Harry Price at Borley
Considerations of space will not allow all of the allegations made in HBR to be dealt with in detail. Some of them are very trivial, but even trivial allegations may require a great deal of space to refute them. The allegations dealt with in this chapter have been chosen because they are comparatively clear-cut and can be answered briefly. It is not claimed that they are a typical cross-section.
(i) PRICE'S ALLEGED EXAGGERATION
Almost at the beginning of HBR where the effect of unanswered allegations on the attitude of readers is likely to be greatest, the authors write as follows (HBR, p.19):
Perhaps the most striking example of exaggeration, however, is demonstrated by an incident where we have been able to compare Price's published account with his own contemporary notes. On p. 48 of MHH Price says:
The authors go on to say:
1929. The appropriate extract from which the above account was presumably taken reads as follows:
Unfortunately, the authors have not noticed that there were two sets of notes by Miss Kaye in Price's files. Miss Kaye did notp.134
write shorthand. Her value to Price seems to have been that she was a woman of considerable ability, and a linguist. One set of Miss Kaye's notes consists of the rough and much abbreviated pencil jottings evidently made on the spot whilst the witnesses were talking; and the other consists of the typewritten notes presumably prepared when she got back to the office. The latter were approved by Price who added a note in his own handwriting which reads 'The Owner's Account - Notes made by Miss Kaye'. This, rather than the rough pencil memorandum, is no doubt the source of Price's account in MHH. The relevant passage in this account reads:
Little exaggeration will be found when this passage is compared with the account published by Price on pp. 48-9 of MHH.
The authors have other complaints to make about Price's reporting. On the same page of HBR (p. 19) they write:
on p. 45 of MHH in which the description of the alleged apparition of the 'nun' on the rectory lawn includes the following sentence: 'She had an expression of intense grief on her face'. On 11 August 1950 Mr W. H. Salter, Hon. Secretary of the Society for Psychical Research, accompanied by KMG and the Rev. S. Austin, had tea with Miss Ethel Bull at Sudbury, and recorded in his notes Miss Bull's description of the apparition:
'She could only see a woman bent over in a flowing black robe such as nuns wear. She could not see the face, nor whether she wore anything white, nor whether she carried a rosary or wore a crucifix or medal. In November1900, when she saw the nun again, the figure was bowed right over and no face visible.'
If we turn to MHH p.45 we shall see that it was Miss Elsie Bull - not Miss Ethel Bull - who is there reported as having seen the nun's face. This agrees with the contemporary notes. According to these the nun was first seen on the lawn from a distance by the Misses Ethel, Freda, and Mabel Bull, who were frightened. An elder sister, Miss Elsie Bull was called. It was she who had walked towards the apparition, which stopped, and turned its face towards her. The authors do not appear to have interviewed this sister. The authors also complain that Price over-stated Miss Ethel Bull's narrative by manufacturing several alleged occurrences from one single experience. They write (HBR, pp. 18-19).
On p. 46 of MHH it is stated, for example:
Again, on pp. 46 and 47 it is said:
The authors have not quoted Miss Bull's letter at sufficient length to enable us to know precisely what her complaints are. It may, however, be remarked that in 1953, when Miss Bull wrote to Mr Hall, she was approaching ninety years of age, (1) so that it would not be remarkable if, by this time, her memory had begun to fade. Fortunately, it is not necessary to cite Miss Bull's memory in 1953 for the purpose of checking the accuracy of Price's reporting. Fifteen years earlier in 1938, Miss Bull and one of her sisters were interviewed by S. H. Glanville who made a record of the statements they made then in his 'Locked Book' which is now in the possession of one of the authors. The appropriate extract is as follows:
They both stoutly maintain that the Rectory has always been haunted by the Nun and by the other manifestations. They both say that, with their sister, they all clearly saw the Nun walking slowly across the garden on a sunny July afternoon. Her head was bowed and her hands clasped together in front of her, hanging at full length.... Miss Ethel Bull says that, for years she frequently heard a knock on her bedroom door. Investigation never disclosed any cause for this. Further, she says that, on a great many occasions, she was awakened by the presence of a figure of a man in a tall hat standing by her bed.
