Harry Price at Borley
Harry Price wrote a heavily disguised account of his first and second visits to Borley Rectory which appeared in his Confessions of a Ghost-Hunter (Putnam, 1936). In this narrative he states that he found convincing evidence for the paranormal during his initial stay in 1929, but when he returned in 1931 he was of the opinion that the phenomena which was witnessed had nothing to do with psychic forces. The complete text and accompanying plate of Chapter II of Price's Confessions of a Ghost-Hunter is reproduced here and is taken from the first edition of the book. In subsequent editions the last sentence, in which Price states his disbelief in paranormal activity during his visit was deleted, apparently in case the Foysters (the Morrisons of this account) might take offence. This action was subsequently seized upon by Trevor Hall who wrote the chapter detailing the Foyster incumbency in the 'Borley Report' of 1956 as proof that Price privately had no belief in the hauntings and used Borley simply as a means of achieving money and publicity.
On Tuesday, June 11, 1929, I was lunching with a friend, when his telephone bell rang. The call was for me, from the editor of a great London daily. He had been trying to find me all the morning. He told me an extraordinary story. It appeared that one of his representatives had sent in a report of a most unusual Poltergeist case that was disturbing the inmates of a country house somewhere in the Home Counties. He sought my co-operation in unravelling the mystery. His man had been at the house for two days and was impressed by what he had seen and heard. Would I take up the case? I eagerly accepted his invitation.
That same afternoon I telegraphed to the tenant saying I would be with him the next day. His reply was: 'Thank God - come quickly. Will expect you to lunch.' The next morning found my secretary and me speeding through the countryside full of hope as to what we were going to see. As we took turns at the wheel, we discussed what the trouble might be. My experience told me to look for a mischievous adolescent, rats, practical jokers - or the village idiot. I have wasted very many weeks in acquiring this knowledge. But, I argued, a London reporter is not easily impressed; usually he is hard-headed, sceptical, and prone to scoff at such things as 'ghosts'. If the representative of the Daily -- was convinced of something abnormal, obviously the affair was worth inquiring into. We had been so busily discussing the case that, before we realised it, we discovered we were on the outskirts of W--, a market town. With considerable difficulty, we found our way to K-- Manor, which is situated in a tiny hamlet, seven miles off
the main road, and near nowhere in particular. We found that the large entrance gates had been opened for us and, as I swung my car up the drive, we could see our host, Mr. H. Robinson, (1) and his wife waiting to welcome us. We jumped out and crossed the threshold of what I am certain is the most haunted house in England; a house in which I have seen and heard the most convincing Poltergeist phenomena; and a house which, if it were in the market, I would purchase in order to study in situ manifestations of an absolutely abnormal nature. Not only is K-- Manor the perfect conception of a haunted house (as regards both situation and variety of phenomena), but its psychic history goes back many years and is fully documented.
At lunch we heard the complete history of the house and Its traditions, togethcr with a detailed account of those manifestations which had brought us to such an out-of-the-way spot. The account which follows is from the verbatim notes which my secretary made during lunch.
K-- Manor is a large house with nine acres of ground, through which runs a little stream that empties itself in a pond. The grounds are well wooded, and one path, known as the 'Nun's Walk', leads to the little church and churchyard. Contiguous to the walk on one side is a lawn. The house is not an old one, having been built about 1863. It was erected on the site of a twelfth-century monastery, the crypt of which is still preserved. For many years the property has belonged to the Percival family. The mansion was built by Mr. Thomas Percival, who resided there. He died there in 1897. His son, Mr. Walter Percival, then became the occupier. He succumbed to a painful and lingering illness in 1927. He died in the 'Blue Room'. A succession of owners occupied the mansion, but it was alleged that none would stop more than a few months, owing to the disturbances. In the spring of 1929 Mr. H. Robinson rented the house, and spent £200 on doing the place up;
(1) For obvious reasons, some of the names in this report are fictitious.
his occupation was the signal for a display of supernormal happenings which, eventually, drove him out. But I am anticipating.
Now for the traditions, because K-- Manor has several. At the period when the monastery was in its heyday, a coachman belonging to the establishment fell in love with a nun attached to a convent nearby. Their clandestine meetings culminated in an attempted elopement in a black coach drawn by two bay horses, driven by a lay brother. The trio were missed, overtaken, and brought back. The three were tried by their respective superiors. The maiden was walled up alive and the coachmen beheaded. So much for the principal legend - which has several variants. A more modern story tells how the apparition of Mr. Walter Percival is frequently seen, dressed in the old grey bed-jacket in which he died.
