The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall

The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall is probably one of the most iconic ghost pictures out there. But what is the story behind it? And who is that ghostly figure?

Is it real? Was it just a double exposure? The picture of The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall has been viral since 1936. A photographer that year took the infamous picture, forever putting it in the mystery box for people to wonder about ever since.

It was just another day in the upper class England, with their old and haunted mansions and stories. Up in Norfolk lays the old Raynham Hall, that were about to become one of the most famous hauntings in Great Britain.

The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall is probably one of the most iconic ghost pictures out there. But what is the story behind it? And who is that ghostly figure?
Brown Lady of Raynham Hall: This is the picture taken in the staircase that is now perhaps one of the most famous ghost photos.

Captain Hubert C. Provand, was a working in London as an photographer for the Country Life magazine. On September 19th, 1936, he and his assistant, Indre Shira were taking photographs of the Raynham Hall for an article.

Inside the 300 year old mansion, they were setting up the cameras to take another of the old Hall’s main staircase. Suddenly, Shira saw a ” vapoury form gradually assuming the appearance of a woman” The figure was “moving down the stairs towards them.” Shira directed Provand to take the cap of the lens while Shira pressed the trigger to take the picture.

After the negative was developed for the article, they saw more clear what they had gotten on camera that day. And the famous legendary photo of the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall was born. And after the photo, so was the legend.

Read More: This is not the only ghost picture that caused a stir: The Haunting in Pasir Ris Park 

So who was this lady? According to legend, the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall is the lost ghost of Dorothy Walpole. She was born in 1686 and according to gossip, the prettiest sister of Robert Walpole, seen as the first prime minister of Great Britain.

Walpole was neighbour with Charles Townshend, 2nd Viscount Townsend in Norfolk. And it just so happened that his sister Dorothy married Townshend in 1713. Although they were good neighbours, and even brother-in-laws, there was bad blood between the men. Especially in politics and when Walpole built his own mansion, Houghton Hall. Did this affect poor Dorothy at all?

What we know is that it wasn’t a particularly happy marriage. Dorothy was Charles second wife. He looked upon the Hall as his pride, as a Lord Hervey said: “Lord Townshend looked upon his own seat at Raynham as the metropolis of Norfolk, and considered every stone that augmented the splendor of Houghton, as a diminution of the grandeur of Raynham.”

The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall is probably one of the most iconic ghost pictures out there. But what is the story behind it? And who is that ghostly figure?
Lady Dorothy Walpole: The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall is believed to be the ghost of Lady Dorothy Walpole who died in 1726.

Charles was also well known for his violent temper. Dorothy Walpole was rumored to have been a mistress of a Lord Wharton, a well known womanizer, and that no woman could be twenty four hours under his roof and walk out with her reputation intact.

When Charles discovered his wife and her affair with Lord Wharton, the story says he punished her by locking her in her rooms in the family, Raynham Hall. To make matters worse, there are still rumours that she was in fact entrapped by the Countess of Warton, inviting Dorothy to stay a few days, knowing full well, her husband wouldn’t let her walk out with her reputation intact.

Read More: This is not the only ghost story involving a husband imprisoning his wife in her own home: The Prisoner of Château de Puymartin

After this, Dorothy Walpole remained at Raynham Hall until her death in 1726. She died of smallpox. But did she really leave the Halls? Is she still roaming the place, still locked up, still trying to get out and are forever trapped as The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall?

Raynham Hall was thought to have been haunted long before the picture was taken. People that stayed in the mansion, experienced visitation and paranormal activity that most believed to be the ghost of The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall.

Whatever the truth is, the legend was there to stay. And the first recorded sighting of the The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall was in 1835. One Christmas the new Lord Charles Townshend invited some guest to the Hall for celebrations. Among the guest were Colonel Loftus and another guest named Hawkins. One night night as they approached their bedrooms, they saw the Brown Lady, noticing the dated and brown dress she wore.

The following night, Loftus claimed he saw The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall again. he said he was drawn to the spectre’s empty eye-sockets, dark in the glowing face, the once so pretty Dorothy Walpole. After Loftus reported what he saw it ended with some of the staff permanently left Raynham Hall. It was all recorded by another guest, Lucia C. Stone.

Read More: Ghost Stories of Christmas Hauntings

Just a year after, the The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall was seen again. This time it was Captain Frederick Marryat, a friend of Charles Dickens. He originally wanted to prove a theory of his that the hauntings was caused by local smugglers. According to him, the smugglers spread the story to keep people away from the area. That night hi requested that he spent the night in the haunted room at Raynham Hall.

Marryat’s daughter, Florence wrote about her father’s experience in 1891:

…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 outer doors (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”.

When the son of Lady Townshend and his friend saw the ghost next, they knew who The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall was. They saw her on the staircase, and identified the ghost with the portrait, hanging on the wall in the haunted room. Of course, the portrait of Lady Dorothy Walpole.

The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall is probably one of the most iconic ghost pictures out there. But what is the story behind it? And who is that ghostly figure?
Raynham Hall: The haunted hall is a country house in Norfolk and was for 400 years the seat of the Townshend family. The hall is reported to be haunted, providing the scene for possibly the most famous ghost photo of all time, The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall descending the staircase.//Source: Wikimedia

After Provand and Shira took the picture of The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall, they published their experience in Country life magazine, December 26th, 1936. They were published again in Life magazine on January 4th, 1937. So all in all, they did profit on this. But could it be that they just took a picture?

After the picture was taken, a paranormal investigator, Harry Price interviewed both Provand and Shira. He said: “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.”

But there have been numerous attempts of debunking the picture of The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall and its status of “proof”. Some claim Shira faked the image by putting grease or something in the lense in shape of a lady, maybe moved down the stairs himself during an exposure? Or maybe it is as simple as an accidental double exposure or light somehow got in the camera. Some even claim that the figure looks eerily like the Virgin Mary statue, and that the image is of her in the staircase, the statue that is, not the Virgin Mary.

Among the examiners trying to debunk the validity of the picture of The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall is Joe Nickell’s detailed writings that the photograph is nothing more than double exposure. And the magician John Booth wrote that the photograph could be easily made. Booth had the magician Ron Wilson cover himself in a bed sheet and walk down the staircase at the Magic Castle in Hollywood. It apparently turned out very similar to the photograph.

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