There would thus seem to be little doubt that, in earlier years, Miss Ethel Bull and her sister had been wont to claim a number of paranormal experiences at Borley, and not just the one experience which is all, say the authors, that Miss Ethel Bull was able to remember in 1953. Price last interviewed the Misses Bull on
29th March, 1939. This was either during or at about the time he was writing MHH. His reporting of the Misses Bull's experiences in MHH is thus a contemporary, or nearly contemporary, account of what the Misses Bull told him in 1939, supplemented by notes made at previous interviews. Price specifies his various sources of information on p. 44 of MHH.
We may think that the agreement between Glanville's account of the Misses Bull's experiences as recorded in the Locked Book, and Price's account of their experiences as published in MHH, is too close to leave room for serious charges of exaggeration against either of these writers. Both are reporting what was told to them for what it is worth or what it might prove to be worth. Of their respective reports, it is Glanville's which, if anything, is slightly more sensational.
It is also worth mentioning that the stories of a coach, a headless coachman, and a 'nun' or woman in black do not rely on Price's or Miss Kaye's reporting, or on the Daily Mirror, or even on the people Price had interviewed. There is a note in the S.P.R. files of an interview with a Mrs C. - the wife of a Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford who had been introduced to the S.P.R. by a former President. Mrs C. stated that she had formerly lived in the neighbourhood, and had frequently stayed at Borley for long periods. She stated that the Rev. Harry Bull, who died in 1927, 'used often to see his mother walking about the garden, and also a headless coachman'. (S.P.R. files. Notes of an interview with Mrs C. - 8th Dec. 1931.)
On p. 84 of HBR, the authors complain that Price confused and misrepresented Mr Foyster's writings in his books. In particular, they complain that the title of Chapter XIII of MHH 'LEAVES FROM THE FOYSTER DIARY' is 'deliberately misleading' because, they say, the writing quoted in that chapter is not a diary in the true sense of the term, but a tabulated summary of experiences between 1930 and 1933 which had been compiled by Mr Foyster at Price's request in 1938.
Let us take stock of Mr Foyster's writings. They are as follows:
Writing A The original records covering the whole period of the Foyster incumbency. Claimed by Mr Foyster to have been written as a diary between February and July 1931. These writings are not in HPL, but there are references from which their sometime existence can be inferred.
Writing B Enlargement of Writing A for the period up to July
1931. Written in narrative form intended for circulation among members of Mr Foyster's family. In three parts, viz : (1) 'Memorandum of our experiences in connection with the Borley "Ghost"; (2) '"Borley Ghost"-2nd instalment'; and (3) '"Borley Ghost" -3rd instalment.' Mr Foyster has referred to these writings comprehensively as 'Diary of Occurrences'. Original typescript in HPL, copy in S.P.R. files.
Writing C An account using pseudonyms, entitled 'Fifteen Months in a Haunted House' written with a view to publication. In a letter to Price dated 10/10/40 (HPL) Mr Foyster says that in this account he has very thoroughly camouflaged the place and the people mentioned even to the extent of changing the sex of some of the latter, and he has invented imaginary conversations, but he insists that the psychic phenomena reported in this writing are 'all exactly as they happened to the best of my knowledge and belief, and that most of them were recorded very soon after their occurrence - not seen through a distant haze of memory'. Original typescript acquired by Price for HPL at some date subsequent to the publication of EBR.
Writing D Tabulated summary of experiences compiled by Mr Foyster at Price's request in 1938 for inclusion in MHH. Appears to have been abstracted from Writing A (Ms. in HPL).
