Unexplained Mysteries of England’s Borley Rectory

by Doug MacGowan, August 2011 – Updated April 2021

Unexplained Mysteries of England’s Borley Rectory
The Borley Rectory in 1892 (L) and later ruins (R). Public domain.

The residents of England once thought of Borley Rectory as the country’s most haunted house. Built in 1863 on the alleged former site of a monastery, the house was quite large. The family of Reverend Henry Bull, including 14 children and a small staff, were its first occupants. Strange happenings purportedly began almost immediately after the Bull family moved in. Reports indicated that the initial incidents were benign ghostly footsteps and whispered voices, which were disturbing, but not harmful. However, as time went on, things changed.

Background on the Borley Rectory

Puzzled, Reverend Bull wondered what could be the cause of what appeared to be some kind of haunting. He soon learned of a popular piece of local lore. The story goes that centuries ago a monk from the monastery and a nun fell in love and they decided to elope. They were intercepted and punished; the monk was executed and the nun was confined in a room that was quickly bricked up. Legend states that the two lovers have been spiritually tied to the rectory ever since and have been trying to find each other again.

Real Paranorms

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Occasionally the face of the nun peered into the windows of the Borley Rectory. Sometimes she would appear in broad daylight on the grounds but would vanish when someone approached her. The phantom nun and monk were soon joined by the apparently unrelated apparition of a coach with horses galloping up the drive.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith Move In

Many years later, in 1928, the Reverend Guy Smith moved into the Borley Rectory with his wife. They also reportedly saw the two ghosts. However, they additionally heard the servant bells ringing although they were not connected, and they saw strange lights in the rectory’s windows when glimpsed from outside. Even more alarming, Mrs. Smith discovered a human skull deep inside one of the rectory’s cupboards.

Seeking assistance, the Smiths contacted the local newspaper and asked them to find the Society for Psychical Research. Instead, the paper sent out a reporter to capture the story and write a number of articles about the subject. They also contacted the paranormal investigator Harry Price, who came to visit the Borley Rectory. With Price in the house, the phenomena oddly escalated to new and more severe poltergeist-type activity, such as objects flying across rooms and rappings in the walls. Price came to no conclusions, but when he left, the phenomena calmed down. Mrs. Smith suspected that Price had actually falsified the events.

The Foysters and the Poltergeist

The Smiths moved away in 1929, and in 1930 Reverend Lionel Foyster, his wife Marianne, and their daughter move in. This lead to what appeared to be the pinnacle of the strange goings-on, as the unseen presences seemed to fixate on Marianne. In addition to the familiar phenomena, messages appeared on walls begging Marianne for help: “Marianne, please help get” and “Marianne light mass prayers“. Windows would shatter for no reason, and stones would appear from nowhere and fly at the rectory’s occupants. Marianne claimed to have been physically assaulted on several occasions. However, in this case, an explanation may lie in a scandal, as Marianne later admitted that she had been having an affair with one of their lodgers and that she covered up her physical activities with those of a paranormal nature.

Paranormal Investigation

After the Foysters left in 1937, the rectory was unoccupied. Harry Price, whose work as an investigator has since been discredited, returned and rented the rectory for further study. He recruited 48 people to take turns staying at the rectory and to gather information on any strange events. A séance supposedly contacted a nun (or possibly two) and the ghost of a man who threatened to burn the rectory to the ground.

In 1939, as Captain Gregson was moving into the old Borley Rectory,  he purportedly knocked over an oil lamp and started a fire causing significant damage to the building. Witnesses said they saw ghostly faces in the windows as the fire burned. Later, Price found a few bones buried beneath the house. He transferred them to a local cemetery and gave them a proper burial, however, nobody could authenticate that the bones were actually human.

The claims of Harry Price are dubious at best and may have been a complete scam at worst. However, the Bull and Smith families experienced benign events that they could not explain prior to Price ever entering the picture. After the fire, the rectory turned to ruins. In 1944, the decrepit remains of the building were finally demolished, and since that time, there have been few solid reports of any recent paranormal activity on the site.

Famous Haunted Places website, pulled 8/17/11 (site no longer available)
Britannia Internet Magazine, pulled 8/17/11
“Borley Rectory” The Haunted Museum website, pulled 8/17/11 (site no longer available)

Doug MacGowan

Doug MacGowan

Doug MacGowan lives on the San Francisco peninsula with his wife, a dog, and far too many cats. He has published five books on the topic of historic true crime. In his free time he enjoys reading.