In the latest issue of the Borley Ghost Society newsletter, BGS Associate Eddie Brazil has asked fellow Society members for a fresh evaluation of a photograph he took at Borley over thirty years ago. This photograph, published previously on Vince O’Neil’s website, is a view across Borley churchyard taken from near the road & shows the church with Borley Place in the background. Of course what makes this picture interesting is that in the foreground there appears to be the outline of a robed figure which was not visible to the young Eddie during the course of his visit, so it’s no wonder that the photograph is as much of an enigma to the photographer today as it must have been when it was developed way back in 1972. The photograph has been the subject of previous comment, both supportive & critical, by website visitors & to date this is as far as things have gone.
So what in fact have we got here? – an old blemished snapshot of an English country churchyard that contains nothing but whatever people want to read into it, or does this photograph indeed show the apparition of the ghost nun of Borley Rectory, a figure that has been reported many times as having appeared in the vicinity of the Rectory & the church since the famous experience of the Bull sisters on the Rectory lawn in 1900? I have to say at this point that the reason for writing this short essay is to explain why I am convinced that Eddie’s photograph does indeed show a supernormal figure & as such it ranks in my opinion as the most important Borley photograph to date. This is a big statement to make but I honestly believe it to be the case.
As a starting point, I am convinced that a camera can record the presence of phenomena which is unseen by the photographer at the time the picture is taken. Despite the many well known examples that have been published over the years, this conviction comes from having been shown photographs taken in the house of a friend of my wife who lives in Emsworth in Hampshire. These ordinary family snapshots so impressed the S.P.R that they wanted to mount an investigation of the house but although this ultimately did not come about, the photographs are compelling evidence that there was some form of psychic activity going on there. The photographs, some two dozen in total, which were taken with at least two different cameras & by different people over several years, are either partially or almost totally obscured by smoky ectoplasmic shapes & patterns. I also have no reason to either doubt Eddie’s integrity in publishing the photograph or question the background of it being taken. Having personally met Eddie at Borley last year in the company of BGS Associate Robert Vajna & his family & having had the opportunity to discuss the photograph in context, I am satisfied that the picture has not been faked or doctored in any way.
Following on from this, the presentation of the photograph should be taken into consideration i.e. the picture has not been cropped & what is shown is the entire image & not an enlarged section designed to draw attention to something which otherwise might be considered as insignificant. Everyone is familiar with the famous flying brick photograph taken at Borley in April 1944 when the last surviving ruins of the Rectory were in the process of being demolished. The usual way this is reproduced is by way of the enlargement that Harry Price published in The End of Borley Rectory showing a close-up of the brick against the black background of the kitchen passage, rather than the entire photograph which shows the incident in a completely different light by including not only a greater amount of the ruined building but also the workman employed to carry out the demolition & who was apparently throwing bricks around at the time.
Having put forward my views on the background to the photograph, in order to be as fair as possible & thorough in a critical appraisal of Eddie’s picture, it has to be said that there are certain technical aspects relating to the photograph to which I cannot comment on without qualification which should be mentioned. If the figure in the photograph is considered to be nothing more than a blemish then the possibility that this occurred during the development of the picture has to be addressed. Whether the figure is a result of the negative being damaged or marked while it was being developed is something which needs a photographer to comment on. As Eddie is a more than competent photographer I am sure he has considered this & would have commented on it if it were pertinent to the argument. As to external damage causing the effect, this is certainly not the case as publication of the negative has shown that it is an actual part of the photographic image itself. If the figure is not a physical distortion of the negative, then whatever it is or whatever caused it must have been present at Borley when it was taken in September 1972.
The obvious explanation that the figure is nothing but a flare caused by the sun does not hold water with me. Although Andrew Clarke has tried to demonstrate the possibility, a comparison of his picture with Eddie’s shows that simply pointing the camera at the sun gives a completely different effect. Andrew’s sun flare is a random shape whereas the figure in Eddie’s photograph has perspective & is clearly related to its environment. For me this is the convincing thing about the photograph. The extra in the picture corresponds exactly with the proportions of an average human figure in the same position & location. The bottom half of the figure is clearly hidden by the fence palings in the foreground as would be with a person standing in exactly the same spot.