Price presented Writing D in a chapter of MHH entitled 'LEAVES FROM THE FOYSTER DIARY'. He introduced it in the following words (MHH, p. 74-5) :
These introductory remarks are not misleading unless it can be shewn that the extracts referred to were not quoted from the record here described as Writing A as Price claims. In making their allegations, the authors have not addressed themselves to this question. Indeed, they appear to have ignored the existence of Writing A entirely.
An additional reason for thinking that Price's words are not misleading, and certainly not 'deliberately misleading', may be
inferred from the absence of correction by Mr Foyster when a copy of MHH was sent to him shortly after publication. In a letter to Price (26/9/40, HPL)thanking him for the book, Mr Foyster remarked that he had found it interesting, and that it contained several pieces of information of which he had not been aware, but otherwise made no comment.
Yet another reason (if one is needed) for rejecting the authors' allegations, comes from the fact that we cannot be certain that all the correspondence between Price and Foyster prior to the publication ofMHH has been preserved.
(iii)'THE STRANGE STORY OF MR G. P. J. L'ESTRANGE'
As the authors have now retracted some of the remarks they made on pp.106-7 of HBR it is doubtful whether anything of their original allegation against Price remains to be answered. See Journal S.P.R. Dec. 1959, p.194.
The original charge against Price was that he edited Mr L'Estrange's testimony, cutting out many errors but leaving in an account of Foyster seeing a pencil propelled as if by an unseen hand, which Foyster nowhere confirms. The authors now admit that the corrections made by Price were limited to one or two matters relating to the history and construction of the Rectory. The more important items in Mr L'Estrange's testimony were presented as he wrote them. Moreover, the authors now concede that there appears to be no reason to doubt that Mr L'Estrange wrote a straightforward, if (in their opinion) somewhat uncritical, account of his experiences, and they do not necessarily accept his interpretation of what he witnessed.
On p. 126 of HBRthe authors discuss the report of Mr C. Gordon Glover, who, together with his wife and a Mr and Mrs Lloyd Williams, visited the Rectory during February 1938. They quote Mr Glover as saying:
(MHH, p. 219). In his letter of 26 February 1938 enclosing the report to Price, Mr Glover made it clear that he attached no importance to these incidents.
The last sentence is not quite accurate. Whilst it is true that
Mr Glover, rightly or wrongly, did not attach much importance to Mrs Williams's claim to have heard thefootsteps, he expressly declined to make any comment on her claim to have seen the 'nun'. After describing some tests which they made with a view to discovering what could normally be seen from the summer house in the state of the light as it was at the time, he concluded:
Mr Glover's use of the word 'since' makes nonsense of the authors' contention(HBR, p. 127) that if it hadn't been for suggestions contained in the Blue Book, 'Mrs Lloyd Williams would have seen nothing'.
The graffiti were of two kinds. During the Foyster incumbency they took the form of words and messages. At other times, they took the form of meaningless pencil marks, or 'squiggles' as they came to be called. There are reasons for thinking that the squiggles may be phenomena of a different kind from the actual writings. They will therefore be considered separately.
Cumulatively, the evidence for the paranormal appearance of these squiggles is too strong to be set entirely on one side, though there are respects in which the evidence may be criticised. Although new markings were ringed round and dated as soon as they were noticed, it was not easy to get perfect evidence of new markings owing to the possibility of an old marking not having been ringed round. The evidence has been further complicated by a red herring in the form of a piece of faulty reporting by Price on p.121 ofMHH which the authors have pounced upon for the purpose of attacking Price without noticing, apparently, that even when Price's slip is corrected, the incident in question is still one of the strongest pieces of evidence in favour of paranormality in the whole of the Borley investigation.
Let us ignore Price's slip for the moment, and start afresh from the original sources.
The following are the relevant extracts from the signed report of a day's observation in the Rectory by S. H. Glanville and his brother-in-law, H. G. Harrison, on August 14th 1937. (H.P.L.)
