Harry Price at Borley
The following is the complete contents of Chapter XXV of Price's Poltergeist Over England (Country Life, 1945), which covers the poltergeist phenomena alleged to have occurred at Borley over the years. Price's narrative has moved on considerably from the chapter on Borley which he included in his Confessions of a Ghost-Hunter which was published nearly ten years earlier. When this book was published Price was at work on his second book on the Borley case, The End of Borley Rectory, and he refers to material that was ultimately included there in this account.
There can be few people interested in ghosts or psychical research who have not heard of Borley Rectory, 'the most haunted house in England' - or anywhere else, come to that.
Borley Rectory disturbances have become classic
for two reasons: it is probably the
best-documented and best-authenticated
case in the annals of psychical research; and the
haunting has persisted, to
our certain knowledge, for nearly a century, and
phenomena are occurring there to this day.
place was severely damaged by fire in February, 1939 - and storms have further reduced the fabric. Today it is a rather unpicturesque ruin. After Mr. Foyster resigned the living, it was combined (1936) with that of Lyston, a nearby parish, and the Rev. A. C. Henning became Rector of Lyston-cum-Borley. And that is the situation today. Mr. Henning lives in his own snug rectory at Lyston. Both Lyston and Borley are near Sudbury and Long Melford, Suffolk, though Borley Rectory is just within the Essex border.
The phenomena witnessed - or experienced - at Borley are of many types. They comprise 'materialisations' (a 'nun', 'Harry Bull'; headless man, or men; a 'figure in grey', and a 'girl in white'; 'shadowy forms'; visions of horses, a strange insect, and a coach). The auditory phenomena include a woman's voice, whisperings, sounds of galloping horses, dog padding round the room, scratchings, incessant bell-ringing, footsteps and similar sounds; raps, taps, and knockings; displaced or projected objects; 'clicks' and 'cracks', the noise of doors closing; knocks, bumps, thuds, jumping and stamping; a 'dragging' noise; wailing sounds: rustling or 'scrabbling' noises; metallic sounds; a noise like rushing water; crashing, as of falling crockery, and the smashing of windows; impression of furniture being moved; and music - 'like church music'.
Other phenomena seen were the amazing 'wall-writings'; pathetic messages asking for help, a requiem mass, prayers, etc., scribbled on walls, and other marks. Sometimes these appeared spontaneously when a room was under control. Pieces of paper, on which were written similar appeals for help, also 'appeared'. Then there were the spontaneous locking and unlocking of doors - once under what amounted to test conditions. There were strange lights seen in the windows of the Rectory; spontaneous falling of keys from locks; several outbreaks of fire; appearances, disappearances, and reappearances of various objects; luminous phenomena; matter-through-matter - apparently fourth dimension 'miracles'; smoke where there was no fire; odours-pleasant and unpleasant; sensations of coldness; tactual phenomena (touchings); unidentifiable footprints in the snow, etc. Then there were the strange reactions to phenomena by various animals, and so on.
The phenomena I have listed above were experienced, not only by villagers and the unlettered, but by persons of culture and education: scientists, and medical men, university students, consulting engineers, members of the British Broadcasting Corporation, army officers and R.A.F. pilots, etc. And not by one or two people - but by a hundred observers, most of whom sent in written reports of their experiences. Every incumbent who has lived at Borley has recorded the most amazing incidents, and some of them have been forced to leave the Rectory.
I do not propose to detail how and under what conditions all the above phenomena were witnessed. This I have done in my book, already alluded to. But what I am going to do is to describe the principal Polter-
Borley Rectory before the Fire.
geist phenomena seen and heard in this Poltergeist-infested rectory, and in most instances the evidence is first-hand and documentary. Some of it has not been previously published. I will try to record the evidence in chronological sequence.
As I have stated, the present Rectory was built in 1863 by the Rev. Henry Bull. But in the cellars we came across the foundations and footings of a very much earlier building composed of old-fashioned two-inch bricks. This building was probably another rectory on the same site. There is also a persistent tradition that a monastery once occupied the site many years ago. But we have no concrete evidence for this.
The first documentary evidence we received for Poltergeist activity at Borley came from Mrs. E. Byford, of Parsonage Farm, Newport, Essex, who wrote me to the effect that she was a nursemaid at the Rectory in 1886. She says (June 11, 1929):
'Much of my youth was spent in Borley and district and it was common talk that the Rectory was haunted. Many people declared that they had seen figures walking at the bottom of the garden. I once worked at the Rectory forty-three years ago, as under-nursemaid, but I only stayed there a month as the place was so weird. When I had been there a fortnight, something awakened me in the dead of night. Someone was walking down the passage towards the door of my room, and the sound they made suggested that they were wearing slippers.'
The other servants tried to laugh her out of it but she was 'convinced that somebody or something in slippers had been along that corridor, and finally became so nervous that I left.'
Miss Ethel Bull, one of the surviving daughters of the Rev. Henry Bull, confirms Mrs. Byford's experiences. She told me that when she was a young girl, there occurred the same phenomena. Every night, about 10.30, steps could be heard passing her bedroom door and upon the landing outside her room, and always stopping outside one of the night nurseries. When the sounds of the footsteps ceased, three taps - and three taps only - were always heard. These footsteps and taps were heard at least a hundred times.
About this period there was an outbreak of paranormal bell-ringing. On one occasion Miss Ethel Bull was in the house, when all the bells - of which there were about twenty - suddenly started pealing simultaneously. Immediate investigation failed to solve the mystery. This phenomenon was followed by the sound of rushing water. No explanation. A sister who was sleeping in one of the smaller bedrooms was awakened by something slapping her face. No explanation. For a long period, quite regularly every night and just before she retired to rest, a series of sharp raps was heard on her bedroom door. Later, many crashes were heard in the house. Raps and footsteps have been heard in the Rectory by every person who has ever resided in the place for any length of time.
Independent confirmation of the Misses Bull's experiences reached me after my book was published. Mr. P. Shaw Jeffrey, M.A., writing from Lenox Hotel, Gardens, Cape Town, on January 10, 1942, said:
'I have just been reading your book about Borley Rectory. I am very interested because Harry Bull and I were born in the same year. We went to Oxford together, I at Queen's, he at Exeter College, and in the long vacations I used to go and stay with him at Borley. I was there in 1885 and 1886. I had lots of small adventures at the Rectory. Stones falling about, my boots found on the top of the wardrobe etc. and I saw the "nun" several times, and often heard the coach go clattering by. But the big adventure that would have been worth your while recording was one time when I missed a big French dictionary (1) which I had been regularly using for some days. Nobody could find it, but one night I was awakened by a big bump on the floor and after I had lit my candle, there was the dictionary, with its back a good deal knocked about, sprawling on the floor. My bedroom door was locked.
'Another much more startling adventure was in August, 1886, and this happened at the Rev. Felix Bull's neighbouring rectory. (Felix was a brother of Henry Bull.) I can't remember the name. (2) But it had a watch tower in the garden built by some former incumbent who had a crazy idea that if he built it tall enough, he could see the sea. Felix Bull was having trouble with a Poltergeist and he came to lunch and told us about it.
