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Borley Rectory: The Most Haunted House in England

The story of Borley Rectory has been the inspiration for the nun represented in the Conjuring Universe
The story of Borley Rectory has been the inspiration for the nun represented in the Conjuring Universe

The Borley Rectory was dubbed “the most haunted home in England” by Harry Price, who conducted a study into the paranormal in the area. It was constructed in 1862 as a home for the rector of the Borley parish and his family, but it was destroyed in a fire in 1939.

The enormous rectory at Borley, designed in the Gothic style, was said to be haunted from the time it was first inhabited. In 1929, there was a sudden surge in allegations of paranormal activity when the Daily Mirror published an account of a visit by paranormal researcher Harry Price, who penned two books supporting such claims.

However, the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) conducted an official investigation into Price’s claims and dismissed them as imaginary or contrived, calling Price’s veracity in the process into question. Paranormal scholars have now mostly rejected his allegations as false.

However, they haven’t stated whether the Rectory is haunted or not, leading many to believe that the Rectory is indeed haunted, but Price merely exaggerated the claims.

New books and television programs continue to fulfill popular obsession in the rectory, despite the SPR’s study and a more recent biography of Price failing to dampen interest in these tales.

Due to fears of legal action from Marianne Foyster, widow of the previous rector to reside in the home, the BBC decided to postpone the transmission of a short show they had commissioned about the claimed manifestations, initially slated for September 1956.

Peter Underwood was among the numerous psychic researchers interviewed for a 1975 BBC show called The Ghost Hunters, which centered on Borley Rectory. There was also a late-night psychic inquiry at Borley Church, another place rumored to be haunted.

History of the Borley Rectory

While serving as a parish rector, the Reverend Henry Dawson Ellis Bull built the Borley Rectory on Hall Road in Borley village in 1862. The first rectory on the lot burned down in 1841, and this one replaced it. An expansion was made to the original structure to accommodate Bull’s extensive family of fourteen children.

The neighboring church date to the 12th century and serves the parish, consisting of three hamlets in a rural setting. You can still see the ruins of Borley Hall, the Waldegrave family’s ancestral home, and many significant farmhouses in the area.

The oldest image of the Borley Rectory

The oldest image of the Borley Rectory

Legend has it that a monk from the Benedictine monastery here had an affair with a nun from the adjoining convent; ghost hunters cite this as evidence of a haunted building dating back to about 1362. When word of their romance spread, the monk was beheaded, and the nun was allegedly buried alive behind the walls of the convent.

In 1938, however, it was determined that the rector’s kids made up the story as a way to romanticize the house’s Gothic-style red-brick architecture. It’s possible that Rider Haggard’s book Montezuma’s Daughter (1893) or Walter Scott’s epic poem Marmion (1900) inspired the narrative of the nun being encased in a wall (1808).

Ghosts of Borley Rectory

A few people recalled hearing inexplicable footsteps within the home around 1863, suggesting that this was when the first paranormal experiences occurred. At dusk on July 28, 1900, the four daughters of Henry Dawson Ellis Bull saw what they believed to be the ghost of a nun some 40 yards (37 m) from home.

The family living in the rectory was “quite certain that they had seen an apparition on multiple occasions,” according to Ernest Ambrose, the village organist. Throughout the subsequent four decades, several witnesses reported seeing mysterious occurrences, such as a ghost carriage pulled by two headless horsemen.

After Bull passed away in 1892, his son Reverend Henry Foyster Bull (“Harry”) took over the family business.

After Harry Bull’s passing on June 9, 1927, the rectory was again available for rent. The Reverend Guy Eric Smith and his wife moved in on October 2 of the following year. Smith’s wife discovered a young woman’s skull wrapped in brown paper shortly after moving home as she cleared out a cabinet.

The family reported hearing servant bells ring after they had been unplugged, lights appearing in windows, and the sound of footfall shortly after that. Smith’s wife also claimed to have seen a carriage pulled by horses late at night.

The Borley Rectory in a file photo

The Borley Rectory in a file photo

The Smiths reached out to the Daily Mirror, pleading for a referral to the Society for Psychical Research (SPR). When the newspaper first heard about the riddles surrounding Borley, they sent a writer on June 10th, 1929, who instantly began writing about them. The newspaper also facilitated paranormal investigator Harry Price’s first visit to the residence.

