1936, Brown Lady, Captain Provand, Colonel Loftus, Country Life, Dorothy Walpole, Frederick Marryat, ghost sightings, Indre Shira, Lucia C. Stone, Norfolk, proof of ghosts, Raynham Hall, Townsend
In part two of the Mysterious Brown Lady of Raynham Hall, Miss Jessel examines sightings of her wandering spirit, and considers whether the famous Country Life photograph, believed by many to provide proof of the existence of ghosts, can be taken at face value. To read part one, click here The Mysterious Brown Lady of Raynham Hall, part one: who was she?
A Debut Performance
The first attested appearance of the Brown Lady at Raynham Hall was during a Christmas gathering in 1835 held by Lord Charles Townshend. Lucia C. Stone and Colonel Loftus were amongst those invited. One evening after a game of chess, the men decided to retire to bed. On the way to their bedrooms they noticed the outline of a woman wearing an old fashioned brown dress standing in the doorway of one of the rooms. Suddenly she disappeared into thin air. The following evening Loftus saw the same figure again but this time he managed to study her appearance more closely. According to Loftus she appeared to be a genteel woman with an aristocratic bearing but to his horror her eyes seemed to have been gouged out “dark in the glowing face”.
The Captain and the Ghost
Interest in the Brown Lady began to grow as Stone and Loftus’ story circulated and more and more people reported having seen her. In 1836, the author and Royal Navy captain, Frederick Marryat visited Raynham as part of a hunting party. A sceptic, Marryat was determined to prove that the haunting had been a trick by local smugglers to keep strangers away. He asked to be put in the room which contained the painting of the woman who Loftus was convinced he had seen.
The first two nights passed without incident and he was given no opportunity to use the gun which he kept hidden under his pillow. On the evening of the third night just as he was changing for bed he heard a knock on the door. Two of the company had come to ask Marryat’s opinion on a new gun recently arrived from London. After examining the gun, the men decided to accompany Marryat back to his room and joked that he should take the gun with him to protect himself from the Lady.
The three men were making their way along the dark and gloomy corridor when suddenly they saw the figure of a melancholy woman carrying a light approaching them. Thinking that it was one of the ladies in their party, the half-dressed Marryat for the sake of modesty hid himself in the space between the double doors of one of the bedrooms. The two other men joined him. As she approached, Marryat recognised her as the woman from the portrait in his bedroom. Never a man to cower in fear, he kept his finger firmly on the trigger intending to confront her and demand an explanation for her presence. Before he could do so, the apparition stopped in front of where Marryat and the others were concealing themselves. She turned to face him and “grinned in a malicious and diabolical manner…”. Marryat shot and the woman vanished, the bullet lodging in the door across the way. A shaken Marryat never tried to challenge the Brown Lady again.
Captured on Camera
Over the following 100 years numerous witnesses claimed to having seen or felt the presence of the Brown Lady at the Hall including in 1926 when Lady Townshend and her son saw the Lady on the staircase.
Ten years later on the 19th September 1936 the Country Life photographer Captain Hubert C. Provand and his assistant Indre Shira were taking pictures for an article. They claim that they had already taken a photograph of the staircase when Shira noticed a strange mist like essence coming towards them. Gradually the vapour solidified to form the figure of a woman. Shira instantly gave directions to Provand who quickly took the cap off the lens whilst Shira pressed the flash trigger. Together the two men claimed to have captured on film definitive proof of the existence of ghosts. The image appeared in the 26th December 1936 edition of the magazine and again in the 4th January 1937 edition. The image is considered one of the most famous ghost photographs ever taken and the negative is still held in the Country Life archives.
A Ghostly Image or Clever Fake?
Since the photograph of the Brown Lady was taken, the image has come under intense scrutiny. At the time the paranormal investigator, Harry Price, interviewed both Provand and Shira and concluded that the men had not conspired to deceive the public and that the photograph was genuine.
Since then many other theories have been put forward to explain the image including that the photographers smeared grease on the negative, that it was due to double exposure, that it was the movement of a person (living) on the stairs who was captured during the exposure and that light accidently got into the camera.
