The Ghosts of Raynham Hall

The Ghosts of Raynham Hall

One of the most famous ghosts of Britain is the Brown Lady, who is said to haunt Raynham Hall.

A stately home near Swaffham, on the Norfolk Coast.

One of the reasons for her fame is that she was photographed for country life magazine in 1936.

The photographers captured a strange, ghostly form coming down the staircase of the house.

She appeared as a white mist, in the shape of a woman wearing a veil and a long dress.

The Hall, which dates from the 17th century, belongs to the Townsend family, whose most famous member was Charles, Second Viscount Townsend, secretary of State in the Whig government in the early 18th century. Viscount Townsend was affectionately known as 'Turnip Townsend' because of his interest in farming, which included introducing the growing of turnips in Britain on a large scale. In 1713, Townsend married Dorothy Walpole, sister of the first British prime minster,

Robert Walpole. She was his second wife, and rumour had it that she had previously been the mistress of Lord Warton, a notoriously decadent aristocrat of the period. Accordingly, there was much gossip about her reputation, and fears that she might corrupt the well brought-up young ladies of the area.


where the famous ghost of staircase comes from

Lady Townsend is said to have died in 1726.

After her funeral, a story began to circulate that she had not died and been buried, but that her husband had locked her up in the house, refusing to let her have any contact with the outside world. This is the origin of the 'Brown Lady' legend:

Lady Townsend's ghost is said to haunt the oak staircase in the hall,

and can often be seen there at twilight some versions of the legend, the Brown Lady is a ghost that came to Raynham Hall with Lady Townsend, having moved with her from Houghton Hall,

the seat of Robert Walpole.


In the years that followed, there were many sightings of the Brown Lady,

and much speculation as to what had occurred to make her haunt the hall.

Some believe that it was the result of unfair treatment from her husband, caused by jealousy.

The pair apparently knew each other as children, since Dorothy's father had been made guardian of Charles. When Charles reached the age of 27, he fell in love with the young girl,who was then only 15, and proposed marriage. Dorothy's father, however, objected, thinking that if he agreed, people would assume he was just trying to get his hands on the Townsend's massive fortune.

Dorothy too,may have objected as some claim that she did not share Charles's passion, and in fact found him very unattractive. Whatever the case, Dorothy found Charles for a while and became a London socialite. Her behaviour at wild parties was thought to be quite scandalous, and she was rumoured to be the mistress of the dissolute Lord Wharton. In the meantime, Charles married, but when his wife died in 1713, he proposed to Dorothy, who accepted.

Dorothy Walpole


The marriage, however, was not a happy one.

Charles took Dorothy's children away from her and left them in the care of his mother.

He confined her to only her rooms, where she lived out a miserable, lonely life,

dying at the age of 40. At the time, her death was announced to have been caused by smallpox, but rumour has it that her jealous husband may have starved her, or pushed her down the oak staircase that the Brown Lady now haunts. Shortly after her death on 29 March 1726,

The ghost was seen on the staircase by some servants at the hall.

Numerous reports of encountering the ghost persisted,

and it has continued to be sighted until the present day...


In 1835, the Brown Lady was seen at night by two guests attending a Christmas party at the hall,

Colonel Loftus and his friend Hawkins. They described her as looking refined and aristocratic, except for the fact that instead of eyes, she had only eye sockets.

She was wearing a muted brown dress, but her face and hands flowed with a strange light.

The ghost was also seen by Captain Frederick Marryat, a British naval officer well known for his sea tales and novels. The story goes that Marryat believed the haunting in the hall to be connected with local smugglers, and went up to his room with two friends.

On the way; he met a figure with a lantern, who turned and grinned at them with a horrific smile,

The Captain apparently shot at the figure in alarm,

but the bullet passed straight through it,

Hitting the wall behind..


In 1926, Lady Townsend residing at the hall reported that her son and his friend had seen the Brown Lady. They were able to recognise her from a portrait of Dorothy hanging in one of the rooms of the hall. However, the most important sighting came in 1936, when two photographers, Captain Provand and his assistant Indre Shira, went down to Raynham Hall to take pictures for country Life Magazine.

on 19 September at 4-pm they set about photographing the main staircase of the hall.

As they did, Shira noticed a misty shape going up the stairs. He shouted to the Captain to take a picture, which he did. When the negative was developed, it showed the image of a shadowy shape coming down the stairs. During the process of developing the film, Shira had called in three witnesses, just to make sure that no one thought it was a hoax. The photograph was published in Country Life in December 1936, and is still stored in the offices of the magazine.


In recent years it has been suggested that Shira could have smeared grease on the lens of the camera. However, experts examining the photograph have declared it to be genuine.

For this reason, the photograph is often cited as proof that ghosts exist.

The Brown Lady has not been seen at Raynham Hall since the photo was taken.

Some ghost hunters believe that she has moved to a road nearby, where she haunts passers by.

There are also reports that she haunts Sandringham House,

where she appears as a young, happy woman,

rather than a careworn little lady dressed in brown.

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