It is not clear whether the traditions have been built up on what a number of people undoubtedly think they have seen, or whether the 'appearances' are really the apparitions of the unfortunate mediæval lovers and the late owner. But there is no doubt whatever that many people claim to have seen a coach and pair careering through the grounds of K-- Manor, and, much more frequently, the figure of a nun slowly walking past the lawn towards the churchyard; that is how the 'Nun's Walk' got its name. But the nun and her male friends play only a very small part in the amazing story of K--.
By the time we had finished our coffee, I had heard the history of K-- and its ghostly inhabitants. But what interested me most was Mr. Robinson's story of his own experiences. Of course he heard all about the K-- legend before he took the place, but did not believe a word of it; he regarded as fantastic the stories that previous owners had departed on account of a 'ghost'. His incredulity rapidly gave place to something akin to fear.
The first 'incident' was the ringing of the front-door bell - a
big, sonorous, clanging bell that reverberated all over the house. It was soon after the Robinsons moved in and they were just retiring to rest. It was a terrible night. There was a storm raging and it would be difficult to imagine a worse evening for anyone to be abroad. Mr. Robinson looked at his wife in wonderment. Thinking it was a neighbour in dire trouble, he hurried to the door and withdrew the bolts. The bell stopped ringing. With the lamp in one hand, he peered into the darkness: there was no one there. Sheltering the lamp from the gusts of wind and rain that threatened to extinguish it, he walked a few paces down the drive in search of his visitor. Nothing was to be seen. He went into the roadway, but not a soul was visible. He returned to the house and went to bed. Twenty-five minutes later (at about 11.45) the bell rang out again: not an ordinary ring, but a clangorous solo which lasted until he could get a dressing-gown on and reach the door. No one was there. The rain had then ceased, and thinking the intruder was a small boy playing a joke, he explored a considerable part of the garden and roadway: he found no one. There was no further disturbance that night, but the nocturnal clangour of the door bell rang in an orgy of ringing (1) which persists to this day.
The bells were the start of the trouble. Only a part of the house was furnished, but bell-ropes in empty rooms were pulled as frequently as those in the apartments in use. And then the door-keys commenced to fall out of the locks. Every key would be in its place overnight; in the morning, many of them would be found on the floor. Eventually, every one disappeared.
With the key phenomena came the sounds of slippered footfalls, in all parts of the house, by day and by night. Especially when they were undressing for bed, the Robinsons would hear soft steps in the passage outside their room. More than once Mr.
(1) For the classic case of supernormal bell-ringing, see Bealings Bells: an Account of the Mysterious Ringing of Bells at Great Bealings, Suffolk, in 1834, by Edward Moor, Woodbridge, 1841.
Robinson waited in the dark with a hockey stick and made lunges at' something' that passed him. He never struck anything. Then stones were thrown: small round pebbles (origin unknown) were hurtled through the air, or came rolling down the stairs. Things became so bad that the villagers were frightened. A reporter arrived on the scene - and that is how I came to be connected with the case.
The night previous to my arrival, a new phenomenon was witnessed. It was reported by several people that a light had been seen at the window of one of the empty and disused rooms. It did not remain stationary, but appeared to travel in an elliptical path which was always visible from the garden. The reporter, who had by then established himself in the village, saw the light plainly and suggested to Mr. Robinson that the latter should go to the room with another light and explore. This was done and, for the space of about a minute, the watchers from the garden saw two lights side by side, one (our host's) being waved about, the other quite stationary. But Mr. Robinson neither saw nor heard anything in the room.
That was the latest story that was current when I arrived at the Manor on June 12. Having finished lunch, I asked to see the staff of the house. It consisted of a young village girl (who slept at home) and a daily gardener. Of course the girl knew all about the traditions of the place and solemnly assured me that she had seen 'an old-fashioned coach' on the lawn, 'drawn by two horses'. She said she had also seen the 'nun' leaning over a gate near the house. I then learnt that when the Robinsons moved in they brought with them from London a young maid who stayed for exactly forty-eight hours. Questioned about her sudden departure, she declared that near some trees in the garden she had seen a 'nun who had frightened her'. She had not been told about the tradition, but nothing would induce her to stop. I interviewed the old gardener, who informed me he had never seen the apparitions but had that very week dug up a skull
(supposed to be a relic of the Great Plague) when removing some turf, and re-buried it in the churchyard.
