The Most Haunted House in England!
Borley Rectory was built by Rev. Henry Dawson Ellis Bull in 1862, near Borley Church in Borley, Essex, in the southeast corner of Great Britain. The house was constructed on the site of the previous rectory, which Bull had torn down so he could build his own house, which was eventually expanded to house his family of 14 children.
In July 1900, four of the daughters of the most recent rector (actually the son of the Rev. Bull who built the rectory in the first place) reported seeing the ghost of a nun about 40 yards away from the house. They tried to speak to it, but it faded away as they approached it. This seemed to open the floodgates, as people recalled incidents with strange lights and disembodied footsteps clear back to the construction of the house. There were also more reports of the ghostly nun, as well as a phantom coach being driven by a pair of headless coachmen.
So how did the place end up with so many spooks and specters in such a short span of time? Well, the rectory was relatively new, but the site of the house had been used for multiple other buildings in the past, and the entire area had, of course, been settled for centuries. There could have been a lot of potential ghosts around.
There were also stories about a monk and nun being caught in an affair in the area -- the monk was killed, while the nun was bricked up alive inside the convent. Unfortunately, there isn't any historical basis for the story -- nothing written about the case over the centuries, and it was probably taken from one of H. Rider Haggard's novels. Lousy way to deal with amorous nuns anyway, as it's likely to scare off other nuns -- "Mother Superior, can we please release Sister Catherine now? All the screaming and wailing makes it really hard to pray or sleep or eat or do anything but plan my escape from here so your psychotic ass doesn't torture me to death for sneezing or some damn shit..."
In 1928, a new rector, Rev. Guy Eric Smith, moved into the mansion with his family. While cleaning out a cupboard, Mrs. Smith found a brown paper package which contained the skull of a young woman. This fairly unpleasant housewarming was followed by more lights and footsteps, the servant bells ringing even though the strings had been cut, and a mysterious horse-drawn carriage making some nightly trips by the house.
The Smiths contacted The Daily Mirror to ask how to contact the Society for Psychical Research. The paper sent over a reporter, who naturally wrote up some lurid stories about the haunting. The paper also contacted paranormal researcher Harry Price. Soon after his arrival at the rectory, there were some incidents with objects, including stones and a vase, being thrown, and a spirit message was tapped out on a mirror frame. Price trumpeted Borley Rectory as "the most haunted house in England," which did a great deal to boost the mansion's notoriety. For some reason, these new phenomena cleared up after Price left. But Harry Price wouldn't stay gone from Borley for long.
The Smiths left Borley after only about a year -- unlike some of the residents there, it doesn't seem that they relished the idea of living in a haunted house. And it took over a year to find a new rector to live in the now-infamous mansion -- Rev. Lionel Foyster, a first cousin of the Bull family, moved in with his wife Marianne and their adopted daughter Adelaide in October 1930.
Foyster recorded his own account of phenomena the family experienced and sent it to Price. It included a variety of poltergeist effects, like bell-ringing, stones and bottles being thrown, windows being shattered, and even wall-writing. Adelaide was once locked in a room without a key, and Marianne was once thrown from her bed. At one point, Adelaide was attacked by, in Foyster's words, "something horrible." Foyster tried to conduct an exorcism, but was interrupted when he was struck on the shoulder by a large rock.
However, several occult researchers who visited the rectory agreed that they felt that the incidents were being caused by Marianne Foyster, possibly unconsciously. Mrs. Foyster claimed that it was all a hoax cooked up by her husband and one of the investigators, but she later admitted to using faked phenomena to cover up an affair she was having with a lodger. The Foysters eventually left Borley, claiming, perhaps diplomatically that Rev. Foyster was suffering from poor health.
The rectory was vacant for several years afterwards, but in May 1938, Price returned to Borley, taking out a year-long lease on the property and recruiting 48 volunteers to observe the rectory and report what they saw. One of the volunteers ran a few sessions of Planchette -- what we would today call a Ouija board. Though she was running the session from south London, she was still able to contact a couple of spirits who claimed connections to Borley Rectory.
The first claimed to be the ghost of a young French nun named Marie Lairre who had left her order, moved to England, and married a wealthy landowner named Henry Waldegrave (the owner of a 17th century manor house near Borley). She claimed that she had been murdered on the site of the rectory in 1667. There is, however, not a single speck of historical evidence that the very prominent Waldegrave had ever been married to a former French nun named Marie Lairre.
The second Planchette spirit claimed that he was going to set fire to the rectory that evening at nine o'clock, and that the fire would reveal the bones of a murdered person. No fire was reported that night, but exactly a year later, the new owner of the rectory, W.H. Gregson, accidentally dropped an oil lamp, which started a fire that caused severe damage to the mansion. (The insurance company investigated the blaze and termed it "fraudulent.") During the fire, several spectral figures, including a nun, were reported inside the house.
Price was soon on the scene, conducting a very brief dig in the cellar and producing some bones and a medal of St. Ignatius. This prompted a more thorough investigation by the authorities, which turned up no further remains. The bones were given a proper Christian burial, but many locals suspected the bones were actually from a pig.
Borley Rectory itself was finally demolished completely in 1944.
At this point, let's just come out and say it -- Harry Price was a conman. He was a paper-bag salesman and an expert on magic tricks and sleight-of-hand, who raised a little extra cash by posing as an investigator of the supernatural. He investigated a few fake mediums, a talking mongoose, an attempt to communicate psychically with Mars, and an incident in which a goat was supposedly changed into a human. Price was able to write two books about Borley, but he had so muddied fact with fiction there that investigations by other occult researchers, including the English Society for Psychical Research, concluded they had no idea which incidents were real and which he had completely invented.
Unfortunately, most books, television programs, and websites about Borley Rectory don't report that. They swallow every lie that Price spun, just like they swallow every other story that gives them an excuse to believe that ghosts, UFOs, and Bigfoot are real. Real life and the world of facts and evidence are boring and sometimes depressing -- but if they believe that Borley Rectory was the Most Haunted House in England, it gives the world some of the magic and romance and excitement that's missing from their own lives.
There's not much we can learn from the dead souls in the ruins of Borley Rectory, but there's plenty of insight there about the human mind.
Much research from Wikipedia and several less factually useful but vastly more gullible websites