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The Hysterical Hystorian

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Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Black Mass in the Nun's Walk

Harry Price's first account of the supposed haunting of Borley Rectory was published in August 1929. It is mainly culled from the newspaper reports of the Daily Mirror. It is incorrect in most of what it says, for reaons that we do into in depth in 'The Thump Ghosts', 'The Bull Sheet', and 'In the Bedroom with Harry Price'. Suffice it to say here that Harry Price confessed on 29th April 1939 "A) I do not believe in spirits and B) I do not believe in the [Borley Rectory] legend". It is hard to detect this in this ridiculous account. (the 'black mass gliding down the Nun's Walk', was, as they both knew. Mary Pearson, the maid who had come to tell them that supper was ready.)

I am engaged in investigating one of the most extraordinary cases of poltergeist disturbance and alleged haunting that has come under my notice for years. The case was reported to the Daily Mirror by the Rev. G. E. Smith, rector of Borley, near Sudbury, Suffolk, who asked for assistance and advice. The editor of the Mirror asked me if I would investigate the case and I consented.

Borley Rectory is a mansion erected in 1865 on the vaults and cellars of a thirteenth century monastery. The ruins of a nunnery are close by. It has 38 rooms, mostly unused, and stands in wooded grounds nine acres in extent. The legend (current for at least 45 years) is that a groom attached to the monastery attempted to elope with one of the young nuns. The lovers being detected, the groom was hanged and the girl walled up alive in one of the chambers of the nunnery. The apparition of the nun has been witnessed by many people, and on one occasion was seen by four persons at the same time. A phantom coach and pair of bays has also been seen-and heard-by reliable witnesses, including the Rev. Harry Bull, the last incumbent, who died about two years ago.

At an all-night séance, without a medium, and by the light of two good paraffin lamps we held a 3-hours' conversation with the alleged spirit of the late Rev. Harry Bull who tapped out his answers on the back of a large mirror in the bedroom in which he' died. There have been several tragedies, both ancient and modern, connected with the house. We have experienced all the usual typi cal poltergeist manifestations such as the throwing of pebbles and other objects, and on the occasion of my last visit-I was then accompanied by Lord Charles Hope-we received a shower of ten keys which had been extracted from as many doors in various parts of the building. Amongst the keys was a brass Romish medallion, which the rector could not identify. The flight of the keys was accompanied by the ringing of the house bells-apparently of their own volition. On the occasion of our last visit, the few members of the Rev. Smith's household having retired to rest, we assembled in the haunted "blue room" to await events. Lord Charles Hope remarked casually: "If they want to impress us, let them give us a phenomenon now." A few minutes later one of the bells on the ground floor clanged out, the noise reverberating through the house. We rushed downstairs but could not even find the bell that was rung. Experiment proved to us that when any of the house bells were rung (they are the old-fashioned bells on springs, actuated by wires) the spring and clapper did not come to rest for some minutes. But we could not discover the least movement in either spring or clapper, though we think it was the drawing-room bell which had been disturbed.

The most convincing part of the story of the ghosts of Borley Rectory (which I am writing for PSYCHIC RESEARCH) is the mass of first-hand evidence, extending over a period of 45 years, which I have collected from various persons who have either seen or heard the manifestations. During the present investigation the only person who saw anything was Mr. V. C. Wall, of the Daily Mirror, who distinctly saw a black mass gliding down the "Nun's Walk," the path along which the famous nun perambulates during the summer months-and always on July 28th. I was standing by Mr. Wall's side, watching the front of the house, when he tapped me on the shoulder saying he could see something gliding along the path. He dashed across the lawn which separated us from the path but the mass stopped and "melted" (as he expressed it) just as he approached. On cur return to the house we were greeted by the fall of a slab of glass from the roof of a porch. The Rev. G. E. Smith and his wife have now taken a house at Long Melford, 1 ½ miles away, as they simply cannot live in the place any longer.

(Journal of the American Society for Psyvhical Research Aug 1929 pp435 436)

And a few weeks later...

We have not yet had an opportunity of "laying" the ghosts of Borley rectory; on the other hand, the disturbing entities have succeeded in driving out the rector and his wife and the dilapidated mansion is empty once more. Since I wrote my last Notes I have visited the place three times--and on each occasion have witnessed manifestations. But on July 28th the day of the year when the pious nun, headless coachmen and black coach-complete with a fine pair of bays- always appear (according to legend) nothing happened. On the contrary, the mansion (unlike the feeling experienced on other occasions) seemed particularly peaceful-much to the disappointment of Lord Charles Hope, the Hon. Richard Bethell and others of the National Laboratory who visited the house on July 28 and 29. Perhaps now the place is again empty, the haunting spirits are at rest. It is a very extraordinary case.

(Journal of the American Society for Psyvhical Research Sept 1929 pp507)


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