The Foyster Diaries.

by Andrew Clarke
copyright 2002

For many readers, the main impact of Harry Price's book about Borley Rectory's haunting, 'The Most Haunted House in England', comes from the testimony of the Rector, Lionel Foyster. It is difficult to read the diary of events, printed in the famous book, and fail to be impressed by the sheer weight of evidence.
Harry Price wrote

'Mr. Foyster very assiduously kept a record of all these strange events, and his diary finally assumed gigantic proportions. I believe that he has more than 180 typed quarto sheets of notes recording the day-to-day activities of the Poltergeister.' When I informed Mr. Foyster that I was compiling a monograph on the haunting of Borley Rectory, he very generously permitted me to reprint verbatim selected portions of his diary. These extracts he kindly selected himself and wrote them out in his own hand. They follow later.

(Harry Price, 'The Most Haunted House in England')

Harry Price here refers to a diary. He already had in his possession a document entitled, by Lionel Foyster,'a Diary of Occurrences'. This was actually written in three stages over a year, and described the strange events at Borley Rectory which occurred up to June 26th 1931. It therefore misses out some of the later and more spectacular events. This is the closest we ever get to a diary. Foyster had decided to re-write this as a fictionalized and more detailed account with a view to publication. He finished this some two years after the events described, which extended from October 16th 1930 to 23rd January 1932. This period spanned the entire fifteen months from the time they moved in to the dramatic evening of the Marks Tey spiritualist Circle, after which the haunting stopped. Price had not yet seen this manuscript, and may have been unaware that what he actually received from Lionel was a new third account, abridged, and done up to look like a contemporary diary. He was too busy to check, and his correspondence with the ailing rector was very sporadic. The book was published with what pretended to be a diary, but was, in fact, the condensation of a book, and written seven years after the events. This is the start of an escalating confusion about this testimony.

Price further compounded this confusion when he produced the book 'The End of Borley Rectory' a few years later. This time, he wrote his own version of the diary, removing any aspects or events that could possibly argue against a supernatural causation, and spicing up the descriptions. This time he claimed he had seen the manuscript of the fictionalized book 'Fifteen Months in a Haunted House', though a copy did not come into his possession until after 'The End of Borley Rectory' was published. Again, he referred to a 'diary', though, in fact, there never had been a real diary as the word 'diary' is generally understood.

Marianne Foyster, Lionel's wife, also became muddled by the various writings about Borley Rectory, and her testimony on the subject of his writings, published by her son Vince in his books, needs to be treated with some caution. It is valuable evidence, though, as it is generally possible to work out which manuscript she is referring to.

In order to try to clear things up, it is worth detailing the various accounts that Lionel Foyster penned at various times. There are three, or possibly four, different accounts of the haunting written by the Rector, which are mentioned in the literature about Borley Rectory. These are:

'Writing A (the diary)'

The existence of this was 'inferred' by Robert Hastings in an attempt to exonerate Price from any charge of misleading the readers of his books. He wrote

'the original records covering the whole period of the Foyster Incumbency. Claimed by Mr Foyster to have been written as a diary between February and July 1931. These writings are not in HPL, but there are references from which their sometime existence can be inferred'.

Price had claimed that Lionel had maintained

"a diary of the strange events that occurred [at Borley Rectory]. . . from the very first day [he] entered upon his duties,"

'The Most Haunted House in England' (p. 74).

But the text Price then printed was one that had been written by Lionel Foyster in 1938, seven years later. The claim that there really had been an original diary, now lost, is very speculative. Lionel wrote, in the introduction to the 'Diary of Occurrences' (see below)'I am writing this before the details have gone out of my mind', which indicates that he was not able to rely on a contemporary diary. No such diary was remembered by Marianne Foyster, Lionel's wife. The fictionalized account, 'Fifteen Months in a Haunted House', made no mention of a diary that would indicate the existence of 'Writing A'.

Lionel, however, may have occasionally written to his relatives about his experiences as they occurred, and this could have confused Robert Hastings. Nobody has tracked down any such contemporary letters, even though Harry Price contacted his brother Arthur, his sister Hilda, and his cousins the Bulls.

