With the nights drawing in and Halloween fast approaching, it is a time for ghost stories. Author NEIL SPRING tells Spooky Isles about the legend of Borley Rectory and his debut novel The Ghost Hunters
Neil Spring on The Ghost Hunters
There is surely no better ghost story than the legend of Borley Rectory… Have you ever seen a ghost? Photographed by hundreds, sensed by thousands, ghosts are the most prominent paranormal belief in the world.
But where is the proof that would point to a world beyond this life? Can we ever possess reasonable grounds to believe in an afterlife? These are the questions posed by Harry Price, the protagonist of my debut novel, The Ghost Hunters. The setting? Borley Rectory, a Victorian mansion that gained fame as “the most haunted house in England.”
Built 150 years ago, the Rectory was destroyed by a controversial fire in 1939, and its ruins torn down in 1944. Since the first brick was laid, Borley Rectory was the scene of many unusual happenings, including sightings of the apparition of a lonely nun. In 1929 the reports reached a crescendo and the Daily Mirror called in ghost hunter extraordinaire, Harry Price. But who was this man who had promised a grieving nation that he would lift the veil that separated this world from the next?
Who indeed. Three years ago, I visited the Harry Price Magical Library at the University of London, Senate House, where shadows stalk the dusty stacks and secrets linger. I wanted to read Price’s many investigations, his letters and articles. I wanted to explore the many aspects of this fascinating character and discover what set him on his path of investigation into the unknown? But the more I read, the more I discovered about Price’s private life and his curious, contradictory beliefs, which oscillated between scepticism and belief. And the more intrigued I became.
Price’s arrival at the Rectory on 12 June 1929 coincided with a range of unusual happenings – stones and mothballs were thrown, bells rang, a candlestick came hurtling down the stairs and a brick crashed through the verandah roof. The rector and his wife soon departed, leaving Price to write a book on the affair which fixated the nation: Borley Rectory – “The Most Haunted House in England.”
My novel is certainly not a faithful retelling of Harry Price’s association with the house, but a fictional representation of what might have happened, based on historical reports and witness testimonies. I trawled newspaper archives, dug deep into Price’s private files, left no stone unturned to weave the most famous haunting of our age into a chilling historical novel.
But what is it about that red-bricked monstrosity of a building that still keeps us talking about it after 150 years? What’s interesting to me, isn’t what the story tells us about spirituality and life after death, but rather, what it tells us about the living. The era of Harry Price was a grieving nation, in some ways a desperate nation, that needed something to believe in. A pre war world as remote as Borley itself.