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Paranormal Sightings in England: The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall

BY Sonal Panse November 6, 2019

The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall is a ghost that several people claim to have sighted in Raynham Hall, a famous manor house in Norfolk, England. Apparently, it is the unhappy spirit of Dorothy Walpole, who was married to the 2nd Viscount Townshend. According to rumour, she died in 1726 at the age of 40, after being incarcerated in a room by her jealous husband.

Raynham Hall

Built in the 17th century by Sir Roger Townshend, his descendants still own and live in this magnificent neoclassical house. While the design of the house was inspired by the work of the architect Inigo Jones, Sir Roger Townshend implemented most of his own architectural ideas. As he incorporated the styles he liked, the house has a unique appearance. The structure is Jacobean and overlaid with classical Georgian style, and the exterior curving gables are inspired by the Dutch-influenced designs of East Anglia.

Raynham Hall

Raynham Hall in Norfolk, England. (John Fielding / Flickr)

In the 18th century, Charles, the 2nd Viscount Townshend, hired designer William Kent to refurbish the interior with an understated elegance that has made the interior as stunning as the exterior. For all its grandness, though, Raynham Hall is primarily a family home, and many visitors have remarked on its welcoming and harmonious atmosphere. At the same time, the manor is said to be haunted.

The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall

The spectre haunting Raynham Hall is said to be of Dorothy Walpole, the second wife of Charles Townshend, and the sister of Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister of Great Britain.

Born on 18 September 1686 to a wealthy landowning family, Dorothy Walpole grew up in the family home at Houghton Hall in Norfolk. She fell in love with Charles Townshend, her father’s ward, when she was only 10 or 11 years old. As she was too young, her father forbade the match, and Charles Townshend went on to marry someone else.

Lady Dorothy Walpole

Portrait of Lady Dorothy Walpole. (Wikimedia Commons)

Later, after the death of Charles Townshend’s first wife, Dorothy married him in 1713, and the couple had seven children in the course of their 13-year long marriage. Charles Townshend had risen up to be a Whig politician who served for ten years as Secretary of State. He was known to have a violent temper.

As a young woman, Dorothy Walpole had a flirtation or an affair with the notorious philanderer and Whig politician Lord Wharton.

According to rumor, he learned of his wife’s long-ago indiscretions with Lord Wharton much later in their marriage. Incensed at being kept in the dark for so long, he locked her up in her room and refused to let her have any contact with their six surviving children.

The incarcerated Lady Townshend died at the age of 40 on 29 March 1726, reportedly of smallpox. However, there were rumours that Charles Townshend pushed her down the main staircase in a fit of rage, and this is why her ghost appears on this stairway.

Sightings of the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall

The first intimation of a ghost at Raynham Hall came during a Christmas gathering in 1835. Among Lord Charles Townsend’s guests were two men named Colonel Loftus and Mr. Hawkins. As they were returning to their bedrooms after the evening’s festivities, they claimed to have encountered an aristocratic-looking lady in an old-fashioned brown dress on the main stairway. They wouldn’t have thought anything of the encounter, except when the lady looked at them, they saw she had empty eye sockets, and there was an unearthly glow in her face.

Loftus saw her the following evening as well and was struck once more by her empty eyes. He even drew a sketch of the apparition, and that led others to claim they had seen her as well.

A year later, the well-known author Frederick Marryat decided to test the truth of the Christmas ghost sighting and, so, the Townshends accommodated him in the haunted room. For two nights, there was no ghostly activity, and Marryat began to think that perhaps he had been right in his original assumption that the haunting story was nothing more than a gimmick by local smugglers to keep people away from the area.

He changed his mind the following evening.

As he was retiring to bed for the night, Townshend’s two nephews knocked on his door and invited him to come and see their new gun which had just arrived from London. Afterwards, the two young men accompanied Marryat back to his room, joking about protecting him from ghostly apparitions. Right then, they saw a light in the corridor ahead and thought it was one of the guest ladies going to check on their children in the nurseries. Embarrassed to be seen by a lady in just his shirt and trousers, Marryat quickly stepped into a nearby room and waited for the candle-bearer to pass on.

The woman drew closer, and, looking out through the ajar door, Marryat was astonished to see that she was wearing the old-fashioned brown dress that the ghost had reportedly been seen in. His hand went instantly to his revolver, and he opened his mouth to call for the figure to stop right there. At that very instant, the apparition turned and looked directly at him and gave him a ghastly, malicious smile.

Reacting instinctively, Marryat fired his revolver at the ghost. The Brown Lady vanished instantly, to the astonishment of all three men. However, they later found the bullet lodged in the wall of the room across the corridor.

The photograph of the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall

In 1936, a photograph named Captain Hubert C. Provand and his assistant Indre Shira, working for Country Life magazine, arrived at Raynham Hall to photograph the interior. On 19 September 1936, they set up the camera in front of the main stairway and began taking photographs. Just then, Indre Shira noticed something coming down the stairs and realized it was the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall. He quickly alerted Provand to this fact, but the latter was unable to see the ghost. However, acting on Shira’s directions, he turned the camera to where Shira was pointing and took a photo.

Photo of Brown Lady of Raynham Hall.

The famous photo of Brown Lady of Raynham Hall. (Wikimedia Commons)

When they developed the photograph, it showed a misty apparition coming down the staircase. It is the only known photograph of the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall.

Controversies about the photograph of the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall

The photograph created a sensation when published in Country Life magazine in December 1936 and Life Magazine in January 1937. For many paranormal investigators, it was a vindication of their belief in the existence of supernatural spirits. One of them, an investigator named Harry Price, interviewed Provand and Shira and reported that he found their accounts quite trustworthy.

On the other hand, several photographers and investigators of paranormal activities expressed doubts about the photograph’s authenticity. According to some of them, the luminous blur in the photograph was a simple case of double exposure. Others claimed that it was a case of superimposing an image of the Virgin on a photograph of the stairway.

There have also been doubts about the ghost being of Dorothy Walpole and even on the manner of her death. There are contemporary accounts that refer to her as an elegant, accomplished, and well-liked woman and to Townshend as a man of honour and integrity. The general impression seems to have been that the Townshends had a reasonably amicable marriage. As such, the image of an evil-tempered husband and an abused wife doesn’t quite fit.

Whatever the truth, the legend of the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall persists to the present time.

Enjoyed this article? Also, check out “Helen Duncan: The Last Witch of Scotland“.

Fact Analysis:
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