'Next day Harry Bull and I borrowed the family coach and drove over to Felix's. He was out, but the cook said, "Well, Master Harry, if there's any foolishness going on, it's all along of our new housemaid - that's what I say!" "Where is she?" asked Harry. "Up in the best bedroom making the beds." "Right you are, we'll go up." So up we went. The room was large and long with three windows along one side. We stood by the door. The maid was at the far end of the room, making the beds. Close to us was the fireplace. Harry Bull said, "Well, Mary, cook says you can show us a few tricks - what about it?"
'The maid said nothing, but a tooth-glass came flying across from the washhing stand behind the maid's back and circled gracefully around, hitting the jamb of the door just above my head. Just afterwards, the fender and fire-irons and grate moved right out across the room with a clatter. The maid never spoke a word, and neither did we. We bolted! Later on, this maid went to London and became a medium.
'I saw very little of Harry Bull after I came down from Oxford as I was living abroad. But about 1920 he came over to Colchester (I was then Head Master of Colchester Royal Grammar School) to ask me if I could recommend him a locum as he wanted to take a holiday. But by that time parsons were beginning to fight shy of Borley Rectory and I failed.'
(1) See Mr. C. J. P. Cave's 'dictionary' phenomenon, p. 346. - H. P.
(2) Pentlow, five miles N.W. of Sudbury. - H.P.
In an article in the Cape Times, which was sent to me, Mr. Jeffrey elaborated the information he gave me in his letter. As regards the 'coach', he said: 'The ghostly coach-and-four I heard sweep down the much too narrow lane beside the Rectory so often that I used to sleep through the noise, and a variety of disconcerting incidents happened to me.' He adds that the Rev. Henry Bull had seventeen children, all at home during the vacations. No wonder he wanted a large house!
The Bull family became so used to the various 'manifestations' that they did not trouble to keep any account of them. Consequently, at the early period of which I am writing, from 1863 onwards, we have no detailed diary of the incessant bell-ringing, stone-throwing, shuffling footsteps, phantasms, face-slapping and other phenomena that occurred there for years. If the Bull children were witnesses of these strange events, so was the father, the Rev. Henry Bull. He used to stand outside the gates of the Rectory, and actually wait for the sounds of the 'coach-and-four' to pass the house. The rumbling of the coach and the galloping of the horses he heard literally hundreds of times - and so did other members of the family, some of whom, fortunately, are still with us to supply the evidence. And the independent testimony of observers like Mrs. Byford and Mr. Jeffrey is valuable corroboration of the Bull family's own accounts.
When Henry Bull died a new phenomenon was heard over and over again. This took the form of sounds as if someone was entering the back door. The door could be heard opening and then closing, but investigation always proved that no one was there. This particular phenomenon occurred usually when most of the members of the family were at church and Mrs. Bull, the invalid mother, and a daughter were alone in the house.
When the Rev. Harry Bull succeeded his father in the incumbency and lived at the Rectory, he, too, experienced all the old phenomena: phantasms, the rumbling coach-and-pair - which he saw -and all the other Poltergeist manifestations. This evidence was confirmed by Mr. J. Harley, of Nottingham Place, W.l, who wrote to us in 1929. He says: 'In 1922 I resided for some weeks at the Rectory with the Rev. Bull, and I distinctly recall him assuring me that on many occasions he had had personal communications with spirits.' He also told Mr. Harley that if he was discontented after death, and was able to do so, he would 'return' and cause some violent physical reaction, such as smashing of glass or other noisy demonstration. As a matter of fact, the ghost of Harry Bull was seen on several occasions by the wife of a subsequent rector, the Rev. L. A. Foyster. As we shall see later, it was during Mr. Foyster's incumbency that the most remarkable - and certainly the most spectacular -Poltergeist phenomena occurred. Did Harry Bull fulfil his threat to Mr. Harley, and 'return' in this violent manner?
Before I give an account of my own experiences at the Rectory I must
hark back a little and relate the strange adventures of Edward Cooper, a groom-gardener in the employ of the Bull family for many years. Mr. Cooper is one of the 'good old sort', a sturdy, honest, intelligent, forthright man of the yeoman type, with no nonsense about him.
Mr. Cooper now lives at Great Cornard, near Sudbury. He joined the staff of the Rectory in 1916, when the Misses Bull were in residence there. He and his wife occupied the four rooms over the stables (a detached building) now euphemistically known as 'the cottage'. I will pass over his astonishing vision of the phantom coach-and-pair, brilliantly lit up and glittering in the moonlight, that silently raced across the church meadows, through trees, walls and hedges, and finally disappeared in the farmyard below him. I will not detail this story, or that of how he and his wife frequently saw the 'nun', as this volume is concerned solely with Poltergeist phenomena.
Well, for more than three years during his occupation of the cottage, the Coopers, when in bed, were disturbed on most nights by the sounds of pattering that appeared to come from the adjoining living-room. It was just as if a large dog or small child had jumped from a height and was padding round the room. Naturally, at first they were somewhat concerned at what these noises could be, and more than once lit the candle and explored the contiguous rooms, without success. Finally, they got used to the pad-pad-pad, which usually began soon after they got into bed, between 10 and 11 o'clock, and thought nothing of it.
One night, about three years after the 'padding' sounds were first heard, and soon after the Coopers had retired to rest, the 'dog' phenomenon was again experienced. They heard the soft but heavy pad-pad-pad in the next room, when suddenly there was a terrific crash as if all the china on the kitchen dresser had fallen to the floor simultaneously. Mr. Cooper leapt out of bed and lit a candle, quite expecting to find part of his home demolished. To his astonishment, not a thing in the cottage was displaced, and no damage was done. From that night onwards they were never again disturbed. The 'dog' had gone for ever.
After death of Harry Bull, the Rectory was empty for some months. If, as Mr. Jeffrey told me in his letter, parsons fought shy of the place in 1920, they were still more shy in 1928. In that year, twelve men refused the living. However, an incumbent was found at last and the Rev. G. Eric Smith took up his duties there on October 2, 1928.
On June 11, 1929, the News Editor of the Daily Mirror rang me up to say that one of his staff, Mr. V. C. Wall, was at the Rectory and was witnessing the most extraordinary happenings. Things were flying about, strange lights appeared at windows, etc. He asked me whether I would investigate. I said I would. I had never heard of Borley, but the story sounded so convincing that I immediately telephoned a telegram to the effect that the Rector was to expect my secretary and me the next morn-
ing. We arrived in time for lunch. I little thought that the case would engage my attention for the next fifteen years.