The most telling evidence against the existence of any diary comes from Lionel in his 'Fifteen Months in a Haunted House' where he admits that, when recording events after June,he had 'no exact record' of the order in which the events took place, 'While other happenings have been lost in oblivion'. This is not a man who has a diary in front of him. The words 'lost in oblivion' make it pretty certain that he knew that there was no contemporary record at all. Sorry, Mr Hastings, but it doesn't wash.

The 'Diary of Occurrences'

This was written in three installments It is also known as the 'Foyster Memorandum'. The installments are

'Memoranda of our experiences in connection with the Borley Ghost' (finished on 23rd March),

'Borley Ghost Second installment' (finished on Thursday, May 7th)

'Borley Ghost-3rd installment (written June 24th with a postscript. for June 26th).

The narrative is in a fairly condensed style, A letter with the manuscript said the Diary was written "chiefly to send round to members of my family.". He mentions it in 'Fifteen Months in a Haunted House'.

'[Marianne], I am going to write a memorandum of our experiences before I forget them. Don't you think it would be a good idea? Then I can send it round to members of my family; they seem to be anxious to know what is happening.'

('Fifteen Months in a Haunted House' P66)

Foyster wrote in vague terms about dates before March, suggesting that there was no previous diary.

'Some time before Christmas....'
'I should think it was somewhere about the beginning of February....'
'I omitted one thing that I think took place before this,...'.

We can infer that the early part was being written in March 15th as he mentioned incidents happening 'when I was writing this' (he later wrote, in 'Fifteen months in a Haunted House', about March 15th, 'As I am typing a diary of events in the house....', clearly a reference to the 'Diary of Occurrences'). No part of this document is quoted in either of Harry Price's Borley books.

It seems to be a legitimate record of actual events, written no more than four months after the events described. In the middle of his Diary of Occurrences, he states,

"I could declare, if it was necessary, on oath, that the foregoing is to the best of my knowledge an absolutely true statement of the facts as to what has taken place in this house since we came in."

He made several copies, as the intention was to send it round the family. At one point he refers to this, writing

'I was correcting my second copy of the first account I wrote, which normally was kept inside a bible'.

Marianne told the researchers that the diary was fictional. She also maintained that Price had borrowed the only copy, and not returned it. (Foyster sent Price the top copy before Price's famous visit when the 'Wine Trick' occurred)

'Price promised that he only wanted to read it. Some time later, I wrote or telephoned him to send it back and he replied that he had lost it. I was averse to any commerce at all with Price. Anytime Lionel had any letters or commerce with him, there was sure to be trouble of some kind. '

(Marianne Foyster's Autobiography, Quoted in 'The most haunted woman in England By vince O'Neill)

The memorandum was written in three sessions, and the third session proved to be the final one. This proved awkward when he had to write the final part of the later book without any notes at all

Unfortunately, I ceased keeping a memorandum of events after June, and therefore have no exact record of the order in which they took place, while other happenings have been lost in oblivion. The first of these results after all is not of very great importance; what really matters is that they did take place.

('Fifteen Months in a Haunted House' P118)

Fifteen Months in a Haunted House

Lionel abandoned his original manuscript in June. After the hauntings had ceased he started work on a more ambitious project that he hoped might find its way into print.

'Now the book, when Lionel started it, set out to be not a - oh, what is the word, "scientific" book at all. It was fun, and he started it as something to do, something to while away many tedious hours, and if it ever had been published it would have been published as a book of fiction. I didn't read it, but sometimes he read me excerpts from it and we laughed. It was fun. It was funny, but it was certainly not scientific, nor intended to be scientific, and Price must have known that. '

(Marianne Foyster- Swanson Intervies, Quoted in 'The Ghosts that will not Die' By vince O'Neill)

This is by far the most interesting of the manuscripts. It has been criticized for its amateurish writing style by some authors, but it is nevertheless, well worth reading. Foyster obviously took pains to get facts as correct as he could,

"I have though kept to the actual facts of the haunting with possibly even over scrupulous exactness.",

even to the point of describing the various humiliating occasions when the haunting was investigated, and found to be due to Marianne."it is a record of facts and therefore is true", he claimed. The account is spoiled by the insertion of pseudonyms; flippant paragraphs about ghosts and goblins, and painfully bad dialog. Some of the events, however, are genuinely poignant. My particular favourite being when they decide to search the attics to see if someone is hiding there. The account is strange, because so much of life in the Foysters' household was left out, and the various characters are devoid of personality. It is like trying to watch a dramatic play from the corridor outside the dressing room.

