Dr. Montague mentions several haunted houses in his recitation of the history of Hill House. One of those is the Borley Rectory, which Jackson was familiar with and modeled certain elements of her novel on.
The Borley Rectory, no longer extant, was in the village of Borley near Sudbury in Essex, England. It was built in 1863 for the Reverend Henry Bull on top of an ancient monastery. Bull was aware of the story of a ghostly nun who had fallen in love with one of the monks and haunted the grounds because their forbidden love led to the monk’s execution. Bull’s summer house was erected over the area where the nun walked, but his initial enthusiasm dampened as guests complained of apparitions – another prominent apparition was a coach driven by two headless horsemen.
In 1927, the Reverend Eric Smith and his wife came to the rectory, bringing with them a psychic researcher, Harry Price. While he was there, poltergeist activity skyrocketed, with objects and stones constantly thrown about. Smith’s wife found a brown paper package with a skull in it while cleaning out a cupboard.
The Smiths departed and the Reverend Lionel Foyster and family moved in. The supernatural activity increased; doorbells ran for no reason, mysterious footsteps haunted the rooms, and Marianne, the rector’s wife, was the subject of messages written on the walls. Other occurrences included windows shattering and the Foyster’s daughter being locked in a room with no key. Foyster exorcised the rectory but strange occurrences remained. The family eventually left as well.
Harry Price remained intrigued by the edifice and decided to return with a team of researchers. In 1937, he rented the house and, with 48 “official observers,” documented the phenomena. A séance held on May 27, 1938 included a ghost communicant claiming the rectory would catch fire and a man’s body would be discovered that night, but this did not happen.
The next denizen was Captain Gregory, who also experienced a multitude of strange and disconcerting phenomena, particularly the disappearance of his dogs. One day – eleven months after the prophecy for Price – an oil lamp fell over and burned the rectory down. Price returned and dug in the cellars, where he found the jawbone of a young woman. Assuming it was the nun’s, he buried it but contemporary accounts of hauntings still occur.
Almost all of the accounts of supernatural phenomena here have been discounted, but suspicions remain.