By Thomas D'Agostino
One of the most captivating accounts of a haunted house I have ever read was not from New England but Old England. Unfortunately, the house is also long gone, having burned down in 1938. The story of the Borley Rectory and its investigations by famed psychic researcher Harry Price is known world-wide. The events that transpired in the rectory house made it the most haunted house in England. Even to this day that moniker is used whenever someone mentions England's most famous haunted house, the Borley Rectory.
The rectory was built in 1863 over the remains of a Benedictine monastery. Rumors have perennially circulated regarding an incident where a nun and a monk were put to death in the monastery for falling in love and attempting to elope. Such an idea in the Middle Ages and even much later was looked upon as a sin punishable by death. The couple was chained in the cellar and then walled up. Bones were allegedly found in a walled-in section of the foundation when the rectory was being built.
The rectory's first tenants were Reverend John Bull and his family. They often claimed to witness the ghost of a nun walking down the path leading to a gazebo near the end of the property. This path became known as the "Nun's Walk." Soon curious locals were prone to spying in on the rectory with the hopes of catching a glimpse of the nun and her ghostly stroll.
Another apparition was seen looking through a window from the outside. the family had no choice but to bar the window then eventually cover it up to block the phantom's eyes from peering into the window at the family.
By the late 1920s, Reverend Guy Smith had taken over the keys to the rectory. This is when the haunting that plagued the Bull family for many years came into the public eye. Enter Harry Price and a small hand-picked team that were asked to spend time and properly investigate the ghostly goings-on within the walls of the building.
Within a short time of being at the rectory, keys began to fly out of the locks, lost items rained down from the ceiling onto the floor in front of the awestruck group. A coat from a previous century suddenly appeared on the back of a door in plain sight of the investigators.
The Smiths soon vacated the house and the next family would suffer the same barrage of phantasmal activity, but there was a new twist in store for them. The rector's wife, Marianne, began receiving strange, sometimes barely decipherable, messages written on the walls such as, "Marianne please help get," or "Marianne light mass candles."
The messages became more clear over time but the cryptic writing was too much for the inhabitants of the home and they too vacated the premises in 1935, just five years after moving in.
In 1937, Harry Price took up residence in the house to further study the strange incidents plaguing the Borley Rectory. Price conducted seances in hopes to speak with the ghosts of the house. It was during one of these seances that a spirit warned of a fire that would burn the rectory to its frame. One year later, the Borley Rectory was gutted by a fire. This did not stop the spirits of the grounds as the apparition of a woman was still seen within the burned remains. Price wrote about his experiences and his writings are still available to the public.
In 1944, it became necessary to demolish the remains of the haunted rectory. LIFE photographer David Scherman was on hand to cover the event. While covering the demolition of England's most haunted house, Scherman photographed a brick that rose from the ruins and floated in the air for several seconds.
It was a final attempt of the Borley ghosts to assure everyone that they were going nowhere despite what might come next on their property.