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 6     The Suspicions of Henry Douglas-Home

In the final chapter of the S.P.R. Report, the authors discuss the probability of positive trickery on Price's part, and conclude (HBR, p. 167):

However, it may be thought that the curious matter of the medals (pp. 6I-4), the written testimony of Lord Charles Hope, Major the Hon. H. Douglas-Home and Mr Charles Sutton (pp. 33; 71; 132-3; 31) and the odd circumstances surrounding the excavation of the bone fragments (pp. 154-6I), combine to produce a disquieting picture.

With the exception of the testimony of Major Henry Douglas-Home, all the matters mentioned above have now been examined critically in these pages, and it has been shewn that none of the allegations of positive trickery arising from them can fairly be sustained.  Of the main allegations, therefore, only those of Major Henry Douglas-Home are now outstanding. The authors claim that:

Major Douglas-Home was one of several who suspected Price of active participation in fraudulent practices at the rectory, and he finally came to the conclusion that the facts supported his suspicions and in a letter in our possession called Price by a number of highly derogatory names. (HBR, p. 132).

Let us see how well Major Douglas-Home's suspicions are supported by his own observations.  He makes two main charges.  One concerns the wall writing: the other the alleged production of ghostly noises by manipulating cellophane paper.  Concerning the former the authors write (HBR, p.132):

. . . . while the house was unoccupied and was being visited by the official observers, fresh pencil markings were continually being reported.  For example, in July 1937 Price, accompanied by Mr S. J. de Lotbinière of the British Broadcasting Corporation and Major Douglas-Home, visited the rectory.  The report in MHH (pp. 216 ff.) is quite definite and it is of some interest to compare this narrative by Mr de Lotbinière and the unpublished comments on the same events by Major Douglas-Home in a letter to Lord Charles Hope written in August 1949.


The authors quote as follows from this letter on HBR, p. 7I. They say:

... Major Douglas-Home in a letter to Lord Charles Hope, August 1949, reports that pencil marks appeared on the walls (in the dark except for torches) during three tours in the rectory in 1937 when Price was in the rear.  Major Douglas-Home's suspicions being aroused, 'on all our other tours I manoeuvred myself to the rear directly we entered a room.  He [Price] was, therefore, in the beam of my torch.  We never found another mark'.

The letter from which the above extract is taken was written some twelve years after the events described had occurred.  It is indeed of some interest to compare it with the contemporary account of Mr de Lotbinière of the B.B.C. which is an almost minute by minute account of what happened, and is published by Price in full on pp. 2I6-7 of MHH.  According to de Lotbinière's account, five tours of the house were made during the night in question.  The times are given respectively as 8.15 p.m., 9.15p.m., 11.00p.m. 1.10a.m., and 5.15a.m.  In the first four of these tours, Mr de Lotbinière reports that new wall markings had appeared. Only in respect of the last tour does he say 'Nothing to report'.  We thus see that Douglas-Home's reference to 'all our other tours' (which he underlines), and his further sweeping statement that we 'never' found another mark, refer to just one tour.  But even these lapses pale into insignificance when we come to realize that the date of this visit was July 21st, and the time of the tour in question was 5.I5 a.m., which would be daylight!  Major Douglas-Home's further statement that Price was 'in the beam of my torch' is perhaps explained by the fact that he is writing twelve years after the event in question occurred.  But it is not re-assuring.

The authors, however, appear to have been impressed with this twelve year old testimony.  Not content with having quoted it once on p.71 of their report, they repeat it again on p. 132 in their own words which are scarcely any less sweeping than those used by Douglas-Home.

Whatever the explanation of the wall-markings at Borley may be, the fact is that very few of them can even possibly be attributed to knavery on the part of Harry Price.  Most of them appeared at times when Price himself was nowhere near the Rectory.

I turn now to the second of Major Douglas-Home's allegations - that of faking ghostly noises by manipulating cellophane paper.  This allegation is presented by the authors on pp. 132-3 of HBR in the following words:

With regard to the rustling noise heard by them in the Blue Room


(which Price located as coming from the Base Room and which Mr de Lotbinière thought was due to mice), the idea occurred to Major Douglas-Home that it was very similar to that caused by the unrolling and crinkling of cellophane paper, since when he was unwrapping a packet of cigarettes which was encased in cellophane the same noise occurred although on a much reduced scale.  Indeed, so convinced was he that this was the explanation that, on the way home in the car, he managed to peep into Price's suitcase and there was a long roll of cellophane paper with a jagged edge. (1)

1 From Major Douglas-Home's letter it is not very clear to which rustling sound he was referring, since in his account he refers to the noise as that of 'Miss Bull's gown ascending the stairs', a phenomenon not apparently noted by Mr de Lotbinière unless it is the same as that he attributed to mice.  In any event, according to Major Douglas-Home the noise must have been made by Price with his cellophane paper when they were all together in the dark.  But if this were so it is not easy to see how they located the noise in the Base Room when they were seated above in the Blue Room.