Investigators John Fairley and Simon Welfare claim that on examining the image they could discern a pale line above each stair-tread which indicates that one picture has been superimposed over the other. Others agreeing with Fairley and Welfare have suggested that the image looks like a standard Virgin Mary statue and that on close study you can see that the hands of the woman are clasped in prayer, that the dress is typical of the v-shaped garments carved in those statues and that even the pedestal on which the statue stands can be clearly seen.
Many others even today believe that the photograph is genuine including Lord Raynham who is convinced that Dorothy’s spirit does remain in the house “she isn’t there to haunt the house but she is still there I know she’s there and I’m glad she’s around”.
Is the Brown Lady an angry, suffering spectre whose miserable life has bound her to the house which became a prison or a loving spirit staying in the home where she lived a happy life or simply a tale to titillate visitors? I again leave it to others to decide.
Dorothy Walpole’s Wandering Spirit
Raynham Hall is not the only place where the spirit of Dorothy has been seen. The ghost of a young Dorothy has been seen occasionally at Sandringham House whilst a Royal guest claimed to have been visited by a terrifying vision. A young George IV whilst staying at Houghton awoke in the middle of the night to see the ghost of the Brown Lady at the foot of the bed. It is claimed that the Prince of Wales left the Hall immediately declaring that he would “not spend another hour in the accursed house, for tonight I have seen that which I hope to god I never see again”.
Other Ghostly Residents of Raynham Hall
The ‘camera shy’ Brown Lady has not been seen since the photograph was taken in 1936 but other apparitions have including the ghosts of a cocker spaniel, two children and the Duke of Monmouth.
An elderly spinster claims to have been visited by the Duke of Monmouth whilst she was spending a night at Raynham and found the experience both flattering and agreeable – the mind boggles!
Florence Marryat, There is No Death, 1917
Henrietta Hobart, Duchess of Suffolk: Letters from 1712 to 1767 with historical, biographical and explanatory notes
William Coxe and Horatio Walpole: Memoirs of Horatio, Lord Walpole – Volume I, 1808
M. Townshend, Townshend – Townshend: 1066-1909, 1909
John Harold Wilson, Court Satires of the Restoration, 1986
Norman Milne, Libertine and Harlots, 2014
Raynham Hall, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raynham_Hall
The vast history of Raynham Hall, http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/norfolk/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_8058000/8058145.stm
Brown Lady of Raynham Hall, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_Lady_of_Raynham_Hall#cite_note-4
The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall, http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/england/norfolk/hauntings/the-brown-lady-of-raynham-hall.html
Brown Lady of Raynham Hall, http://www.paranormalunited.co.uk/brown-lady-of-raynham-hall-norfolk-1936/
The Whartons of Winchendon, http://thedabbler.co.uk/2014/10/the-whartons-of-winchendon-4-honest-tom/
Raynham Hall, http://www.delcoghosts.com/raynham_hall.html
Dorothy Townshend, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Townshend
The Brown Lady, http://altereddimensions.net/2012/brown-lady-ghost
Thomas Wharton, 1st Marquess of Wharton, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Wharton,_1st_Marquess_of_Wharton
Charles Townshend, 3rd Viscount Townshend, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Townshend,_3rd_Viscount_Townshend
Raynham Hall, http://home.worldonline.co.za/~townshend/raynham.htm
Gothic Literature, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gothic_fiction
 Brown Lady of Raynham Hall, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_Lady_of_Raynham_Hall
 Florence Marryat, There is No Death, 1917
 Brown Lady of Raynham Hall, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_Lady_of_Raynham_Hall#cite_note-4
 Brown Lady of Raynham Hall, http://www.paranormalunited.co.uk/brown-lady-of-raynham-hall-norfolk-1936/
 The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_Lady_of_Raynham_Hall
 The vast history of Raynham Hall, http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/norfolk/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_8058000/8058145.stm
 The Brown Lady, http://altereddimensions.net/2012/brown-lady-ghost
 Raynham Hall, http://www.delcoghosts.com/raynham_hall.html
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