'Fifteen Months in a Haunted House' was probably completed by Foyster after May of 1934 - while still at Borley. The text confirms the May, 1934 date in the last chapter, though he continued to work on the manuscript over the next few years. It was much later that he decided to waive anonymity and write a condensed version for Price that covered the entire period of the haunting.

Canon Lawton came across a copy of the typewritten version of a manuscript whilst staying at Borley Rectory as a locum in August 1933. He described it as accounting 'very fully' the psychic history of the rectory, and the legend of the nun. Harry Price felt that this was probably 'Fifteen Months in a Haunted House'. It is possible, though the book does not actually touch on the psychic history of the rectory, but merely the experiences of the Foysters themselves. As we know of no other manuscript, we have to assume that the book was indeed typed up and finished, and the final chapter completed nine months later.

Price did not acquire a copy of this manuscript until after 'The End of Borley Rectory' was published in 1946.

'After Foyster died, Marianne gave his books and papers to his sister Hilda. Marianne says she wanted no part of them. In fact, she was not very interested in the Fifteen Months manuscript while Foyster was writing it; she regarded it as something to keep him amused while he was confined to bed. Marianne assumes that Price acquired the Fifteen Months manuscript from Hilda after she - Marianne - had already left for the U.S.A'.

Marianne's Story by Iris Owen and Pauline Mitchell.

Price wrote to Dingwall, in 1946,

"I have now acquired Foyster's complete Fifteen Months in a Haunted House."

letter to Dr. Dingwall dated October 17, 1946

The Summary of Experiences at Borley Rectory

This was written by Foyster between January 24 and February 11, 1938 - a little over two years after they left Borley. It was written expressly for publication in Harry Price's second book 'The Most Haunted House in England' in a diary format.

"This brief account [seven pages] was written by Mr. Foyster for inclusion in MHH at Price's request."

(The Haunting of Borley Rectory, p. 84).

By the time he came to write this account, he was crippled by arthritis, and his style had become necessarily terse. This actually helped the readability and it is the most arresting chapter of Harry Price's book. Marianne recalled:

'he didn't start that until long, long after - it isn't a diary in the first place - is entirely false. He didn't start that until long after we had left Borley - long, long, after we had left Borley, that started.'

When one compares it against the 'Diary of Occurrences', one is immediately struck by how close the two accounts are. It seems very likely that he was referring to a copy of the original account, and that Price did not, as has been stated, possess the only copy. This is further suggested by the fact that parts of the 'Summary' that cover events that happened after the 'Occurrences' was written generally have only vague dates, whereas previous events are pinpointed by the actual date.

Now we have enumerated the various accounts, we must deal with a number of myths about Lionel Foyster's writings have slipped into print.

'The accounts are fiction'


This was the stated view of Marianne Foyster, the Rector's wife, when interviewed in the 1950s.

'when he first became ill and in order to amuse himself, he made up mystery stories. Afterwards he decided to write one about Borley. He outlined the characters, but I never read the manuscript. I don't know anything about it, but I do know it was supposed to be a fictional story.'

However, the account corroborates so well with independent testimony that this view cannot easily be maintained. Several independent accounts exist that neatly fit with Foyster's, e.g. from Edwin Whitehouse, Rev Clive Lugent, Lady Whitehouse, Guy L'Estrange, and from various other visitors. Marianne claimed that Foyster had written a fictional book that he was hoping to publish, much in the same way as the famous 'Amhurst Mystery'. Marianne's testimony about the fictional nature of the diary was contradictory when she was questioned about detail. Time and again, she was maneuvered into admitting that many of the events in the diary had actually happened, though she emphasized that very few of the incidents required a supernatural explanation. Unfortunately, she had already been given the book 'The Haunting of Borley Rectory', by Dingwall, Goldney and Hall, and the views of the authors may have severely contaminated her story. Lionel Foyster seems to have been particularly careful, honest, and precise in recording what he thought had happened around him. He even removed from his later account certain events such as Marianne's experience with the 'Monstrosity' that even he found hard to believe.