I spent the remainder of the afternoon and early evening exploring every inch of the house, gardens, cellar, crypt, outhouses and stables (over which were some disused rooms). My secretary and I, in our minute examination of every bell wire, which we traced from the pull to the bell itself (they were the old-fashioned variety, on springs), climbed under the eaves and wormed our way between the top rafters and the tiles. We found a plaque on which the original bell-hangers had written their names, ages, and date, but discovered nothing else. Every wire seemed quite ordinary. We could find nothing suspicious in the house or grounds, so, after a meal, we settled down to wait for dusk.
It is at dusk that the 'nun' is supposed to be most active, so the Pressman and I decided to spend the evening in the garden. My secretary was to report what took place in the house, where she was on guard. We arranged that I should keep my eyes glued on the back windows of the building in wait for the 'light', while the reporter watched the 'Nun's Walk'. As it was getting chilly, we stood in the doorway of a large summer-house. We had been there nearly an hour when the reporter suddenly gripped my arm and whispered: 'There she is!' I looked towards the 'Nun's Walk' and sure enough there appeared to be a shadowy figure gliding down the path under the trees. As he spoke, the newspaper man dashed across the lawn. When he returned, he informed me that the figure became more distinct as he approached it, but vanished as he reached the spot. He told me that it just 'melted away'. I did not see this disappearance, as the reporter was between the figure and me. Concluding that the 'nun' would not be seen again that night, we decided to enter the house. As we passed under the porch, there was a terrific crash and a pane of glass from the roof hurtled to the ground.
The glass missed us by a few feet. It may have been coincidence that a pane of glass fell (for no ascertainable reason) just as we entered the porch, but it was very disconcerting. But that was not the worst. We entered the house and searched the place from roof to cellar. Just as we were coming downstairs after the investigation, a red glass candlestick, from the 'Blue Room', was flung down the staircase well and struck an iron stove in the hall. I was splashed with splinters. Immediately after, a mothball came tumbling down the well. The only persons in the house were downstairs. (The maid had gone home.)
I then decided to seal every door and window in the house. I fetched from my car the fitted case (1) which I carry on these occasions, and inserted screw-eyes in doors, posts, and window frames. Tapes were threaded through the eyes, knotted, and the knots sealed with post-office leaden seals. Then we adjourned to the 'Blue Room' to see what would happen. It was suggested by Mr. Robinson that we should hold a séance in this room, where Mr. Walter Percival had died. I was rather averse to the proposal, as we were not there to encourage the alleged 'spirits', but rather to disperse them. However, I gave way, but insisted upon the séance being held by the light of the powerful duplex paraffin lamp which we had carried upstairs. We seated ourselves on the bed and on the two chairs which the room contained, and I made a short speech, addressing my remarks to the four walls of the room. I protested that the manifestations were
(1) The reader may be interested to know what a ghost-hunter's kit consists of. My bag contained: pair of soft felt overshoes, steel measuring tape; screw-eyes, lead seals and sealing tool; white tape; tool-pad and nails; hank of flex, small electric bells, dry batteries and switches (for secret electrical contacts); camera, films and flash-bulbs; note-book, red, blue and black pencils; sketching block and case of drawing instruments; bandages, iodine and surgical adhesive tape; ball of string, stick of chalk, matches. electric torch and candle; flask of brandy; bowl of mercury to detect tremors in room or passage; cinematograph camera with electrical release. For a long stay in house with supply of electricity, I would take with me infra-red filters, lamps. and cine films sensitive to infra-red rays, so that I could photograph objects in almost complete darkness.
undermining the health of our host and his wife, and implored the disturbing entities, whether evil or benevolent, to depart. I then asked: 'Is Mr. Walter Percival present?' To our amazement, we were answered by a decided rap which appeared to come from the back of a large mirror which stood on the dressing table. It was then about one o'clock in the morning.
For three hours we questioned whatever it was that was rapping out answers. Once for 'yes', twice for 'no' and three times for 'doubtful' was the code which we suggested and which, apparently, the entity understood perfectly. We asked innumerable questions, which were prompted by a member of the Percival family, who was present. 'Walter Percival' discussed his will, his marriage and his relatives; and the answers we received - via the mirror - were always intelligent and relevant. We were informed that quite a number of 'family secrets' had been revealed.
Just before we closed this novel and extraordinary séance, a cake of soap on the washstand was lifted and thrown heavily on to a china jug which was standing on the floor with such force that the soap was deeply marked. All of us were on the other side of the room when this happened. We dispersed soon after, and I snatched a few hours' sleep on the bed in the 'Blue Room'. I was not disturbed: haunted and haunters were at peace.