Over the meal, I heard all about the phenomena and something of the history of the Rectory. Mr. Smith and his wife had an exciting time before I was called in. In addition to the usual things flying about, one summer afternoon, when the Rector was alone in the house, he left his bedroom and upon going to the landing heard loud whisperings over his head. As he stopped to listen, the sounds ceased instantly. He later heard these whisperings many times. On one occasion, at dusk, when he was crossing the same landing, a woman's voice, half moan and half appeal, said loudly, 'Don't, Carlos, don't!' dying away in a sort of muttering. Other phenomena experienced at the Rectory were bell-ringing, slow and deliberate footsteps in rooms and passages, strange lights seen in rooms and the smashing of crockery. And a skull, in perfect condition, was found in the library cupboard. It was buried in the churchyard.
After lunch my secretary and I made a minute examination of the Rectory and grounds. We scrutinised every brick and board of the house, from cellars to attics, and made plans of the place. We tested the walls for cavities, hiding-places and secret passages. But the building was architecturally normal. We sealed all the windows and exits from the house, except the one we were using. We looked in ovens and coppers, moved furniture, took down pictures and took up carpets. Everything was normal. We traced each bell wire from the bell itself to its anchorage in the attics. Some of these wires had been cut in order to stop the incessant ringing. It didn't! We descended to the cellars, dark and damp, and the frogs, toads, newts and lizards scurried away from the glare of our electric torches. We discovered what appeared to be a filled in well in the cellar. This was covered with boards. Then I interviewed the young maidservant and the gardener - the only staff employed.
After tea, and after another thorough search of every nook and cranny in the place, Mr. Wall (who was paying a further visit to the house) and I arranged that we should take up our vigil in the garden in a position that commanded a view of the Nun's Walk (favourite haunt of the 'nun') and the window of the unused room in which Mr. Wall and others had seen the 'strange light' the previous evening.
We saw neither nun nor light, though we waited until it was almost dark. Then we thought we would go indoors and again examine the house where the Smiths and my secretary were on guard. The maidservant had gone home. Just as we were about to enter the French windows that opened out of the study on to the glass-covered verandah that abutted the lawn, there was a terrific crash as a half-brick hurtled through one of the thick panes of glass above our heads. We were splashed with splinters. We picked up the missile (that must have been propelled from behind us), but it was just an ordinary half-brick.
Our friends had heard the smash and feared for our safety. We found
that nothing untoward had happened in the house during our vigil in the garden, and we decided to make still another examination of the premises. In spite of our previous searches, we thought it conceivable that someone might have entered the house in some way. So we again examined the place from top to bottom, but all my seals were intact, and we found nothing.
On my numerous journeys up and down the house I had noticed in the Blue Room (notorious 'focus' of manifestations) a pair of very nice red glass candlesticks. Wall and I had seen them on this - my third - latest examination. Just as we had completed our scrutiny, and were descending the main staircase that led to the hall, another crash was heard and one of those nice red candlesticks hurtled past our heads (we saw it plainly), hit the iron stove in the hall, and disintegrated into a thousand fragments. It had been hurled down the well of the stairs. Wall and I raced upstairs again, but found no one, and nothing that could have caused the flight of the candlestick. All this took place in the full light of a powerful duplex paraffin lamp that our friends, who were waiting below for us, had placed on the hall table. In quick succession, and in full light, the following articles came tumbling down the stairs: first of all some common seashore pebbles, then a piece of slate, then some more pebbles.
Later in the evening several bells rang of their own volition. The wires could be seen moving, and even the pulls in some of the rooms were swinging when we entered them. After supper a new phenomenon occurred: As we all stood in the hall, the keys in the doors of the library and drawing-room, that opened on to the hall, shot out simultaneously at right angles to the doors, and fell to the floor. I at once examined them, and the locks, and doors, but there was nothing to suggest a normal explanation. I was told that this key-dropping phenomenon was common. And during the incumbency of the next rector, every key in the house vanished!
During the evening two of the Misses Bull came to see me - and the phenomena. At about 1 a.m. it was suggested that we should hold a séance. There was no medium of course, but we all adjourned to the' Blue Room, closed the doors, and formed a 'circle' by sitting on beds and chairs. The room was furnished in the usual way. A heavy mahogany-backed mirror stood on the dressing table by one window, and there was a washstand with jug, etc., near the door at the far end of the room. In order to open the proceedings, I said - addressing the four walls of the room - 'If any entity is present here tonight, will it please make itself known?' I might-have added 'in the usual manner', but I didn't. I repeated my request three times, when suddenly a faint, but distinct tapping came from the back of the mirror I have mentioned. We placed our chairs round the dressing table, thus re-forming the 'circle'. The duplex lamp fully illuminated the room.
I will not relate what took place at this séance, but it lasted three hours, during which period the mirror was tapped incessantly - and with intelligence. We asked questions of the 'entity' and by the traditional three taps for 'yes', one tap for 'no' and two for 'doubtful', we did receive some sort of information. The 'entity' alleged that it was the Rev. Harry Bull, and it was upon this gentleman that the 'conversation' centred. I am not a spiritualist, but I can affirm that the taps were absolutely genuine, and the 'communicator' may have been what it claimed to be.
I must relate one further incident: a true Poltergeist phenomenon witnessed under ideal control conditions. If l had witnessed only this one manifestation, I should have been convinced of the paranormality of the Borley disturbances. I will let Mr. Wall describe (1) the incident:
'Finally came the most astonishing event of the night. A cake of soap on the washstand was lifted and thrown heavily on to a china jug standing on the floor with such force that the soap was deeply marked. All of us were at the other side of the room when this happened.'
This was a perfect paranormal phenomenon, and if I had witnessed no other phenomenon in my life, it would have convinced me of the existence of Poltergeists. No one was nearer to the washstand than about 12 feet (the Blue Room was nearly 16 feet square); the room was well illuminated and the soap was a new cake. Of course I at once examined everything - with the usual result.
I slept in the Blue Room that night, or rather morning, and my only fear was that the other nice red candlestick might do me an injury. So for safety I put it under my pillow. I was not disturbed.
It can be imagined that the Smiths did not 'stick it' long! My first visit was on June 12, 1929, and a month later (July 14) the Smiths moved out after spending £200 in doing the place up, etc. They took rooms in Long Melford, a mile or so away, and the Rector visited his parish by car every day. The following April they left the district and went to live at Sheringham, Norfolk.
During the few months that the Rector was living at Long Melford, Mrs. Smith occasionally visited the house in order to see that everything was all right. It wasn't! She kindly reported her visits to me and it was clear that the Poltergeists were still active. Though every window and door was either locked or barred, or both, on one occasion she found that the small bedside table in the Blue Room 'had been hurled over from in front of the fireplace to the washstand in the corner'. A fortnight later it was discovered that windows had been unlatched from the inside and one of them opened. Then, on another visit, it was found that 'half a fireplace has been deposited on the main staircase', although every door and window was locked and bolted just as Mrs. Smith had left them. On March 14, 1930, Mrs. Smith wrote: 'Funny things are con-
(1) Daily Mirror, June 14, 1929. For Mr. Wall's personal experiences during this period, see the Daily Mirror for June 10, 1929, and following issues.
tinually happening at the Rectory, and lumps of stone are on the main stairs from whence we do not know. The window still "lights up" at night,' though the Rectory was then unoccupied. On March 18, 1930, the Rector's wife wrote: 'It is queer to see what lumps of stone and broken glass are about the place while, recently, on entering the Rectory just at about full moon, we heard the most horrible sounds in the house.'
