the medal in question:

Obverse of gilt 'French Roman Catholic Confirmation medal' claimed by Price in MHH to have been found with (D) at Borley Rectory on 5th July, 1929 (see MHH p. 6I).

In no less than two respects this description is false.  It is not true to say that Price claimed that this medal was found on 5th July.  The date mentioned by Price is June 27th.  It is the authors, not Price, who are claiming that it was found on the 5th July.  Second, as far as I can see, the words between quotation marks 'French Roman Catholic Confirmation medal', were never used by Price in MHH.  Even Canon Phythian-Adams, who, independently of Price, later made the deductions which connect the medals with the French nun story, does not seem to have been aware that the Confirmation medal is of French origin.  Price himself gives no hint to his readers that he has even noticed that it is French until after Canon Phythian-Adams's deductions had been made.  Nothing, therefore, depends on the fact of this medal being French.  As far as I can see, the above quotation is fictitious.

(5) Finally, the substitution hypothesis encounters a difficulty which is insuperable.  This arises from the fact that, at the time he wrote MHH, Price did not believe in the legends concerning the 'nun' etc., and lost no opportunity of saying so.  In a letter to The Times dated 29th April 1939 he said '. . . (a) I do not believe in spirits, and (b) I do not believe in the legend.'  He referred to this letter on p. 29 of MHH, and repeated his disclaimer more emphatically on p. 185 of MHH where he placed the word 'not' in italics; viz. 'according to the Borley legends, in which I do not believe. . . '.  Moreover, at the time he wrote MHH he was also sceptical about Planchette.  Views on this subject appear on MHH p.159.  They conclude with the words, 'If the reader is a spiritual


ist, he may think differently'.  An even clearer statement of views is contained in a letter to a correspondent dated 14th October, 1940, a holograph copy of which was found in the library copy of MHH after Price's death.  He says:

The reason why I did not dig up the lawn for the 'nun' was (a) because I had no permission to do so (though this might have been obtained); and (b) I do not believe in séance information unless confirmation is forthcoming from other sources.  Also, I do not believe in the Borley legends, though from the evidence it is clear that a nun has been seen.

If, as the authors maintain, Price had dishonestly 'substituted' the medals for the purpose of bolstering up the 'French-Roman-Catholic-nun' story which had emerged through Planchette he would be in the curious position of having manufactured evidence for the purpose of shewing that the views he was repeatedly advancing about the legend and about Planchette were wrong.  This would be an act of dishonesty of a kind which no sane man, however unprincipled he might be, could ever seriously contemplate committing.

In their preoccupation with charges of dishonesty against Price, the authors have ignored information of possible significance in their own files.  According to this, the Rev. Harry Bull had married a widow with a daughter who was a Catholic.  Relations between Harry Bull and his step-daughter were bad, and there is evidence that on a number of occasions he struck her.  It is not beyond the bounds of possibility, therefore, that all the Catholic medals mentioned above had once been treasured by this orphan and had been hidden by her in corners of the Rectory in order to keep them safe from her step-father.  They may afterwards have been forgotten, or there may have been other reasons for not retrieving them from their hiding places.  Whatever the reasons, it is unlikely that the medals would have remained hidden when Harry Price made his thorough examination of the Rectory following the occurrence there of allegedly paranormal phenomena.

Although there is evidence from Miss Kaye that the St Ignatius medal was the only one to have appeared at the Rectory in an allegedly paranormal way, Miss Kaye was by no means certain that this medal was the only one to be found in the Rectory during the period of Price's investigation.  When asked, after an interval of twenty years, she could not at first remember anything relevant, but later she could 'vaguely remember mention of a French Revolution medal'.  She thought that if she could see it, it might jog her memory. No attempt, however, seems to have been made


to shew this medal to Miss Kaye.  One wonders why.  But unless the tentative explanations suggested above can be refuted, Price's only undisputable mistake in regard to the medals is the comparatively mild one of confusing the description of one medal with the description of another medal - a mistake for which, as we have already seen, there could have been no possible motive.


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Contents  .  Chronology  .  Introduction  .  Chapter 1  .  Chapter 2  .  Chapter 3  .  Chapter 4  .  Chapter 5  .  Chapter 6  .  Chapter 7  .  Chapter 8  .  Chapter 9  .  Chapter 10  .  Appendix A  .  Appendix B  .  Appendix C

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