What Marianne may have intended to say was that the account was heavily fictionalized in order to ensure anonymity of the place and participants. To say that the account was entirely fictional must surely be overstating the case, and would not, in any case, apply to the Diary of Occurrences. What she also might have meant was that he recorded, deadpan, incidents that were the result of practical jokes that the one played on the other, and upon visitors. One can easily spot examples where this might have happened, like the incident of Lionel's flapping collar.

If the work is not fiction, we cannot accept it as factual either. By way of example, the description of their attempts to keep the haunting secret, and their fear of derision if it were to be found out, are an obvious fiction, used to disguise the actual location. When Foyster reflects

'What would the people I met on the road think if they really knew what was happening in that house within a comparatively short distance from their own?'

Well, come off it: this was a haunting that got onto the front page of the Daily Mirror the previous year, was identified as such in the local press, achieved international fame, and was the target of 'psychic tourists' that came by the bus-loads.

Possibly the worst barrier to accepting the accounts as true is that Marianne and Lionel Foyster were, in reality, nothing like the extraordinarily 'Noel Coward' characters portrayed in the text. It could be that this was a deliberate ploy to tone-down the account and leave their private lives out of the business. The Bulls and Foysters were a lively bunch with a rich sense of fun. Lionel's life in Canada had increased the bohemian side of his nature. He was keen on amateur theatricals, music etc. Marianne was eccentric, intelligent, lively and rather child-like. She knew what she wanted, and was never short of opinions.

Foyster wrote to Price that he had thoroughly disguised the people, even to the point of changing the sex of Edwin Whitehouse. Unfortunately he rendered them unconvincing and one cannot read much from what they did or said.

'Foyster exaggerated the account in order to make the book more commercially attractive'


'Foyster's intention was not to frighten and deceive so much as to observe and test people's reaction to the phenomena. Marianne says he would relate, with great relish, stories of phenomena that were alleged to have happened, and which the family members present knew were not true, in order to observe his visitor's reactions. '

Marianne's interviews with Owen and Mitchell 1977, quoted in The Ghosts that Will Not Die by Vince O'Neil'

Whereas he might have exaggerated the stories when in conversation, it is not necessarily true that he did the same in his written accounts. When one looks at the detail, it seems to describe events with such precision that it is almost possible to be certain about some of the tricks that were played on the unfortunate rector, and who perpetrated them. Most of the events described in his accounts were so mundane that he must have been severely tempted to 'ginger them up', yet he didn't seem to do so.

Foyster described phenomena that he, himself, was responsible for faking.


This is very unlikely indeed. This was, again, an assertion by Marianne,

'I asked the Reverend Bassett when he was over there if it was possible for Lionel to be doing these things because at that time I wondered if Lionel was doing it. '

but the incidents she describes (e.g. the spreading of ash around the stairwell) either have an innocent interpretation or cannot be corroborated by other accounts. (the spreading of ash was a way of detecting footsteps). It may be that Lionel joined in the fun, but could scarcely be possible for the entire gamut of phenomena.

'Marianne says that Lionel threw objects many times, especially when the group of spiritualists from Marks Tey were present. He threw things in order to observe their reactions and to note what they would say. She says the minute these people left the house, all such throwing of objects stopped. The phenomena ceased completely when Lionel became confined to a wheelchair'.

excerpt from Marianne's Story by Iris Owen and Pauline Mitchell. Quoted in 'The Most Haunted Woman in England'

It is much more likely that Lionel often recorded the good-natured pranks and hoaxes that the couple pulled on each other when they moved into the 'Haunted rectory' deadpan, as real supernatural incidents.