Next morning I went into the town of W-- and interviewed the owners of K-- Manor. They were three sisters, two of whom I saw. They assured me that in 1900, during a garden party, on a sunny afternoon, the three sisters and a maid saw a nun, dressed completely in black, and with bowed head, slowly walking down the path. One of them said, 'I'll speak to her!' and ran across the lawn. As she approached, the figure turned its head and vanished. This story was confirmed by the other sister. The Misses Percival also informed me that their brother, Mr. Walter Percival, frequently saw the coach and
The author's 'ghost-hunting kit', consisting of reflex and cinematograph cameras, tools for sealing doors
and windows, apparatus for secret electrical controls, steel tape, drawing instruments, torch, bottle of
mercury, powdered graphite for developing finger-prints, etc.
nun. This was confirmed by a friend of the late owner who wrote to the Daily -- and stated that on several occasions Mr. Percival had admitted to him that he had seen both nun and coach; and that, when dead, he would, if possible, manifest in the same way. Did he partly fulfil this promise early that same morning when we were assembled in the 'Blue Room'?
I received other evidence as to the haunting of K-- Manor. While I was in W-- I called on a man who was once groom-gardener at the house and who had lived in the rooms over the stables. Every night for eight months he and his wife, when in bed, heard steps in the living-room adjoining. The noises were as if a huge dog had jumped from some considerable height and had then started running round the room. One night there was heard a terriffic crash as if the sideboard had toppled over, smashing the ornaments in its fall. The groom jumped out of bed, lit a candle, and went to explore. Not a thing was displaced - and the 'dog' was heard no more. During my investigation I received a letter from another old servant who, forty-three years previously, was an under-nursemaid at the Manor. She told me that it was common talk that the place was haunted. When she had been there a fortnight, she was awakened in the dead of night by someone moving outside her bedroom door. It sounded as if a person were shuffling about in slippers. The experience so unnerved her that her father removed her from the place. There is much good evidence for the haunting of K-- Manor.
During my first visit to K-- I stopped three nights, and disturbances were witnessed each evening. My secretary stayed over the week-end and the phenomena continued. A week or so later, Mr. Robinson and his wife moved to an adjoining village: they simply could not stand the strain any longer. They removed their furniture and locked the place up. On July 22, 1929, Mr. Robinson wrote me: 'Visiting the house last Sunday we discovered that the windows had been unlocked from
within, and one thrown up!' I visited the place several times when it was empty and though the manifestations were not nearly so violent, we still witnessed phenomena. I could fill many pages with what I have seen and heard at K--. But, short of living in the house, I found I could do little more there. Mr. Robinson took another abode and, despairing of finding a new tenant, the owners shut the place up.
* * * * *
Two years elapsed before I heard any more of K--. One day the Misses Percival called upon me and said that the Manor was again occupied. The new tenant's name was Mr. B. Morrison. The disturbances, in a much more violent form, had broken out again within a week of his moving in. Mr. Morrison had kept a diary of the phenomena. Would I like to investigate again? I said I would and immediately got in touch with the new tenant, who kindly sent me his diary for perusal. It was an amazing document.
Between February and July 1931 literally hundreds of phenomena were witnessed - thirty-one typescript pages of them! Stones, books and bricks were thrown; bells were rung night and day; 'Walter Percival' was seen many times; perfumes scented the rooms; things (including a gold bracelet) disappeared, but many objects (including a wedding ring), never seen before, put in an appearance; sounds of footsteps were heard; both husband and wife were injured - the latter seriously, four times; once, Mr. Morrison was just enjoying his first sleep when he was awakened by a hard crack on the head with his own hair brush; water from the ewer was slowly poured over the sleeping tenant and his wife, and bedroom utensils marched round the room; bits of paper and the walls were scribbled on; pepper was thrown in their eyes; the wife was half smothered by a mattress, etc. All these incidents are detailed in Mr. Morrison's diary. I decided to visit the place again.
It was early in October 1931 that I paid my last visit to K--. I was accompanied by Mrs. Henry Richards and Mrs. A. Peel Goldney (two members of the council of the National Laboratory of Psychical Research). We spent two nights investigating, and had an amazing story to tell when we returned. We saw red wine turn into ink, and white wine take on the flavour of eau de Cologne; an empty wine bottle was hurled at me from above-stairs, missing me by a few inches; bells rang for no apparent reason; Mrs. Richards' chauffeur saw a black hand creep over the door of the kitchen, where he was smoking his pipe; we witnessed a locked door 'miraculously' unlocked by means of a holy relic; we took part in a service of exorcism; we chanted a reliquary prayer; we helped to carry a lady up to bed .... We saw even stranger things; so strange, in fact, that for the moment - my lips are sealed concerning them. But we came to the conclusion that the supernormal played no part in the 'wonders' we had witnessed.
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