Harry Price at Borley
On 16 October 1930 the Rev. Lionel Algernon Foyster, M.A. (Cantab.), entered upon his duties as the new incumbent at Borley and took up residence at the rectory. He was a cousin of the patrons of the living, the Misses Bull, and prior to coming to Borley had stayed for a time at Great Cornard, near Sudbury, three or four miles from the rectory (p. 9, the Foyster Diary of Occurrences). Previously, from 1910 to 1929, he had done missionary work in Canada. He was accompanied by his wife, Marianne Foyster, and a little girl Adelaide aged 2 years 7 months (i.e. in October 1930: p. 1, the Foyster Summary of Experiences), stated by Price to have been adopted by the Foysters. During the Foyster incumbency the rectory cottage was occupied by Mr and Mrs Mitchell, and later by Mr François d' Arles, whose little boy, of approximately Adelaide's age, lived at the rectory as companion to her. Mr Foyster relinquished the living of Borley in October 1935 because of ill-health and died on 18 April 1945.
During the period from October 1930 to January 1932, when the manifestations practically ceased, Price said that at least 2,000 alleged paranormal phenomena occurred in the rectory, including voices; footsteps; apparitions; strange odours; the production, disappearance and transposition of objects; bell-ringing; the throwing and dropping of bottles, stones and other missiles, occasionally causing injury to Mrs Foyster; the setting of booby-traps; the over-turning of furniture; small outbreaks of fire; the locking and unlocking of doors; and the appearance of messages on walls and pieces of paper. He wrote: 'It can be said without fear of contradiction that the Foyster occupation coincided with the noisiest, most violent, and most dangerous period in the whole recorded history of the Borley manifestations' (EBR, p. 64). He made it clear that he regarded the Foyster incumbency and Mr Foyster's testimony, inter alia, as the most convincing evidence for the alleged haunting of the rectory. He wrote:
In view of these uncompromising statements in his book it is surprising to discover that there seems little doubt that Price believed that Mrs Marianne Foyster was responsible for the 'phenomena' during the period she and her husband lived at the rectory. On I5 October 1931, i.e. the day after his only visit to Borley Rectory between 1929 and 1937, he wrote to Dr D. F. Fraser-Harris thus:
Four years later in a letter to the Hon. Everard Feilding dated 19 August 1935 he said:
Three years later still, writing to Mr C. Gordon Glover of the British Broadcasting Corporation on 11 March 1938, he remarked:
Chapter II of the book mentioned is entitled 'The Most Haunted House in England', and in it Price epitomised on pp. 34-5 the whole of the phenomena during the tenancy of the Foysters. He
1 London, 1936.
described the throwing of stones, books and bricks; the ringing of bells night and day; the accounts of the appearances of Harry Bull; the appearances and disappearances of objects; the injuries to Mrs Foyster; the 'Marianne' wall-writings; the materialisation and throwing of wine-bottles and the locking of doors. In the first edition, the final sentence of the chapter, the sentence to which he drew the attention of Mr Gordon Glover, reads: 'But we came to the conclusion that the supernormal played no part in the "wonders" we had witnessed.'
It would seem to have been to Price's advantage, possibly fortuitously and possibly not, that in the later editions of the book this sentence was deleted, for in 1937 he leased the rectory for a year and enrolled his band of observers. It is true that in 1940 he mentioned in a much ameliorated form his suspicions of Mrs Foyster (MHH, p. 72), but it is perhaps revealing that in EBR he suppressed them altogether. However, even after the latter book was published he evidently preserved his personal opinion of the Foyster 'phenomena' for he said in a letter to EJD dated 17 October 1946, as already quoted: 'I agree that Mrs Foyster's wine trick was rather crude, but if you cut out the Foysters, the Bulls, the Smiths, etc., something still remains.' (1) It will be observed that these four letters regarding Mrs Foyster, at roughly equivalent intervals, cover almost the whole period of Price's connection with Borley and demonstrate a lack of sincerity in his presentation of the evidence. Mr Foyster apparently also shared this view for, replying on 7 January 1938 to a request by Price to contribute an account of his experiences to MHH, he expressed surprise and pointed out that when Price and some members of his National Laboratory Council went to Borley in 1931, they gave the opinion that it was Mrs Foyster 'who was responsible for the phenomena'. Price's reply is revealing. He admits that the opinion mentioned by Mr Foyster was given in 1931, 'but,' he adds, 'of course no word of this will appear in our Report.'
