The Foxearth and District Local History Society

The Hysterical Hystorian

For occasional articles, snippets and announcements by the Resident Historians.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 Historical information doesn't really go out of date!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 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, July 02, 2005

The Old Pretender

The Borley Rectory affair has turned out to have a remarkable longevity. There have been eight books, a few booklets and thousands of articles on the subject. My own book on the subject is on the site in its draft form, and is due for publication by the society. There is, however, a problem with packing it off to the printers: New facts keep popping up.

The Harry Price Library, now part of the University of London, has had a number of donations recently that shine a new light on the controversial man. Also, the indexing of the existing mass of correspondence and written materials has turned up some quite startling new facts. I'm having to review what I've written in the light of the new evidence that is emerging

Of all the biographies of Harry Price, white the best was that of Trevor Hall. He has often been accused of a mean-spirited attack: in fact his book is extraordinarily restrained. As some of the characters in the Borley Rectory affair were still alive, he did not explore Harry Price's extra-marital affairs, though he knew about them, and he did not expose the full extent of the smokescreen that Harry Price invented about his background, credentials, qualifications or experience.

It would seem that none of the participants on the Borley Rectory affair believed what Harry Price said. Mrs Smith, the rector's wife, was sure he faked phenomena: so did her maid. Most of the Bull family, who had lived and been brought up in the house, thought that the talk of ghosts was nonsense and were perplexed by the poltergeist phenomena that happened only when Harry Price was around. The Foysters famously quarrelled with Harry Price and thought he was sinister and exploitative. His acolyte, Mollie Goldney, turned against him. Even the
saintly Rev Henning had grave doubts about Harry Price's integrity. The parish were convinced to a man that Harry Price's 'Marie Lairre' was actually some old pig's bones, and forbade a 'burial' at Borley Church. Sidney Glanville eventually realised that he had been duped by Price.

In fact, Harry Price was in every respects, a conjuror, who did what all illusionists do, to create a fog of mystery around perfectly explicable events to create the climate for a belief in magic and ghosts. The stage is darkened, the magician dons a black hat and coat, and spouts baloney, and the audience suspends its normal critical faculties. Borley Rectory was Harry Price's best conjuring trick, and we should all gasp in wonder and amazement, but we should not go on to believe that he really sawed the lady in half, or that he really created doves out of the air. Borley Rectory was a trick, and a very splendid one, particularly as it was mostly woven out of the actions of members of the audience.

The mystery is that the whole affair, which was about money, sex, madness and
gullibility, should be quoted all around the Internet as the best evidence for ghosts; that it should be the setting for the annual gathering of tourists eager to see the 'ghost'. The Borley Rectory Affair was a grand illusion and we should marvel at it for that, not as evidence for ghosts.


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