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)

1 comment:

  1. Ahh, Harry. He appears to have been a scam artist right up there with L. Ron Hubbard. I have two biographies of him: Harry Price: The Biograpy of a Ghost-hunter (1950), which appears to be the Price-approved story, and Harry Price, The Psychic Detective (2006) which paints a very different picture indeed. I've also got two books on Borley: The End of Borley Rectory (1946) by Price, and The Ghosts of Borley (1973) by Peter Underwood (a Price associate and parapsychologist whom I just checked on Wikipedia and, by the way, discovered only died less than a month ago).

    Price seemed to be one of those people, like Hubbard, with absolutely no compunction about lying, whether about himself or anything else. I wonder whether he did so out of pure self-interest or because he just thought the line between truth and a good story was completely meaningless. I suspect the former!

    He certainly dined out on the Borley stories for a long time. But anyway, who cares about truth, the legend of the most Haunted House in England is well established now and has a wonderful life of its own.

    I wish I could see that exhibition!