Borley Rectory - 'the most haunted house in England'

Myth and Legend

Borley Rectory - 'the most haunted house in England'

Borley Rectory, in Essex, home of a number of ghost stories, gained national fame when it was the subject of a study by paranormal investigator Harry Price in 1937. He described it as ‘The Most Haunted House in England’, a phrase which caught the imagination of the press and public.

Borley Rectory was built in 1862 near the church in the village of Borley, by the Reverend Henry Bull. Within a year, it is said, ghostly footsteps were reported. Bull had 14 children, which have been the source of speculation about these tales of mysterious phenomena.

On 28 July 1900, four daughters of the rector saw what they thought was the ghost of a nun at twilight, about 40 yards from the house. They tried to talk to it, but it disappeared as they got closer.

During the next four decades a number of people claimed to have witnessed a variety of puzzling incidents in and around the Rectory, such as a phantom coach driven by two headless horsemen.

In 1929, the inhabitants of the rectory got in contact with the Daily Mirror newspaper after experiencing a variety of incidents. These included the sounds of servant bells ringing despite their being disconnected, lights appearing in windows and unexplained footsteps. Harry Price, a paranormal researcher, was sent to the house by the paper. Strange new phenomena were observed whilst he was visiting, but these stopped once Price left.

By 1937, a succession of clergy family living in the house had complained of strange events, and the property was left vacant. Harry Price renewed his studies of it, and continued to report on the strange goings on.

The rectory was gutted by fire in 1939, and in 1948 the Society for Psychical Research revisited the stories of hauntings there, and concluded that many of the phenomena were either faked, or due to natural causes such as rats and strange acoustics attributed to the odd shape of the house.

The story of the rectory has recently been the basis of a film The Banishing, directed by Christopher Smith.  It stars Jessica Brown Findlay, of Downton Abbey Fame, and local Billericay-born John Heffernan. 

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