Upon his arrival on June 12th, strange new behaviors began, including hurling stones, a vase, and other things. The mirror’s frame was tapped to convey “spirit messages.” Since Price departed, they have stopped. Smith’s wife subsequently said she accused Price, a skilled conjurer, of faking the phenomenon.

After the Smiths departed Borley on July 14, 1929, it was difficult for the parish to locate a new vicar. First cousins Lionel Algernon Foyster (1878-1945) and Marianne (née Mary Anne Emily Rebecca Shaw) (1899-1992), together with their adoptive daughter Adelaide, moved into the rectory on October 16, 1930.

In a letter to Harry Price, Lionel Foyster detailed many unexplainable occurrences between the Foysters’ move-in and October 1935. The spirits rang bells, threw stones and bottles, wrote on walls, and locked their daughter in a room without a key, among other things. Marianne Foyster described the poltergeist activity to her husband, including being tossed out of bed. Something “terrible” once assaulted Adelaide.

Twice Foyster attempted to perform an exorcism, but both times he was unsuccessful. During the first exorcism, a stone the size of a fist hit him in the shoulder, ending his efforts.

Due to the coverage in the Daily Mirror, numerous psychic researchers began looking into these occurrences and came to the same conclusion: Marianne Foyster was responsible for them, whether intentionally or not.

Some of the happenings, she stated afterward, she believed were the result of her husband and one of the psychic researchers, while others seemed to be genuine paranormal phenomena.

She utilized mystical theories to cover up her sexual relationships with lodger Frank Pearless but eventually revealed that she had these relationships.

In October 1935, the Foysters relocated out of Borley due to Lionel Foyster’s declining health.

Examining the Paranormal Incidents

After the Foysters moved out, Borley was empty for a while. Price signed a one-year lease with the property’s owner, Queen Anne’s Bounty, in May 1937.

A group of 48 “official observers,” predominantly students, were recruited by Price via an ad in The Times on 25 May 1937 and following personal interviews. They were instructed to spend time at the rectory, mostly on weekends, and report unusual occurrences.

In south London’s Streatham in March 1938, Helen Glanville (the daughter of S. J. Glanville, one of Price’s aides) had a planchette séance. According to Price, she spoke with two ghosts, the first of which was a young nun named Marie Lairre. The planchette claims that Marie was a French nun who left her convent and moved to England, where she eventually wed a Waldegrave and took the name, Marie.

A painting of the Borley Rectory

A painting of the Borley Rectory

The Waldegraves owned Borley Hall, a manor house built in the 17th century in the English village of Borley. She was supposedly killed in a previous structure where the rectory now stands, and her corpse was either buried in the basement or dumped into a dry well.

She allegedly scrawled “Marianne, please help me get out” and other messages on the wall.

Spirit number two introduced himself as Sunex Amores and threatened to burn the rectory at nine o’clock that night, March 27th, 1938. He also predicted that a victim’s skeleton would be unearthed then.

Fire at the Rectory

While moving on February 27, 1939, Captain W. H. Gregson, the rectory’s new owner, unintentionally knocked down an oil light in the corridor. The only source of water was a well dug in the backyard since the home was never wired for gas or electricity.

Fire swiftly spread across the house, causing extensive damage. The insurance company investigated and determined that the fire was likely intentionally set.

According to Harry Price, a Miss Williams from neighboring Borley Lodge claimed to have seen the apparition of the nun in the second-story window and asked for a guinea as payment.

The remains of the Rectory after the terrible fire

The remains of the Rectory after the terrible fire

Price did a short excavation of the abandoned home’s basement in August 1943 and found two bones that he believed belonged to a young lady.

After the parish of Borley denied permission for a Christian burial due to widespread belief that the bones unearthed belonged to a pig, the relics were laid to rest in the graveyard of Liston.

Four homes (perhaps constructed in the 1960s) and a farm now occupy part of the area where the rectory formerly stood.

An Examination Conducted by the Society for Psychical Research

Price was accused of faking incidents by Charles Sutton, a writer with the Daily Mail, after his death in 1948. Sutton said he was struck in the head with a huge rock when visiting the rectory with Price in 1929. Sutton said that once he had apprehended Price, he had discovered a variety of stones in his coat pockets.

