April 2015

The Day We Went To Borley … Again!

It has been all work and no play for the last three weeks, because of a rather large project which some of you may already be aware of. More on that in my next post!

So Della and I were pleased to have an interesting day out on Saturday. We had arranged some time ago to travel up to Borley with some friends, and check out a couple of things in the old churchyard and indeed the surrounding area. Patsy Langley, Secretary of the BPOS, drove us up there together with her fiancé Ricky, Redmond McWilliams of the Highgate Cemetery Vampire Appreciation Society, and our friend Simon.

We left Muswell Hill at about 11.30am, after everyone had convened at the flat, and reached Borley after a couple of hours on the road. Borley hadn’t changed much, in the three years or so since I last visited the place, except we noticed that the locals had chained off the usual parking space by the church, obviously with the intention of discouraging visitors. Can’t really say I blame them in a way, because tourists (including ghost hunters) tend to make their way to the site of the former rectory which was once known as the ‘most haunted house in England’, sometimes engaging in vandalism and generally making ‘a nuisance of themselves’. I suppose they, like ourselves, are always hopeful for a glimpse of one of Borley’s famous ghosts, but such people have gone about this in a manner which seems to have made the locals pretty defensive towards strangers.

Borley Village sign (c) Della Farrant 2015
Borley Village sign (c) Della Farrant 2015

 

We only passed one local, which is unsurprising considering how few people live in the hamlet. But we were pretty sure that more people were watching us than we observed!

The rectory was mysteriously burned to the ground one morning in 1939, and new properties have since been built on the land it once occupied. We were curious on this occasion to have a look at what might remain of the old land boundaries and the eastern extremity of the garden. And we weren’t disappointed. Although we did not spot the remains of the smaller summer house, we did park up accidentally as it happens by the gate which Paul Adams describes on his website devoted to Harry Price.

Original gate to the eastern end of the Borley Rectory Estate (c) Della Farrant 2015

As Paul mentions, it is impossible to tell if the gate is original, but the art deco diamond patterns certainly give it an air of antiquity, as do the matching ornate pillars on either side. The gate now has substantial amounts of wicker work pushed against it from the inside, but beyond it were discernible the discarded remains of a substantial building. It would be interesting to know if this debris was indeed dumped in the copse after the fire, and we were surprised that these anonymous lumps of stone had not been removed by earlier pilgrims to the site as souvenirs (we obviously left the site as we found it).

We also enjoyed walking around the churchyard, and finding the graves of the Bull family who once occupied the rectory.

Patsy Redmond and Ricky examing the Bull family plot in Borley churchyard (c) Della Farrant 2015
Patsy Redmond and Ricky examing the Bull family plot in Borley churchyard (c) Della Farrant 2015

 

David Farrant at Borley churchyard (c) Della Farrant 2015
David Farrant at Borley churchyard (c) Della Farrant 2015

 

Church tower at Borley (c) Della Farrant 2015
Church tower at Borley (c) Della Farrant 2015

 

Borley Church (c) Della Farrant 2015
Borley Church (c) Della Farrant 2015

 

It was a glorious, warm afternoon, and the churchyard affords a timeless vista of the old rectory cottage, its roofline so reminiscent of the now vanished rectory which once stood adjacent.

Simon in Borley Churchyard with view of the old Rectory cottage (c) Della Farrant 2015
Simon in Borley Churchyard with view of the old Rectory cottage (c) Della Farrant 2015

 

Sadly the church was locked, as are so many rural and suburban churches these days when no service is being conducted. I do recall that in 1979 when I visited the area there was a small notice displayed on the church porch, which said that visitors could obtain keys to enter the church from a local house, possibly Rectory Cottage although I cannot now recall. On that occasion we did obtain the key and went inside the church, wherein I took quite a few photographs. I will post one of me below, but there are more which I will endeavour to find and post soon, one of which shows an inexplicable bright oval light in the air above my left shoulder. Borley church itself is reputedly haunted, and many people have reported strange experiences there over the years.

