Friday, 15 April 2016

Borley Tunnels


A local legend of a 13c Bendictine monastery once occupying the site of Borley Rectory gave rise to a ghost story about a monk who was said to have eloped with a nun from a convent at Bures: both were caught and executed, he being beheaded and she walled up in her convent.  A further strand of the story has them eloping in a coach before being apprehended - sightings have been reported of a ghostly coach at Borley - a pure anachronism, as it is referring to the period prior to the Dissolution.  The Rev Henry Bull, who had the rectory built for his large family in 1863, seems to have been fond of this story (a pair of monks were carved into the side of a fireplace in the house) and it probably spread beyond the rectory to the surrounding houses of Borley.  In 1938 Sidney Glanville told Price that he had been informed by the local archaeological society that there was no documentary or physical evidence whatsoever for a monastery on the site of the rectory. However, when his first book on the subject was published two years later, Price still referred to the possibility that it existed, as it fitted in with his theories about the ghost of a monk and nun haunting the grounds of the building (note also the handy materialization of the 'monkish' medallion in 1929 when this theory was strongly held, which magically transformed into two Roman Catholic medallions when this theory had to be altered to accommodate the murdered nun; see Borley 1 below).

Inevitably, secret tunnels are also involved in the legend.  In The Most Haunted House in England (p.26) Price wrote:

'The remains of a portion of an underground tunnel can be seen in the farmyard of Borley Rectory.  Apparently it had caved in at some period in the remote past.  It is impossible to trace it very far, and no one appears to know for what distance it is blocked.  Future investigators might well make it their business to explore this tunnel.  But portions of the tunnels - or a tunnel - have been discovered in various places in a direct line between Borley and Bures, a township seven miles from Borley, on the River Stour ...Bures is six miles southeast of Sudbury and the remains of a nunnery or similar religious foundation have been found there.  The story is that a secret passage or subterranean tunnel led from Borley Monastery or castle to the nunnery at Bures.  Whether this tunnel - of small ancient bricks - was used as a means of escape from some possible danger, or for some military purpose; or whether it was constructed as a purely domestic arrangement between the monastery and nunnery, is a matter of conjecture.  I have been told that the entrance to a second tunnel, or perhaps the entrance to a branch of the Borley-Bures tunnel, is still extant in the farmyard of Borley Place, the ancient house opposite the Rectory.  A tunnel from Clare is supposed to meet the one from Bures somewhere in the Rectory grounds.'

Bures, a village located on the border between South Suffolk and North Essex, is a union of the two parishes of Bures Hamlet in Essex and Bures St Mary in Suffolk and is called Bures for convenience.  According to legend, a tunnel is said to run from a shop in Bures |(later a cafe called the Two Teas) to the site of Borley Rectory.  There is also no evidence to suggest that there was once a nunnery at Bures.

In 1957 a tunnel was found during work on the road between Borley Place and the farm opposite.  Intrepid researcher Len Sewell, who was following in the footsteps of Harry Price, went down into the tunnel and some photos were taken (see above) showing that it was extremely low (28 in high), although some books print an image without Sewell which might make readers think that it was larger than it actually was.  The idea that a monk or nun crawled their way along here to facilitate a romantic tryst is absurd.  It was most likely a storm water culvert.

Much more on the tunnels of Borley can be found at the excellent Foxearth site.





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