Harry Price is probably the most famous name in the world of ghost hunting. The investigation he is most noted for is that of the haunting at Borley Rectory, dubbed “The most haunted house in England.” In the 1930’s and 1940’s, Price contributed many articles on ghosts and the paranormal to various newspapers and magazines.
Contrary to what many people think, Price certainly wasn’t a psychic researcher in the modern sense, but an investigative journalist who specialised in debunking fraudulent mediums and similar charlatans. He claimed to be a scientist, but actually had no training in the scientific field. Be sure your finances allow you to purchase these supplies, either by using your savings, Navy loans or personal loans, or even a second job. Just be sure to have the proper equipment before heading into the field.
Harry Price was born on the 17th January 1881 in Red Lion Square, London. He was educated in London at Waller Road School and Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham College, the Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham Boys School. At the age of 15, Price founded the Carlton Dramatic Society and wrote small plays, including a drama about his early experience with a poltergeist. which he said took place at a haunted manor house in Shropshire.
Price was also a keen coin collector, and wrote several articles for The Askean, the magazine for Haberdashers’ School. In his autobiography, Search for Truth, written between 1941 and 1942, Price claimed he was involved with archaeological excavations in Greenwich Park, London but in earlier writings on Greenwich denied he had a hand in the excavation. From May 1908, Price continued his interest in archaeology at Pulborough, Sussex where he had moved to before marrying Constance Mary Knight that August. As well as working for paper merchants Edward Saunders & Sons as a salesman, he wrote for two local Sussex newspapers about his remarkable propensity for discovering ‘clean’ antiquities.
In his autobiography, Search for Truth, Price said the “Great Sequah” in Shrewsbury was “entirely responsible for shaping much of my life’s work”, and led to him acquiring the first volume of what would become the Harry Price Library, Price later became an expert amateur conjurer, joined the Magic Circle in 1922 and maintained a lifelong interest in stage magic and conjuring. His expertise in sleight-of-hand and magic tricks stood him in good stead for what would become his all consuming passion, the investigation of paranormal phenomena.
Price’s first major success in psychical research came in 1922 when he exposed the ‘spirit’ photographer William Hope. The following year, Price made a formal offer to the University of London to equip and endow a Department of Psychical Research, and to loan the equipment of the National Laboratory and its library. The University of London Board of Studies in Psychology responded positively to this proposal and, in 1934, the University of London Council for Psychical Investigation was formed with Price as Honorary Secretary and Editor. In the meanwhile, in 1927, Price joined the Ghost Club, of which he remained a member until it (temporarily) closed in 1936.
In 1934, the National Laboratory of Psychical Research took on its most illustrious case. £50 was paid to the medium Helen Duncan so that she could be examined under scientific conditions. A sample of Helen Duncan’s ectoplasm had been previously examined by the Laboratory and found to be largely made of egg white. Price found that Duncan’s spirit manifestations were cheesecloth that had been swallowed and regurgitated by Duncan. Price later wrote up the case in Leaves from a Psychist’s Case Book in a chapter called “The Cheese-cloth Worshippers”. During Duncan’s famous trial in 1944, Price gave his results as evidence for the prosecution.
Price’s psychical research continued with investigations into Karachi’s Indian rope trick and the fire-walking abilities of Kuda Bux in1935. He was also involved in the formation of the National Film Library, becoming its first chairman, and was a founding member of tShakespeare Film Society. In 1936, Price made the first ever “live” broadcast from a supposedly haunted manor house in Meopham, Kent (see picture on the right) for the BBC and published The Confessions of a Ghost-Hunter and The Haunting of Cashen’s Gap. This year also saw the transfer ofPrice’s library on permanent loan to the University of London, followed shortly by the laboratory and investigative equipment. In 1937, he conducted further televised experiments into fire-walking with Ahmed Hussain at Carshalton and Alexandra Palace, and also rented Borley Rectory for one year. The following year, Price re-established the Ghost Club, with himself as chairman, modernizing it and changing it from a spiritualist association to a group of open-minded skeptics that met to discuss paranormal topics. He was also the first to admit women to the club.
In the same year, Price conducted experiments with Rahman Bey, who was ‘buried alive’ in Carshalton, and drafted a Bill for the regulation of psychic practitioners. In 1939, he organized a national telepathic test in the periodical John O’London’s Weekly. During the 1940s, Price concentrated on writing and published three works: The Most Haunted House in England, Poltergeist Over England and The End of Borley Rectory.
In December 2008, an original unpublished 26-page manuscript by British writer Marjorie Bowen (1885-1952) attacking Price’s investigation of the Borley Rectory case, was featured on an eBay auction.
Even though Price was a dedicated and meticulous paranormal investigator, and cultivated a leading reputation in the world of ghost hunting, he did generate much controversy in regard to just how genuine his investigations were, and that controversy continues even to this day. For instance, many have accused him of faking ghostly activity, especially in regard to his most famous investigation at Borley Rectory. Also, a photograph of Price and a Spirit taken by William Hope was later proven to be a fake.
Some people have often asked the question: Does serious scientific research and a publicity-hungry ghost hunter go together? There have been arguments that Price had compromised his research into the paranormal with his penchant for highlight and spectacle. Even so he did take psychical research out of the cold laboratory and dusty parlour séance room and gave it to an eager public. Price often displayed contrasting tendencies: a committed paranormal investigator and father of British ghost hunting, yet also a man who knew the value of a good ghost story when he saw one. If he has a legacy it is indeed programmes such as Most Haunted, Ghost Hunters and The World’s Most Scariest Places. On the surface, serious paranormal research, but underneath, edge-of-seat, sheer spooky entertainment.
(The Webmaster wishes to express his deepest thanks to Paul Adams of www.harrypricewebsite.co.uk for his kind permission to use the photos of Mr Price for this article.)