Harry Price at Borley
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):
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:
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):
The authors quote as follows from this letter on HBR, p. 7I. They say:
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:
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 ofMHH. 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 1937. Concerning the rustling noise he wrote (August 1949, S.P.R. files):
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!! . . .
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:
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):
when on the top of the stove.
(2) H.P. did NOT have any cellophane (openly) in the rest room. Further, we couldnot 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 flueabove 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 thathe was expecting the 'Noise'.
* * *
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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