Borley Rectory

The Most Haunted House in England

Borley Rectory burns!
Note: These are my thought and my impressions only. There are in no way authorative.

What I find most interesting about Borley is not the actual phenomena of the haunting (which I will comment on later), but the psychology of the people who report it.

First, I'd better discuss my beliefs and biases, as they are exactly what I'm talking about. I'm one of these 'everything can be explained by science' people, however I also realise that there are many things that our current level of science cannot explain.

With regards to ghosts and other paranormal events, I am fascinated by them, partly because these are things that science cannot explain. However, I am rather skeptical, partly because it is outside the current world view of science, but also, I suspect, because I, myself, have not knowingly been involved in any paranormal events.

But even in this skeptical frame of mind, or perhaps because of it, Borley is a fascinating area. But are we trying to hard to believe? Many of us want to believe in life after death, a continuation of the soul, that, basically, there is more to life than this. And to what extent are we willing to go to accept this?

The first book I read relating to Borley was "The Haunting of Borley Rectory". It was very believable, especially with my skeptical mindset, and so when I later read "The End of Borley Rectory" I thought it to be a fraud, as was intended.

But as I got more into the subject, such as finding the Borley Rectory website, the Hastings report, "The Enigma of Borley Rectory" etc, I found that there was more to this than met my eye and the case of Borley Rectory was not so clear cut.

There are, to grossly over simplify, two vocal camps. Many have their own opinion that may fall into one side or the other, or some where inbetween, but I'm talking here about those that put their opinions into print, and thus those who have a visible opinion and influence the rest of us.

One camp follows the skeptical approach of "The Haunting of Borley Rectory", for whom no follow up can negate its status of showing Borley to be a fake. The other camp are those for whom the Hasting report is the supreme vindication of Harry Price and Borley Rectory.

And therein lies one point. Harry Price is indelibly intertwined with Borley Rectory. For better or for worse. It seems that to accept Borley Rectory is to accept Harry Price. And those that cannot accept Harry Price cannot accept Borley Rectory.

Indeed, it seems that "The Haunting of Borley Rectory" arose out of a dislike of Harry Price. Have we perhaps been denied a more universal acceptance of Borley Rectory and paranormal phenomena in general purely because the investigating officer was Harry Price? Unfortunately, we cannot know.

On the other side, the Hastings report was written not so much to re-establish any paranormal aura of Borley Rectory, but to defend Harry Price. Again, if it had not been Harry Price, and there had still been two books for and one against Borley, would Hastings have written anything? Would Borley have been left buried, as it were?

Beyond Harry Price, there are the existence of the phenomena. As I said, many want to believe in more than this life, which brings me to my second point: Many are accepting (or denying) Borley because they wish to.

To me, many people are willing to declare "The Haunting of Borley Rectory" as nothing more than ill talk purely because Hastings wrote his report. Any criticism raised must be false because of the existence of the report.

In this, and the previous point, they arise from the psychology of the people concerned, not because of evidence. Belief is truth, thus truth is belief.

Unfortunately, scientific veracity cannot rely on belief. There has to be fact. It may be that, unfortunately, we cannot recognise the scientific truth, or even the science, of the matter, but that does not change the nature of the basis of science, just the science itself.

Borley Rectory cannot stand or fall on any one belief system, but only on the evidence of the case. It is some what unfortunate that the evidence, that of witness testimony, relies on human nature.

Would that we had established proper scientific principles for dealing with the paranormal - but then I would not be needing to say any of this.

But the evidence is witness testimony, and no witness is perfect. With human nature, our biases and beliefs, auto-suggestion, memory recall never at 100%, and the fact that most of this happened with people were not expecting it, witness testimony is highly dubious. It is the best we have, though.

Two cases in point are the testimonies of Mabel Smith and Charles Sutton. Their latter commentaries contradicted earlier statements. This makes it hard to place too much emphasis on any of their statements at any time.

And yet people do. Hastings used Sutton's later memories to destroy his [Sutton's] earlier statements used to attack Harry Price in "The Haunting of Borley Rectory". As Dingwell et al. pointed out in their reply to Hastings, just how reliable is memory even further distanced in time?

Such thought would tend to indicate that the earlier statements should be more valid, yet Mabel Smith is a case in point against that.

So what evidence can we trust? Harry Price's? Despite Hastings pointing out many faults of "The Haunting of Borley Rectory", that book did point out many faults of Harry Price in his books. I'm thinking here, for example, of the newspaper clippings that Price did not quote in full to lend credence to the hauntings. Yes, Dingwell et al. did that same, but that does not invalidate the fact that Harry Price did it as well...which is a point that people do not seem to want to address.

So what evidence is left? First hand reports, by the people themselves. Such as Guy Smith's account and Lionel Foyster's "Fifteen Month". Fortunately, for those that wish to believe, there is enough here to show that there is more than normal events taking place at Borley.

However, when considering the kind of evidence - stones thrown, figures half-seen, marking on wall...and the seances, although even Harry Price was dubious of that! The exact nature of the haunting is not too exciting. What is exciting is the length of the haunting, all centered in one place.

This does lead me to this that given Borley Rectory as genuine, there should be more places like it around. I see no reason for Borley to be so unique. Perhaps we should build more buildings on sites long left empty. We could create our own Borley Rectory!

But is it all real? At least, given all the above, what do I think of it? I think that there is more than enough to suggest there are paranormal events related to Borley, I have a core skepticism which has a nagging doubt that it may all be human self-deception. I cannot ascribe to the levels of belief that Harry Price et al. would have us accept, but neither can I side with the complete denieability of the others.

In a word, I am...unconvinced. But not totally so.

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Graphic copyright 1994 by Vincent O'Neil, and used with his permission.