The Borley Rectory is a haunted house in Essex that became infamous as the most haunted place in England. Today, it doesn’t exist because it burned to the ground under mysterious circumstances in 1939.
The remains of the Victorian mansion known as Borley Rectory are located in a small village near the town of Sudbury in Essex. It was built in 1862 on the site of an ancient Benedictine monastery. Before the rectory was constructed, the area was already believed to be haunted by the ghost of a nun. Many villagers claimed they had seen her sorrowful figure strolling along a path they called “Nun’s Walk”.
According to the legend, the nun had fallen head over heels in love with a monk who lived in the monastery at Borley. When their affair was discovered, the two lovers tried to elope together, but they were quickly caught and dragged kicking and screaming back to Borley. The monk was executed and the nun was bricked up alive within the monastery’s cellar walls.
The first occupant of Borley Rectory was the Reverend Henry Bull and his family. Unexplained footsteps were heard in the house at night, guests were often startled by the figure of a woman peering in at them through the windows of rectory and shadowy figures were seen in the children’s bedrooms. The Reverend’s four daughters all claimed they saw the ghost of a nun near the house one evening. When they went closer and tried to talk to her, they said she disappeared.
In 1929, the rectory was taken over by the Reverend Guy Smith and his wife. One day, soon after moving in, Mrs Smith was cleaning out a cupboard when she came across a brown paper package. Inside, she was horrified to find the skull of a young woman. At night, they heard strange footsteps and were convinced that they had seen the apparition of a phantom coach driven by two headless horsemen racing up the rectory drive.
Frightened by the unexplained events, the Smiths contacted a local newspaper which arranged for a paranormal investigator named Harry Price to visit the place and try to get to the bottom of what was going on. They began to experience poltergeist activity. Vases and other objects were smashed, rocks and stones were thrown around the rooms and they heard tapping on a mirror that sounded like a ghost was trying to communicate with them. It was all too much for the Smiths and they left after only two years.
The rectory became the home of the Reverend Lionel Foyster, his wife Marianne and their adopted daughter Adelaide. As soon as the family moved in, the paranormal phenomena took a turn for the worse.
Objects inexplicably disappeared and were later found in other parts of the house, furniture was overturned, bells rang of their own accord, windows mysteriously shattered, stones flew across the room and bottles smashed on the floor.
The ghost seemed to become obsessed with the rector’s young wife. She was thrown out of her bed at night by a mysterious force and slapped by invisible hands. She often had objects thrown at her and was once almost suffocated with a mattress. At one point she acquired a black eye
Another terrifying event happened when little Adelaide was trapped in a room and unable to open the door, even though it did not have a lock. She was later attacked by an evil presence, which she could only describe as “something horrible”.
Even more bizarre were the messages which began to appear scrawled on the walls of the house. They were all addressed to Marianne and appeared even while eyewitnesses were watching. Most of the messages were little more than scribbles and made no sense, but one of them read, “Marianne, please help get” and another was, “Marianne light mass prayers”.
In desperation, Reverend Foyster tried to conduct an exorcism, but his efforts were fruitless. In the middle of the exorcism, he was struck by large rocks and stones.
Because of all the horrible events, Reverend Foyster’s health began to fail and the family ended up moving out of borley Rectory in 1935. After they left, nobody else would agree to live in the house and it lay vacant for years.
The paranormal investigator, Harry Price, decided to get to the bottom of what was causing the hauntings. He put an advertisement in the paper looking for volunteers to assist him in a thorough investigation of the rectory. It read:
“HAUNTED HOUSE: Responsible persons of leisure and intelligence, intrepid, critical, and unbiased, are invited to join rota of observers in a years night and day investigation of alleged haunted house in Home counties. Printed Instructions supplied. Scientific training or ability to operate simple instruments an advantage. House situated in lonely hamlet, so own car is essential. Write Box H.989, The Times, E.C.4”
He received a huge number of replies and eventually chose 48 people to help him. Most of them were students and they spent their weekends in Borley Rectory trying to communicate with the ghosts.
Using a ouija board, they managed to contact a spirit who called herself Marie Lairre. Speaking from beyond the grave, she said that, in life, she had been a nun in France but had left her convent and travelled to England to marry a man named Henry Waldegrave. Once there, her husband had strangled her and buried her remains in the cellar.
Afterwards, they did some research and found out that there was a wealthy man who had lived in the area in the 17th Century. He had once owned a manor that had stood on the site where Borley Rectory was built. His name was Henry Waldegrave.
Months later, they succeeded in contacting another spirit who called himself Sunex Amures. He said that the rectory would burn down that night at 9 o’clock and the bones of a murdered person would be revealed in the ruins. Of course, they all waited with nervous anticipation for the prediction to come true, but nothing happened.
Borley Rectory did not burn that night, but exactly 11 months later, in 1939, the building accidentally caught fire. The flames spread quickly and the rectory was burned to the ground. A woman who lived nearby said that, as the flames consumed the old rectory, she saw the ghostly figure of a nun standing in an upstairs window. Other witnesses claimed they spotted ghostly figures roaming through the burning building.
Harry Price returned to Borley Rectory again in 1943 and after digging in the ruins, he discovered the bones of a young woman buried in the cellar alongside a medal of Saint Ignatius. He was convinced that this was evidence that there was something to the story that a young nun had been murdered on the site. He was also sure that, all along, it had been her ghost that was scrawling the bizarre messages on the rectory walls, pleading for help.
The bones were given a Christian burial in an attempt to end the haunting. However, it does not seem to have worked. Supernatural happenings are still reported from the site of the ruins of Borley Rectory and the nearby churchyard.
Will the ghost of Marie Lairre ever find peace or is she doomed to haunt the site of her murder for all eternity?