During the period that the Smiths were at Long Melford, my friends and I visited the unoccupied Rectory two or three times. We first obtained the keys from the Rector. One evening a party of us was present when incessant bell-ringing occurred. This was accompanied by the throwing of small pebbles, a shower of several keys, a small gilt medallion or pendant of Roman Catholic (1) origin, and a medal issued in 1799 after the French Revolution. No one knows the origin of these objects or where they came from. They just tumbled down the stairs.
After the Smiths left Borley, the Rectory was again empty for some months. However, a relative of the Bulls, the Rev. L. A. Foyster, and his young wife, accepted the living and the new Rector was inducted in October, 1930. Mr. Foyster had recently returned from Canada and knew a little of the 'trouble' at the Rectory. He was soon to learn more!
On the very first day (October 16, 1930) of their residence at the Rectory, a pathetic voice was heard calling 'Marianne' (Mrs. Foyster's christian name) and the phantasm of Harry Bull, in a grey dressing-gown, was seen on the stairs.
Mr. Foyster is a methodical man and he took notes of the occurrences as they happened. His notes developed into a diary, and the diary into a volume of 184 typed quarto pages - roughly 50,000 words; or, say, half the size of this book. And his diary records many hundreds of phenomena. The diary covers a period of only fifteen months, because the Rector became tired of recording the phenomena: there were so many of them. It says something for his pluck that he remained at the Rectory for five years.
Here, then, are a few incidents from Mr. Foyster's diary, reproduced verbatim:
October 16, 1930. Jugs and other utensils disappearing and coming back. Peculiar smells - especially one most nearly resembling lavender noticeable particularly in our bedroom. Bells rung. A bracelet detached from wrist-watch while Marianne is in room only a few feet away, and no one else in the house, besides Adelaide, who was in her own room. Bracelet was taken and has never been seen since. Lavender bag, which no one has ever seen before, discovered on mantelpiece of Marianne's sewing-room. Lavender bag disappears and again appears in my pocket: discovered when putting on coat one morning.
February 1931. Books found on window-sill of w.c. As soon as one is
(1) In another Poltergeist case, that of the haunted castle at Calvados, Normandy, in 1875, a shower of Roman Catholic medals fell on the owner's wife.
taken away, it is replaced by another. (These books had been left by the Bulls and were stowed away on shelf in housemaid's pantry.) Last of these had a torn cover, which was thrown on floor.
February 25. A big return of crockery (that had previously unaccountably disappeared). Marianne asks for a tea-pot: this is also returned. At my suggestion, Marianne asks for return of bracelet, but in very uncomplimentary language.
February 26. Books found under our bed in the morning. A consignment of hymn books, unknown before, discovered on the rack over the kitchen range in the afternoon. In the evening Marianne is given a terrific blow in the eye - a cut under it; black eye next day - by an invisible/assailant on the landing outside bedroom. She was carrying a candle.
February 27. Shortly after we had retired and light extinguished, first a cotton-reel and then a hammer-head with broken handle attached were thrown across our bed. Lamp lit and throwing discontinued.
February 28. I write a letter on the subject (of the hauntings). Directly afterwards (the room had been empty for only a few minutes in between) two pins discovered with their points sticking upwards. One was on seat of arm-chair; the other on chair I had been sitting on. About an hour or so later an erection, composed of an old lamp and saucepan (neither of them seen before) was found outside my door. (1) Later, the handle of a floor-polisher is put across the passage I have traversed on my way to supper. Still later a tin of bath salts placed just inside bathroom door trips up Marianne.
March 5. Two articles thrown after lights were put out in our bedroom. Then, after an interval, I was aroused by a hairbrush on my head.
March 6. The knob off a door thrown with some force from just behind her, at Marianne as she comes along bathroom passage.
March 7. Marianne thrown at in the afternoon. In the evening, I attempt to exorcise spirits. Stone hits me on shoulder. Books thrown out of shelves in Marianne's sewing-room. Pictures in hall and on staircase are taken down and laid on ground. Things thrown in bedroom. (This night, window was first opened a few inches at bottom; then at top. The veranda roof outside would make it very difficult for things to be thrown from outside into bedroom.)
March 10. A little pile of five stones found behind Marianne's pillow when she woke in the morning. More objects carried into the house. A stone through a pane of glass in staircase window. It was thrown from inside while Marianne, Adelaide and myself were standing by hall stove. I think that on this night a small tin travelling trunk (not seen before) suddenly noticed in kitchen while we are sitting at supper there. This stayed in the house for some time, but eventually disappeared. China
(1) This 'erection' is a little reminiscent of the clothes tableaux witnessed in the Phelps case (1850-51). - H.P.
powder-box and wedding-ring discovered in bathroom. It (the ring) disappeared during the following morning. (1) Marianne stumbles over brick placed outside bathroom door. Next morning two stones found behind my pillow.
March 11. Two Anglican priests go thoroughly over the house with Marianne and myself, using incense, holy water, and prayers. A 'presence' of some sort is felt, but no active demonstration. Later a stone is thrown at a boy from the cottage. I was out most of the remaining part of the day. After my return, a stone was thrown at me. Then, as we three were standing round the hall stove, another stone fell only a few inches from my head.
March 12. Clean linen was taken out of the kitchen cupboard, and trailed over the floor.
March 13. Marianne hit on the head, and hurt, by a piece of metal thrown down back stairs. A piece of brick dropped on to supper table, close to my plate, but without breaking or touching any crockery.
March 15. As I am typing out a diary of events in the house, first my collar (which I had taken off for comfort) is thrown at me. Then a stick and a piece of coke were thrown across the room.
March 16. Marianne in the early morning of this day finds kitchen table upside down, and the contents of a store cupboard partly inside, and partly scattered broadcast. In the evening, bedroom window which had been left open was discovered closed the wrong way round.
March 23. Marianne, while carrying a tray in one hand and a lamp in the other, up the front stairs, has the inside of an iron thrown at her from a few feet ahead of her. It breaks the lamp chimney.
March 24. Small articles thrown at Marianne while she is sweeping, etc., outside bedroom. 'Harry Bull' seen again by Marianne at night about this time; and, probably, by cottage tenant through stair window.
March 28. Marianne sees a monstrosity (seen by her and others on other occasions) near kitchen door. It touches her shoulder with iron-like touch.
March 29. Palm Sunday was still.
April 11. Saturday in Easter week. A small demonstration. With this one exception, there was absolute quiet during Holy Week and Easter week.
April. Milk jug is mysteriously found empty. I request a clean one and made a rude remark about 'drinking after ghosts'. While we are sitting at tea in broad daylight with doors and windows closed, missiles are thrown at me. At night, I count up 12 or 13 times I was thrown at, between approximately 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. in different parts of the house.