Two of Price’s closest friends, Eric Dingwall and K. M. Goldney, together with Trevor H. Hall, were members of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) in 1948 when they looked into Price’s allegations about Borley. The results of their investigation were documented in a book titled The Haunting of Borley Rectory, released in 1956.

The SPR inquiry, popularly known as the “Borley Report,” concluded that many of the reported events were either staged or had natural explanations, such as the presence of rats or the peculiar acoustics caused by the strange layout of the home.

“When studied, the evidence for haunting and poltergeist activity for every era seems to wane in power and eventually melt entirely,” Dingwall, Goldney, and Hall said in their conclusion. As stated in a piece by Terence Hines, “From 1930 until 1935, the rectory was home to Mrs. Marianne Foyster, the wife of the Reverend Lionel Foyster, who was actively involved in falsely fabricating (haunted) occurrences. Price salted the mine’ and staged many occurrences while living in the church mansion.”

The remains of the Borley Rectory. The basement where the nun was buried is visible

The remains of the Borley Rectory. The basement where the nun was buried is visible

Later in life, Marianne Foyster claimed that she had not seen any ghosts and that the sounds she had heard resulted from the wind, her guests, or her practical tricks on her husband. Myths and stories concerning the rectory’s history were mainly made up.

The previous occupants of the home before Lionel Foyster, the Rev. Harry Bull’s children, stated they had seen nothing and were startled to learn they had been living in what was supposedly England’s most haunted house.

Dr. Robert Hastings was one of the few SPR scientists to support Price. Peter Underwood and Paul Tabori, Price’s literary executors, have also defended Price against fraud allegations. Ivan Banks, writing in 1996, took a similar tack. According to a 1997 SPR report by Michael Coleman, Price’s supporters failed to provide a credible rebuttal to the accusations.

Investigation By Ed and Lorraine Warren

According to the Warrens’ son-in-law, Tony Spera, who spoke with, the ecclesiastical ghost in The Nun is based on a “genuine” spectral nun the family experienced in the 1970s on a visit to the haunted Borley church in southern England.

The Warrens invited many photographers to join them on their investigation of the church after hearing reports of unexplained bell ringing, a headless monk who supposedly left cryptic inscriptions on the walls, and a ghostly nun who was seen roaming the halls late at night.

Legend has it that a nun who had an affair with a monk centuries before and was subsequently buried alive in the brick walls of the convent’s crypt confronted them in the graveyard.

As the party approached the chapel around midnight, Lorraine reportedly said, “I sense the presence of a nun in this church.”

A file picture of Ed and Lorraine Warren

A file picture of Ed and Lorraine Warren

There were no lights on, and the room was completely dark. The infrared film in their 35mm cameras allowed the photographers to get some stunning shots. When the photos were processed, it seemed like a nun was praying in the middle of the aisle.

“Did the nun from Borley do it? Certainly, was possible,” says Spera. Since Ed Warren died in 2006, the Warrens’ New England Society for Psychic Research has been run by his widow, Susan Spera.

There, the possessed Raggedy Ann doll named Annabelle first appeared in The Conjuring and its two sequels, Anabelle and Annabelle: Creation.

Is that what inspired The Nun? A question from Spera. “When it comes to making movies, I believe Hollywood mashes many plots and elements from various sources… There was no way they could have thought of (The Nun) alone.”

In Popular Culture

Released in 2017, Borley Rectory: The Most Haunted House in England is a hybrid live-action/animation film about a supposedly haunted English manor. Ashley Thorpe penned the script and served as the film’s director; Reece Shearsmith and Jonathan Rigby played the lead roles.

The site of Borley Rectory today

The site of Borley Rectory today

The Ghosts of Borley Rectory, a feature film, premiered in 2021. Starring Julian Sands, Toyah Willcox, Colin Baker, and Christopher Ellison, it was written and directed by Steven M. Smith.

RIP Victims.

Next, read the Story Of Barbara Bolick, A Woman Who Disappeared Right in Front of Her Friend’s Eyes! If mysteries don’t interest you, why don’t you check out The Entire History of Bigfoot? It’s a long, enlightening read!


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Written By

Abin Tom Sebastian, also known as Mr. Morbid in the community, is an avid fan of the paranormal and the dark history of the world. He believes that sharing these stories and histories are essential for the future generations. For god forbid, we have seen that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

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