The ghosts of Borley Rectory

Once the most haunted house in England, the enigma of Borley Rectory lives on in our Strange Things Among Us summer exhibition...

By: The College of Psychic Studies.   Posted

Borley Rectory was once the most haunted house in England. Harry Price, whose laboratory was situated on the College's fourth floor, was fascinated with these hauntings and conducted much research on them.

Borley Rectory was built in a rural Essex hamlet in 1862 by the Rev. Henry Dawson Ellis Bull. He was the rector of the nearby Borley Church, and established the rectory to house himself and family of fourteen children. He died in 1892, passing the role onto his son, the Reverend Henry (Harry) Foyster Bull.

Paranormal events were a regular occurrence in the rectory from 1863 onwards. In the summer of 1900, four members of the Bull family saw what they thought was the ghost of a nun a short distance from the house. Several more sightings of apparitions convinced the family that they were witnessing genuine paranormal activity. 

Recently, a collection of relics belonging to Rev. Harry Bull was discovered in the loft of the nearby Borley Church. Amongst them were the items seen on display in The Ghost Hunter room in our Strange Things Among Us exhibition, including a wooden box, a pastel drawing of an apparition and a watercolour of the Borley Rectory, all created by Bull around 1900. With them is a copy of a letter by Bull describing one of the family's ghostly sightings. 

Harry Bull died in 1927 and the rectory passed onto Rev. Guy Eric Smith and his wife. Soon after moving in, Smith's wife, while cleaning out a cupboard, came across a brown paper package containing the skull of a young woman. a variety of strange incidents followed including lights appearing in windows and unexplained footsteps. The Smiths contacted the Daily Mirror asking to be put in touch with the Society for Psychical Research (SPR). 

On 10 June 1929, the newspaper sent a reporter, who promptly wrote the first in a series of articles detailing the mysteries of Borley. The paper also arranged for Harry Price, the well-known Ghost Hunter, to make his first visit to the house. He arrived on 12 June and thus began his life-long fascination with the rectory.

Soon after Price's visit, the Smiths left Borley to a cousin of the Bulls, the Rev. Lionel Algernon Foyster (1878–1945) and his wife Marianne (1899–1992) moved in with their adopted daughter Adelaide. Foyster wrote an account of various strange incidents that occurred which was sent to Price. These included bell-ringing, windows shattering, throwing of stones and bottles, wall-writing and the locking of their daughter in a room with no key. 

The house was badly damaged by fire in 1939 and demolished in 1944, but the enigma of Borley Rectory lives on.

The images on display in our Strange Things Among Us summer exhibition were kindly loaned to us by Ania Goszczyńska and David Tibet.

If you enjoyed this article, you may be interested in joining us for Susan Owen's upcoming talk, The Ghost: A Cultural History, on Tuesday 19 October 2021, 7-8.30pm UK time. Book here

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