May. A bad half-hour in the kitchen one evening ended by my going upstairs to get creosote with which we fumigate the house. On my way
(1) This ring, or one like it, suddenly appeared in the Blue Room on the last day of my tenancy of the Rectory. (See p. 296) - H.P.
'Marianne sees a monstrosity near kitchen door.'
up a lump of dried mortar hit me in the neck. On the way down a metal spanner passed through my hair. After fumigation, the trouble stops at once. Pepper, however, dropped on us in bed. Some had previously been thrown in Marianne's face in the kitchen. Next evening, Marianne does some fumigating, but is rather lenient with creosote. Bells ring; stone thrown at her, and jam-jar crashes against the kitchen door as she is returning. I go round with the creosote and trouble ceases. On the next day (Monday) I collect six articles thrown in the late afternoon and evening to show Sir George and Lady Whitehouse (who arrived about 9 p.m.), to see if anything was doing. While they are here, skirting board of unused bedroom (not entered by anyone on that day as far as we knew) discovered to be on fire. Some throwing after it had been put out. We accept their invitation and stay a few days with Whitehouse. One evening, when up at Borley, Marianne sees paper in air; it at once falls to the ground. It is discovered to have some hardly decipherable writing on it. Next day when we come up, it had disappeared. Other pieces of paper with 'Marianne' written in a childish hand, were found about the house from time to time. (1)
June 6. Worst outbreak begins with a stone being thrown.
June 7. Stones thrown in the evening. A chair in spare room (in which Marianne was lying in bed, very unwell) twice thrown over. Strange noises heard on landing during the night: bangs, taps on door, etc.
June 8. Monday. Proceedings start soon after 10 a.m. These include a variety of things. Books, stones, clothes, suit-case, and a basket full of soiled linen were thrown over balustrade from landing to stairs and hall. The soiled linen basket was thrown twice. Marianne hears turmoil going on in what was usually our bedroom. She gets up from sick bed to see. Noise at once stops, but room found to be in confusion. Bed moved, furniture overturned. Doctor calls and witnesses some throwing. Richard Whitehouse visits house and also witnesses some throwing. Marianne turned out of bed three times during the day, but each time when alone in the room. Lady Whitehouse, coming up in the evening, hears more throwing. Matters are so bad that she and Sir George insist on our going down to their house for a time. During the rest of the month of June, house is empty at night except for a few nights when I could get someone else to sleep in the house as well. On one of these evenings, when a friend was there, I heard a noise just before retiring. I went to his room to see if it came from there. I found him asleep, and an empty paint pot (which he knew nothing about) had been placed close up against the door inside.
August (or perhaps September). Study attacked. Writing desk thrown on its face; chairs overturned; books pushed out of the shelves; room in confusion.
(1) Compare this phenomenon with the written messages received in the Battersea case (p. 238). - H.P.
September. We are locked out of our room one night. Adelaide was locked into hers. (All doors unlocked with help of relic of Curé d'Ars.)
On the kitchen being left empty for a few minutes, a saucepan full of potatoes, left on the stove, was found to be empty. Witnessed by Marianne and a maid. (N.B. We had no resident maid in the house from the time we arrived till September 1931.) About this time different things were moved about in the house (or disappeared altogether) to a great extent. Amongst them was a big pile of typewritten sheets, and a portable typewriter. Though money was removed, we cannot be certain that it was ever taken.
October. I am awakened one morning by having a bedroom water jug dropped on my head. I left it on the floor, and a little time afterwards it is dropped on Marianne's head.
January 1932. One night, both doors of our room were found locked. One door was locked from the inside. (1) The other door, communicating with dressing-room, had a chest of drawers pushed right up against it from the inside. This showed the impossibility, therefore, of the locking having been done by a human agent. Once more we sought admission by means of prayer. But door was still found locked. We went to the Chapel and while we were there, a terrific noise started up in the hall, which we found was due to the cat having its claw caught in the rat-trap. When we returned to the Chapel, we found a key lying on the corner of the altar. This turned out to be the key belonging to the door between our bedroom and dressing-room.
* * *
The above few extracts from Mr. Foyster's voluminous notes convey a little of what they experienced at the Rectory. The names of Lady Whitehouse (a friend who lived near Sudbury) and her nephew, Dom Richard Whitehouse, O.S.B., are mentioned in the diary. Lady Whitehouse sent me an independent report relating her experiences. On one occasion when visiting the Rectory, she found the contents of the cupboard strewn all over the place. Then a whole row of bells began ringing simultaneously. And an outbreak of fire occurred in a locked room: She helped to put it out - just in time, as a strip of skirting board was glowing red. As she was assisting, 'a flint about the size of a hen's egg' was flung at her. The window was closed, and the missile must have entered through the door. Then more flints fell. Then all the bells started ringing again. She then 'burnt a lot of lavender on a kitchen shovel' in order to fumigate the house, and the Poltergeists quietened down a little. However, things looked so dangerous that she insisted on the Foysters and their little adopted girl Adelaide (aged 3 years) leaving the Rectory, and she took them all back in her car to her residence, Arthur Hall, Sudbury.
(1) Mr. Foyster, in order to enter the room, applied to the door a relic of the Curé d'Ars. It wall at once 'magically' unlocked. - H.P.
Lady Whitehouse was at the Rectory one day during the following summer. Mrs. Foyster was ill in bed. She placed her gloves and parasol on the bed. She turned her back, Mrs. Foyster gave a scream, and her gloves and parasol had been transported across the room on to the dressing table. She fetched Mrs. Foyster a cup of tea. As she entered the bedroom, ‘a small glass bottle seemed to start from the middle of the room, and fell at my feet.' After that, Lady Whitehouse remarks, ‘Things were very active and horrible'. It was on this day, as recorded by her husband, that Mrs. Foyster was thrown out of bed three times.
If Lady Whitehouse’s experiences were remarkable, they were nothing to those recorded by her nephew, Dom Richard Whitehouse, O.S.B. He spent many hours at the Rectory and had known all the incumbents there since he was a child. He, too, sent me a long independent report of his experiences which are recorded in full in my first book (1) on the Rectory. On one occasion he found a bed completely overturned when the Foysters were away and the house locked and unoccupied. He records outbreaks of fires, and the mysterious locking and unlocking of doors. He also had an extraordinary experience when one of the famous 'wall messages’ spontaneously appeared in his presence. Bell-ringing was a common phenomenon and several times 'the large bell in the yard used to ring out. There was no rope attached to it and it was high up in an angle o fthe.yard.' (2) ‘More than once', said Dom Richard Whitehouse, 'I have stood in the kitchen passage and watched the bells moving to and fro, the only people in the house often standing alongside of me witnessing the same performance. The wires of some of these old-fashioned pull bells had been cut.'
