Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Yet Another Borley Miscellany

In 1937 Sydney Glanville wrote to Arthur Foyster hoping to be put in touch with his brother Lionel.  No longer living at Borley Rectory and by that time residing in Ipswich and pretending to be his wife's father after she had been married bigamously to a younger man (it's a long story - see The Widow of Borley) Lionel was badly afflicted with arthritis and wasn't keen on receiving visitors.  The reply from Arthur to Glanville is interesting however for further light it sheds on investigations at the rectory:

'... Your letter much surprised me, as I had understood from my brother that during the last years of his stay at Borley the phenomena had entirely ceased.  Prof. Cook of Cambridge, whom I met at Aldeburgh, told me that he had been to Borley and investigated the matter, while the phenomena were supposed to be active, and found there was nothing in it.

I am afraid that I know nothing about it at first hand but I am writing to my brother to ask him whether he would care to send you any details.  He is now crippled with rheumatism and I would fancy that writing is rather an effort, so he may not want to do so.

Prof. Cook was apparently rather keen on these sort of things and only came to the conclusions he did after a very thorough investigation of the full particulars he got and with great disappointment.

... PS I never mentioned to my brother that I met Prof. Cook as I understand that Cook's conclusions very much annoyed him.'  (quoted in Robert Wood The Widow of Borley pp.128-9)

What is interesting is that I can find no mention of Prof. Cook's investigations in any of the Borley literature, even the supposedly comprehensive The Borley Rectory Companion (2009).  This collection of material comes down pretty firmly on the belief side, although it does feature most of the countervailing evidence and arguments.

Some other links of possible interest:  Lionel and Marianne: a Psychiatric Interpretation here.

BBC documentary with the great Borley believer and chronicler Peter Underwood here.

An extract from Michael Aspel's memorable series Strange But True here.

Film of Harry Price here.

BBC radio documentary on Harry Price here.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Sloppy Ghosts

I think it would be fair to say that most books about 'real-life' ghosts and haunted houses are very poorly researched, relying principally on all the previous books talking about the same haunts, which are based on earlier books ad infinitum, rather than a bit of hard-headed consideration and analysis.  It only takes someone to introduce some spurious event into their account for it to be repeated unquestioningly in many subsequent works (of course this has been much magnified by the internet, where you can now find hundreds of copies of mistaken information widely disseminated).

I thought I'd sample one of my small collection of British ghost books (mostly collected for the illustrations) to see what they have to say about Borley Rectory.  Here's an extract from Haunted England (p.179) by Christina Hole, a popular folklorist (more on her here) with my comments:

'Who or what haunted Borley Rectory in Essex is still uncertain even after ten years' intensive investigation by Harry Price and a band of trained assistants. [Price visited Borley on only a handful of occasions and his observers during his year of tenancy (1937-8) were deliberately selected by him for their lack of training in investigating supernatural or paranormal phenomena].  This house was built in 1863 on the traditional site of a fourteenth-century monastery [no evidence has ever been uncovered that a religious house stood on the site].  Notwithstanding its modernity, it seems from the first to have been a sort of storm-centre for manifestations of all kinds.  A nun was constantly [??]  seen in the garden, sometimes in daylight.  On one occasion, a black coach drove into the farmyard and disappeared there [more than one report of this, although some are ambiguous and may merely have been a misidentification of a car at night].  Inside the house noises of all sorts were heard, and objects were hurled about in a manner suggesting the presence of a poltergeist.  After Harry Bull, the builder, died in 1892, his ghost appeared there, as well as other unidentified spirits, including a girl in a blue dress .

