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 5     The Excavated Bone Fragments

The reason, presumably, that the 'Curious Matter of the Medals' is claimed by the authors to have been of the 'first importance' in their investigations is that it seems to support another charge of fraud against Price in which the method and system are alleged to have been similar.  In this second charge Price is accused of having previously planted the fragments of bone etc. which were excavated from the Rectory cellars in the presence of witnesses in 1943.  The authors claim (HBR, p. 161):

... that there is considerable similarity in both apparent objective and method between this incident and the curious affair of the substituted French medals.... i.e. an attempt to 'prove' legends and theories by the production of evidence seemingly in existence beforehand but which one is bound to suspect may in fact have been introduced at a later date.

With the collapse of the allegations in respect of the medals, this second charge will be seen to lose its principal item of support.  There are, however, a number of minor items which must also be discussed before Price can be completely cleared.  The authors begin by alleging that Price was confronted by a difficult dilemma which he decided to resolve by having recourse to fraud.  They say (HBR, p. 160):

Dr Phythian-Adams suggested in 1941 in the most positive fashion that Price should test his theory by excavating the well-tank, and said that it would be 'a striking triumph for psychical research' if the project was successful (EBR, p. 180).  That Dr Phythian-Adams held decided views upon the necessity of practical investigation is shewn by his somewhat acid comment in his letter to Price of 26 February 1945 upon the failure to follow up some of the Glanville planchette scripts: 'After all, if nothing is done when such "messages" are received, what is the use of bothering with the thing at all?'  It does not require much imagination to visualise the dilemma in which Price found himself.  Failure to excavate would alienate the flattering interest of the Canon of Carlisle, and would mean that he could not publish the analysis without laying himself open to the criticism that he did not believe it worth pursuing, whilst an excavation without the discovery of remains would shew the analysis to be valueless.  Either of these eventualities would mean no second profitable and best-selling Borley book and would indeed be literally 'The End of Borley Rectory'.


The above quotation contains many small inaccuracies, and these have been built as component parts into an overall picture that is completely false.  There was no dilemma of the kind the authors describe.  But in order to prove that it will be necessary to deal separately and laboriously with each of the small inaccuracies upon which the notion that there was a dilemma has been built up.

To begin with, it may be pointed out that Canon Phythian-Adams did not suggest anything in a 'most positive fashion' Quite the opposite was the case.  He wrote apologetically, admitting that his knowledge of the subject was 'mediocre', and saying almost at the beginning of his letter, '"Fools step in", etc., no doubt, but even if I am on the wrong track no harm will be done.' (The letter is quoted in full on pp. 179-80 of EBR.)

Next, it may be pointed out that the words 'After all if nothing is done . . .' etc., were written by Canon Phythian-Adams in 1945 two years after the excavations had been done and had proved to be successful.  These words are not therefore relevant to Price's attitude before the excavations were done, and could not, therefore, have contributed to the supposed dilemma.

It is wildly untrue to say of this supposed dilemma that 'Either of these eventualities would mean no second profitable and bestselling Borley book and would indeed be literally "The End of Borley Rectory".'  Envelope No. 32 in Price's files, entitled 'Longmans' letters re Book' contains Price's correspondence with his publishers.  This correspondence speaks of war-time shortages and difficulties.  Longmans, in company with all other English publishers, were desperately short of paper and were unable to get books bound - they had over a million books out of binding and didn't know which way to turn to keep even a minimum of their books on the market.  MHH had gone out of print before the demand for it had been satisfied.  Some indication of the demand can be inferred from the high prices that were being offered for second hand copies which were being advertised for in the Personal columns of The Times.  There are two letters from Longmans to Price dated respectively 2nd and 9th October, 1942 (a year before the excavations) advising him to write a new book on Borley - a continuation of MHH rather than a new edition of it, to be written on the presumption that the original book would not be reprinted.  At this time Price still favoured a new edition of MHH, and this continued to be his view until the results of the excavations turned the scale in favour of adopting the course his publishers had suggested.  But at no time was there ever any doubt but that there would eventually be another Borley book in print: it was only the form of the book that was in doubt.