By far the most amazing incident recorded during Dom Richard's investigation occurred on Friday November 13 1931. He, Mrs. Foyster, and a maid named Katie were seated in the kitchen having supper. Mr. Foyster was in London. I will quote verbatim from his report:
‘Mrs. Foyster was sitting in a small easy chair in one corner of the kitchen. The windows and both doors were closed. Without warning of any kind there was a sudden crash underneath her chair, a wine bottle bursting into fragments on the stone floor beneath her. A quarter of an hour or so later, precisely the same thing happened to me as I was drawing up a small chair to sit down to my supper. Katie was kept busy sweeping up the broken glass and looking quite mystified, having been in the house only a week or so. Shortly after this, all three of us witnessed another extraordinary incident. We were standing in a row with our backs to the fire, talking and looking out towards the window. Suddenly before our very eyes, a wine bottle poised itself in mid-air within a foot
(1) Op. cit.
(2) I am particularly interested in this bell as Capt. Gregson gave it to me as a souvenir after the Rectory fire. It hangs in my garden in Sussex and I am still waiting for it to ring paranormally! – H.P.
or so of the kitchen ceiling. It remained there for a second or two and then fell with a crash on the floor before us. I repeat, that all three of us witnessed this incident.’
As I have remarked, the Foysters occupied the house for five years. When they left (October 1935), the ecclesiastical authorities decided that never again should a rector of Borley live in the place. They decided to sell, and it was offered to me 'for a song'. But I lived 150 miles away from Borley and felt I could not look after the building. But I decided to rent it, and this I did for one year, my tenancy beginning on May 19, 1937.
My idea was to form a panel of critical and educated observers who knew nothing about Borley and little about psychical research. To this end I inserted an advertisement in The Times (1) and from the shoals of offers I received, I selected about forty men: doctors, scientists, army officers, university men and so on-all from the cultured classes, and all intelligent. No mention of Borley appeared in my advertisement. I wanted some independent and fresh minds to be brought to bear on the hauntings and I was determined to eliminate everyone - including myself - who had had anything to do with Borley in the past. All of my new observers were strangers to me and to one another, except one or two B.B.C. men who came in later. I rarely visited Borley during my tenancy, but just directed the whole affair from my offices in Berkeley Street, W.1.
My 'official' observers who, of course, paid their own expenses, were under certain obligations. They had to furnish reports to me, whether good or bad. They were pledged not to convey any information about what happened at the Rectory to anyone but myself. This was to prevent garbled and sensational stories getting into the Press. And there were certain other minor regulations all designed for one object - the scientific and independent investigation of what has now been proved to be the most convincing and best-documented case of haunting -especially Poltergeist haunting - in the annals of psychical research.
I cannot possibly do more in this chapter than mention a few of the most remarkable paranormal happenings that occurred during my observers' vigil that lasted, night and day, for twelve months. All their reports have been published in my book, (2) to which I must refer the reader. But I will relate some of the outstanding phenomena, witnessed and recorded under scientific conditions:
On June 1, 1937, a strange coat, a woman's, mildewed, torn and dirty, appeared in one of the cupboards. Owner never found. June 20, Mr. S. H. Glanville, one of my most active and intelligent observers, heard 'cracks' and bumps at night. Five days later Colonel F. C. Westland recorded the sudden appearance of a blue box at the Rectory. The new Rector of Borley, the Rev. A.C. Henning, and Mr. Mark Kerr-Pearse (one of our proconsuls at Geneva) held a little informal séance and
(1) For May 25, 1937.
(2) Op. cit.
'extraordinary noises were heard coming from the kitchen'. On September 21, a 50-pound bag of coal, carefully controlled and under test conditions, moved laterally 18 inches of its own volition.
One of the most striking phenomena was when Kerr-Pearse was having his supper in the living-room that had been prepared for my observers. He was alone in the locked and sealed house. The key of the door was on the inside, in full view of Kerr-Pearse as he was eating. Suddenly there was a click. He looked up and found that he was locked in - though the key was on his side of the door. Whatever locked him in must have been in the room with him.
I could fill pages with accounts of the thuds, thumps, 'draggings', strange odours, lights (a university student saw a luminous patch on the Blue Room ceiling; it hovered a little and then disappeared) and especially the strange wall-markings that were recorded by my observers. Then there were the phantasms, etc., that I am not dealing with in this volume. All were seen.
Mr. Henning, Mr. Glanville, and their friends experimented with the Planchette, with interesting results. By its means they 'discovered' the name of the 'nun' that haunts the Rectory, together with some details of how she was murdered. The 'communicator' said its name was 'Mary Lairre'. Another 'communicator', 'Sunex Amures', said it would burn down the Rectory. Asked where the fire would start it said, 'Over the hall'. A few months later the Rectory was gutted by fire, (1) the first part to be burnt being 'over the hall'.
On May 9, 1938, I gave up the tenancy of the Rectory. My experiment had been brilliantly successful. Nearly every type of phenomenon experienced at Borley was repeated, under scientific conditions, and recorded by disinterested and dispassionate witnesses. On the last day of my occupation, when Mr. Geoffrey H. Motion (a friend of mine) and I were clearing up, an apparently new (though made in 1864) 22-carat gold wedding-ring suddenly 'appeared' in the Blue Room-at midnight! We had entered that room several times during the afternoon and evening, and had searched the floor for any paranormal marks or objects. And yet on our last visit to the room, the first thing that Motion and I saw simultaneously as we passed through the doorway, was the glint of the gold on the floor. We never found its owner. Very curiously, a gold wedding-ring suddenly 'appeared' in the bathroom at the Rectory a few years previously, and just .as suddenly disappeared, as the Rector recorded in his diary. The same ring might have figured in both incidents.
Captain W. H. Gregson bought the Rectory at the end of 1938, and he experienced all the old phenomena with the addition of some new ones. For example, he lost, in succession, two valuable spaniel puppies. Both acted - and reacted - in the same way. In his report, Captain Greg-
(1) Epworth Parsonage, home of the Wesleys, was also destroyed by fire, before the Poltergeist disturbances there.
Remains of Borley Rectory, August, 1943.
son says that he heard footsteps in the courtyard and went to investigate. His dog was at his heels. Suddenly 'my dog stopped dead, and positively went mad. He shrieked and tore away, still shrieking'. The next dog he had behaved in exactly the same way and neither has been seen since. Other phenomena recorded by Captain Gregson included the usual movement of objects, footsteps, etc., and strange footmarks in the snow (Christmas, 1938) that neither he nor anyone could identify. They were neither human nor made by any animal that could be identified.
On October 27, 1938, Miss Ethel Bull wrote to us and said that 'a clergyman friend of ours who was staying in the neighbourhood a few weeks ago, walked up to the Rectory one evening and prowled around outside. He heard an awful noise coming from the house as though a lot of furniture was being thrown about. Nobody was in the house (which was then unoccupied). He felt a bit scared and took himself off.'