David Farrant at Borley Church 1979 (c) David Farrant BPOS
David Farrant at Borley Church 1979 (c) David Farrant BPOS

 

After leaving Borley we visited nearby Liston church, only a mile or so away, where legend has it that the bones of the nun who was said to walk the grounds of Borley Rectory were reburied. Liston has a slightly larger population than Borley, but the intense silence was the same, with not even the sound of skylarks to distract us from the paranoid sense that only we were disturbing the strange, locked in atmosphere. Yet it was so peaceful … well, I suppose devoid of the sound of London traffic anywhere would appear to be so.

Redmond McWilliams at Liston churchyard (c) Della Farrant 2015
Redmond McWilliams at Liston churchyard (c) Della Farrant 2015
Liston Church (c) Della Farrant 2015
Liston Church (c) Della Farrant 2015

 

Out of interest, the bones of the nun were reburied in an unmarked grave, which is very difficult to precisely locate. If anyone wishes to find it you can do so however by locating the only thistle in the graveyard, or at least on the left hand side. It seems that this hardy plant is the only one which can survive for long on this small patch of ground which is traditionally barren.

Anyway, we finally headed back for London, but not before stopping off for a late dinner at The Bull in Long Melford, a 15th century tavern which has enjoyed sensitive restoration and retains its ancient atmosphere. It was here that psychic investigator Harry Price stayed, whilst conducting his investigations at Borley Rectory, and he would certainly have been familiar with the pub, and very well have sat at the same table where we enjoyed our meal!

The Bull public house (c) Della Farrant
The Bull public house (c) Della Farrant

We finally got back to North London around 10pm, and all piled back to the flat for a chat and a drink. Oh, I should mention that Redmond had brought me a present when he first arrived, and I have finally had a chance to sit down and read through some of its pages. The book, Bloodlust in Whitby and Highgate by James J. Browne, contains a chapter which attempts to address some of the media inaccuracies presented about myself concerning the Highgate ‘vampire’ flap back in the 1970s. Unfortunately it adds a few more, in a rather humourless fashion, but Browne has done his best, and as he has given me a whole chapter of his 70 page book I suppose I shouldn’t complain. And it was refreshing for once to hear someone point out that the relationship between a ‘certain person’ and the police had become strained by August 1970, and to see an acknowledgment of this person’s ‘cyber sock puppets’ in print for the first time. What a strange way to court publicity!

Bloodlust in Whitby and Highgate by James J. Browne
Bloodlust 2 001
Bloodlust 3 002

Anyway, thanks Redmond. Haven’t finished reading the rest of the book yet, but I will!

Well that’s all for now, everyone. Will keep you all up to date I promise.

David (Farrant)

TIME KEEPS MOVING ON

Well, Easter has come and gone and, as I have said many times before, I prefer the relative quiet of Easter to the ‘dreaded Christmas’. Its lighter and warmer for one thing; for another, it seems to be speeding us away from those dark gaudy days that envelop the festive season. You can keep all the presents, the sickly rich food and all the other commercialism; that doesn’t amount to much in comparison to being able to feel the newness of Nature. For that is alive and it’s progressing now, and leaving far behind the cold and morbidity of the fake decorations that smother most people at Yuletide.

So, I don’t mind Easter. It just feels ‘free-er’ to me. A time when the future seems ‘alive’, and not just buried beneath some religious archives that have long lost their true religious meaning. But nothing is really lost. And time keeps moving on . . .

Anyway, to return to the Blog proper (maybe because so many people have been reminding me that I have been neglecting my personal diary), there is indeed some personal news that I’d like to share with you on the paranormal side of things . . .

Della’s new book “Haunted Highgate” has been doing pretty well with a series of recent reviews. I believe I have already posted one here from Paul Screeton (of Hexham Heads fame) which appeared in his magazine FOLKLORE FRONTIERS in March. (Issue No 75).

