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No problem. I have decided to completely rewrite the last part because I wasn't happy with it so it will be a few more days before I am finished.
"Louhi spoke in riddled tones of three things to achieve: find and catch the Devil's Moose and bring it here to me. Seize the Stallion born of Fire, harness the Golden Horse. He captured and bound the Moose, he tamed the Golden Horse. Still there remained one final task: hunt for the Bird from the Stream of Death"
-Kalevala, Rune XIII-
Never realised he was so good at self publicity
As a first thing allow me to make amend for my long silence. I really, really had no time to be part of the gang.
Second thing, know this bio will be finished. I will make shorter and more frequent posts to make up for the lost time. Starting... now!
Borley Rectory - How it all began
Since the story of the Borley Rectory is so well covered, there's no need to enter in the details. I will hence focus on Harry Price's involvement with "the most haunted house in England".
In his autobiography Confessions of a Ghost-Hunter Price says he became aware of Borley Rectory almost by chance in 1929. He was informed by a newspaper editor of "a most unusual Poltergeist case that was disturbing the inmates of a country house somewhere in the Home Counties".
Price immediately sent a telegram to the then tenant of Borley Rectory (Reverend Eric Smith) saying he would arrive the next day. According to Price Rev. Smith replied "Thank God-Come quickly".
Price spent the afternoon and the early evening examining every inch of the house. At dusk he sat with an assistant in the gardens and, according to his own autobiography, witnessed the famous ghost nun apparition.
In the evening a seance was held in the Rectory, a seance Price described as "novel and extraordinary". Apparently the deceased Rev. Harry Bull had made himself felt and answered questions through the usual rap cose: one for yes, twice for no, three for doubtful. Though this seance lasted three hours (from 1AM to 4 AM), Price has left very little about it.
Next day was spent interviewing the inhabitants of the nearby village, including three of the surviving children of Rev. Bull. Again according to Price the Rectory already had quite a reputation as a haunted house, to the point there was a very high turnover among servants, rightly frightened by supernatural occurences.
While Price kept himself updated about the Rectory, he didn't return until 1931, during the Foysters' tenancy. Mrs Foyster sent Price her detailed diary which was enough for Price to return with two female assistants and a chaffeur.
It was during this investigation that Price witnessed the most incredible occurences "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...". The chaffeur, who was smoking his pipe in the kitchen, saw a disembodied black hand creep on a door and was scared out of his mind.
Price also hinted he saw "even stranger things" but never fully disclosed what happened over the course of those two nights.
To be continued.
The Price Tenancy
Ever since the Foyster's had left the Rectory in 1935, the building sat abandoned. Since there was no man of the cloth willing and ready to take up residence in Borley, the Church decided to combine the Borley Parish with Liston. Reverend Alfred Clifford Henning, the new rector, decided to take up residence in Liston Rectory. The new Reverend argued the much smaller Liston Rectory was better fit to house his small family than the huge Borley Rectory, built to house a family of sixteen with their domestic staff and the Church agreed with him.
Price had kept himself updated about the whereabouts of the building through one of the Bull sisters (one of the surviving children of Rev. Harry Bull) and discovered the Church had decided to put the building up for sale. Price recalled he could have had the whole building and the grounds "for a song" but opted against it.
This decision has often been criticized: if the house was indeed "the most haunted in England" he could have made a fortune out of it.
The most likely explanation is that Price was just being practical. The Rectory was in a poor state of repair and was located in extensive untended grounds. There was nor running water nor electricity on premises. Rev. Clifford Henning, a honest man by all accounts, described the Rectory as needing "an army of servants inside to say nothing of gardeners outside". In short it was a huge money pit.
Price probably took his time in starting negotiations with Queen Ann's Bounty, the fund owning title to the Rectory, to bring down the price. He was successful: in 1937 he rented the building and grounds for the paltry sum of £30 for a whole year. That's about £1500 in today's money.
On 25th of May 1937 Price placed an advertisement in the Times to recruit volunteers to keep watch in the Rectory.
48 persons were chosen and the tenancy began. Now, this wasn't a "round the clock" vigil as is sometimes written. The "observers" came and went as they pleased (logical since they weren't paid), picking up and leaving the keys at a neraby cottage inhabitated by a steam roller driver and his wife who acted as "keymasters" of sorts. A room in the Rectory was fitted as an operating room, fit with a camp kitchen, bunks etc and "observers" were given a list of tasks to perform. These included take up position in the large summer house on the lawn for a full hour around dusk to look for the ghostly nun and sitting in complete darkness in the Blue Room for one whole hour. Reports were to be compiled and sent to Price's office in London.
Two men were particulalrly active, spending long periods of time in the house: Sydney H. Glanville, a civil engineer who was sometimes joined by his son, an RAF Squadron Leader, and Mark Kerr-Pearse, a career diplomat. Even the most vitriolic critics of Price's legacy agree both men were beyond reproach and very honest. Glanville produced a very detailed report, nicknamed the "Locked Book" due to being bound and fit with a lock by Price for reasons unknown.