Since actions, or in this case the lack of them, are popularly supposed to speak louder than words, perhaps the most convincing evidence of all on the point is Price's almost complete lack of interest in Borley during the Foyster period. As we have seen in
1 If one wished to dispose of the Borley hauntings on one small sheet of paper merely by reference to Price's privately expressed opinions of the evidence, one would only need to quote the above sentence in juxtaposition with one contained in a letter to Mr C. Gordon Glover of 28 February 1938. The implication in the letter to EJD is that the 'something' still remaining is the testimony of the official observers. Yet in the letter to Mr Gordon Glover he said: 'As regards your various criticisms, the alleged haunting of the Rectory stands or falls not by the reports from our recent observers, but by the extraordinary happenings there of the last 50 years.'
the chapter dealing with the incumbency of the Rev. G. Eric Smith, Price apparently soon became indifferent to what was happening at the rectory. It was not until 29 September 1931, when the Misses Bull called to see him at his office in London to ask him to visit Borley again, that his connection with the place was briefly resumed, and then only by a single visit. After reading Mr Foyster's Diary of Occurrences, he and his party spent the evening of 13 October at the rectory, and on the following morning he accused Mrs Foyster of responsibility for the 'manifestations'. (1) KMG records that only on her persuasion did Price agree a little impatiently to spend the following evening again at the rectory, to give Mrs Foyster the opportunity of complying with her husband's suggestion that she be submitted to test conditions. The intervening day was spent, oddly enough, not in diligent investigation in Borley and its neighbourhood regarding 'the most haunted house in England' and its new occupants, but in Cambridge. Price did not visit Borley again until 19 May 1937, i.e. an interval of five and a half years. This seems a significant comment upon his opinion of the Foyster 'phenomena' and a curious sidelight on his later assertion that his first Borley book represented ten years' continuous investigation of the case.
If this chapter of our report was concerned merely with the documenting of a lack of sincerity on the part of Price in his treatment of the Foyster 'manifestations' in his books, probably little more would need to be added. However, while any investigation of the alleged haunting of Borley Rectory must be, nolens volens, an investigation of Harry Price, the reverse is not necessarily true. In the case of the Foyster incumbency particularly there is a great deal of evidence which is not dependent upon Price at all, and which must perforce be investigated. We shall therefore endeavour to make an appraisal of the testimony of Mr Foyster and others independently of Price's views, but while this is being done examples will be given from time to time of the treatment of the evidence in the Borley books.
Before proceeding with an examination of the testimony relating to the Foyster period at Borley, we think it important to place before the reader certain facts which he may regard as significant in relation to all the manifestations alleged to have taken place during this incumbency.
Price said of the wall-messages, occurring only during the Foyster tenancy: 'I think I am right in saying that this phenomenon is unique in the annals of psychical research' (MHH, p.
1 See Fifteen Months in a Haunted House by the Rev. L. A. Foyster and cf. the letter from Mr Foyster to Price of 7 January 1938, quoted above.
144). This statement is incorrect. Price's own library contained (1) the first edition of Walter Hubbell's The Haunted House: A True Ghost Story. Being an Account of the Mysterious Manifestations that have taken place in the presence of Esther Cox ... The Great Amherst Mystery (St John, 1879), which was an account of a very well-known case in which sensational messages addressed to Esther Cox are alleged to have appeared paranormally on the walls of a house in Amherst, Nova Scotia. Price also possessed (2) Hereward Carrington's Personal Experiences in Spiritualism (London, 1913), which on pp. 95-124 gives a summary of the Amherst affair; and also (3) Vol. XIII of the Proceedings of the American Society for Psychical Research (New York, 1919) which on pp. 89-130 printed 'A Critical Study of "The Great Amherst Mystery" by Dr Walter F. Prince. This detailed analysis argued formidably the case for trickery by Esther whilst in a state of dissociation.
The story of the 'Great Amherst Mystery' is too well known to psychical researchers to justify retelling here. The similarities between the occurrences in the Teeds' house in Amherst in 1878-9 and those in Borley Rectory from October 1930 to January 1932 are many and striking and are set out below:
1 See A Short-Title Catalogue of Works on Psychical Research ... Compiled by Harry Price. National Laboratory of Psychical Research. London, 1929 (p.228).
2 Ibid., p. 126.
3 Ibid., p. 86.
Walter Hubbell's book on the Esther Cox case was remarkably successful, running, it is stated, into at least ten editions and sales totalling at least 55,000 copies. It might well be considered therefore that the story of Esther Cox would be well known in Amherst and its immediate vicinity in Nova Scotia. Our curiosity was aroused by a statement in a chronological sequence of events prepared by Dr Prince in his analysis that in December 1878 Esther paid a visit to her married sister in Sackville, which is another small community some five miles distant from Amherst. An examination of Crockford's Clerical Directory (1931), in which Mr Foyster's previous incumbencies are recorded, showed that he was rector of Sackville, Nova Scotia, from 1928 to 1930, i.e. immediately before the Foysters returned to England and took up the living at Borley. In view of this it does not seem unreasonable to postulate that the Foysters would be familiar with the story of
Esther Cox and the manifestations at Amherst, and that one or both of them may have read one of the many editions of Mr Hubbell's book. This suspicion is heightened by the curious fact that in manufacturing pseudonyms for the real characters in his Fifteen Months in a Haunted House (pp. 111, 113, and 114), Mr Foyster called one member of a party of spiritualists 'Mr Teed'. Teed was, of course, the unusual name of Esther Cox's sister and brother-in-law and it was in the Teeds' house that the Amherst manifestations occurred. Whatever conclusions the reader may draw from the curious similarities between the two cases to which we have drawn attention, it cannot be regarded as anything but an extraordinary coincidence that so similar and widely published a case should have occurred within five miles of where the Foysters had previously lived.