The most notable manifestations, perhaps, were messages asking for help, masses and prayers [light mass and prayers - title of a track by Porcupine Tree I have since discovered] which appeared on the walls and on scraps of paper during Harry Price's tenancy [the most important of the dubious wall writings first appeared during the Foyster incumbency 1930-35, some were also alleged to have been found during Price's tenancy, but one visitor accused Price of making them.]  These apparently emanated from a spirit named Marianne who may or may not have been the ghostly nun [at that point Marianne Foyster, wife of the rector Lionel was very much alive - Hole probably means the supposed spirit of a murdered 17c nun calling herself Marie Lairre, who appeared in a series of seances].  The phenomena continued until 1939 when the house was burnt down, and some, including an appearance by the girl in blue, persisted even after its destruction...The study of ghost lore suggests that some places are nearer the edge of the spiritual world than others; and here, perhaps, lies the only explanation yet available of Borley's curious history [the only explanation?  Not that the 'phenomena' may have been misperceptions, hallucinations, or outright fraud and fakery?]  

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Wentworth Day at Borley

Another character who has appeared in these pages before was also briefly involved with Borley Rectory.  For insight into the true nature of this ardent patriot, sportsman and naturalist with a 'love of old houses and old traditions' see this interview by our friend Dan Farson.  Maybe it should be shown on one of those current tv shows where stand-up comedians sit smugly open-mouthed at the appalling nature of much of the old telly, although it's probably too offensive even for that.  Wentworth Day's prose is almost beyond parody, for example the chapter from which this extract is taken begins:

'There died on Monday, March 9th, 1936, an old friend whom I mourn.  He was a man unique - the best storyteller and the best cricketer, one of the best shots and, after Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart [who he?], the most picturesque soldier of his world and time - Lieutenant-Colonel Cyril Foley.'  [Here are] Ghosts and Witches p.58  

Here is his experience at Borley (pp.70-71):

'I spent a night under a harvest moon of 1939 in Borley Rectory, which is on the Suffolk-Essex border.  It is they say "the most haunted house in England".  The late Mr Harry Price, who was the Honorary Secretary of the Psychical Research Society [no he wasn't], wrote a book about it under that title.  They will tell you that an uneasy spirit throws things about in the rectory.  Doors open and shut.  Footsteps ring where no feet walk.  Bloody fingermarks appear, suddenly, on the dining-room walls, oozing blood. [I've read a lot about Borley this year and I've not come across a single report of this phenomenon.]  And there are one or two lighter sides.
Some years ago Borley Rectory was burnt out.
I went into the roofless room, taking a friend and a double-barrelled gun.  We found no bloody fingerprints downstairs.  We stood at the foot of the staircase and looked up it to a landing and passage where wallpaper flickered in  tattered streamers and the moon made shifting shadows.
"Let's go upstairs" I suggested to my friend, who is young and a soldier.  He shuddered.
"Not for anything."  There's Something up the top of those stairs.  it's watching us.  I can feel It.  I can damn nearly see It - huge and black.  Something squatting. "
I raised my gun.
"Come outside" he said.  "For God's sake, don't shoot.  I don't like it.  In any case, you'll fetch the neighbours, and we shall get into trouble for being here.
Now there are no neighbours near to Borley Rectory, but an old empty church and a farmhouse.  But we went outside.  We stood under a tree in the bright moon and looked at the black, staring, empty windows of the house that no one could live in for long.  And Something seemed to be watching us, malevolently, from those eyeless windows.
Then it shot between my legs.  I felt its harsh bristles, its snaky undulating muscles.  It was a black cat.  It went into the house with a bound.  And it did not come out again.
Now one can put what construction one likes on that.  Harvest mice are the likeliest.  But when, a year later, I met a man whose London newspaper had sent him to spend an inquisitive night at Borley he said:
"I wouldn't go up those stairs for a fortune in the dark.  There's Something very odd in the upper regions.  I stood outside and watched the house - and do you know a damn great black cat came between my legs like a bullet and went into the house like a shot out of a gun.  It never came out again.  And when I asked at the farm they said they had no black cats.  No one round there has a black cat.  But anyone who stands in that garden at night always [always??] sees that cat go into the house.  It's a spook!  That's what I think."
So do I.'

Another unreliable ghost 'researcher' Elliott O'Donnell has been honoured with a biography this year by Richard Whittington Egan that I must get round to reading at some point.