Modern Borley


















Harry Price & Borley   by Andrew Clarke

Andrew Clarke is a historian with the Foxearth & District Local History Society who lives locally to Borley and has spent a huge amount of time researching into the history of the village & its surrounding area.  He has written several studies on the events at Borley Rectory and here gives his thoughts on Harry Price's involvement & attitude to the Borley case.

Price's early work was first-rate.  He was a childhood hero of mine and I read his works avidly. Without him, the abuses and con-tricks of some of the mediums would have lasted a great deal longer. His library is a staggering achievement. Even with the Borley Rectory saga, his journalism and writing style was superb.

Just looking at the primary evidence and the text of the two Price books on Borley, I get the impression of a cynical and sceptical man sliding slowly into a more doubtful frame of mind, where he began to believe that there might be something behind Dr Phythian-Adams' all-encompassing theory of Marie Lairre. He told his taxi-driver, in a phrase that passed into local legend 'I used to think it was 100% bunkum, but now I think it is only 97% bunkum'. I suspect that a lot of what subsequently has looked like faking and deception, such as the flying brick episodes, the pebbles, the black hand (that his chauffeur saw), the wine-into-water pranks and so on were just high-spirits, light-hearted pranks and deadpan humour. It seems inconceivable that he could have believed them himself. He seemed to think that if he reported what someone else had said, he had no need to put his hand up to own up to a prank. Maybe he assumed that his readers would see the joke!

I personally have great difficulty with the Well-tank episode, and the finding of the bones of 'Marie Lairre'.  The whole business looks wrong. For example, Rev Henning was probably not aware that Jackson and Palmer, the two labourers who helped with the dig, were deeply suspicious, and their views spread throughout the community. As they were both experienced pig-men, they knew what Jackson had dug out of the ground: old sows bones. (this was why 'Marie Lairre' had to be interred in Liston).

I have long-ago given up trying to find a single explanation for the Borley Rectory affair. Tony Cornell came up with a rather good theory, which is, in essence, that a single incident, or trigger, possibly a genuine haunting, can crystallise a huge subsequent superstructure of legend, private experience, prank, Chinese whispers, fabrication and so on. At Borley I suspect that the essential phenomena, the triggers that were witnessed by too many people over too long a period of time to be dismissed easily are the shuffling footsteps and the lights in the window.

Harry Price's early attitude to the Borley Rectory hauntings seems to have been one of light-hearted disbelief. Nobody except the Bulls and the Smiths took the early presss coverage seriously. When he visited the Foysters, he was far more interested in a days shopping in Cambridge with Mollie Goldney than in the poltergeist phenomena. He knew it was faked, and not to be taken seriously.

Price's difficulties came when he obtained the Foyster Diaries and realised he had got hold of literary gold-dust. He had to disguise his disbelief to produce a best-seller. The huge wave of belief that met the publication of the first book forced him reluctantly along a certain path. He had also begun to believe the ghosts himself and the inconsistencies and deceits that can be found in the books are fault-lines caused by the rapid u-turns in his attitude to the haunting.

I find it hard to be severe or condemning of the man. A lot of scientists, when they come to be convinced of a theory, take short cuts with the evidence rather than reject their theory in the light of evidence. It is a very human failing, particularly with the tired and ill toward the end of their careers. The fact that they have tampered with the evidence on these occasions should not, I think, lead one to ignore their other contributions, particularly when they have been as beneficial as Harry Price's early work.



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