A few months after Captain Gregson bought the Rectory, it caught alight. While he was sorting out books in the hall a paraffin lamp fell over - and that was the end of the Rectory. But certainly not the end of the phenomena. During the height of the fire a local policeman testified that he saw 'a woman in grey and a man wearing a bowler hat' in front of Captain Gregson as he walked about the courtyard. This was at 2 o'clock in the morning. Of course, no such persons were present. Then two of the local residents informed me later that they had seen 'figures moving amongst the flames near the Blue Room window'. Still a few weeks later, Miss Rosemary Williams of Borley Lodge, and Mr. C. G. Browne of Pound Hall, Long Melford, informed me that they had recently visited the Rectory ruins by moonlight, and had seen a young woman dressed in pale blue or white suddenly appear at the Blue Room window. 'She remained for several seconds and then turned towards the wall and, as it seemed, walked through it.' As there were neither walls nor floor for the figure to stand on, it could not have been a human being.
In addition to the above testimony, I have received many reports to the effect that phenomena are still occurring. As a few of the lower rooms are habitable, investigators visit the place, with interesting results. And people who were not investigators have also experienced startling phenomena there. I get reports almost weekly from various quarters. I will select a few of them.
On August 7, 1943, I wrote an article for Everybody's Weekly on the Borley phenomena. Amongst the many scores of letters about the article that were received by the editor or me, was a long one from Mr. Gilbert Hayes, the well-known film comedian. It was sent to the editor. The letter was really a report on some extraordinary experiences that befell the writer and his wife in September, 1939 - after the Rectory had been burnt. Mr. Hayes had seen an advertisement in Dalton's Weekly to the effect that a large piece of ground in Essex, suitable for tea gardens,
was to be let. The name of the place was not mentioned, and he had never heard of Borley, until he wrote in answer to the advertisement. Even then the name conveyed nothing to him. He and his wife travelled to Sudbury and then hired a car to take them to the Rectory. He was a little ahead of his wife and before examining the 'cottage', he thought he would thoroughly examine the grounds as to their suitability for tea gardens. So he walked on and on, and as he could hear his wife's footsteps behind him all the time, made a running commentary about the trees, the paths, the summerhouse, etc. He went right round the grounds, along the Nun's Walk, to the greenhouse. The footsteps were close behind him all the time. At the greenhouse he turned to face his wife, and was astounded to find that no one was there. He hurried back to the house and found that his wife had been exploring the rooms in the cottage, and had never been near him in the garden. And there was no one else about. So whose footsteps were they?
His wife had a similar experience. She climbed the stairs to the rooms over the stables and, hearing footsteps on the landing, thought that Mr. Hayes had followed her up. When she investigated, she found that no one was in the cottage or on the landing; and, as we know, her husband was exploring the garden. Then she went to look at the garden, leaving her husband to examine the cottage.
A few minutes after he entered one of the rooms he noticed on the wall near a shelf a sort of pocket, or hold-all, containing, as he found, a bundle of old bills that were rammed in tightly. Out of sheer curiosity, he examined the bills and as some of them amused him, he called out the items to - as he thought - his wife, whom he heard on the landing outside the room. He thought she had returned from the garden and had climbed the stairs to the rooms. As he received no reply or comment to his jokes about the bills, he carefully rammed all the bills back into the pocket on the wall and went to the door of the room to see why his wife did not answer him. There was no one on the landing! Puzzled, he turned round and was about to re-enter the room. He says: 'I stood in the doorway and gazed around. The bills that I had a few seconds before placed securely in the hold-all, were laid on the shelf.' There were other phenomena, too. It was not until they got back to Sudbury station and mentioned their adventures to a postman, that they learned the Rectory was 'haunted'.
Another strange experience befell Mr. H. F. Russell, a distinguished engineer who lives at Chelmsford. Having read my book, and his R.A.F. sons (one a Wing Commander and the other a Squadron Leader) happening to be home on leave, they all decided to take the cat and have a look at the Rectory. This was on November 12, 1941. Mr. Russell shall relate his adventure himself:
'We left the car on the opposite side of the road and my two boys at once entered the house and had a good look round. I followed some
twenty yards behind them when I was suddenly seized (so I imagine) and despite my attempts to keep vertical, was dashed to the ground. I felt an unseen, unknown power trying to throw me down, in which it succeeded, and I landed in a pool of mud which necessitated the sending of some clothes to the cleaners.' (1)
About this time I had a report to the effect that the military authorities tried to use the building for billeting purposes, but 'were so annoyed by Poltergeists that they had to seek quieter quarters'. An officer who spent the night in the place by himself got no rest on account of incessant bell-ringing.
A Cambridge scientist, Mr. Andrew J. B. Robertson, of St. John's College, who holds an honours degree in chemistry, and some friends and fellow-scientists, have sent me at least twenty reports on visits to Borley where, with scientific instruments, they recorded some most interesting phenomena. These include thermal variations, footsteps, raps, etc. All their reports will be published in my next Borley book.
Mention of the footsteps that dogged Mr. Hayes and his wife reminds me that Mr. Arthur S. Medcraft, of Goodmayes, Ilford, wrote me that in July, 1943 he decided to visit the Rectory. As it was a nice morning, he thought he would walk the three miles from Sudbury to Borley: 'At about 12.15 p.m., on getting within two hundred yards of the Rectory, I became aware of footsteps following me and, on turning, saw nothing but the empty road, the footsteps ceasing at once.' Then the footsteps became slower than his, though previously they had kept in step. It was a perfectly still day. While eating his lunch on the lawn, Mr. Medcraft heard a door slam heavily in the Rectory, and then a noise like a click. There was no one in the Rectory.
Among the many investigators who have visited the Rectory since my book was published are Lieut. G. B. Nawrocki (who is a doctor of medicine), Colonel J. Wroblewski, and some Polish fellow-officers. They spent two nights there, on June 28 and July 28, 1943, respectively. In their reports they record some interesting phenomena: Door-slamming; stone-throwing; a black shadow moving slowly along the Nun's Walk; 'scratchings'; a half-brick that apparently fell from the ceiling on to their heads; many 'whisperings' from the kitchen passage and so on. A shadow of a man that appeared to be silhouetted on the wall remained without moving for 10-20 seconds 'and then vanished very slowly'.
Before I leave Borley I must relate one very curious incident that happened, not in the Rectory, but in London. As I have stated more than once, I have concerned myself with Poltergeists only and have barely mentioned the 'nun', the other phantasms seen, and the many types of phenomena (such as odours, sweet music, etc.) recorded by many observers. The 'nun' is, of course, the centre of interest in the Borley story.
(1) Glanvill (Saducismus Triumphatus, 1681, Part II, p. 243), relates a similar incident.
There is a great deal of evidence for the nun - evidence going back for seventy years. But who was the nun? I will be quite honest - I have never had the time to find out. But it has occurred to at least one person that she was probably a member of the famous Waldegrave family who owned Borley for hundreds of years, and whose ornate marble memorial takes up a good deal of room in Borley Church.