Lionel Foyster was suffering increasing mental deterioration as he wrote the account.


Lionel became more and more forgetful, but this was specifically a problem of short-term memory, (sheer absent-mindedness), due to his increasing medical problems.

'He was suffering from a form of heart trouble that deprived the brain of the - well whatever it is that causes it. He was very, very forgetful all his life, but more so towards the later years of his life. He would place things down and wouldn't be able to find them, then when he found them again, he would say the "things " had carried it around. '

However, it is difficult to spot any sure signs of deterioration between the first and final accounts. In several cases, it is possible to find inaccuracies, but these are no worse than the errors in the other accounts. Some of the testimony produced by other people was far worse.

This problem with short-term memory certainly accounts for many of the trivial incidents that so intrigued the unfortunate Rector, such as the household items that appeared and disappeared around him, but would not have caused any other delusions or hallucinations. However, some of the medication he was taking may have had precisely these effects, and one therefore needs to be careful to corroborate the evidence of Foyster's account with the testimony of others. It has to be said that Foyster himself saw very little himself of an unusual nature beyond things being thrown about, and relied on his 'psychic' wife to report on the ghosts and monstrosities.

In Marianne Foyster's autobiography she recalls

'Lion began to have queer fainting fits and I talked with Dr. Tyler who said it was his heart. Lion went to the Heart Hospital in London and there was told of his heart's bad health. It affected his speech at times, and made it hard for him to remember. He also got very quarrelsome with everyone but me.'.

It could be that Lionel lost his sense of humour as his illness intensified and he recalled good-natured practical jokes by Marianne as if they were supernatural phenomena, much to her huge embarrassment.

Harry Price cynically persuaded Foyster to make the account seem to be a day-by-day diary, recorded as it happened.


The SPR report, by Dingwall, Goldney and Hall, rather seemed to imply this. However, there is no record that would support this. They never met after the fateful day in 1931 when Price accused his wife of faking the poltergeist phenomena. Their correspondence is not complete, but contains no hint of anything underhand by Price. Price had been told by Foyster that he had notes covering the entire period of the haunting. Price had, in his possession, the first phase of this, and must have assumed that they carried on in the same style. Foyster attempted a synopsis of a large amount of material, and would have assumed that the precise dates would have assisted the reader of Price's book.

This is an actual diary of events


No. What was printed in 'The Most Haunted House in England' was written at Harry Price's request in 1938. We cannot be certain what it was derived from, whether unaided memory, from a copy of the manuscript of his contemporary 'Diary of Occurrences' or from the draft of his book 'Fifteen Months in a Haunted House'. Even the first version of the so-called 'diary', from which the others were derived, was mostly written after the events they describe. This does not necessarily detract from the value of the account but it should increase the readers' caution.

This account describes poltergeist activity


There are five major difficulties with this explanation. Firstly, there was no history of poltergeist activity at the Rectory. The only previous 'phenomena' coincided with Price's first visit, and ceased when he left. The Bulls stated clearly that they had never seen anything like it when they lived at the rectory. Secondly, the poltergeist unfortunately chose only activities that were very easy to fake. This particularly irked Harry Price and Trevor Hall, both accomplished conjurors and members of The Magic Circle. They were very well placed to spot an amateur. Bell-ringing and the throwing of pebbles or bottles require no supernatural explanation. Thirdly, by ascribing such events to poltergeist or 'goblins', one does not really explain them but merely describe them. Fourthly, all contemporary investigations of the phenomena ruled out poltergeist activity. Fifthly, Marianne stoutly denied almost all the incidents described in the book as supernatural phenomena.

If we could have a clear and corroborated instance of a phenomenon which can have no prosaic explanation, then we would be able to accept the poltergeist explanation. Price eventually decided he had it in the testimony of Lady Whitehouse, the churchwarden's wife, and her nephew, Edwin. Unfortunately, Lady Whitehouse was a keen and active spiritualist, and therefore too ready to apply a spiritualist explanation to the phenomena. Her son was, at the time, something of an expert on poltergeist. Edwin, her nephew, became extraordinarily engrossed in the haunting, so much so that he had to be discouraged, as his family feared another nervous breakdown.

