The Foxearth and District Local History Society

The Hysterical Hystorian

For occasional articles, snippets and announcements by the Resident Historians. (Andrew Clarke and GH) These articles are presented in date order, but if you explore the back-catalogue, you may find much of interest. Historical information doesn't really go out of date! Any member of the F&DLHS may add an entry or make a comment to an existing entry once they have got their userID and password from the Webmaster.

If you'd like to publish any interesting material about the history of East Anglia on the site, then please send an email to the Resident Historians at Andrew.Clarke@Foxearth.org.uk and we'll add it.

Family Historians have their own area on the site, so look there if your main interest is in tracing your family history.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

The Rat Run

A story from 1884 about a successful day catching rats catches the eye, particularly when one remembers Harry Price's published remarks in his books about Borley Rectory, about the lack of rats in and around Borley.

March 15th 1884

Glemsford. On Friday morning last, the rat, bird and mouse destroyer from this place was at Mr Hart's premises, the horse slaughterer of Walter Belchamp, when 600 rats were picked up, their united weight being over 13 stone

One of the key moments in the Borley Rectory affair was when the wife of the Rector, Guy Eric Smith, realised she had been persuaded against her better judgement to believe in ghosts when a natural explanation for events at the rectory would have sufficed. She read in the Church times about a famous, and peculiarly similar haunting at Chale Rectory, in the Isle of Whight in 1940 which turned out to have been entirely caused by rats. Rev Sinclair and his wife arrived at the rectory to hear stories of 'the driving into the yard at midnight of a carriage and pair, which was said to have been heard, but not seen, on many occasions.' The were amazed to hear jingling as of harness, creaks, clangings, grinding and jarring sounds and a 'rather stagey horses-hooves noise' of a somewhat 'coconutty' quality. They were also perplexed by 'unseen hands' knocking objects off shelves, stealthy footsteps on landings, 'cold spots'. After laying down rat poison, all phenomena ceased.

The people who wanted to believe in ghosts were insistent that there were never rats at Borley Rectory, in spite of it being near a farmyard. It reminds me of an incident described by Hugh Barratt (in the book 'A Good Living') whilst working on a farm nearby at Justices Hall.

Leaving by the back door I noticed a rat run along the low garden wall and I thought, casually, that rats weren't often seen there. As I opened the loose box door there was a scurry of feet and two rats shot across the floor to hide behind the feed bin. Another ran up the wall and onto the rafters. Several more tried to get past me and out into the yard; one went under the door. It would not have been unusual to see one or two rats in that box, but half a score was unprecedented. And what struck me was that these rats didn't know their way round. They were not skipping along the normal well-trodden routes, but were plainly confused. They were strangers: aliens.

I got on with the milking but with my head pressed into the cow's flank rats appeared and disappeared across my field of vision. 1 was finishing stripping the last drops into the pail when Pinnock stuck his head round the door. 'Th'ole dawg ha' killed hell know how many rats. They're everywhere. Buggers even in th'oil shed. I dussent hardly go into the barn. We'll hatta do suthin quick!'

I carried the milk indoors and returned to have a look. Pinnock had not exaggerated. Truly the rats were everywhere: we were infested. You couldn't move sack or bag, empty or full, without at least one rat jumping out in search of safety. By eight o'clock Pinnock and I and his dog had killed scores, but it was terribly clear that for every one we slaughtered there were ten more left.

More drastic measures would have to be taken so I sent word to the village that anyone with a good ratter — or even without — would be welcome to join the fray. 1 told Euan what was afoot but he declined to assist, saying he was frightened of rats. (So was I, and so I am even now.)

For the rest of the day six men, a horde of kids and heaven knows how many dogs killed and killed, first round the buildings, barn, yards and pens and then up in the paddocks. How many? Hundreds for sure, perhaps a thousand. (They were gathered in heaps but no one was keen to count them.) By next morning the great mass had gone. There was the odd 'stranger' and the normal locals' but the rest had vanished.

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