When my book was published in 1940, Canon W. J. Phythian-Adams, D.D., D.S.O. (Canon of Carlisle and Chaplain to the King), read it though twice and sent me a most convincing and logical analysis of the evidence. He came to the conclusion that the nun was the 'Marie Lairre' of the Planchette writings, or at least a young French nun who had been inveigled to England on some pretext (perhaps by a false lover) and then murdered at Borley. He based his conclusions on the evidence recorded in the book, a new interpretation of the wall-writings, (1) etc.
Canon Phythian-Adams, in his report, believed that the remains of the nun would be found in the filled-in well in the cellar of the Rectory. So on August 17 and 18, 1943, the Rev. A. C. Henning, some friends, a labourer and myself cleared out the well, and dug up the cellar floor under which we found the parietal and temporal portion of a human skull, and a left mandible with five teeth in situ, that experts tell us belonged to a young woman 'under thirty'. We also found other objects of interest, all pointing to the fact that a nun had been buried there. But this is not the place to tell the story.
On September 13 following I took the skull, jawbone and other objects to the well-known art photographers, Messrs. A. C. Cooper, Ltd. to be photographed. While Mr. A. C. Cooper (the Governing Director of the company) and I were examining the skull, and each of us had hold of it, it slipped out of our hands, fell to the wooden floor of his studio, and broke into four almost equal pieces. I was very annoyed, though we managed to stick it together again. Mr. Cooper remarked that never, during the twenty-five years he had been in business there had an accident occurred to anything of value entrusted to him. I said I would call for the photographs on the next morning.
When I went next day to collect the prints of the skull, etc. together with my 'exhibits', Mr. Cooper had a curious story to tell me. During the few hours that he had the skull and other objects in his possession the following things happened: Two valuable oil paintings (one worth a thousand guineas) fell off their respective easels in his studio when he was in the room, but not near them. Such a thing had never happened before during his business career. On the same afternoon he spoilt two batches of plates because he omitted to put the 'stop' in the lens of the camera - a thing he had never done before. And a clock on the wall, that had not gone for ten years, and could not be made to go, ticked for
(1) In the Phelps case (1850-51) scribbled messages appeared spontaneously on the walls.
twenty minutes of its own volition! (1) Mr. Cooper, who knows little about psychical research, told me that he was very glad to get rid of my property!
But his troubles had hardly begun. On Wednesday, February 23, 1944, I took into his studio two pamphlets concerning Poltergeists. I wanted the title-pages photographed for reproduction in this book. Fortunately, I called for my pamphlets later in the day, arranging to collect the prints on the following morning. On this night of February 23-24 the studio was destroyed by enemy action. I am not claiming a relation between Poltergeists and Mr. Cooper's misfortunes - I am merely stating facts.
Just as I was concluding this chapter, the Rev. Father John Wright, of the handsome Roman Catholic Church of S. Philip Neri, Arundel, wrote to say that a Requiem Mass for the soul of the Borley nun was being said (2) on the following morning (Saturday, October 30, 1943). Requiescat in pace! (3)
As we are in the Borley district, I will relate the story of the Scrapfaggot (4) Green Poltergeist that so disturbed the good people of Great Leighs, Essex - a village six miles north-east of Chelmsford and not far from Borley.
On October 6, 1944, the Sunday Pictorial rang me up and told me that their representative was at Great Leighs, where the most extraordinary things were happening all over the village. He reported the following incidents: The tenor bell in the church tower tolled in the early hours of the morning, and the bell ropes played reversed chimes on Sundays; the church clock struck midnight at 2.30 a.m., and lost an hour each day; a farmer's haystacks had been found pushed over in the night; corn stooks were found in adjoining meadows; cows in calf gave birth prematurely; the hens stopped laying; chickens - which no one had lost - were found drowned in water-butts; others had escaped from locked fowl-houses; sheep strayed through unbroken hedges; three geese, belonging to Mr. Arthur J. Sykes, landlord of the St. Anne's Castle Inn (said to be the oldest in England: it dates from 1170), disappeared from his garden, though there was no break in the enclosure; a builder complained that a pile of scaffold-poles had been scattered about his yard, like matchsticks; a dozen paint pots, many brushes and other paraphernalia, neatly stacked over night, had been found by a
(1) In the Worksop Poltergeist case (Proc., S.P.R., Vol. XII, pp. 45-58) in 1883, a clock that had not struck for eighteen months, suddenly chimed. It then leapt over a bed and fell to the floor.
(2) As the wall-writings (see p. 280) directed us to do.
(3) Since the above was written, I was lecturing at Oxford University where I was told that, some time previously, a Mass had been said for the 'nun' in one of the Oxford Roman Catholic churches.
(4) Probably a corruption of the Suffolk word 'scratch-fagot', an opprobrious term for an old hag or witch.
decorator under the beds in a cottage where his men had been working, and so on. Nearly every person in the village had some story to relate, of strange happenings or displacement of objects.
With a friend I spent a day at Great Leighs on October 11, 1944, and we interviewed several of the victims, all of whom confirmed the reports I had received. A few hours before our arrival, thirty sheep and two horses had been found dead in a field. It was said they had been poisoned. During the same night, chickens in a yard and rabbits in hutches had mysteriously changed places, though the fasteners were undisturbed. Mr. William Reynolds, the licensee of the Dog and Gun Inn, showed me a large boulder, weighing some 200 pounds, that had been deposited outside his front door - just where one was likely to fall over it. I examined the stone carefully. It was of irregular shape, much worn, with no signs of moss or moisture on it. No one had lost such a stone, and its origin has not been traced.
Perhaps what interested me most was a certain bedroom in the St. Anne's Castle Inn, which cannot be slept in - peacefully. Mr. Sykes asked me what I thought of it. I told him that the contents of the room appeared to have been shaken out of a pepper-pot. He said: 'It is always like this. Nothing will "stay put". Over and over again we have straightened up the place, only to find next morning that everything was higgledy-piggledy. We now use it as a lumber room, but boxes and furniture are scattered about night after night. No other part of the house is affected.' It was from this inn that the B.B.C. broadcast (April 15, 1939) a 'haunted house' programme.
The villagers declare that their misfortunes dated from the day when American bulldozers widened the road at Scrapfaggot Green, the centre of the village, thus displacing a two-ton stone that marked the remains of a seventeenth-century witch who had been buried (with a stake through her chest) at the crossroads there. They asked me what they had better do about it. I told them that if they believed the witch to be responsible for their troubles, the logical thing to do was to restore her tombstone to its original site. This they did, ceremonially, at midnight on October 11-12, placing the stone east and west in the traditional manner. The phenomena ceased. The result of my visit was that I came to the conclusion that the Scrapfaggot Green manifestations were partly genuine, partly the work of a practical joker, and partly due to mass-hysteria.
Great Leighs, Essex, the scene of the Scrapfaggot Poltergeist disturbances. The Church of
St. Mary the Virgin, seen in the picture, was the foucus of many alleged phenomena.
Photographed on October 6, 1944, during the
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