Mike Stuchbery 💀🍷 @MikeStuchbery_ Journalist / Historian ★ (@BylineTimes/@TheLocalEurope)★ 'Let everything happen to you, beauty & terror, just keep going, no feeling is final.' ★ ↙️↙️↙️ / ⌛ Sep. 26, 2018 5 min read

When I was a wee pup, I was forever warped by *one* book - the Usborne Book of Ghosts. One spread still haunts me - that pertaining to Borley Rectory, the 'most haunted house in England'. I’ve loved reading about it ever since - and since it’s almost Halloween... THREAD! /1

Anyone who has a strong love of the paranormal - or a good ghost story - knows about Borley Rectory. It was located in the small village of Borley, Essex, & was built on the site of 2 former residences in the 1860s. There was, naturally a church nearby, & monastic foundations. /2

Now, if you believe the stories, the rectory was built over or near an ancient monastery. The first inhabitants of the building, the Reverend Bull and his family, were the first to speak of hauntings - they claimed to see spectral figures flitting in the grounds. /3

One wraith seemed to stand out in particular - a ghostly nun who seemed to glide across the lawns. Family members were said to have approached the spirit, who turned to look at them before continuing her silent travels. /4

Somehow, talk circulated that the nun was a victim of forbidden love, a young novitiate who met with her monk lover, for which she was bricked up alive - an absolute classic trope of English ghost stories. /5

The Bull family moved out of Borley Rectory in 1928, when the second Reverend Bull, ‘Harry’, died. The Reverend Guy Smith and family were next in the home, and they also spoke of all kinds of strange goings-on: lights, sounds and footsteps. /6

I should also note during that the Reverend Smith’s wife, Mabel, found a skull, wrapped in paper, in a cupboard, whilst giving the house a good airing out. It was afforded a proper burial as soon as one could be arranged. /7

This was all too much for the Smiths, and they called in Harry Price to investigate. Price was the founder of the Society for Psychical Research and a renowned ‘ghosthunter’. He claimed to experience poltergeist activity, including pebbles being thrown at him. /8

Not wanting to stick around & see what was coming, rumour said, the Smiths left, & it was the Reverend Lionel Foyster who took over, along with wife Marianne, daughter Adelaide & lodger, Frank Pearless. It was at this time that the hauntings at Borley would rapidly escalate. /9

Objects started going missing. The house fairly rattled with unearthly noises at night. Marianne claimed to see the spirit of the first Reverend Bull. The pair claimed to have been slapped and hit by unseen hands. Terrifying stuff! /10

Guests to the rectory claimed to have seen all sorts of figures, including the nun, lurking around the house. Some refused to come back. The rectory gained much, much more of a sinister reputation - Britons expect the odd ghost, but they also expect them to behave themselves. /11

Perhaps the last straw was writing that began to appear on the walls, saying things like ‘Marianne please get help’ and ‘light mass prayers’ - could these messages be from the ghostly nun that had been seen around the place? Marianne responded, but the replies were garbled. /12

In 1935, the Foysters upped sticks & left, as the Reverend Lionel had developed arthritis. Before anybody else could take over, Harry Price returned, with a band of volunteers to observe the house. They documented perceived paranormal happenings and seances were carried out. /13

It was the seances that seemed to prove the most fruitful. They gave the name of the ghostly nun as Marie Lairre, murdered after she left her convent to marry a member of a family who lived nearby in the 17th century. /14

Researchers also claimed to contact another spirit, who said that Borley Rectory would shortly be consumed by flames, revealing evidence of another horrible murder. True enough, Borley Rectory was consumed by flames on the 27th of February, 1939. /15

Locals continued to claim to see spirits, including a solitary young woman peering out a burnt-out window. Price was devastated, but he had enough to publish a book, The Most Haunted House in England’. An apt title! He died in 1948. /16

Ah, it’s a terrific story, but it’s pretty much 100% bullshit. For a start, all the stuff about the ‘ghostly nun’ being bricked up? It came from a novel that the first Reverend Bull used to read his children - ‘Montezuma’s Daughter’ by H. Rider Haggard. /17

Marianne Foyster would claim years later that she made up many of the ‘paranormal’ happenings, or made them occur as pranks on her husband. She was also banging Frank Pearless, the lodger, she claimed, and used ‘happenings’ to hide their trysts. /18

As for Price? Well, he was a ‘ghosthunter’, but he was also a showman and a trickster. He had a gift for courting the media, & was a fixture in the papers. His own SPR colleagues later found that he was responsible for many of the ‘hauntings’ that occurred during his visits. /19

The hauntings that guests encountered? Well, subsequent investigations would find that they were due to shitty, shitty plumbing (cited by the Smiths as a reason for leaving), rats and wind. Anyone who has spent time in an old English house knows what the wind can do. /20

As for the skull - well, the rectory was on land near the church, and there'd been plenty of interments there, including 17th century plague victims. Of course bones would turn up! /21

Decades after the fact, Borley Rectory still has a firm hold on the imagination when it comes to English hauntings. Books and films on it continue to appear. It shows no signs of dying down - check out the trailer for the recent film made about it! /22  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwVon3ODMWo 

...and there’s another film made about it being released next year! /23  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YqxsfRjz1t8 

There’s a lot of pish-posh and tomfoolery about the Borley Rectory case online, but if you want to learn more about the case, may I commend to you the @Skeptoid episode, that fairly debunks the happenings. /24  https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4053 

You can follow @MikeStuchbery_.


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