Russell Old was just 17 when he first stepped foot onto the haunted grounds of Borley Rectory.
He had no idea of the things he would witness on that day 20 years ago and how it would impact the rest of his life.
Russell was stood on the grounds of ‘the most haunted house in England’ in the rural village of Borley – north west of Colchester.
The location is where tales of ghostly nuns, mysterious voices and visions of an eerie coach and horses have been spotted over the decades.
It was on that cold day at the beginning of the century that Russell spotted the figure of a young boy, dressed in Victorian clothing.
“It all started one day when my uncle asked if I had ever heard of Borley Rectory, the most haunted place in England,” Russell explained.
“We went up there for the day and I brought a couple of mates.
“As we were driving down the road, you could just felt your arm hairs stick up – I knew I was near it.
“We drove up to the church and there is a little turning you can sit in front of it.
“I just remember turning my head and looking towards it and seeing a little boy”
He added: “I can remember it so well. The little boy looked Victorian. He was wearing this tweed jacket and I could see it so clearly.
“I looked to my uncle and said ‘can we go, I don’t want to be here’ and they had no idea. I said ‘did you not see it?'”
But that wasn’t the only thing that happened that fateful night.
After returning to the site later that same evening, even more bizarre things started to happen.
“We drove back through in the evening and all of a sudden, there was a massive thump on the side of the car,” the 37-year-old remembered.
“At that point, we had to stop the car in case we had hit something but there was nothing.
“We were panicking, looking around at all the bushes and there was nothing there. Everybody was really on edge.
“We got back in the car and as we approached a turning, my uncle stopped the car. We said ‘why have you stopped?’
“He said ‘to let the car go past’ but there was no car. He had seen headlights coming towards him, but there was nothing there.”
Their visit to Borley Rectory that day left a imprint on Russell’s mind.
It became a place that he would come to visit again – with even more spooky sightings and events happening.
The nun buried alive
Borley Rectory was built in Essex in 1863, but became particularly infamous for its unsettling horror stories in 1929.
This was the story that started with Daily Mirror journalist V.C Wall waiting with a photographer in the woods behind the rectory one summer night.
While they didn’t spot any ghostly figures on their visit that evening, a light came shining from inside the rectory.
Going inside, there was no light to be seen. From the outside though, they could spy the light coming through.
It was these reports of Borley that famously inspired the psychical researcher Harry Price to visit.
His investigation at Borley Rectory would be hotly debated for years to come.
On his visit alongside Price that same evening, Wall believed he spotted a nun moving towards a stream in the garden – a historic sighting at the haunted grounds.
Ghost hunters often quote the legend of the Benedictine monastery which is believed to have been built in the area in 1362.
Legend has it that a monk from the monastery had a relationship with the nun from a nearby convent – which lead to deadly punishment.
When their affair was discovered, the nun was allegedly bricked up alive in the convent walls.
That same day, Wall and Price claimed to witness a red glass candlestick fly past their heads and shatter against an iron stove, the Mirror reported.
They recorded pebbles and slate bouncing down the stairs unknowingly, servants’ bells ringing on their own and keys flying out of key holes.
But nearly 100 years later, these very same occurings are still recorded by people like Russell, who is now the founder of Essex Ghost Hunters.
It was his first visit to Borley Rectory that kickstarted Russell’s spiritual journey and fascination with ghost hunting.
Every time he has visited the site, they have always had paranormal experiences.
“We have been to Borley so many times,” he added. “We go around the back of Church and we film there.
“Every single time, our video recorded has failed.
“We did a really good investigation not that long ago and we had all our equipment going off and we were telling the spirit to turn the light red to say yes and orange for no.
“It was answering all our questions and then we go back home to edit the footage and it’s all corrupt.
“We have had stones thrown at us in the car park – we were stood there and these peddles strike up the driveway and you are standing there hearing them as they drop and roll.”
Most of what Russell and ghost hunters alike see though is all “corner of the eye” stuff.
“There’s obviously the tale of the French nun at Borley and we have picked up her when we have visited,” he added.
“She has always said that what they did to her when built the new rectory was they put her in the room and bricked it up around her and left her there to die.”
Bells ringing, heavy footsteps and creepy whispers
Ghostly activity at Borley has been reported since 1819, with the nun allegedly sighted in 1836.
From 1863, Reverend Henry Dawson Bull lived there with his family and were frequently disturbed by spooky incidents – from rushing water in the house where there was no mains or interior pipes, bells ringing with no explanations and the sound of heavy footsteps around the empty building.
Terrifyingly, many of the cases centered around the daughter Ethel, who one night reportedly received a slap across the face as she lay in bed.
After the first Henry Bull passed away in 1892, Henry Foyster Bull took over the residence until he died in 1927.
There is one instance when he was out in the garden and his dog started to howl and cower at something behind the trees.
Bull spotted among the trees a pair of legs, but as they moved away he saw the body appeared completely headless.
He said it crossed the garden and walked through the locked gate.
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Reverend Bull also saw the iconic ghostly coach of Borley with the two horses and a headless coachmen leading its way.
In 1928, Reverend Guy Smith and his wife Mabel moved into Borley. On arrival, Mabel quickly found a small human skull while cleaning out the house.
They buried the skull in the churchyard but not long after, where Guy heard whispering, pleading words coming from the ‘Blue Room’ inside the house – saying “Don’t Carlos, don’t!”
Much like the other occupants, they too heard the eerie footsteps echo around the house and randomly ringing doorbells.
Their servant also saw the phantom coach pass by twice.
Less than a year after moving in, the Smiths contacted the Daily Mirror and so the tales began to gain infamy.
“You feel goosebumps”
Borley went on to have other occupants and many more tales over the years – even though the ghostly sightings continue to be debated.
In 1939, the rectory was burnt down – not long after it had been purchased by Captain W.H. Gregson.
Years later, his son revealed that his father may have started the fire himself.
For Russell, he believes Borley Rectory will always be a special place.
He said: “My theory is it’s had so much history in the past that the energies have just lived there.
“Even though they are all sad stories, I do believe those energies are happy there to stay.
“There’s no science to any of it, it’s all theorising and it’s in your gut.
“When you get there, you just know you are somewhere special. You get a real sense in there.
“If you go past the church you would feel goosebumps and feel something.”