The reference to there being 'no second profitable and bestselling Borley book' is further misinformed in that the implication that the first Borley book was profitable and best-selling is false.  This can best be shewn by quoting a few extracts from a letter from Price to his publishers dated 8th January, 1945 (which is also in Envelope No. 32 in Price's files) in which he complains how badly his first Borley book had done.  Price wrote:

I was very disappointed ... that so few copies were printed, and that it went out of print so rapidly.  I have been engaged on the Borley case for nearly 16 years.  I have been responsible for all the expenses of the many investigations etc., and in addition to all the time and labour involved, I have spent several hundred pounds on the case.

I do not expect to make money out of psychical research, or out of my books.  But I did expect to recover some of the Borley expenses out of the Borley book.  My accountant has the figures but I believe that, to date, I have received less than £200 from the sales of The Most Haunted House in England.... And there was a big potential market in America; yet only a few copies were sold there.

... Neither you nor I realised ... the interest it would arouse.  It seems a pity that a book on the most important case I have ever handled, and the most important case in the annals of psychical research, should have re-imbursed me so inadequately for all the time and money I have spent on this investigation.

A serious omission in the authors' case is their failure to suggest how, and by whom, the bone fragments might have been 'planted'.  It could not have been done by Price himself as he had suffered from angina pectoris since September 1928; and in his later years even the exertion of walking was painful.  The Phythian-Adams analysis was received in January, 1941.  Almost at once, Price wrote to the owner of the Rectory, Capt. W. H. Gregson, late Royal Engineers, and asked for permission to dig in the cellars.  This was granted in February, 1941.  About the same time Price also informed the Rector, then the Rev. A. C. Henning, of his intention to dig, and in March, 1941, Mr Henning wrote to Price saying:

People wonder if the place still belongs to Captain Gregson ... I do not know what the real position is but thought I had better just send you a line about it in case you should find that Captain Gregson has not the legal authority to give you a permit for your investigations.

For this, and other reasons beyond Price's control, the excavations were not begun until August, 1943.  If the bone fragments had been 'planted' this would have had to be done between the time it was first decided to dig, and the time the digging was actually


carried out - i.e. between January 1941 and August 1943.  But by whom?

The Rev. A. C. Henning was present at the excavations in 1943 and assisted with the digging.  He did not notice anything suspicious.  Mr S. H. Glanville and his son came a few days later (though HBR does not mention this).  They also had a day's digging, and Glanville drew the plans of the cellar which are reproduced in EBR, p. 234, shewing where the bones and other objects had been found.  He, too, did not notice anything suspicious.  Unfortunately, both Henning and Glanville had died before HBR was published.  They could not therefore record their own views concerning the allegations.

That Henning would have replied strongly is clear from passages in the correspondence between his widow and Mrs C. C. Baines, which extended from 1957 to the time of Mrs Henning's own death in 1964.  This correspondence contains many references to Borley, and to HBR.  I am greatly indebted to Mrs Baines for allowing me to see it and to quote extracts.  Concerning the excavations, Mrs Henning wrote on 3/2/1957:

I don't think it is likely that Mr Price planted the skull and other bones.  He had a weak heart and could not dig.  Gt. difficulty to get anyone in war time.  Eventually, after much effort we persuaded old Jackson to dig.  (S.P.R. view Mr Glanville's not being there as calculated treachery.  I had only two spare rooms then - Bull at L.M. full of officers and wives).  I don't think villagers would have lent themselves to such fraud, it would probably have leaked out.  I don't think a stranger could have negotiated that bewilderment of ruin.  An intruder would probably have been discovered.

Borley is a very small place - only 150 inhabitants - and the Rectory is within a stone's throw of the church.

