The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall

The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall

In December of 1936, one of the most famous “ghost photos” taken was published in Country Life Magazine. The picture was taken the previous September by professional photographers on assignment for the magazine to photograph the historic Raynham Hall in England.

The photographers, Captain Provand and Indre Shira, noticed a ghost-like apparition on the main staircase they were photographing. When the photo was developed, it showed the image of a lady believed to be Lady Dorothy Walpole. Her portrait hangs in the hall.

Lady Dorothy Walpole, the daughter of Robert Walpole, member of Parliament for Houghton, in Norfolk, and the sister of Britain's first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, was born in 1684 or 1686.

Robert Walpole was appointed guardian of thirteen year old Lord Charles Townshend. The story is that Charles and Dorothy eventually fell in love, and wanted to marry. Dorothy’s father, Robert, was against the marriage because he worried that people would think he was orchestrating the marriage to gain access to the Townshend riches.

After a time, Lord Charles married another lady who passed away in 1711. He, then, did marry Dorothy Walpole in 1713.

Dorothy had evidently gotten rather wild before her marriage to Lord Charles. She is said to have been the mistress of Lord Wharton, who was forced to leave England under shady circumstances.

Lord Townshend was not aware of the partying ways of Dorothy before her marriage to him, and was livid upon discovering the information.

Townshend ordered Dorothy to be locked in her suite at Raynham Hall, unable to see her children, until her death in 1726 at the age of 40. The official cause of death was listed as smallpox, but most did not believe that was the case.

There have been many rumors circulating about the death of Lady Dorothy. Some believed that she died of a broken heart, or starvation. Others think she might have been pushed down the main staircase at Raynham Hall. One story has it that her death was staged, and that she continued to be locked up in Raynham Hall.

Shortly afterwards, servants working at the Hall began to see Lady Dorothy’s ghost on the Grand Staircase. Most believe that she is searching for her five (or seven) children (must have taken a good deal of time before Lord Charles discovered her atrocious pre-marital behavior).

Many sightings of the ghost have taken place through the centuries. In 1835 (another report says 1849), she was witnessed on the staircase by a guest at a Christmas party held by Lord Charles. The guest, Colonel Loftus, stated that she was wearing a brown dress, her eye sockets were empty, and that her face glowed. He was quite horrified.

Although the date is uncertain, Captain Marryat, an author, is said to have seen the apparition when he stayed overnight in the house. She grinned at him in a “diabolical manner.” The Captain must have lost his nerve for a bit as he shot at the ghost. Naturally, the bullet passed through the figure and lodged in the wall.

In 1926, a descendant of Lord Charles (and possibly of Lady Dorothy) witnessed the specter on the staircase, and she was again identified as the lady in the portrait.

George IV awakened in the middle of the night to the wraith of Lady Dorothy. He left immediately after awakening the entire household. She was dressed in brown, had a pale face, and messy hair.

Then, of course, the two photographers from Country Life Magazine took their famous photo in 1936. Upon examination, the photo is believed to be legitimate, and is still in the files at Country Life Magazine.

Lady Dorothy Walpole is not the only apparition seen at Raynham Hall, The Duke of Monmouth, two ghostly children and a ghost of a cocker spaniel are also said to roam the halls of the enormous building but, that is a story for another day.

Sources/For Further Information:

Holzer, Hans. Ghosts: True Encounters with the World Beyond. NY: Black Dog & Leventhal
Publishers, Inc., 1997.

Related Articles
Editor's Picks Articles
Top Ten Articles
Previous Features
Site Map

Content copyright © 2023 by Deena Budd. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Deena Budd. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Deena Budd for details.