Glanville was greatly impressed with the photographic evidence. In the letter to Price which accompanied the report he remarked that 'the "markings" done during our visit ... were well worth the whole trip'. In his Ms. intended for the Borley Symposium he described the precautions that were always taken, and added:
Price's first mention of the photographic evidence was made in a broadcast, subsequently reported in theListener, 10/1/1937, from which the following is extracted.
further markings had appeared by the side of those previously photographed, though every window and door in the house had been sealed.
Allowing for some simplification, this account is substantially accurate. Unfortunately, when Price came to writeMHH, which
would be about two years later, he stated, incorrectly, on p. 121 of MHH, that a second photograph had been taken, and the two photographs compared. Glanville was asked about this by the authors of HBR. In his reply, he says (13/ 6/52, S.P.R. files):
Whilst Price's error in reporting must not be glossed over, it is fair to point out that the taking of a second photograph could not have strengthened the case for paranormality. The three factors on which paranormality in this case depends are (1) the first photograph; (2) the joint testimony of two very reliable witnesses who assert that they compared the first photograph, not with another photograph, but with the wall itself, thus reducing the possibility of mal-observation virtually to nil; and (3) the fact that the photograph was taken and developed by the witnesses themselves. In spite of the error in Price's reporting, the conclusion he reaches on p. 121 of MHH would seem to be valid. He says, 'If this is not proof of paranormal activity, I do not know the meaning of the word'.
Without seeming to be guilty of a tu quoque type of rejoinder, it is unfortunately necessary to say that the authors' reporting of Glanville's visit on August 14th is no more reliable than that of Price himself. They say, HBR, p. 131, that 'It was during this same visit' that Glanville, and his brother-in-law investigated a disturbance of the cats' cemetery. As it might be thought that such an outside investigation on August 14th would have resulted in the Rectory being left unattended for a longer period than had been disclosed, it is necessary to say that the investigation of the cats' cemetery was not made until a fortnight later. (MHH, p. 199)
In addition to the matters mentioned above the authors have not told readers that amongst those who testified in favour of the paranormality of these squiggles was C. E. M. Joad who presented a carefully written report on a mark that had appeared during a period of his own observation (MHH, pp. 230-1). The only reference to Joad in HBR is the quotation of his words that it is
'incredible' that poltergeists should materialise lead pencils and fingers to use them. By omitting the context in which Joad's words were written the authors have made it seem that Joad had denied the paranormality of the squiggles whereas in fact the reverse was the case. Nor have the authors mentioned, or attempted to answer an argument in favour of the paranormality of the markings to which Price himself attached importance. Price concluded the chapter in MHH in which the wall markings had been described with the words: (MHH, p. 152):
This is an argument which the authors ofHBR should have answered (if an answer is possible) before concluding that the evidence probably points to normal agency.
(vi)MISS ROSEMARY WILLIAMS'S REPORT
On p. 147 of HBR,the authors allege, first, that Price paid for the evidence; and second, that he improperly edited it. They write:
MHH (pp. 176-8) and EBR (pp. 43-4), Price describes how Miss Rosemary M. Williams of Borley Lodge saw the apparition of a woman at the window of the Blue Room on the night of 26 March 1939, shortly after the fire. Frankly, we do not know whether this incident merits serious treatment or not. Price first heard of the episode from Mr A. C. Henning and wrote to Miss Williams on 3 April 1939. In a brief, undated but otherwise business-like reply Miss Williams said that she would tell her story for the sum of one guinea. Presumably this modest payment was made, for her account is on the Borley file and differs in some details from that given in MHH, p. 177. The comments made by Miss Williams which Price omitted in his book would in each case tend to diminish the possibility of the paranormality of the experience.
I. The Alleged Payment for Evidence
Although the copy of Price's reply to Miss Williams is now
missing from the files, (1) there is no justification for the authors' presumption that the sum asked for was paid. The authors have overlooked the letter Price wrote about the matter to the Rev. A. C. Henning on 21/4/39 (HPL):
purchased evidence re the manifestations at Borley would be quite useless for my book.