The authors invite the reader to connect some electrical equipment found in the cellars with some mysterious activity there. T hey write, (HBR, p. 161):

In a letter from the Rev. A. C. Henning to Price dated 2 January 1945, he said that he had asked Mr Woods, who was apparently the contractor who had bought the rectory ruins for demolition, if he had seen anything strange.  Woods had told Mr Henning that he had been 'mystified by some wires and electric switches he found in the cellar'.  Since the rectory had no electric light, this suggests that a battery lighting set had been installed in the cellar since 1938 at earliest, for Mr Glanville told us that nothing of the sort was in the cellars during his visits and continued scrutiny of the rectory.  Those who wish are at liberty to connect the electrical installation with some mysterious activity in the cellar.

In making this innuendo, the authors have overlooked the fact


that S. H. Glanville visited the Rectory after, as well as before Price's excavations had been carried out.  As soon as accomodation could be arranged for them, S. H. Glanville and his son did a day's digging at the Rectory, and drew up plans of the cellars.  Had there been any electrical installations at that time they must have seen them.  If, therefore, as S. H. GlanvilIe later informed the authors, nothing of the sort was in the cellars during the period of his scrutiny, it follows that the wires and switches found by the demolition men must have been installed after Glanville's last visit which was itself subsequent to Price's excavations.  The electric lighting could not, therefore, have been relevant in any way to what was found during these excavations.  A possible explanation of the lighting is not hard to find.  Lighting would have added to the convenience, and perhaps even have been necessary for the safety of visitors who came to look over the Rectory, some of whom are known to have paid substantial sums for the privilege of satisfying their curiosity.  The owner of the Rectory at this time, Capt. Gregson, seems to have been a very practical man.  He was formerly in the Royal Engineers, and had latterly been in business as an 'Estate Management Consultant in Rural Development'.  The provision of facilities for visitors would have been well in character with what is known of him.

Glanville could hardly have been suspicious about not being invited to be present when the digging was begun.  It was war time, and the circumstances were such that there was obviously nothing to be suspicious about.  The following extracts from letters written by the Rev. A. C. Henning to Price before the excavations are self-explanatory, and will illustrate some of the difficulties that had to be contended with.

Henning to Price, 5/11/1942 (HPL)

I was very interested to have your letter.  We are so glad you are going to give us another Borley book after the war.  I fear that getting 2 or even 1 man for the cellar digging would be very difficult.  I can't get one man in Borley to cut the churchyard.  The men work so late and what little time they have goes to the Home Guard.  Even semi-retired men are difficult to get....

Henning to Price, 22/7/1943 (HPL)

The Manager of the Bull (Melford) sees no chance of bookings falling through.  Had we been able to book you two rooms she could not supply meals as she is so short of food.  She also says she is not allowed to let double rooms for more than two nights as single rooms.  The Black Lion has been taken over by the military leaving no rooms except for guests already there.  I have just comeback from Sudbury.  The 4 Swans is booked right up to the middle of September.  However, I have been to Gainsborough House and they could give you two single rooms on the days you desire ... I doubt very much if we can get you the labour but I will do what I can.  Would not Jackson (our gardener) and myself do if all else fails?

Henning to Price, 27/7/1943

Thank you for your letter received this morning. I have been talking things over with Mrs Henning. We think that far the simplest solution would be for you both [i.e. Price and his former secretary Miss Beenham now Mrs English, who had agreed to come as notetaker] to stay here with us. You would be near Borley and could have Young's taxi from Melford each morning. There is no one in Borley who could arrange anything.... The Bull at Melford cannot supply meals to non-residents. If this arrangement suits you both you will be very welcome.... If I may suggest it you will probably do well to come on Aug. 16th and get the advantage of the lighter days....

P.S. I can probably get the bricklayers' sieve from Sudbury when I hear definitely from you about dates.

So the charge of planting the bone fragments is not supported by anything more substantial than a series of surmises, some of which are demonstrably false.


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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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