Borley Church has stood, close to the Suffolk border with commanding views of the River Stour valley, from Saxon times. In 1863, the Reverend Henry Dawson Ellis Bull built a new rectory close to the church to house his growing family. The large brick, castle-like construction was a forbidding building, surrounded by tall trees and subject to peculiar acoustic effects from the wind. It had attics, cellars, several staircases and eleven bedrooms and was a warren of a building.
Local legend has it that the rectory was built on the site of a 13th century monastery from which a monk eloped with a nun from nearby Bures Convent, escaping in a coach and horses. Soon captured they were brought back and punished. The monk was hanged and the nun bricked up alive in the convent. Although there was never a monastery at Borley there have been many alleged sightings of the couple and a phantom coach and horses. Another tale was of a black clad nun who walked the garden, who it was even claimed had been seen by all four of Bull’s daughters in daylight.
When Bull died in 1892 his son Harry took over as rector. He married at the age of 48, much to the disgust of his unmarried sisters who made life unbearable for his young wife. They even accused her of poisoning him when he died in 1927.
Later the Daily Mirror sent a reporter to investigate, together with Harry Price the physic investigator. Lionel Foyster a cousin of the Bulls, took over as rector in 1930 and moved into the rectory with his wife Marianne, twenty-one years his junior. It was during their five year stay that the tales of hauntings really grew. Two thousand psychic happenings were recorded and Harry Price, described them as “The most extraordinary and best documented case of haunting in the annals of psychical research”.
The Foysters left Borley Rectory in 1935 and Harry Price leased the building for a year. During this time he recorded objects moving and the sounds of footsteps. On leaving Borley, Marianne confined Lionel, who was by then a sick old man, to the attic of their new house in Suffolk, at times passing him off as her father. She is reputed to have had a string of affairs at Borley but went even further in Suffolk when she bigamously married a travelling salesman. After Lionel’s death, Marianne married an American Serviceman and moved to the USA in 1946, where she lived until her death in 1992.
As for the Rectory, it burnt down in 1939 when William Gregson, its last owner, overturned an oil lamp amongst piles of books. An insurance fraud maybe? There are those who believe in ghosts whatever the evidence may indicate and for them, Borley will no doubt always hold fascination. On the other hand tales of adultery, bigamy, jealously, poisoning and possible murder are subjects which, probably founded in fact, are equally gripping.
Extracted from the Essex Hundred Histories – just one of more than 100 short stories from Essex.
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