The “Brown Lady of Raynham Hall” became one of the most famous hauntings when an image of her was taken by photographers for the Country Life magazine in 1936. At the time, they were taking a picture of the staircase for publication, but the spirit appeared. She was dubbed the “Brown Lady” because of the fact she was seen in a brown dress. Her identity is actually Lady Dorothy Walpole, who lived from 1686 to 1726. She was sister to Prime Minister of Great Britain Robert Walpole.
Her husband, Charles Townshend, who she was second wife to, had a very violent temper. According to legend, Dorothy Walpole was discovered cheating on Townshend with Lord Wharton. Townshend punished her by having her locked up in her rooms in the home, Raynham Hall. The story also says, according to Mary Wortley Montagu, that Dorothy was kidnapped by the Countess of Wharton, who had invited her over for a few days. Lady Walpole stayed at the hall until her death in 1726, where she died of smallpox.
As for the paranormal, the first sighting of Lady Walpole was on Christmas, 1835 by Lucia C. Stone at the hall. She said that Lord Charles Townsend had invited several guests to the hall for a Christmas party. One of the guests, Colonel Loftus, and another, Hawkins, reported seeing a woman in brown one night as they went near their bedrooms. Loftus saw her again, this time stating that he saw her with empty eye-sockets and a glowing face. A few of the staff members at Raynham Hall left after hearing these stories. Captain Frederick Marryat, friend of Charles Dickens and a popular author, was the next to see the spirit of the “Brown Lady” in 1836, He spent the night in the haunted room in order to try and prove that the haunting was caused by local smugglers who wanted to keep people out of the area. His daughter, Florence Marryat, wrote about his experience in 1917:
…he took possession of the room in which the portrait of the apparition hung, and in which she had been often seen, and slept each night with a loaded revolver under his pillow. For two days, however, he saw nothing, and the third was to be the limit of his stay. On the third night, however, two young men (nephews of the baronet), knocked at his door as he was undressing to go to bed, and asked him to step over to their room (which was at the other end of the corridor), and give them his opinion on a new gun just arrived from London. My father was in his shirt and trousers, but as the hour was late, and everybody had retired to rest except themselves, he prepared to accompany them as he was. As they were leaving the room, he caught up his revolver, “in case you meet the Brown Lady,” he said, laughing. When the inspection of the gun was over, the young men in the same spirit declared they would accompany my father back again, “in case you meet the Brown Lady,” they repeated, laughing also. The three gentlemen therefore returned in company.The corridor was long and dark, for the lights had been extinguished, but as they reached the middle of it, they saw the glimmer of a lamp coming towards them from the other end. “One of the ladies going to visit the nurseries,” whispered the young Townshends to my father. Now the bedroom doors in that corridor faced each other, and each room had a double door with a space between, as is the case in many old-fashioned houses. My father, as I have said, was in shirt and trousers only, and his native modesty made him feel uncomfortable, so he slipped within one of the outerdoors (his friends following his example), in order to conceal himself until the lady should have passed by. I have heard him describe how he watched her approaching nearer and nearer, through the chink of the door, until, as she was close enough for him to distinguish the colors and style of her costume, he recognised the figure as the facsimile of the portrait of “The Brown Lady”. He had his finger on the trigger of his revolver, and was about to demand it to stop and give the reason for its presence there, when the figure halted of its own accord before the door behind which he stood, and holding the lighted lamp she carried to her features, grinned in a malicious and diabolical manner at him. This act so infuriated my father, who was anything but lamb-like in disposition, that he sprang into the corridor with a bound, and discharged the revolver right in her face. The figure instantly disappeared – the figure at which for several minutes three men had been looking together – and the bullet passed through the outer door of the room on the opposite side of the corridor, and lodged in the panel of the inner one. My father never attempted again to interfere with “The Brown Lady of Raynham”.
The next report of Lady Walpole was in 1926 when Lady Townsend, her son, and her friend claimed to she the spirit on the staircase, where they all knew it was Lady Walpole after seeing the portrait of the Lady that was hanging in the haunted room. The most famous sighting occurred on September 19th, 1936 when County Life magazine photographer Captain Hubert C. Provand and his assistant, Indre Shira, were taking photos of Raynham Hall for an article for the magazine later that year.
They claimed that the had already taken a picture of the staircase, and were preparing to take another when Shira noticed that there was a translucent figure of a woman descending the stairs towards them. They acted quickly and snapped a photo, capturing the spirit in a picture. When the negative was developed, the image became famous when it was added into the article on the hall on December 26th, 1936. The photograph and experience were added in another article on January 4th, 1937 in the Life magazine. After the article was published, paranormal investigator Harry Price interviewed Provaland and Shira, later reporting:
“I will say at once I was impressed. I was told a perfectly simple story: Mr. Indre Shira saw the apparition descending the stairs at the precise moment when Captain Provand’s head was under the black cloth. A shout – and the cap was off and the flashbulb fired, with the results which we now see. I could not shake their story, and I had no right to disbelieve them. Only collusion between the two men would account for the ghost if it is a fake. The negative is entirely innocent of any faking.”
Country Life had also called in experts, who had found that both the photograph and its negative did not have any signs of being interfered with afterwards. However, skeptics believe that Shira faked the image by putting painting grease or a thick substance on the lens in the shape of a human, or, by changing the exposure and running down the stairs. Another theories say that there was accidental double exposure or that light got onto the camera. The ghost has not been sighted since 1936.