2. In the matter of editing.
It is a matter of opinion whether Miss Williams's report should have been edited or printed exactly as received; (2)but that is not apparently the authors' complaint. The complaint is that the words omitted from the report as it appeared in MHH have the effect of diminishing the possible paranormality of the experience.
Concerning this, the reader must judge for himself. The following is the original text of Miss Williams's report, the words printed in italics being those that were omitted in MHH.
for the purpose of, so we termed it, Ghost Hunting.
At about 10.30p.m. we all met at the rectory gates. It was a cold night. The moon was only in its first quarter, but shone sufficiently brightly to illuminate the ruined building.
We were[MHH interpolates 'most'] anxious to investigate inside the house, but Capt. Gregson asked us not to walk among the wreckage, as he would feel responsible, should some of the charred rafters fall upon one of us, and cause an injury. One member of the party was particularly anxious to venture inside, but we eventually persuaded her not to.
For about half an hour we wandered round the house in small groups. Someone had a camera and hoped to get a photo of the alleged 'nun'!
It was while I was standing on the path [MHH interpolates 'the Nun's walk'] that runs parallel with the large lawn, looking up at the house, that
1 Mr Peter Underwood, who was one of the first to handle Price's files after his death, informs me that a copy of Price's reply to Miss Williams was in the files when he handed them over to the S.P.R., where they remained for a time prior to being returned to HPL. - R.J.H.
2 In the general statement of policy which appears on pp. 117-18 of MHH Price claimed the right to shorten reports where considerations of space made this necessary. - R.J.H.
a figure of a small woman in the upstairs room (which you term the blue room). My first thought was 'M- has gone into the building after all'. I had the impression of someone in a light buff coloured coat, but as she [the figure in MHH] approached the window, I could see that it was not my friend, but a woman clothed in blue. She remained at the window for several seconds, and then turned towards the wall, and as it seemed walked through it.
I will draw a diagram of her movements. (1)
None of the others would believe me when I called out that I had seen her. Those near me admitted they were not looking up at the window at the time, except Mr Browne, who said he saw, for a flash, something resembling a figure of a woman disappearing from the window.
I was convinced I had seen her, while the others tried to prove that it was a trick of the moon on a piece of glass, or that someone actually was in the building. The former suggestion was disproved as all the window panes had been smashed, and in the latter case we found that the floor boards were burned so that no human person could have been at the window.
The most extraordinary part to me, was that the apparition should seem so natural and unfrightening. I had often visited Borley Rectory before, spending many hours watching and listening; but always I must admit, terrified and in the company of several others in case anything should happen!
The reader is now in a position to judge for himself whether the authors' complaint that the words omitted from the original report 'would in each case tend to diminish the possibility of the paranormality of the experience', is justified.
Two incidents, each involving the smashing of a glass ornament, are mentioned by Price inMHH. The first, which it will be convenient to call Incident No. I was recounted to Price by the Rev. G. E. Smith and Mrs Smith as having happened at the Rectory either some time prior to Price's investigation or at a time Price was not present. Price reports this in MHH p. 9 as follows:
IncidentNo. 2 is alleged to have occurred on the occasion of Price's first visit to the Rectory on 12th June, 1929. Also present were Miss Kaye, and Mr V. C. Wall of the Daily Mirror, who have both
