Raynham Hall in Norfolk, England is a splendid home. Inhabited by Townshend family for over 300 years, the hall gives its name to the area, the Raynhams. It is also home to one of the most famous and well-regarded ghost photographs ever taken.
Raynham Hall was constructed in 1619 by Sir Roger Townshend. At his death in 1637, the home was still incomplete. Designed by Inigo Jones, the home ignored traditional English style and instead featured an Italian style, 100 years before the style became mainstream. Sir Roger Townshend intended to make a grandiose statement with his new home and although he died before his home was completed, his son ensured that even after death, his dream was realized.
Charles Townshend, 2nd Viscount Townshend
Charles Townshend, 2nd Viscount Townshend was born April 18, 1674. The Townshend name granted prominence and respect and as a result, Charles Townshend served for a decade as the Secretary of State, directing British foreign policy. Known as Turnip Townshend because of this strong affinity for farming, he married twice in his lifetime.
His second wife, Nee Lady Dorothy Walpole, was actually his first true love. Dorothy was madly in love with Charles but her father refused to consent to the marriage. Strangely, Dorothy’s father was also Charles’s legal guardian and he felt that if he did consent, it would be misconstrued as a scandalous attempt to gain Charles’s inherited fortune. Disheartened, Charles instead married Elizabeth Thomas Pelham.
But Charles’s first marriage did not provide eternal happiness for either of them. Under mysterious circumstances, his first wife, Elizabeth, died in 1711. Two years after the death of Elizabeth, Charles was then able to obtain the hand of his true love, Dorothy, and the two married in a magnificent ceremony (most likely at Raynham Hall itself). Shortly after their marriage, things began to unravel.
Dorothy’s Illicit Affair
Charles went into the marriage missing one vital piece of information. What Charles did not know, was that during his short marriage to Elizabeth, Dorothy was involved in an affair with Lord Wharton (who left the country in a hurry after building up a pile of debts). Dorothy’s reputation suffered from the illicit affair. Lord Wharton himself had quite a reputation too. It was said that his ” character was so infamous, and his lady’s complaisant subservience so notorious, that no young woman could be four and twenty hours under their roof with safety to her reputation.” When fiery tempered Charles discovered the affair, he was furious. He ordered Dorothy locked up in the home, never allowed to leave the house. Even more devastating to Dorothy, Charles Townshend separated Dorothy from her children and forbad any contact with them.
The Passing of Dorothy
After only a decade of marriage, Dorothy died at the age of 40. Her official cause of death was smallpox but many in the community felt her death was a result of more sinister causes. It was rumored that Dorothy had broken her neck after falling, or being pushed, down the stairs of Raynham Hall.
As time passed, it became apparent that Dorothy never really left Raynham Hall. Some believed that her death was faked and used by Charles as a further excuse to keep her locked in the house forever. Others believe that she was indeed murdered but that her spirit remained and roams the premises searching for her children. There is much proof for the later.
Early Royal Ghost Sightings
George IV visited Raynham Hall when he was a young prince. Unafraid, the slept in an upstairs room. Documents state that he awoke in the middle of the night to see the ghost of the Brown lady standing at the foot of his bed. He was quoted as saying, “I will not spend another hour in this accursed house, for tonight I have seen that which I hope to God I never see again.”
In 1836, the famous author Captain Marryat was lodging at the Raynham Hall with a group of hunters, waiting patiently for a hunting expedition that was to begin the next morning. Several sightings of Dorothy’s ghost had already been made and the legend of the Brown Lady cemented in the folklore of the community. The lodgers joked about needing their guns for protection against the grieving entity. One man commented that they needed to take a look at the weapons that were to be used on their hunting trip and come to a decision as to which gun they should use. The men rose and left to examine the weapons. As they entered the hallway, they noticed a sad woman, all dressed in a brown silken dress, gliding down the staircase. Captain Marryat immediately recognized the woman as Dorothy, whose portrait hung on a hallway wall near the room he had been sleeping in. The men testified that the woman paused and stared at all three men in a very menacing manner. Captain Marryat, who was carrying a pistol, pulled his weapon and shot right through the woman who immediately disappeared the instant the weapon fired. The bullet was found embedded in a door behind where the woman had been standing.
In 1849, Major Lofthus was playing a game of chess at Raynham Hall with a friend. After the match, the men announced their retirement to bed and stood to walk to the rooms they were staying in. Both men paused as Lofthu’s friend pointed to a lady standing in the doorway. Surprisingly, the woman wore old fashioned clothing. As they stared, the woman slowly vanished into thin air.
The next week Colonel Loftus again saw the figure. This time, however, he got a better look at her. He said she was an aristocratic looking woman. She was wearing the same brown satin dress, and her skin glowed with a pale luminescence, but, to his horror, her eyes appeared to be gouged out.
Colonel Loftus told others of his experience, and more people then came forward to say that they too had seen a strange figure. An artist drew a painting of the ‘brown lady’ and this picture was then hung in the room where she was most frequently seen.
Nearly 100 years later, a Townshend heir was staying the weekend at Raynham Hall with her son and a friend. Unaware of the legend, they were amazed to see a lady dressed in brown standing on the suitcase. What astounded them was that she looked just like the lady portrayed in the portrait of Dorothy Walpole.
The Historical Photograph of the Brown Lady
The famous photograph of the Brown Lady was taken in September 1936. Captain Provand was on assignment for Country Life magazine when around 4:00 PM, his assistant, Indre Shira, called out that she could see a ghostly form on the staircase.
According to Indre, “Captain Provand took one photograph while I flashed the light. He was focusing for another exposure; I was standing by his side just behind the camera with the flashlight pistol in my hand, looking directly up the staircase. All at once I detected an ethereal veiled form coming slowly down the stairs.”
The photo clearly shows a ghost-like figure on the stairs. To date it is considered one of the most definitive photos of a ghostly apparition.