We must now consider the testimony of the Rev. L. A. Foyster, but before any opinion can be offered as to its value, we think it important to trace with such precision as is possible the provenance of the three original documents which contain it:
(1) Haunting of Borley Rectory. Diary of Occurrences. A Diary [February 1931 to July 1931]. By the Rev. L.A. Foyster, Rector of Borley Rectory, Suffolk [sic]. Typescript, on one side of paper, and numbered 1-31.
This is the account which Mr Foyster sent to Price with his letter of 3 October 1931 prior to the latter's visit to Borley on 13 October. It covers a period of rather less than a year of Mr Foyster's tenancy, and he explains in his letter that the account was written 'chiefly to send round to members of my family'. It is manifestly not a diary; it is stated by Mr Foyster to have been written in 1931 and is in three 'instalments' up to 23 March, 7 May and 6 July. It is clearly the first account of the alleged haunting written by Mr Foyster, and much of the preliminary section is evidently written from unaided memory. Mr Foyster's opening sentence reads: 'Since I have been asked by members of our family to tell what I know of the so called Borley ghost, and since I think it is desirable that a record of our experiences should be preserved, I am writing this before the details have gone out of my mind.' It is not until an event occurring as late as 13 February 1931 is described (a missing milk jug) that Mr Foyster says: 'Now I come to definite dates and the most extraordinary part of our experience.' Previous to that, incidents are vaguely defined as to date by expressions such as 'A few days after this', 'Another time', 'I cannot remember the exact date but we had not been in the house very long before Marianne began seeing
Harry Bull', 'The last time she saw him was some time before Christmas', 'I omitted one thing that I think took place before this', and so on. It seems clear that no written record of some of these events was made until some time after their occurrence.
This statement, which we shall henceforward refer to as the Diary of Occurrences, is the only Foyster document contained in Price's library up to the year 1935. (1) No part of it is quoted in either of the Borley books.
(2) Fifteen Months in a Haunted House. By the Rev. L.A. Foyster. Typescript.
This greatly amplified account in narrative form with pseudonyms was apparently written by Mr Foyster with a view to publication. (2) In answer to Price's request for a summary of his experiences at Borley to be included in the projected MHH, Mr Foyster wrote: 'I am afraid it would certainly clash with an effort of my own to do the same thing for the period of our residence.' Parts of this story were written some time after January 1932, for it describes the visit of the Marks Tey Circle of Spiritualists in that month, and it was evidently still in process of preparation during the middle of 1934. On p. 171 Mr Foyster says: 'As I write it is exactly 28 months to the day since that January evening when the bottles were thrown around, and the bells pealed and the Circle stayed the greater part of the night coping with the problem.' In view of its great length and wealth of detail, and the considerable time which Mr Foyster evidently spent over it, it seems possible that it was revised and expanded after his retirement in 1935, particularly as he was discussing its publication as late as 1938. This, however, is only conjecture. A copy was acquired by Price some time after The End of Borley Rectory was written, for his comments in EBR (pp. 46-7) make it apparent that it was not in his possession then. It was, however, added to his collection before 17 October 1946, for in his letter to EJD on that date he said: 'I have now acquired Foyster's complete "Fifteen Months in a Haunted House".' When he wrote MHH he had clearly not handled this document at all (MHH, p. 75).
We shall henceforward refer to this narrative, Mr Foyster's second account of the alleged haunting and his first complete one covering the whole period, simply as Fifteen Months.
(3) Summary of Experiences at Borley Rectory. [By the Rev. L.A. Foyster.] MS. 7 sheets.
1 See University of London Council for Psychical Investigation: Bulletin No. 1. Supplement to Short-Title Catalogue, p. 40. Compiled by Harry Price, April 1935.
2 See his letter to Price of 16 January 1938, the first occasion known to us when this document is mentioned.
Contents . Note & Preface . Diary of Events . I. Introduction . II. Topography & Legends . III. The Bull Incumbencies . IV. The Smith Incumbency & Harry Price . V. The Foyster Incumbency . VI. The Price Tenancy . VII. Later Borley . VII. Conclusions
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Séance Room .
Famous Cases .
Borley Rectory .
Books By Price .
Writings By Price .
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