Borley Rectory - The Most Haunted House in Britain

Borley Rectory was reputed to be the most haunted house in the UK. The rectory was built by the Reverend Henry D. E. Bull in 1863 near the river Stour, Essex. However the rectory burnt down in a fire started in mysterious circumstances in 1939.

It's thought that the rectory was destined to be a haunted house from the start due to the events that had occurred on the site many centuries before.The foundation was an age old Priory on land that contained a 12th century Church, Caretaker's House and other buildings. A.C. Henning, the rector in 1936, discovered that the Doomsday Book told of a Borley Manor prior to 1066, so he concluded a wooden church was probably also built around that time. The foundations contained underground tunnels and a complex of vault rooms. The Rectory had 20 rooms and was 3 stories high.

Borley Rectory, Essex, England

The most popular story to the background of Borley was that in 1362 Benedictine Monks built a monastery on the site which would later hold the rectory. Legend told of a nun from the Bures convent, 7 miles southeast of Borley falling in love with a monk from the monastery. They had decided to elope to be together, but the elders discovered their plans. A friend of the monk was to drive a carriage to help them escape. On the fateful night they were captured by the elders. The coachman was beheaded, the monk hanged and the nun was bricked up alive in the walls of the vaults beneath the rectory. Their ghosts have haunted the site ever since.

Reverend Henry D. E. Bull became rector of Borley in 1862. He built a large, brick building the next year. Bull added a new wing to the already rambling building in 1875. The first reported paranormal sightings at Borley were reported by P. Shaw Jeffrey who witnessed stone throwing and similar poltergeist activity whilst visiting the rectory during 1885.

Unexplained events scattered throughout the early years of the rectory. A former headmaster of the Colchester Royal Grammar School reported seeing a ghostly nun several times during 1885. A series of pastors and their families who have lived at the rectory have all reported sightings of the nun. It was reported that during dinner parties guests saw the nun's pale face in the window looking in. It got so bad that they eventually bricked up the window.

Henry Bull died in the Blue Room of the rectory May 7, 1892. He was succeeded by his son, also named Henry. The younger Bull was called "Harry" to avoid confusion with his father. On July 28th, 1900, three Bull daughters reportedly saw a figure on a path, which later became known as the "Nuns Walk", to the rear of the rectory. They were joined by a fourth sister to help greet the stranger, but the apparition disappeared. Harry also told of seeing the nun, together with the phantom coach in which she had eloped.

She was also seen wandering the grounds around the Rectory, in and out of the bushes, dressed in grey. There are reports of the Monk and Nun passing across the grounds. Several people said they observed "A lady in grey cloak" and "A gentleman with a sort of bald head, dressed in a long black gown."

On June 9, 1927 Harry died in the "Blue Room" of the rectory. Earlier, he had said he had "communications with spirits," and that he would throw moth balls after his death. The rectory was empty for several months after Harry's death. During the autumn of 1927, and while it was still empty, a local carpenter named Fred Cartwright said he saw a nun four separate times by the gate.

Reverend Guy Eric Smith and his wife moved to Borley on 2nd October, 1928. Soon after, he heard whispers and moans, including the words "Don't Carlos, don't." Henry D. E. Bull had been given the nick name of "Carlos". While living in the rectory, the Smiths apparently heard the loud ringing of the doorbell; experienced small pebbles being thrown, heard footsteps , noticed keys disappear and lights being turned on. A horse-drawn coach was also claimed to have been seen coming through the gates of the rectory.

During October 1930, Reverend Lionel Foyster, his wife Marianne, and their adopted daughter Adelaide moved in to Borley Rectory. This was the beginning of the most famous period in poltergeist history. It was referred to as "the most extraordinary and best documented case of haunting in the annals of psychical research" by Henry Price.

At least two thousand Poltergeist phenomena were experienced at the Rectory between October 1930 and October 1935 during the tenancy of Lionel and Marianne Foyster. In later years, Mrs. Foyster came up with explanations for how many of these paranormal events could have happened naturally. However there were some phenomena that she was never sure about, including various writings that appeared on the walls and on slips of paper that mysteriously appeared out of nowhere.

A scrap of paper with communication between Marianne and the ghost

During the first year of their tenancy, Lionel described many unexplained happenings including; bell ringing, the appearance of Harry Bull, glass objects appearing out of nowhere and being dashed to the floor, books appearing, and many items being thrown, including pebbles and an iron. After an attempt at exorcism, Marianne was thrown out of bed several times.

The Foysters lived at the Rectory for 5 years before leaving, and contrary to popular belief they were not frightened away from the rectory. They left only because Lionel's ill health made it impossible for him to continue his work. After the Foyster's left, the house stood empty for a couple of years, but the phenomena continued. Although the presence of Marianne seemed to precipitate the most paranormal activity, unexplained events occurred at Borley both before and after the Foyster residency.

Price said "Every person who has resided in the rectory since it was built in 1863, and virtually every person who has investigated the alleged miracles, has sworn to incidents that can only be described as paranormal."

Price was given the opportunity to study the haunting further when no one could be found to live in the rectory. He leased the rectory for a year, and advertised in The Times for "responsible persons of leisure and intelligence, intrepid, critical and unbiased", to form a team of investigators who would spend several nights in the abandoned building. The lease began in June of 1937 and little, if any, poltergeist activity was witnessed during this year-long study. The most common occurrence was the movement of objects out of their documented locations, and the sounds of footsteps.

A mysterious coat appeared, but no sightings of the nun were observed. Some witnesses felt a sudden chill outside the Blue Room, and certain parts of the house were consistently colder than others.

Borley Rectory - The ruins of the Rectory after the fire in 1939

After Price's study group left the rectory, the house was eventually purchased by Captain William Gregson and his family who were the last people to live in the rectory. The rectory burnt down on the 27th February 1939 when Gregson overturned an oil lamp whilst stocking some bookcases. Witnesses who watched the blaze spotted ghosts in the windows. The site was demolished in 1944.

A photo capturing a brick rising from the rubble in the doorway

During 1944 LIFE magazine researched an article on Borley Rectory. Whilst photographing the final demolition of the rectory, the photographer took pictures showing a brick rise from the rubble in the doorway. Sceptics say that it was merely a brick that had been thrown by a nearby workman and accidentally captured by the photographer.

The following photograph was taken by David Bamber in 1996 near the graveyard at Borley Rectory. What appears to be the ghost of a monk is seen walking at the back right of the photo.

A side view of Borley Rectory

Smiths contacted the Daily Mirror in June of 1929 asking for help. The newspaper, in turn, approached psychic investigator Harry Price. The Daily Mirror sent a reporter named C.V. Wall to the rectory June 10, resulting in the first published report of paranormal activity. Wall listened to the tales of the Smiths, and saw a "mysterious light" in the window during his visit.

On June 12, Harry Price arrived at the rectory for the first time, accompanied by his secretary, Miss Lucie Kaye, and by the reporter. They witnessed stones and other objects being thrown across rooms. Wall later said that he had seen the nun.

Price returned for a second visit 27th June. Various phenomena were reported, including the appearance of a Catholic medallion and other articles. There was also incessant bell ringing.

By 14th July, 1929, the Smiths moved out "owing to the lack of amenities and the nuisance created by the publicity of the newspaper reports."

 

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