This book has quite a history: after Price's death in 1948 Glanville obtained his original manuscript back as a memento. In 1951 he became friend with an SPR member, Trevor Hall, one of the three men who wrote the famous Borley Report which did so much harm to Price's reputation. In 1953, shortly before his death, Glanville called Hall to his cottage and presented him the Locked Book. Hall later sold it to an American collector for £1000, not before having it microfilmed. The original microfilms are now in the Harry Price collection at Senate House together with a typewritten copy written by Glanville himself.
The End of the Rectory
On May 9 1938 Price gave up tenancy of the Rectory and declared the experience a huge success. While closing down and checking the building before returning the keys he found a 22 carat gold wedding ring on the floor of the Blue Room. Suspecting this may have been a "phantom ring" which had appeared and disappeared numerous times over the course of the years he promptly snatched it and brought it back with him to London. He later said this ring was made in 1864 though he added little else (for example no mention was made if it had a particular date or letters engraved in it).
But this was not the last time Price would set foot at Borley.
After the building burned down in 1939 many people took an interest in the case: perhaps they just wanted a distraction from the war and were easily helped by Price's books.
One of these people was Canon W.J. Pythian-Adams, Canon of Carlisle and Honorary Chaplain to the King. Canon Pythian-Adams first popularized the theory (whatever or not it was his own invention is still a matter of debate) the occurences were the work of the ghost of a young French nun called "Marie Larrie". He also said the said nun had been buried in a filled-in well in the Rectory's cellar. In 1943 Price contacted Rev. Henning who gathered a few friends and parishioners. Under Price's watchful eye they dug up the cellar floor and unearthened part of a human skull and mandible. According to a pathologist they belonged to a young woman "under thirty". These poor rests were later given a Christian burial in consacrated soil after being extensively phtographed while a Requiem Mass was being said for the soul of the nun in the Roman Catholic church of Arundel.
The Borley Rectory Legacy
While Price declared himself convinced the phenomena in the Rectory were genuine and absolutely extraordinary, he had a few serious doubts of his own.
While he said nothing in both Confessions of a Ghost Hunter and Poltergeist over England he had a deep distrust of the Foyster's, especially the wife, Marianne, distrust he expressed in numerous private letters to the tone of "the rector's wife is responsible for the troubles" or "the rector's wife was just fooling us". Price believed Marianne Foyster was trying to simulate a haunting as "the result of hysteria" or to convince his husband to move out of a place she hated. He even went as far as suggesting the scribbled writings on the walls were the work of a "secondary personality".
In short he believed Marianne Foyster was either a fraud or clinically insane.
Mind that Price firmly believed the events he witnessed during Rev. Smith's tenancy were absolutely genuine. In a 1935 letter to the Honorable Everard Feilding he wrote "Five years ago the place was literally alive with something". In the same letter he also expressed his wish the Foyster's would move out so he could conduct a proper investigation.
After Price's death (29/3/1949) much harm was done to his reputation by a single book: The Haunting of Borley Rectory: A Critical Survey of the Evidence by Eric Dingwall, Kathleen Goldney and Trevor Hall. Two of the authors (Mr Dingwall and Mrs Goldney) had been Price's associates for over two decades at the time of his death.
The allegations were quite heavy and cast a stain on Price's reputation to this day. Price was depicted as an unmitigated crook, a pathological liar and a scoundrel.
The question is very simple: why didn't these two associates of Price's level their accusations during Price's lifetime, perhaps in front of the SPR or by going to the press? We don't know but it's well known Price was a formidable enemy and won so many libel causes lawyers usually advised their customers against pressing accusations not backed by solid proofs.
Nandor Fodor, the psychologist who first proposed a link between pubescent children and the poltergeist phenomenon, wrote a scathing review of this book which he described as "ghoulish" and "scandalous and scurrilous". Fodor had no love for Price (whom he considered "selfish", "jealous", "intent on his own glory" and "resentful of rivalry to the point of obsession") but admired "his courage and his ability". He rightly felt the book would end up doing more damage to psychic research as a whole than to Price's reputation. Over fifty years later few can argue with him.
Hi Mauro, sorry for not replying to this sooner, I was camping in Glastonbury for a fortnight and attending a conference when you posted this, needless to say I had no real internet access. I love the bio and I think you have done him justice.
If its finished and your happy it, could I post as an article in our biography section?
It is strange that recently I have been contacted by a group investigating the church at Borley which brought Price back to mind. Di dhe ever look into the church as a haunting or perhaps it has come to a focus of interest after the rectory was destroyed?
No problem, I have been away for FAR longer...
I remember an investigation of the church being carried out in Price's lifetime but I do not remember if he took part or others handled it.
As per publication just allow me to add a biography section because I've consulted so many books, websites etc that I just cannot do it in a snap.
The tiny atmospheric parish church at Aldworth, contains numerous huge effigies of the De La Beche family. Read More »