Borley Rectory

The Most Haunted House in England

by David Nash Ford

Unless you've been there, the small village of Borley, near Sudbury, in Essex is not the sort of place one would normally think to associate with ghoulish spectres, yet the area has a sinister reputation known throughout the country. Borley was the site the infamous Borley Rectory, reputedly the "Most Haunted House in England".

Borley Rectory was built in 1863 for the Revd Henry Bull. It was erected on the site of an ancient monastery and the ghost of a sorrowful nun who strolled along the so called "Nun's Walk" was already well known in the villagers at that time. An old story claimed that she was a wayward sister from the nearby nunnery at Bures who had fallen in love with a monk from the Borley Monastery. The two had tried to elope together but had been quickly tracked down. The monk was executed and the nun bricked up in the cellars of the monastic buildings!

Revd Bull had a summer-house put up overlooking the Nun's walk so that he could watch the manifestations. However, the lady soon became something of nuisance: often startled guests by peering at them through the windows of the new rectory. Servants rarely stayed long. The Reverend's four daughters even saw the lady gliding across the lawn in broad daylight. The hauntings increased during the incumbency of Henry Bull's son, Harry. Apparitions now included a ghostly coach and horses seen racing up the rectory drive

1927 saw the death of the last of the Bulls, and the Revd Eric Smith and his wife arrived at the rectory. They had been warned of the building's reputation and took the precaution of inviting the well-known psychic researcher, Harry Price, to visit. Mr. Price's arrival appears to have set in motion an outburst of inexplicable poltergeist activity. Objects were smashed and stones hurled at the investigator by unseen forces. It was all too much for the Smiths and they left after only two years.

The rectory now became the home of Revd Lionel Foyster and his family, and the ghostly phenomena immediately took a turn for the worse. The resident phantom appears to have taken a liking to the rector's young wife, Marianne. She often had objects thrown at her, but even more strange were the messages addressed to Marianne which began to appear scrawled on the walls of the house - even while witnesses watched! However, despite attempts at communication, most remained unintelligible. Though one certainly read, "Marianne, please help get" and another, "Pleas for help and prayers".

Taking the bull by the horns, the Revd Foyster had Borley Rectory exorcised. The result was positive at first and the manifestations stopped. However, it was not long before they reappeared in a new form. Strange music would be heard from the nearby Church, communion wine would unaccountably turn into ink, the servants bells in the house rang of their own accord and the Foyster's child was attacked by "something horrible". The rector had had enough. The family left and all successive incumbents refused to live in the house.


Intrigued by the further reports of psychic activity at Borley, Harry Price returned in 1937 and rented the building himself. He advertised in The Times for trustworthy assistants and, in a prolonged psychic investigation, he attempted to get to the bottom of the hauntings. With a team of forty-eight observers he logged an extraordinary number of psychic phenomena. The most bizarre was perhaps the results of a seance held on 27th March 1938. A ghostly communicant from beyond the grave claimed that the the rectory would catch fire in the hallway that night and burn down. A nun's body would be discovered amongst the ruins. An extraordinary assertion, particularly as nothing happened.

Harry Price's lease ran out later that year, and the building was taken on by one Captain Gregson. He too was subjected to continuing mysterious happenings, including the disappearance of his two dogs. Then, exactly eleven months to the day after the curious ghostly warning, an oil lamp unaccountably fell over in the hall and Borley Rectory burnt to the ground. Witnesses claimed to have seen ghostly figures roaming around and through the flames, while a nun's face peered down from an upper window.

Harry Price returned again in 1943. Digging in the cellars, he discovered the jawbone of a young woman. Convinced that it was part of the body of the spectral nun, he attempted to end the hauntings by giving the bone a Christian burial.

It does not seem to have worked. Supernatural happenings are still reported from the site of the rectory and the nearby churchyard. And Borley has an eerie air about the place that visitors cannot help but remark upon.

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For the believer no proof is necessary, for the non-believer no proof is possible (Stewart Chase 1929)

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