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 7     The Alleged Duplicity of Harry Price Concerning the Foyster Phenomena

On pp. 76-7 of HBR the authors quote letters from Price's files, and extracts from his published writings, showing that up to c. 1938 he had believed that the Foyster 'phenomena' he had witnessed on the occasion of his visit to the Rectory in 1931 had been fraudulent.  Yet in 1940, in MHH, he unhesitatingly wrote about other phenomena of the Foyster period as if he thought they were genuine.  Price is thus accused of duplicity.  On the evidence presented in HBR the case seems clear cut and convincing.  But only a fraction of the evidence is presented in HBR.  The situation is complicated, as we shall see, but when all the relevant factors are assembled it will be found: (1) that there are no grounds for thinking that Price's actions were dishonest; (2) that every step he took followed logically from what had gone before; and (3) that the opinions expressed in his various writings between 1931 and 1940 invariably reflected truly the views he held and was justified in holding at the time they were expressed.

The development of Price's beliefs concerning Mrs Foyster can be divided into stages and illustrated by quotations from his contemporary writing.  Some of the following quotations have been cited by the authors of HBR.  Others have not!

Stage 1 - Disbelief, 1931

There can be no doubt whatever about Price's adverse opinion of Mrs Foyster in 1931.  It is expressed unequivocally in the letter to D. F. Fraser-Harris which the authors quote on p. 76 of HBR.  Price wrote:

Well, we went to Borley as arranged on Tuesday last, and have had two nights on the premises.  It is the most amazing case, but amazing only in so far that we are convinced that the many phenomena we saw were fraudulent because we took steps to control various persons and rooms, [and] the manifestations ceased.  We think that the rector's wife is responsible for the trouble, though it is possible that her actions may be the result of hysteria.  Of course we did not wire to you because although, psychologically, the case is of great value, psychically speaking there is nothing in it.


Stage 2 - Disbelief, coupled with a desire to have another look at Borley.

A few weeks later, Price seems to have become slightly less sure about his verdict on Mrs Foyster, and would have liked to make a further investigation.  In a letter to the Rev. G. E. Smith dated 8/1/32 (HPL Extract), Price wrote:

Yes, some curious things have been taking place at Borley during the last twelve months.  Two or three of us went down by car a few weeks ago and stayed two nights.  Bottles were thrown at us, ink mixed with wine, etc. etc.  I formed a conclusion as to who was doing these things but, of course we had no proof.  I should like to go down there again but the Foysters will not permit it.

Three years later, in a letter to the Hon. Everard Feilding dated 19/8/25, only part of which is quoted in HBR (p. 76), Price says:

Re my `Listener' story of `The Most Haunted House'.  This of course is Borley Rectory - but this is in confidence.  The present incumbent, a Mr Foyster, has seen far more amazing things than ever we did, and has kept a diary of the 'phenomena'. . . . But the last time I visited the place (with Mrs Goldney, etc.) when we saw the wine turn into ink etc., we were convinced that the Rector's wife (a young woman of about twenty-five) was just fooling us - for some reason best known to herself.  But we had an exciting evening, and eventually helped to carry Mrs Foyster up to bed! Of course, we told Foyster we thought that his wife was cheating, and that made him very cross.  I am afraid that I am not now in his good books.  But I certainly want to go down again, and am waiting for Mr Foyster to move out of the place.  Five years ago the place was literally alive with something. (Italics mine-R.J.H.)

The first of the above quotations is not cited at all in HBR; and the words printed in italics have been omitted from the second.  It will thus be seen that the authors have withheld from readers the information that Price would have liked to visit the Rectory again, but was not allowed to do so.  Against this background, the following remarks by the authors make very disturbing reading.  They appear on p. 77 of HBR - only a page further on than the last quotation cited above.  The authors write (HBR, pp. 77-8):

Since actions, or in this case the lack of them, are popularly supposed to speak louder than words, perhaps the most convincing evidence of all on the point is Price's almost complete lack of interest in Borley during the Foyster period.  As we have seen in the chapter dealing with the incumbency of the Rev. G. Eric Smith, Price apparently soon became indifferent to what was happening at the rectory.  It was not until 29 September 1931, when the Misses Bull called to see him at his office in London to ask him to visit Borley again, that his connection with the


place was briefly resumed, and then only by a single visit.... Price did not visit Boriey again until 19 March 1937, i.e. an interval of five and a half years.  This seems a significant comment upon his opinion of the Foyster 'phenomena' and a curious sidelight on his later assertion that his first Borley book represented ten years' continuous investigation of the case.

There is plenty of evidence, over and above that which has actually been quoted, to shew that Price continued to be interested in Borley throughout the period of the Foyster incumbency.

