The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall is the subject of one of England’s most iconic ‘ghost’ photos, Josie Palmer takes a look…
Perhaps one of the most famous haunting in Norfolk is the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall.
According to legend, the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall is the ghost of Lady Dorothy Walpole (1686-1726), the sister of Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister.
She was the second wife of Charles Townshend, a man notorious for his violent temper.
It is said that he discovered her adultery with Lord Wharton and he punished her by locking her in her rooms in the family home, Raynham Hall.
There she remained until her death in 1726 of smallpox.
The first recorded sighting was by Lydia C Stone who described a gathering at the Hall at Christmas 1835.
Stone says that Lord Charles Townshend had invited various guests to the Hall, including a Colonel Loftus and his friend, Hawkins.
They saw the ‘Brown Lady’ one night as they approached their bedrooms, noting in particular the dated brown dress she wore.
They claimed to have seen her again the following evening, noting he was drawn to her empty eye-sockets, dark in her glowing face. After these sightings, several of the staff choose to permanently leave the Hall.
The next reported sighting was in 1836 by Captain Frederick Marryat, a friend of Charles Dickens and author of a series of popular sea novels. He requested to spend the night in the haunted room at the Hall to prove his theory that the haunting was caused by local smugglers anxious to keep people away from the area. His daughter wrote a detailed account of her father’s sighting of the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall.
The ghost was seen again in 1926 when the son or Lady Townshend and his friend saw her on the staircase. If it had not been for a visit by photographers working for Country Life magazine, however, the Brown Lady would have been no more than a common or garden variety of ghost, beloved of English country houses. The haunting came to wider attention when photographers from the magazine claimed to have captured its image.
On 19th September 1936 Captain Hubert C. Provand and his assistant Indre Shira visited the Hall to take some photographs for a feature for the magazine.
Shira claims that they had already taken photos of the staircase when they say a ‘vapoury form gradually assuming the appearance of a woman’ moving down the stairs toward them. They took the photograph and when the negative was developed, the famous image of the ghost was revealed.
The account and photograph were published in Country Life and was also featured in Life Magazine in 1937.
Some skeptics have claimed that Shira faked the image by putting grease on the lens in the shape of a figure or moved down the stairs himself during an exposure.
It has also been suggested that this was the product of an accidental double exposure or that somehow light got into the camera.
Others have claimed that there is evidence on the photograph that one picture has been superimposed over the other. It sits, however, within a long line of ghost photographs – some of which have never been proven to be hoaxes, and bears a clear resemblance to the photograph taken in the National Maritime Museum in 1966 by the Reverend Ralph Hardy.
This photo also appears to show a ghostly picture struggling to get up the stairs.
The truth will never be known for sure, but what is certain is that the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall makes for an eerie spectre as she descends from her staircase, something which was denied to her for so long during her life of imprisonment.