WEIRD SUFFOLK: The Suffolk rectory where a Reverend claimed: “there is evil in that place”
PUBLISHED: 18:00 05 September 2020
Less than 15 miles from the site of “the most haunted house in England”, another rectory in Suffolk was plagued by an evil spirit
Weird Suffolk is careful about naming places where people may still live as the sites of hauntings or poltergeist activity and so will keep this rectory’s whereabouts private. But it stands less than 15 miles from the most famous haunted rectory of them all, the former Borley Rectory close to the Suffolk border near to Sudbury. Let’s just remember the horror that was Borley Rectory, a story that never grows old.
Only a handful of remnants of what many called The Most Haunted House of England remain – built in 1863 for the Reverend Henry Bull, many spectral stories were linked to the gothic pile which glowered over this quiet corner of Essex. There had been claims of ghostly activity on the site from as early as 1819 – a shadowy nun had been seen gliding across the ground where the rectory was built – and from the time the Bull family moved in, there were reports of the sound of rushing water in the house (which was not linked to the mains system) and bells rang even after wires were cut. There were the disembodied sounds of rappings, crashings and heavy footsteps in empty areas of the building. As with so many cases of alleged poltergeist activity, much appeared to be in the area of the house where one of the Bull’s young daughters, Ethel, slept.
The Bull family refused to be frightened away from the Rectory – after Henry’s death in 1892, his son – also Henry – took over his duties. One day, when in the garden with his dog, Henry saw a pair of legs in the orchard behind trees…but when the legs moved from behind the foliage, the body they belonged to was headless. He also saw a ghostly carriage drawn by two horses and driven by a headless coachman on several occasions: when the coach was seen, it was silent, when it was heard, it was invisible. In 1900, Ethel and her sister Freda arrived home after a July summer party when they saw what looked like a nun, gliding from the trees – they ran to get their sister Elsie, who bravely went to talk to the nun: as she reached her, the figure dissolved in front of her very eyes.
The second Reverend Bull died in 1927 and his replacement was the Reverend Guy Smith and his wife Mabel. Mrs Smith was horrified to find, as she cleared out a cupboard, a small brown paper package which, when she investigated, contained a small human skull. Her husband buried the skull in one of the churchyards he presided over, but over the months of their residency, the couple claim to have been plagued by poltergeists. In the Blue Room, they heard whispering that turned to pleading, phantom footsteps stalked the corridors, bells rang of their own accord and a servant saw the spectral coach speeding past the rectory, twice. Before they had lived in Borley for a year, the couple left, but not before they had contacted the Daily Mirror to ask for help. It took more than a year for a new Reverend to be found – Lionel Foyster joined the haunted parish after being encouraged to take over by the Bull family, to whom he was related, and he moved in with his far younger wife Marianne and adopted daughter, Adelaide, three.
Borley’s supernatural tenant turned up the volume: household items vanished, objects the family didn’t recognise appeared from thin air, items were thrown at the couple, one struck Marianne so hard she was left with a black eye and cut face. She was thrown out of bed several times and mysterious messages began to appear on the walls of the house. Foyster’s packed diary of unexplained happenings at Borley was sent to paranormal investigator Harry Price after the Reverend left the Rectory, due to his advanced arthritis – the church gave up trying to find someone to take over the parish and the building was put up for sale. But before a buyer was found, Price was able to rent the house and on May 2 1937, placed an advertisement in The Times: “Haunted House. Responsible persons of leisure and intelligence, intrepid, critical and unbiased are invited to join rota of observers in a year’s day and night investigation of alleged house…”
Almost 50 observers were gathered together and together, the team logged an extraordinary number of psychic phenomena, including a séance held on March 27 1938 when a message from beyond the grave claimed the rectory would catch fire in the hallway and burn down and that a nun’s body would be found amongst the ruins. When Price’s lease ran out, the building was taken on by William Hart Gregson, an architect who bought it with plans to turn it into a tourist attraction. He was unpacking his belongings on February 27 1939 when he accidentally bumped into an oil lamp in the hallway, setting it on fire.
The building was reduced to a shell, but the ghostly apparitions continued. A nun was seen in the upstairs window of the Blue Room, standing on a floor that had been destroyed by flames, Price claimed to have found human bones in the cellar (Borley Church refused to bury them, believing them to be pig bones), Army officers using the site during the war claimed they had stones thrown at them and felt uneasy there and the occupants of the surviving cottage next door heard the voices and laughter of children from the orchard in the late 1940s.
Back to Suffolk and another haunted rectory.
At this rectory, a short drive from Borley, a new rector and his family moved in during the late 1970s, but within days were begging neighbours to allow them to stay with them while they found a new place to live. In the few short days that they had lived at the rectory, the family had been terrified out of their wits by a series of unsettling occurrences. The Reverend, after moving his family away from the rectory after five days, recalled a chilling event from a night spent at the property.
“At about 3am we were lying half awake when (wife) saw the walls of the bedroom change from being freshly-painted to peeling, damp old wallpaper, just as it might have looked 20 or 30 years ago,” he said.
“She heard screaming like a child – but it wasn’t (child’s name) – and she felt as if she was being suffocated or strangled.
“She was trying to say the Lord’s Prayer but she just couldn’t get it out because of this overwhelming force. I felt too that there was real danger in that room.
“There’s a definite feeling of evil in that place and that’s all I can put it down to.”
When the family approached the neighbours for sanctuary, they told them that the previous occupants had been similarly spooked and had returned home to Ireland shortly after moving in. According to a source: “They (the family) had had a very bad time and had returned home to get over it. They were said to be rational people, making their comments all the more plausible. It seems that similar things had happened 25 years ago and there had been other claims in the subsequent years.” When a new rector was found for the parish, he refused to live in the house and later, according to a source in the church, the rectory was the subject of an exorcism.
Things have been quiet on the matter of the Suffolk rectory with an unexpected and undesirable lodger ever since: perhaps the exorcism was successful, perhaps the spirit is waiting to reappear…