Stage 3-Toying with the possibility of genuineness, but not toying very hard: disbelief still predominant; 1937-8.

Price's tenancy of the Rectory commenced in May 1937.  Information that came to him under the following headings about this time may have made him slightly more disposed to believe in Mrs Foyster: (a) private information about her which made it seem more likely to him that she may have been a genuine poltergeist focus; (b) the 'squiggles' and other phenomena reported by his observers, in the paranormality of which he seems certainly to have believed; (c) the rapprochement with the Rev. L. A. Foyster, brought about by Price's chief observer at Borley, Mr S. H. Glanville; and (d) the 'Summary of Experiences' which he received from Mr Foyster, 11/2/38.

Price's views at this time may be gathered from the following extracts from his correspondence with Mr C. Gordon Glover of the B.B.C.

Glover to Price, 26/2/38 (HPL)

I was interested in the Rev. Foyster's diary, but I would be more interested still to know something about Marianne Foyster and her state of mind at the time these phenomena occurred.  Most of them appear to have come to his notice by report from her - i.e. monstrosities in particular - and I do not think it impossible that a woman of highly-strung and nervous character could not only imagine things happening but even go so far as to reproduce them herself.  I would be interested to have your comments on this point.

Price to Glover, 28/2/38 (HPL)

... you appear to know more about Mrs Foyster than I do; it is news to me that she is a woman of highly strung and nervous character.  I have seen her on two occasions, and she struck me as being particularly self-possessed and normal.  But if for any reason, she wanted to get her husband out of the place, it is possible that she might have 'helped out' the phenomena.  But, I reiterate, I was in contact with the house years before the Foysters came to England, and their testimony is not necessary to support the case.


Price to Glover, 11/3/38 (Quoted HBR, p. 76)

Re Mrs Foyster, if you will consult my Confessions of a Ghost Hunter, first edition, page 35 you will see what I think of Mrs Foyster. I do not mention her by name, but anyone knowing the place would at once realise the person to whom I was referring.  In the second and other editions of my book I deleted the last sentence in case the Foysters took objection to it.  But as I mentioned in my last letter, the Foysters play a very small part - so far as we are concerned - in the Borley story.

The above correspondence seems rather to suggest that for a time in 1938, Price had been toying with the possibility that some of the Foyster phenomena might be genuine, but that when Gordon Glover voiced difficulties, he did not press the matter and reverted to the Smith phenomena.  What was obviously lacking from the Foyster evidence as it then stood was the first-hand testimony of some witness of standing other than Mr Foyster who would be able to say on oath, 'I was there: I saw some of these things happen myself'.

Stage 4 - Passage to belief, 1939

In 1938 Price interviewed Lady Whitehouse, and in April 1939 Price asked Dom Richard Whitehouse for his story.  In a letter to Whitehouse dated 27/4/39 (HPL) he wrote:

... my mind has changed considerably since the last time I was at the Rectory (I mean when the Foysters were in residence), in view of what my observers and I have seen there since.  I am now quite friendly with the Foysters, and he has kindly given me permission to reproduce what portions of his diary I think fit.

The Whitehouse testimony was received by Price in August, 1939.  It seems to have done more than anything else to set the seal on Price's change of view concerning Mrs Foyster.  And clearly this testimony could inspire an honest belief in the Foyster phenomena, though this point is obscured in HBR. (1)

Stage 5 - Sustained partial belief, 1939-48

After receiving the Whitehouse testimony, Price never saw cause to change his views.  He never seems to have believed that all the Foyster phenomena were genuine (Cf. MHH, p. 72).  But it is almost undeniable that he believed in some of them.

Price's last known expression of views concerning Mrs Foyster was made in a letter to a correspondent, Mr H. de B. Saunders, dated 18/3/48, which was only a few days before Price's death.  Discussing the wall writings, Price remarked (HPL) :

1 See Appendix C.


As a matter of fact we have already decided that Mrs Foyster MAY have been the instrument through which the scripts appeared on the walls - I mean as a secondary personality.  If so, this would NOT invalidate the veridical content of the messages.

It would be beyond the scope of the present paper to go into the question of whether some of the Foyster phenomena might have been paranormal.  This is a complicated question, and a very difficult one, for the seemingly more obvious answers might not be the true ones.

The present issue is not Mrs Foyster's good faith, but Price's good faith.  In that regard it can fairly be claimed that a comparison between Price's expressed views and the material available to him at the time the views were expressed does not give any ground for thinking that his partial change of view concerning Mrs Foyster was other than completely honest.  For present purposes that is enough.


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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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