What also needs to be remembered is the orientation of the photographer & the time of year it was taken if an effect of the sun in the camera lens is proposed as the cause of the image. In order to achieve this shot Eddie was standing at the entrance to the churchyard facing West North West, getting the end of the East elevation of Borley Place & most of Borley church into his photograph. He estimates that he took the photograph between midday and at the latest between two thirty & three o’clock in the afternoon as he was back home in Camberwell at half past six that evening. That being the case, if the weather was indeed clear & sunny this would mean that the sun would of been on Eddie’s extreme left at the time he snapped his churchyard picture & not facing him, making the sun flare idea a non-starter. However, Eddie can qualify things by recalling that it was overcast & cloudy when he visited Borley that day, a fact which is supported by the overall impression of the photograph itself, even allowing for the picture quality of the camera Eddie was using at that time.
The extra itself has been the subject of analysis by Scott Cunningham who has pointed out features which correspond to a human form. My interpretation is that the figure is the image of a person side on to the camera & dressed in a robe-like garment which obscures any individual limbs. The head appears to be again covered, by either a hood or some form of veil. The background of the churchyard hedge, the burying ground & a monument are visible through the figure which as I have mentioned above is clearly standing behind the former boundary fence which has now been replaced with a low brick wall. As such, this image corresponds very closely with the description of the apparition of a nun which has been reported on many occasions being seen in this location over several decades, from the first years of the 1900s through to the late 1970s. It is also in my view readily identifiable as a human form. Compare this photograph with several others which are reproduced on the Borley website in which it is suggested that extras can be seen, such as Ray Armes’ ‘wizened old man’ photograph taken at Borley three years after Eddie’s trip or the much earlier Bush photograph of 1947. Trying to interpret apparitions in either of these photographs is like looking into a ‘Magic Eye’ photograph from a ten year old copy of the Daily Mail. Eddie’s photograph is clearly relevant to what has been seen at Borley since the hey day of the Bulls.
This now brings me to my own personal views on the apparition which has been seen at Borley over the years. I fully agree with the theory that there are different types of ghost, one of which is the concept that an apparition is some form of psychic imprint on a locale which replays over a certain period of time. Peter Underwood has written about this idea, which Arthur C. Clarke has referred to in a television programme as the ‘stone tape theory’, a phrase I believe was coined by the writer Nigel Kneale. The ‘energy’ which causes the apparition to appear & function is likened to a battery which gradually disseminates its power over time – in those cases where it has been possible to observe the repeated appearance of an apparition in one location over a period of several years (the Beavor Lodge case at Hammersmith & the Cheltenham haunting readily come to mind), at first the figure is like that of a normal person & appears distinct & life-like. Over time there appears to be a gradual winding down of the psychic activity & either the ghost becomes less distinct or less frequent in its appearances, sometimes being represented in the latter stages of a haunting by audible phenomena only, such as footsteps. I’m sorry if I appear to be lecturing here but to me this is pertinent to the appearances of the nun at Borley over the years.
This particular apparition has been reported many times during the incumbencies of both Henry & Harry Bull & in the decades following the Rectory fire & the building’s subsequent demolition. The last period of activity appears to be in the 1970s when the church was being investigated on several occasions, following what could be described as a fallow period during the ‘60s, perhaps enabling the psychic battery to be recharged. This may explain why Vince O’Neil in his The Ghosts That Will Not Die can note that there were five separate occasions when the nun was seen between 1970 & 1979. What is interesting is that around the time of Eddie Brazil’s visit to Borley in 1972 there appears to have been quite a lot of activity in & around the church with a figure being seen in the churchyard as well as an unaccountable moving object tracked using a sound scanner in the same place.
The first person that Eddie showed this picture to was his father who commented “I think you have photographed a ghost, son.” I could not agree more. I am certain that Eddie was literally in the right place at the right time & was able to capture psychic activity which was still able to manifest itself to a certain degree, obtaining not only the most important Borley photograph but one of the most convincing ghost images of all time.
(This article was first published on Vincent O'Neil's BorleyRectory.com website which is currently off-line -18/XII/2004)
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