For almost four hundred years, Raynham Hall, one of the most elaborate and magnificent of the great houses of Norfolk, County, has stood in the sprawling English country side as the seat of the family Townshend, a lineage of statesmen, barons, and lords.
While staying in Raynham hall shortly after its completion architect Sir Roger Pratt commented on the country house’s ‘divine symmetry’ calling the layout of the hall “harmonious to the rational soul.”
Though somewhere in the beautiful rooms and passageways of Raynham, past the splendor and gorgeousness of it all, lurks a walking testament to human cruelty and the jealousies of lust and love in the specter form of the long dead wife of a British statesman with a violent temper.
Reportedly seen by Colonels, Captains, and other men and women of high reputation, the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall haunts the corridors of the majestic country house, reminding guests of her sorrowful life and her brutal and untimely death.
The Brown Lady
The first recorded sighting of the Brown Lady occurred in 1835 during a Christmas celebration at the hall. While retiring to their bedrooms one evening two guests of the festivities, Colonel Loftus and a friend named Hawkins are said to have seen the ghost, and recalled in detail her dated brown dress.
Loftus claimed to have seen the Brown Lady again the following evening, this time noting he was drawn to the phantom’s empty black eye sockets, which stood out against the spectral glow of her face.
A year after the events of the Christmas of 1835, friend of author Charles Dickens and renowned writer himself, Captain Frederick Marryat requested a brief residency in a haunted room in Raynham which was said to be the culmination of ghostly activity.
Marryat sought proof of his theory that the haunting could be attributed to nothing more than local smugglers trying to keep people away from the area.
In a writing by Florence Marryat about her father’s three night stay in Raynham, she says for two days he witnessed and experienced nothing, yet on the third day when returning to his room accompanied by two of the baronet’s nephews who had been showing the captain a newly arrived rifle from London, Frederick Marryat may have had the closest and strangest encounter with the Brown Lady yet.
Believing the lamp light coming down the hall to be a maid checking on the nurseries and wearing only his night shirt and trousers due to the lateness of the hour, Marryat ducked into a nearby room to hide himself as did the accompanying young men but when the figure came close enough Marryat noticed the age and color of her dress.
Recognizing the Brown Lady, Frederick, with his hand on his revolver, was just about to demand the figure stop when she turned and gave him a ghastly and malicious grin.
Marryat fired his pistol directly into the face of the specter, who immediately dissipated into thin air. The bullet was later found lodged in a panel of a room on the opposite side of the corridor. The ghost had been seen by all three men.
Lady Dorothy Walpole
Many believe the phantom is that of Lady Dorothy Walpole who is thought to have been the sister of the first Prime Minister of England. Dorothy was the second wife of Charles Townshend, 2nd Viscount Townshend, British Whig statesman, who served a decade as Secretary of State, and was known for his vicious temper.
Originally Dorothy’s father had refused the right for Charles to marry his daughter, but much later after the death of Townshend’s first wife, he and Dorothy were married.
By this time Dorothy had been involved in a long and scandalous affair with Lord Thomas Wharton, brother-in-law of Charles and bitter personal and political rivals, a rivalry only made worse by Wharton’s building of his own Houghton Hall neighboring Raynham.
When Townshend learned of his wife’s previous misdeeds, it is said he had her separated from her five children and locked in her apartment within the hall where she died at the age of forty on March 29th, 1726.
Officially her death was ruled to be caused by smallpox, though there is still much speculation, and many believe Charles either pushed or had her pushed down the grand staircase, where the specter of the Brown Lady is often seen.
In the September of 1936, almost one hundred years after the first sighting of the Brown Lady, a photographer and his assistant, Captain Hubert C. Provand and Indre Shira, were taking photos of Raynham’s grand staircase when Shira noticed a vaporous cloud slowly taking the shape of a woman descending the stairs.
Provand and Shira quickly removed the lens cap from their camera and snapped what many consider to be the most famous ghost photograph ever taken and only known photo possibly showing the Brown Lady.
The photo shows what appears to be the figure of a translucent woman walking down the grand staircase in Raynham hall. Subsequently the photo and the story of its capture were published in both Country life in December of 1936 and Life Magazine in January of the following year.
Harry Price, a famed paranormal investigator of the era met with Prevand and Shira shortly after the photograph debuted saying he was impressed by their simple account of the events leading to the taking of the photo and that he had no reason to disbelieve them.
Since 1936 however many experts in the fields of photography, paranormal investigations, and hoaxes have had their own opinions of the photo, most attributing the figure in the image to double exposure of the photograph during development, though the image has never been proved or disproved authentic indefinitely.
Aside from sightings of the Brown Lady, reports of different ghosts such as the specter of the Duke of Monmouth, two phantom children, and a ghostly cocker spaniel have been made sparingly throughout history.
Regardless if the eyewitness reports and photograph are authentic or otherwise, something is going on behind closed doors at Raynham hall.
Whether the specter of Dorothy Walpole is walking the grounds searching for some tie to the corporeal realm or the minds of visitors are only being influenced by nothing more than ghost stories, a sighting of Dorothy’s spirit upon waking in his bed was enough to make George IV leave the hall that night saying he had seen “What he hoped to God he would never see again.”