The Ghostly Nun Of Borley Rectory

The ghost of the nun was seen so often at Essex's Borley Rectory that the house was said to be the most haunted in England.

On one bone-chilling occasion the first hint that the ghost was near was when the diners seated at the table felt an eerie chill slither through the room. Suddenly a hush fell over the group. "Look," one of the diners whispered nervously to the others. "There she is."

Everyone turned and clearly saw the woman's ashen face, framed by the gray hood of her habit, peering at them through the window. Cold chills ran up their spines. This was the ghostly nun of Borley Rectory -- the same woman who had died a horrible living death on that spot centuries before.

Although she has been seen throughout the house and grounds of Borley Rectory, the dining room window seemed to be a special place that belonged to her and her alone. The ghostly nun was seen there hundreds of times and by hundreds of witnesses. Her appearances were so frequent, and so unnerving, that the window was finally bricked up.

Infamous Borley Rectory was destroyed by a fire of mysterious origin in 1939. Even after the fire, strange events continued to occur in the ashes. In 1944, Life magazine photographer David E. Scherman, Time-Life archivist Cynthia Ledsham, and writer Noel F. Busch were visiting the ruins with paranormal investigator Harry Price. About four feet above the ground, the group spotted a heavy brick rising in mid air without benefit of human hands. In spite of his excitement, Scherman was able to hold his camera steady enough to snap a clear picture!

Borley Rectory was built in 1863 by the Rev. Henry Bull in Essex, across the road from ancient Borley Church where he preached. (A church building of some kind had stood on the spot since the 12th century.) The new rectory was a Gothic mix of brick and stone and, in popular imagination, looked exactly like a haunted house ought to look.

Over the years, numerous unexplained incidents occurred in the house and the building became so infamous that in 1928 the current occupant of the rectory, Rev. Guy Eric Smith, contacted the London Daily Mirror asking for help. The Mirror sent a reporter, C.V. Wall, who patiently listened to the tales spun by the Smiths describing poltergeist activity in the house. The Smiths told of moans, of hearing footsteps, of dodging small pebbles hurled by unknown assailants and, of course, of seeing the ever-present apparition of the nun. When the report was published in the paper, two things happened. The first was that gawkers arrived in droves with their incessant demands to see the inside of the rectory, which worried the Smiths nearly to death. The second thing that happened was that famed ghost hunter Harry Price came to call.

Price spent the next ten years investigating the house and wrote two books on the subject. When the Smiths were forced to move out of the house because of the flood of unwanted publicity, the Rev. Lionel Foyster and his wife, Marianne, moved in. For some reason the presence of Marianne caused the ghostly activity to increase. The nun even attempted to contact Marianne by scrawling pleas to her on the walls. Much of the writing looked like the scribbling of a child, but sometimes the message was clear. "Marianne... please help get...", said one. Marianne wrote beneath it in reply, "I cannot understand. Tell me more." Unintelligible gibberish was written beneath that.

Price had a theory as to why the nun haunted the house and recounted an old legend to back up his argument. Before Henry VIII of England broke with Rome in 1534 and established the Anglican Church, England was a Catholic nation. A Priory once stood on the exact spot where Borely would be built. According to the Church, both nuns and priests were to remain celibate under pain of excommunication, or worse. But love did blossom.

A novice (a nun who had not taken her final vows) of the Nunnery of Burnes seven miles away, fell in love with a young monk of Borely. Their meetings, by necessity, were clandestine lest their superiors discover their sacrilege.

But suspicions were aroused in both camps and word leaked back to the authorities. Traps were laid and the lovers were discovered. The terrified couple tried to get away. Unfortunately, they were not fast enough and both were captured trying to flee in a carriage driven by a friend.

The young monk was put to death along with the coachman. The nun suffered an even more horrible fate. She was walled up alive, to serve penitence and to die, in the vaults below the Priory. It was her ghost, as well as the monk's, that walked Borley Rectory.

Between 1930 and 1935, Price said that he recorded at least 2,000 paranormal events in the house, including pebble-throwing, cold spots, wall writing, objects being moved and the mysterious appearances of an ancient Catholic medallion. Critics accused Foyster and Price of conspiring to make Borley Rectory a kind of Amityville. In fact, much of Price's investigations were later discredited and he was branded a charlatan. While Price was alive (he died in 1948) he swore that his research was authentic and that he would haunt Borley himself to get the facts and then share them with the world from beyond the grave. (It was reported that he did just that, through a psychic).

Captain W. H. Gregson bought Borley Rectory in 1937, knowing full well its haunted reputation. He enlisted Price to investigate the house further. Gregson even wrote a few articles about the place on his own. Then, one night in 1939, Borley Rectory was consumed by fire. By the time the flames had run their course, only the study brick walls remained.

The fire itself remains a mystery. Alan William Gregson claims that his father was shelving books in the library when an oil lamp accidentally tipped over. Another son, Anthony, had a different explanation for the fire. In a letter to Richard Lee-Van den Daele he wrote "My father, Capt. W.H. Gregson bought Borely Rectory as a real estate venture around 1937, at which time it was classified by a prominent spiritualist, Harry Price, as the most haunted house in England. When this didn't pan out he torched it for insurance."

In any event, the ghostly nun of Borley Rectory was said to have migrated to Borley Church across the road after the fire. But her powers to appear to the living are apparently on the wane. Nowadays she is only seen occasionally.

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