Ian Topham has also released another fairly long review on his Website MYSTERIOUS BRITAIN AND IRELAND in his book review columns. I would like to re-publish Ian’s review on here but must first get his permission to republish it. Sure he won’t mind, but have to ask him beforehand obviously. Hopefully you can all read it here soon, as trying to keep all reviews and book news together.

Also, another very recent review has appeared in the magazine of the Ghost Club. It is by John Fraser, himself a Ghost Club member and also a Council member of the Society of Psychical Research whom I first met while giving a Talk at ASSAP in 2013, and I do now have his kind permission to reproduce it on Della’s behalf on my own humble Blog! (Well, he gave Della permission anyway, so hopefullly this applies to myself!)

So, here is John’s review as it appeared in the Ghost Club Journal just a few weeks ago . . .

John Fraser Ghost Club Haunted Highgate Review 1
John Fraser Ghost Club Haunted Highgate Review 2

Thank you John for taking the time to read Della’s book, and for the insightful comments in your review.

Until next time, everyone.

David (Farrant).

An Epidemic of the Black Death

Haworth, Spring 2004  Photographs courtesy of Dr. Susan Oldrieve
Haworth, Spring 2004 Photograph courtesy of Dr. Susan Oldrieve

I remember that old Church in Haworth on the North Yorkshire Moors so well, but never its name. I should have remembered it as the Brontes used to worship in it, and the tombs of two of them are identified by plaques on the floor; but somehow the names of churches all sound much the same .

It was a magnificent building, and April sunshine filtered through coloured glass; though this seemed to stop there and made no impact upon the darkened floor. It was dark. Dark and almost dismal. Not only the cold stone, but an atmosphere of almost melancholy that appeared all around you. It was there in the large stone slabs and seemed to almost resonate in the air.

I had gone to Yorkshire with a small group of people. We had been visiting local places of interest; not least, if not foremost, the secluded grave – or supposed grave – of the legendary Robin Hood. That was some 15 miles behind us on this chosen day to visit the birth place of the Bronte family. A town as usual filled with tourists, even before the height of the season. It bustled with activity; though it seemed most of this was in the streets outside compared to the relative few who seemed to have ventured into that imposing Church.

Even the few that had, seemed almost impervious to the potent atmosphere that (I sensed at least) the whole place seemed to radiate. Most seemed content with picking up brochures or coyly signing the Visitors Book, as if to leave some oblique mark of their presence.

Yet I seemed to sense that something was wrong – if not ‘wrong’, then just not quite right or ‘normal’. It just didn’t seem like some distinguished ‘tourist Church’ – rather that some depressing unquiet lay in its internal air that could never be cleared by any form of religious worship. For worship in abundance there must have been there – both in its sad forms and happy ones – but no lingering presence of this seemed to remain, just a vacuum of antiquity that seemed to have stored but little of what may have taken place in its midst.

It was lunchtime now, and a few of our scattered group slowly assembled outside. It’s funny really, but the thought of food always seems to unite people with some common directive.

We were walking back to the main street along some cobbled alley, reading some of the grave stones – or the ones that could still be read.

It was then that a strange thing dawned on me: many of the graves were of families buried close together, and closer inspection showed that family deaths all occurred within a specific year, and family ages – whether from children to those still young – seemed to show no respect for each other. More reading of other gravestones displayed just the same pattern; a plethora of deaths that seemed to have occurred in only a one year period and little more.

At first this seemed like some newly discovered historical ‘detective mystery’. But this was not so as subsequent enquiry was to reveal.

Haworth, like so many rural towns like it, had once fallen victim to an epidemic of the Black Death which had decimated most of its 17th century population.

The old Church would almost certainly been at the centre of such tragedy and loss. Indeed, it seemed to be ‘telling’ me on that sunny April day, although I was not to be made aware of this until later. It seemed to be saying that death is ‘no respecter of persons’; screaming it out in its silence perhaps, immediately, in the busy present. Yet no-one else, staring at the faded gravestones, seemed to share this realisation . . .

David Farrant.