In three respects this allegation is unsatisfactory.  First, there is nothing suspicious in the presence of a roll of cellophane paper in Price's suitcase.  It would have been needed for the purpose of wrapping separately the numerous small items which comprised the 'ghost-hunter's kit' described by Price on pp. 5-6 of MHH.  Second, we may think that if Price had intended to do conjuring tricks with cellophane paper, he would not have brought the whole roll.  Cellophane paper is extremely difficult stuff to handle silently and there would have been little privacy at the Rectory.  He would surely have torn off what he needed before leaving home, and brought it to the Rectory, suitably folded in his pocket.  Third, the authors do not present Major Douglas-Home's allegation in his own words.  The summary they present conceals certain difficulties which the authors have themselves noticed, and corresponded with him about.

Major Douglas-Home made his allegations in 1949 in response to a request by Lord Charles Hope for a signed statement concerning his experiences at Borley in 1937Concerning the rustling noise he wrote (August 1949, S.P.R. files):

When we were hearing this amazing 'swish' or crackle of Miss Bull's gown ascending the stairs I was sitting pressed close to Harry on a wooden bench and while my heart was fluttering like a bird - I swear that Harry - (who normally jumped a yard at anything unexpected) never altered an iota in breathing.

At the time I detected some familiar aspect in the sound and shortly afterwards in the Base Room I unwrapped a packet of Gold Flake cigarettes, rolled up the cellophane wrapping and threw it idly on top of the burning stove.  Suddenly, in miniature, it made precisely the same sound as had Miss Bull's dress!! . . .


We had each brought a small suitcase with shaving gear, rubber shoes etc.  On the way back to London at daybreak - Harry sat in front with the B.B.C. chap and fell asleep.  Furtively I opened his case which was beside me on the back seat.  Inside was a long roll of cellophane paper with a jagged edge.  I tore off a small bit and bought a similar roll at Selfridges.

I could not reproduce the sound to anything like the volume of 'Miss Bull's dress' - but there is no doubt in my mind that it was produced by Harry by means of cellophane paper.

Four years after receiving this letter it occurred to the authors that the above statement, as it stood, was not entirely convincing.  Accordingly, in 1953, they wrote again to Major Douglas-Home, and asked:

... do you mean that the cellophane made the right sort of noise as you were unwrapping the packet; or only after it had been thrown on the heated stove?  In other words, if H.P. had produced the sound with his own cellophane, do we have to postulate that he put it on the stove in the Base Room and then went upstairs and that it produced the crackle after a lapse of time? or do you mean that the HEAT was not essential, and that he might have had the cellophane say in his pocket and produced the same sound in the circumstances of the occasion?

We should be very glad if you can tell us what is in your mind on this, for, if you mean the cellophane would only produce that sound if heated, as when you threw it on the stove, it is difficult to see how H.P. could have produced the sound, for I take it that when you and H.P. were 'sitting pressed close, . . . on a wooden bench' that bench was upstairs in the Blue Room? or if in the Base Room, how could he have got the cellophane on to the fire without your noticing it and locating it?

These are formidable objections and unless they can be answered convincingly and completely Major Douglas-Home's allegations cannot be taken very seriously.  Major Douglas-Home replied as follows, on 27th March, 1953 (S.P.R. files):

(1) I have no idea how the sound was produced but it was the same noise (magnified 100%) as that made by my cigarette cellophane when on the top of the stove.

(2) H.P. did NOT have any cellophane (openly) in the rest room.  Further, we could not have heard even a loud 'swish' coming from the rest room to the Blue Room.

(3) I imagined then, (and still do) that he had in some way concealed a large strip of cellophane in the flue above the stove which was giving out a considerable heat.  But altho' that is only guesswork I am convinced in my mind that cellophane - and cellophane only - made the 'Noise'.

(4) I do remember that he hurried me into the Blue Room - and that I was certain that he was expecting the 'Noise'.


(5) The 'Noise' came definitely from outside the Blue Room and I am certain that he had nothing in his pocket or in the room to create it.

(6) My impression at the time was that the 'noise' sounded to be coming up the stairs and then it faded and became quickly silent.  There was no smell of burning, nor any sign of burnt paper or ash anywhere for I looked carefully later on when I had become convinced as to the origin of the 'noise'...

Summary. I fear my explanations for the 'noise' are nil but doubtless a large crumpled sheet of cellophane could and did produce it somehow.  I should say that the heat played a definite role somehow, either by causing it to unravel itself noisily, or by burning, but I must confess I have no idea how it was done.

*      *      *     

We have now seen Major Douglas-Home's case in its entirety, and we have seen it in his own words.  We may think that it is not quite as convincing as it seems in HBR.

Major Douglas-Home has not shewn that cellophane could have been manipulated by Price at the time the sound was heard.  Moreover, when pressed, he has been honest enough to admit that his explanations for the noises are 'nil', and that he had 'no idea how it was done'.  There is, therefore, no case to go to a jury.


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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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