Sunday, 21 December 2014

Borley Rectory part 2: The Blue Book

Continuing from last week's post I wanted to blog about a wonderful aspect of the Borley Rectory "hauntings". During his investigative stint at the house, the ghost hunter Harry Price produced a pamphlet to brief his assistant. This small volume is dubbed the "Blue Book" and the British Library has an example of one on display as part of its excellent Terror and Wonder show.

The Harry Price Website gives an excellent, succinct overview of these publications:

The book describes the protocols required when visiting the Rectory in the capacity of an official observer of the University of London Council for Psychical Investigation, in connection with vigils inside the building & within its grounds, report writing & procedures for dealing with phenomena.  The pamphlet also gives a résumé of all the principle paranormal events which had been reported as having occurred in or around the former Bull residence over the years & this was seized upon by Price's critics after his death as his way of using the powers of suggestion in order to  influence his observers into reporting things which he could subsequently use to his advantage when writing about the case after the tenancy had come to an end.

I love the air of officialdom bestowed on this pamphlet by the restrained, authoritarian typography. Having grown up in a military family and then worked in the UK's Civil Service, they remind me of all sorts of far more credible documents I have encountered over the years.

But what do the pamphlets say? Alas I can't find anywhere on the web where the interior has been reproduced, either as a scan or just transposed text. If anyone know where I can find a copy, do please comment below.

At present, my imagination is running wild. I am hoping that these things are as bizarre as the Handbook for the Recently Deceased found by Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin in, Beetlejuice (a book so impenetrable Baldwin gives up trying to decipher it, complaining that it reads like "stereo instructions").

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Borley Rectory

This is the first of a string of posts which are inspired by my visit to the Terror and Wonder exhibition at the British Library (a show which I highly recommend you go and see if you can before it closes in January). Amongst the exhibits were plans for Borley Rectory. Long-time readers will know of my fascination for floorplans, both real and fantastical, and this post is a spiritual successor to my ramblings about Boleskine House.

Known as "the most haunted house in England", the Rectory was a Gothic Victorian pile that was demolished in 1944. It gained public notoriety in the late 1920s after tabloids published articles about the alleged hauntings and the investigations by paranormal researcher Harry Price. Stories included skulls discovered in cupboards, spectral figures seen and innumerable unexplained noises heard. The genuineness of the phenomena are now largely discredited as the product of trickery by the residents and by Price himself. The place was set ablaze in 1939 after an oil lamp was accidentally overturned and the ruin was later demolished. Nonetheless the stature of the myths still looms large in Fortean folklore. I recall the case still being cited in the 1980s when I was making my first childish delvings into the paranormal via the gazeteers I found in local libraries.

I was fascinated to see Price's plans for the Rectory at the British Library show. He had marked on them the locations of the phenomena, like some diligent GM preparing a trap for his unwitting players. Bristol-based artist Hannah Taggart has been inspired by the myths surrounding the place and has produced a couple of fascinating interpretations of the site. I wonder whether it might be that the psychogeography of the place is responsible for the continuing hold it seems to have on our imaginations?

Price's plan of the Rectory 

Taggart's interpretation of the plans (above) with a vision of the substructure as well (below)

Monday, 1 December 2014

Fear the Kinder Boggart

I spent an afternoon driving around the Derbyshire Dales last weekend, snapping some of the bleakest bits of landscape I could find.

The area is not short of hauntings, legends and folklore and this is something I definitely want to explore more now that I am on the Dales' doorstep. Noteable amongst the ghosts, phantoms and witches said to reside in the hills are Boggarts. This is the local term for your common-or-garden Black Dog, so often found in British folklore. Seeing these large, shaggy and glowing-coal-eyed beasts is typically a sign that ill fortune on the horizon. However, they are not unknown to accompany lone travellers (sometimes women) and guide them to safety.

This excellent page recounts the following tale:

[A] big black dog is said to guard the graves of the three Jacobites buried near Swinscoe who were ambushed and slain in the 1745 rebellion. Eyewitness accounts have described the Boggart as being the size of a calf, with a shaggy black coat and glowing eyes as saucers. It never makes a sound and vanishes as quickly as it appears, into thin air. 

As the clouds descended and the lanes become choked with damp, dark fog it was easy to imagine how terrifying the landscape would be to folk in a pre-industral era. Witout torches or well-kept roads the living would have been at the mercy of all sorts of entities which, I would like to think, have since been forced to creep into the deep recesses of the earth. And our collective psyche.