Harry Price: a biography

Harry Price in the National Laboratory of Psychical Research (HPG/1/2/1/x).
Harry Price in the National Laboratory of Psychical Research (HPG/1/2/1/x).

Harry Price the man was as enigmatic as the psychical research which claimed most of his interest during his lifetime. Born in 1888, he apparently deliberately changed the details of his early life and his family, claiming that he was the son of wealthy parents and came from Shropshire. In fact, he was born in New Cross, a far from wealthy district of London, the son of a travelling paper salesman.

During his lifetime, he was a controversial figure, partly due to his interest in psychical research and partly because of his habit of self-promotion. That he made a contribution to parapsychology is beyond dispute, but his love of publicity made him enemies as well as friends.

He died in 1948, at his home in West Sussex.

 

Harry Price and psychical research

Price claimed to have had his first psychical experience at the age of 15. Initially, his interest in psychical research led him to make a point of exposing the many frauds and tricksters operating therein. He spent years undertaking experiments to show how mediums and their assistants could falsify ‘spirit photographs’, trances, the appearances of familiars, and messages from the dead. He joined the Society of Psychical Research, but quickly made enemies among the members. His strong personality and talent for self-promotion antagonised others and it was not long before he parted company with the SPR and set up his own organisation.

 

The National Laboratory of Psychical Research

Harry Price set up the NLPR as a serious research organisation in Queensberry Place, London, in 1925. The NLPR was used to conduct many experiments into the truth (or otherwise) of the claims made by mediums and psychics. Such were his enthusiasm and powers of persuasion, that he managed to convince the University of London to give him space in later years, although the University never agreed to take the NLPR under its auspices. Not that Harry Price was deterred from claiming that his organisation was a part of the University, as is evident from the publication details on some of the NLPR’s publications.

 

Harry Price and Borley Rectory

Harry Price is perhaps best known for his researches into Borley Rectory and the happenings there. ‘The Most Haunted House in England’ seemed to defy even Price’s attempts to expose fraud, or, maybe, he had succumbed to the lure of the fame and publicity which accompanied his work by this time. Rumours and stories about what really happened abound, including charges against Harry Price himself, who was alleged to have instigated at least the pebble-throwing and brick-hurling episodes.

 

Harry Price’s Library

One indisputable fact is that he built up a unique library of materials on all aspects of parapsychology and related fields during his lifetime. Despite a sometimes uncomfortable relationship with the University of London, he left the entire collection to Senate House Library, where it is now housed.