Borley is a tiny rural community of three hamlets and a civil parish in rural North Essex, England, located near the River Stour. In 1862, Reverend Henry Dawson Ellis Bull constructed the Borley Rectory on Hall Road, replacing an earlier rectory on the site that had been destroyed by fire in 1841. The nearby Borley Church, a small building made of stone, the nave of which may date to the 11th century, used to serve the scattered rural community of three hamlets that make up the parish. According to local traditional legend, around 1362, there was a Benedictine monastery in the area and a local monk had a secret affair with a nun from a nearby convent.
When they were caught, the monk was immediately executed, but the unfortunate nun had to suffer more as she was bricked up in the convent walls and left to suffocate and die. However, it seems that the tragic story is baseless and it was fabricated by the locals to romanticise the Gothic red-brick rectory. But, although the love story of the monk and the nun was confirmed to be false in 1938, the tale of the murdered lovers later formed the basis of many future investigations, reports and paranormal claims.
Nevertheless, after being named rector of the parish, Reverend Bull moved to the newly built Borley Rectory in a year, which was eventually enlarged by the addition of a wing to properly accommodate his family of fourteen children. However, immediately after that, four girls, daughters of the rector, claimed that they saw the ghost of a nun at twilight, on the ground of the rectory, about 100 feet from their house, which disappeared as soon as they approached. Apart from that, several people claimed to have witnessed a variety of unexplainable and puzzling incidents, like a phantom coach driven by two headless horsemen.
After the death of the Reverend Bull in 1892, his son, the Reverend Henry ‘Harry’ Bull took over the living. When he died on 9 June 1927, Reverend Guy Eric Smith and his wife moved into the house on 2 October 1928 and soon after moving in, Mrs Smith found a brown paper package containing the skull of a young woman, while cleaning out a cupboard. The strange discovery opened the flood gate of paranormal events within the house and its vicinity, when strange lights appeared in the windows, the bells to call the servants kept on ringing despite being disconnected, unexplained footsteps were heard within the house and the ghostly apparition of a horse-drawn carriage was seen nearby.
In response to the couple’s letter to The Daily Mirror about their intention to make contact with the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), the newspaper immediately sent a reporter to them on 10 June 1929 and also arranged for Harry Price, a paranormal researcher, to make his first visit to the house.While the reporter promptly contributed the first instalment of his series of articles detailing the mysteries of Borley, with the arrival of Harry Prince, on 12 June, a new type of phenomenon started in the place, which included the throwing of a vase or other objects and the appearance of Spirit messages tapped out from the frame of a mirror. Curiously, the unexplainable activities stopped with the departure of Harry Prince. Later, Mrs Smith stated that she suspects Price, an expert conjurer, had manipulated those phenomena.
The Smiths left Borley on 14 July 1929 and were replaced by the Reverend Lionel Algernon Foyster, a first cousin of the Bulls, his wife Marianne and their adopted daughter Adelaide, on 16 October 1930. The family remained in the house for five years and the Reverend compiled a detailed report of all the supernatural experiences the family had to endure during their stay in the place and sent the dossier to Harry Prince. The incidents that he mentioned in his report included bell-ringing, windows shattering, throwing of stones and bottles, strange writing appearing on the walls and the locking of their daughter in a room with no key.
Marianne made additions to the document, reporting a whole range of poltergeist phenomena that included her being thrown from her bed and periodical attack by something horrible. With the help of Prince, Foyster twice tried to exorcise the house, but the efforts were fruitless.
Because of the huge publicity in The Daily Mirror, the matter attracted the attention of several amateur reporters and psychic researchers and after meticulous investigation, all of them placed Marianne at the centre of the storm. They unanimously suspected that all those mysterious incidents of the rectory were intentionally or subconsciously caused by her. At first, Marianne tried to defend herself by stating that she had nothing to do in the matter and she felt that her husband was responsible for some of the incidents, which he caused in collaboration with one of the psychic researchers, but other events appeared to her to be genuine paranormal phenomena. However, during later interrogations, she had to admit that she was involved in a sexual relationship with their lodger, Frank Pearless and to cover up the affair, she used paranormal explanations. Later in her life, Marianne Foyster also admitted that she never saw any apparitions, the alleged ghostly noises were caused by the wind and most of the legends about the rectory had been invented.
The rectory was severely damaged by fire on 27 February 1939, when its new owner, Captain W H Gregson, accidentally knocked over an oil lamp in the hallway, while he was unpacking some boxes. When it was on fire, a Miss Williams from the nearby Borley Lodge reportedly saw the figure of the ghostly nun in the upstairs window. Long after the incident, Price conducted a brief dig in the cellars of the ruined house in August 1943, when two bones, thought to be of a young woman, were discovered. However, the local vicar of Borley refused to allow the Christian burial of the bones, since according to the local opinion, the bones belonged to a pig. Borley Rectory, described by Harry Paris as the most haunted house in England, was left as a ruin, never rebuilt after being damaged by fire in 1939 and was demolished in 1944.