Built in 1863 on the site of an old manor, the Borley Rectory is one of the most famous supposedly haunted structures. From the time it was first inhabited, initially by the Reverend Henry Bull and then by his son Harry, people felt that the rectory was haunted because an apparition of a nun, dressed in full habit, appeared there on many occasions, both at night and during the day. In one case four people witnessed the spirit at the same time, and many people also heard unexplained footsteps, whispers, and other mysterious noises in the rectory. Subsequent residents of the house, and their visitors, also experienced these phenomena.
In 1929 Harry Price—one of the first people to investigate paranormal phenomena using scientific methods—became interested in the Borley Rectory and began a long-term study of the site. The following year the structure was the scene of violent, supposedly poltergeist, activity that included incidents of stone throwing. Visitors to the rectory would find themselves pelted with rocks for no apparent reason and with no one appearing to have thrown them. In addition, one of the residents of the house at that time, Marianne Foyster, who was the wife of the Reverend Lionel Foyster, sometimes found messages addressed to her written on the walls.
Fascinated by this violence, Price took up residence in the Borley Rectory from 1937 to 1938 so that he could investigate it more thoroughly. Along with a team of researchers, he took detailed notes, measured the distances that the thrown objects had traveled, and tried to photograph apparitions using movie and still cameras. Price witnessed various types of objects moving, heard inexplicable ringings of bells, and unearthed a woman’s skeleton from beneath the floor of the basement. When he and his researchers conducted a séance to contact the spirit world, they received what they took to be a message regarding the dead woman’s identity: She was a nun who had been murdered in 1667 by a man with whom she had planned to run away.
Price had previously uncovered a similar story connected to the Borley Rectory hauntings. According to this story, the ghost was the spirit of a nun who had fallen in love with a man and run away, only to be caught and executed for breaking her vows to the church. She was supposedly buried in the walls of a building that once existed on the site of the rectory. However, there is no record that such a building ever existed, and the identity and age of a skeleton once found in the vicinity has never been determined. Eventually, Price concluded that the apparition and the poltergeist events had two different causes. The ghost, he said, was the image of someone who had once lived in the house, an image that had been left behind and was somehow being transmitted to the people who visited or lived there. The poltergeist activity, on the other hand, was in some way caused by Marianne Foyster, whom he believed was somehow responsible for the notes on the walls. Confirming his belief was the fact that when she moved out of the house, the poltergeist aspect of the haunting ended. Skeptics, however, have a different explanation. They point out that the poltergeist activity did not begin until after Price had become involved in the case. Indeed, a few people connected with the case at the time accused Price of faking the poltergeist activity. One person insisted that Price had kept stones in his pocket throughout his time at the rectory, and two people said they had seen Price throwing stones. Even Price’s own secretary, Lucy Kaye, noted that the stone throwing never occurred unless Price was present. No one has ever proved that Price used any kind of trickery in connection with the poltergeist activity at the Borley Rectory. But even if he did not, skeptics say, then he was at least mistaken about much of what he saw. In one instance, for example, he jumped to the conclusion that a hazy area hotographed in a room had been a ghost; yet it was later proved to have been smoke from a fireplace. Skeptics have also accused Price of bias because he clearly believed in ghosts before starting his work and approached it with the view that the most likely cause of the haunting was a spirit. In fact, he was so certain of this that he included three people on his team of investigators who claimed to be able to communicate with ghosts.