Location: Borley Rectory Borley, Sussex, Grid Reference TL850431
The Legend of Borley Rectory
There are few paranormal tales more captivating than that of Borley Rectory; and still to this day, nobody knows the truth surrounding the mysterious house that burned to the ground, apparently under suspicious circumstances in February 1939. The house no longer exists, and no traces remain, but the tiny hamlet of Borley on the Essex and Suffolk border still attracts hundreds of hopeful ghost hunters every year, all hoping to catch a glimpse of the ghostly nun, who is reported to have been regularly seen by locals and residents of the rectory during the rectory’s fairly short life.
Borley Rectory was built in 1863 by the Rev Henry Bull. It was a large, red brick building that was gradually extended over the years to house the reverend’s rapidly growing family. The result was a huge, sprawling house which, due to its design and unusual acoustics, made it the ideal place for the Bull children to play practical jokes on each other, and so inevitably rumours of hauntings at the rectory soon spread around the locals. Three of the Bull sisters claimed to have seen a ghostly nun pass through the equally huge grounds of the rectory, on a route that soon became known as ‘the nun’s walk’. In fact the Revd Harry Bull, who took over the parish after his father died, had a summer house built overlooking the spot, so that he could while away the summer evenings watching for the nun, who is rumoured to have eloped with a monk from a monastery that was supposed to have once existed on the site prior to the rectory being built, although no records exist of the monastery having ever stood, however many people claim to have seen the nun over the years, which makes the story interesting.
Eventually the rectory fell into disrepair and when the Revd Bull died and his sisters moved out, the rectory stood empty and dilapidated for a long time, its imposing, gothic shadow adding fuel to the rumours of hauntings. So when the Revd Guy Eric Smith and his wife took up residence in the rectory and discovered that very few locals would enter the house, Mrs Smith wrote to the Church Times, informing them that they believed the house to be haunted by no more than “Rats and local superstition”, and also wrote to the editor of the Mirror, asking to be put in contact with someone who might be able to come and prove that no such ghosts existed, and of course, the editor jumped on the story and send a photographer and ghost hunter extraordinaire, Harry Price, a wel l respected man in the field of paranormal science.
As soon as Price arrived at the house, things started to happen. Keys flew out of their locks, disembodied voices were heard, along with all manner of phenomena, and soon the house became the centre of attention after the newspapers were informed of what quickly became known as “The Most Haunted House in England”, however one reporter is claimed to have discovered pebbles in Price’s pockets and a roll of cellophane in his briefcase after reports of a ‘rustling’ sound were heard during a vigil in the dark one night. The media went crazy and Price became more and more in demand. The Smiths became fed up with this invasion of their privacy (even though they started it all!) and moved out. Shortly after their departure the Foysters moved in. Revd Foyster, an old man in ill health, and his young wife Marianne and their adopted daughter Adelaide, a girl of around three years old and the phenomena continued. Marianne is reported to have been repeatedly thrown out of bed, objects were thrown at her, items disappeared and mysteriously reappeared, small fires were discovered and writing appeared on the walls, addressing Marianne by name, one appearing to ask for “light, mass prayers”. Marianne denied any involvement with any of the phenomena, but reported to have been an attention seeker and having an ongoing affair with a local man, apparently in the full knowledge of her husband. Price paid several visits to the house during their five year tenancy, and write two books on the house.
The Foysters moved away when Lionel’s ill health prevented him from working, and the house once again lay empty. During this time Price decided to rent the house for a year, hiring a team of credible investigators of various credible professions, to hold vigils and observe phenomena in the house 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, on a rota system, working from a book of guidelines and instructions that Price gave each investigator. The full results can be found in Price’s book, “The end of Borley Rectory”. A number of seances were also carried out, the results of which are also transcribed in the book. One night an entity calling itself “Sunex Amures” threatened to burn the rectory down, saying that the rectory would catch fire over the hall at midnight that night and that the remains of the nun would be found amongst the ruins. The rectory did not burn down that night.
Shortly after Price’s tenancy expired, Captain Gregson bought the rectory and lived in the adjoining cottage while he moved in to the rectory and made it habitable. One night, a month almost to the day after Sunex Amures made its threat, the Captain was in the hallway of the rectory late at night unpacking boxes and accidentally knocked a paraffin lamp over, which set alight to some books. The fire quickly spread and as the rectory had no mains water supply, burned quickly. By the morning the building had been completely gutted.
Price was undeterred by the fire damage, and continued his investigations with the permission of Captain Gregson. A team of investigators reported various phenomena such as footsteps on the stairs, strange lights and heavy dragging noises from what was left of the rooms above, that were inaccessible due to the damage.
The rectory was finally demolished five years later in 1944. Price took a photographer from Time magazine to see the demolition in progress, and the photographer captured what appeared to be a brick levitating through the air. Price claimed that this was poltergeist phenomena at work, however the photographer claimed the brick was thrown by a workman who was just out of shot.
A human jawbone was discovered in the earth in the remains of the cellar. Could this have been the remains of the ill-fated nun, Marie Lairre, who reportedly came through during seances? Either was the remains were given a proper burial in Borley churchyard, conducted by the Revd Henning, who by now resided at the much smaller Liston rectory a couple of miles away.
So ends our story. Was Borley really haunted, or did a combination of coincidences, overactive imaginations and unreliable witnesses cause the hauntings? You decide.