Borley Rectory


















Massimo Polidoro and the Borley Haunting by William Fisher


In 2002 Massimo Polidoro published a volume in Italy entitled Grandi misteri della storia (Great Mysteries of History). It was re-issued in paperback format in 2004 [1]. Polidoro is one of the founders of the Italian organization CICAP (Comitato Italiano per il Controllo delle Affermazioni sul Paranormale) and editor of Scienza & Paranormale, which is more or less the Italian equivalent of the American magazine The Skeptical Inquirer.


Along with interesting chapters on such old chestnuts as the Bermuda Triangle, Atlantis, the Curse of Tutankhamen, Nostradamus, the Miracle of St Januarius, and the Shroud of Turin, the book contains a chapter on Borley Rectory entitled “La canonica di Borley: la casa più infestata d’Inghilterra” [2].


Polidoro’s account of the Borley haunting contains little or no information that will be new to students of the case: it is, in fact, little more than a readable and succinct synopsis of the 1956 SPR Borley Report [3].


His account contains a number of small factual errors, which need correcting. Although inaccuracies of this kind (like his references in one of his previous books to the American medium “Miss [sic] Piper”) are not directly relevant to the paranormality or otherwise of the phenomena, they do not inspire confidence that the author’s grasp of his facts is sufficient to make his arguments sound. For example:


· It was not Price himself (p. 121) who suggested the holding of a séance in the Blue Room on the evening of his first visit to the Rectory in 1929, although he did agree to the suggestion.

· Price wrote two, not three, bestsellers on the Borley case (p. 123), although he was preparing a third book at the time of his death in 1948. Actually, the use of the term “bestsellers” (libri di successo) is itself debatable [4].

· While the Smiths wrote to the Editor of the Daily Mirror – for the purpose, so Mrs Smith claimed, of finding out how to get in touch with a psychical research organization – they did not publish “an advertisement” (un annuncio) on the subject in that paper (pp. 127-128), or in any other.


More seriously, Polidoro presents the findings of the 1956 Borley Report as though the report were a definitive

and unrefuted de-bunking of the Borley haunting and takes no account of the published criticisms that tend

seriously to weaken the case made by the authors of the report. He makes no mention, for instance, of Robert Hastings’s “Examination of the Borley Report” [5] or of the criticisms of Tabori and Underwood [6].


He quotes (p. 130) Charles Sutton’s account in the Inky Way Annual of the incident one evening in Borley

Rectory with Price and his secretary, Lucie Kaye, when Sutton claimed that he caught Price fraudulently

producing poltergeist phenomena. Polidoro does not mention that Miss Kaye herself, when questioned later,

failed to remember any such exposure and was adamant that Price, to the best of her knowledge and belief,

never engaged in fraud. Sutton claimed that, after a half-brick went crashing from the Rectory landing down

the stairs, he seized Price and found his pockets “full of bricks and pebbles” (emphasis mine). This statement,

if taken literally, does not ring true. Dr Alan Gauld, when interviewing Sutton about the incident in 1966,

pointed out that “a half-brick would have been a largish object to get into one’s pocket” [7] and Tabori and

Underwood observed that “Price would have been bulging indeed if he had carried even a single full brick

about his person – let alone two or three as Sutton’s plural suggested.” [8]


However, in Polidoro’s Italian translation of Sutton’s Inky Way account, the alleged bricks in Price’s pocket

have apparently shrunk to “pieces of brick” (pezzi di mattone) – size of pieces not stated. It really won’t do.

Believers in the paranormal are accused – and frequently with some justice – of unconsciously ironing out

inconvenient bumps in evidence or testimony as a result of their will to believe: clearly, those with the will to disbelieve are not immune to the same failing.


Polidoro accepts uncritically (as, apparently, did the authors of the 1956 Borley Report) Mrs Smith’s highly

improbable explanations of the ringing of the bells and the “mysterious” lights in the Rectory windows as

being due, respectively, to rats and to the lights of passing trains and cars (p. 131). I might remark that Mrs

Smith’s testimony to the SPR has long struck me as a particularly unsatisfactory part of the sceptical case both against the Borley haunting in general and against Price’s integrity in particular.


He draws attention (p. 137) – as did the authors of the Borley Report [9] – to Price’s remark in his first Borley

book that part of the Rectory garden was the site of the burial place of some victims of the Great Plague, and that occasionally skulls and other human remains were unearthed in the garden [10]. He makes the perfectly plausible suggestion that the remains of the “Nun” found during Price’s excavations in the rectory cellars might have been simply more relics of the same kind. In his second book, Price expresses reservations about the tradition of the Great Plague burial pit [11], but, given that human remains had been from time to time disinterred in the Rectory garden – whatever their provenance – the theory remains a tenable one. To his credit, Polidoro does not repeat the suggestion of Dingwall et al. [12] that Price had “planted” the remains of the “Nun” himself. (For a fairly conclusive rebuttal to this ludicrous insinuation, see [13] and [14].)


In a final footnote to his Borley chapter, Polidoro notes the publication in 2000 of Louis Mayerling’s We

Faked the Ghosts of Borley Rectory [15], and rightly judges that it lacks pretty well any credibility.

In conclusion, I would say that Massimo Polidoro has produced an extremely well written book, which I have

read with enjoyment. As a Roman Catholic who is sceptical of all ecclesiastical miracles and who visits Naples

regularly, I found his chapter on the liquefaction of the blood of St Januarius of particular interest. But his

account of the Borley case is decidedly oversimplified and out of date.




[1] Massimo Polidoro, Grandi misteri della storia. Da Atlantide al Titanic: un’indagine scientifica sui più

celebri enigmi di tutti i tempi, 2004, Edizioni Piemme Pocket, Casale Monferrato (AL)

[2] Massimo Polidoro, Ibid., pp. 119-139

[3] Eric J. Dingwall, Kathleen M. Goldney & Trevor H. Hall, The Haunting of Borley Rectory, 1956, Gerald

Duckworth & Company, London

[4] R.J. Hastings, An Examination of the ‘Borley Report’, Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research,

Vol. 55, Part 201, March 1969, p. 114

[5] R.J. Hastings, Ibid.

[6] Paul Tabori & Peter Underwood, The Ghosts of Borley, 1973, David & Charles, Newton Abbott

[7] R.J. Hastings, Ibid., p. 162

[8] Paul Tabori & Peter Underwood, Ibid., p. 101

[9] Eric J. Dingwall, Kathleen M. Goldney & Trevor H. Hall, Ibid., pp. 155-156

[10] Harry Price, The Most Haunted House in England: Ten Years’ Investigation of Borley Rectory, 1940,

Longmans, Green & Co., p. 26

[11] Harry Price, The End of Borley Rectory, 1946, George G. Harrap & Co., London, p. 249

[12] Eric J. Dingwall, Kathleen M. Goldney & Trevor H. Hall, Ibid., pp. 159-161

[13] R.J. Hastings, Ibid., pp. 112-117

[14] Edward Babbs, Borley Rectory: The Final Analysis, 2003, Six Martlets Publishing, Sudbury, pp. 85-86

[15] Louis Mayerling, We Faked the Ghosts of Borley Rectory, 2000, Pen Press Publishers, London


© William Fisher 2009.


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