1 The diagram was duly reproduced in MHH - R.J.H.
made written reports. Price's report, which appeared in MHH, p. 39, was as follows:
Price's report of Incident No.2 is substantially corroborated by Mr Wall who wrote as follows in the Daily Mirror (14/6/29):
The authors ofHBR try to discredit Incident No. 2 which does not fit in with their claim that nothing paranormal happened at Borley until Price arrived on the scene. They suggest that Price has manufactured two incidents out of one - the incident they are prepared to recognize being Incident No. 2 which they propose to accuse Price of having been responsible for himself. On p. 70 of HBR they write:
37). Price records this incident as having been reported to him on his first interview with the Smiths; Mr Glanville in his notes on his 1937 interview with them similarly reports the event as taking place before Price's arrival. As recorded, it appears inexplicable. But it will be noticed that precisely this episode is described by Price (see p. 39) as taking place a second time during his first day's investigation of the rectory. He erroneously alludes to a 'red glass candlestick' this second time, though Mr Wall who was with him
correctly names it a vase. Mrs Smith possessed no glass candlesticks. In reply to a request for further information, Mrs Smith states (November1952) that this event happened only when Price was there, and that if Mr Glanville reported otherwise 'the tale has somehow got twisted or misunderstood'.
It will be noticed that although the authors refer to Glanville's notes on his 1937 interview with the Smiths, which are in the Locked Book, they do not actually quote Glanville's words. Let us rectify this omission. Under the heading, 'Smiths' testimony as to their own experiences' Incident No. 2 is described in these notes as follows (Microfilm of Locked Book in HPL):
2-3 feet away, as though they had been 'shot' from the locks. Otherwise nothing was noticeably moved.
In the same notes, but under a different heading, Glanville also mentions Incident No.2. (1) He reports the Smiths as saying:
1929 when Mr Price was called in.... A glass candlestick also came hurtling down wall of house, smashing itself to pieces at feet of observers. Bells rang and keys fell from locks.
It will be seen that Price's reporting in MHH agrees with Glanville's notes. In both accounts two separate incidents are mentioned. One incident involves a vase, and is alleged to have occurred when nobody was in the house: the other incident involves a candlestick, and is alleged to have occurred in the presence of observers.
Whilst Price's account and Glanville's account agree with each other, it will be seen that there is a discrepancy between these accounts and Mr Wall's account of Incident No.2 which appeared in the Daily Mirror. Whereas Price and Glanville, and later Miss Kaye (see below), have alluded to the smashed object as a candlestick, Mr Wall calls it a vase. The authors regard this discrepancy as crucial, and seize upon it for the purpose of arguing that there had in fact been only one incident. Without quoting Glanville's words, they say that in reporting Incident No. 2 Price 'erroneously' described the smashed ornament as a candlestick, and Mr Wall 'correctly' alluded to it as a vase. There would have been no plausibility for such a claim if the authors had quoted the
1 Quoted from extracts from 'Locked Book' in S.P.R. files. The relevant page is missing from microfilm of Locked Book in HPL - R.J.H.
relevant passages in Glanville's notes, which agree with Price and not with Mr Wall. (1)
Nor would the authors have found any more support for their claim if they had consulted Miss Kaye. The following is quoted from an undated typescript by Miss Kaye which she gave to Mrs Henning who afterwards passed it on to Mr Peter Underwood, in whose possession it now is. Miss Kaye wrote:
The swinging blind was observed jointly by S. H. Glanville, his son, Captain H. G. Harrison (brother in law) and Dr H. F. Bellamy. (MHH, p.201) All were reliable observers. They reported that the edges of a blind which had been lowered earlier in the evening were waving regularly with 'a sort of palpitating action as though being blown' which they found hard to describe. The movement continued for about five minutes, and they unanimously concluded that there was no draught to account for it. The authors of HBR dismiss this incident remarking that blinds often move like that and adding that 'the little real attempt made to investigate the "phenomenon" on this occasion indicates the small scientific interest that those present took in the occurrence' (HBR, p. 136). Quite the contrary was the case. The authors have omitted to mention that before reaching their conclusions, the observers had in fact carried out an experiment by blowing tobacco smoke which
1 See also p. 98 n. above.
was not dispersed immediately as it would have been if there had been a draught.
* * *
Of the minor allegations it has not been possible to discuss at length, I do not think there is anything that touches upon Price's integrity either as a man or as an investigator; though in some cases it would be necessary to know what he was aiming to achieve before a similar verdict could be reached concerning his integrity as a writer.
Price's aims as a writer will be discussed in the next chapter.
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