Lionel Foyster seemed to be very keen on the supernatural explanations offered to him by spiritualist visitors. By the time he wrote the book, he had settled on an explanation of 'Goblins' and 'Figis'. This colours the narrative so much that the description of events is distorted to fit the explanation

'The next day the "Figis" were on the war path again. A new kind of annoyance to which we were occasionally subjected was inaugurated. I say "we" but this was certainly more to do with my wife than myself. "I'm sure you will never guess their latest trick" she announced in a woe-begone voice' (p62)
'We might learn how to stop them temporarily or to hinder them, which in fact I think we temporarily did, but in the end it was to be, who would win out, who was to have possession of the house, they or we?(p63)
'Wonderful are the ways of the 'goblins' and past comprehension.'(p 64)
There is a limit placed on the harm that spirits in these cases are able to do'(p 65)
'Someone or other does not seem to like my doing this' (P67)
'it seems that one or more of the 'Goblins' was having an amusing time throwing at her' (p69)
'She (the nun) seems to have been the chief cause of the trouble - or rather the trouble centred around her. One reason for this was that she was an entity that the other spirits used for the purpose of tormenting us because she had what I believe is the very rare power of being able to move material objects (p72)

The Diaries record only deliberate fraud by Marianne Foyster.


It is impossible for Marianne to have been responsible for all the recorded incidents unaided. Even forty years later, at a time when it would have mattered nothing to her to have admitted to a fraud, she vigorously denied it. The truth must be a great deal more subtle than this.

One only has to read 'Fifteen Months in a Haunted House' to get a feel for the opinion of those who investigated the phenomena at the time. The accounts themselves have been analyzed with ruthless tenacity by Mollie Goldney, Eric Dingwall and Trevor Hall in their investigation,

They were not the first to have suspicions. In 1938, Gordon Glover of the BBC wrote to Price

'I was interested in the Rev. Foyster's diary, but I would be more interested still to know something about Marianne Foyster and her state of mind at the time these phenomena occurred. Most of them appear to have come to his notice by report from her- i.e. monstrosities in particular-and I do not think it impossible that a woman of highly-strung and nervous character could not only imagine things happening but even go so far as to reproduce them herself.'

Price replied

'it is news to me that she is a woman of highly-strung and nervous character. I have seen her on two occasions, and she struck me as being very self-possessed and normal. But if, for any reason, she wanted to get her husband out of the place, it is possible that she might have 'helped out' the phenomena.'

In a slightly more charitable frame of mind he wrote, in 1947

'as a matter of fact, we have already decided that Mrs Foyster MAY have been the instrument through which the scripts appeared on the walls-I mean as a secondary personality.

One would have to agree with Price's assessment of Marianne's character. Marianne would seem to be self-possessed,

It took quite a little to upset [Marianne]

Fifteen Months in a Haunted House' P 15

Certainly, Marianne reported a great number of the occurrences. Foyster observed

'Mystery hidden from me. Mystery revealed only to [Marianne]

Fifteen Months in a Haunted House' P 14

Lionel Foyster, in 'Fifteen Months In A Haunted House' repeatedly refers to the accusations against Marianne, as, for example,

'…on this occasion, [Marianne] was by my side and that the stone came from above since my wife more than once has been accused of staging the whole thing. Now, as I have previously stated, I have a great opinion of my wife's powers, but I do not think that even she is clever enough to have pulled through a huge hoax of this kind. Besides, what on earth would have been her object? And, last but not least, [Marianne] and I know each other too well to conceive of such a thing'

Quite. one has to agree with these sentiments, and share with his puzzlement

So here we have three different accounts of the incidents that happened which match reasonably closely and which defy any easy explanation. To make any sense of what was really going on we need to bring in other players, such as Edwin Whitehouse, Frank Peerless, the Mitchells and the Rev Clive Lugent. We also need to focus in on the detail of all the incidents to try to understand what happened and why Lionel seemed compelled to attribute them to supernatural causes. And this will not be as easy as one might think.