Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall

The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall is one of the most famous hauntings in Britain, this is mainly down to the strange form captured by photographers from Country Life magazine in 1936. Before that event the Brown Lady had been reported several times, but many of the written accounts vary considerably.

The hall dates from the 17th century, and has been in the hands of the Townsend family from that time. In some stories the apparition of the Brown Lady once haunted Houghton Hall, but came to Raynham with sister of Robert Wallpole, who married Viscount Townsend in 1713.

There have been a huge number of sightings of the so called Brown Lady since her death in 1726. She is believed to be Dorothy Walpole, the sister of Britain's first ever Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole of Houghton Hall.

Those who have had the unfortunate experience of meeting her ghost describe it a more than frightening, it is understood that during her life she was a well liked, charming lady. Although this is so, it is believed that it was her obsession with flamboyant attire caused a rift between herself and her husband the second Marquess Townshend, (known fondly as Turnip-Townshend as it is he who introduced the vegetable to England.

The details of the pairs relationship beyond this are sketching and in fact two very different stories are often told.

It is known that Dorothy's father was made guardian of Charles Townshend, when he was only 13 years old, so having grown up in each others company, when Dorothy was 15 and Charles 27 he fell deeply in love with her and wanted to marry her. Dorothy's father refused to give his blessing and put a stop to the whole affair, as he feared he would be accused of wanting to gain the Townshend fortune and property.

It is at this point that two versions of Dorothys life are told, and no-one is certain which is the more accurate.

The least favourable version implies that Dorothy did not share Charles' feelings towards her, but in fact found him repulsive!

However, the more romantic slant and far more interesting story claims her to have thrown herself into a life of wild parties and scandalous behaviour at a young age, and ultimately becoming the mistress of the well known, Lord Wharton.

During this time, Charles Townshend had married, but his wife sadly passed away in 1713, when he and Dorothy were united at last.

After a time the marriage became unhappy, and Charles deprived Dorothy of the care of her children who were put in hands of his mother.

Miserable without them and treated very poorly by Charles Dorothy is said to have been confined to her own quarters rooms, and within a while died at the age of 40.

Various versions of her death are quoted, including starvation, falling (or being pushed) down the grand staircase at Raynham Hall, the most popular location for the sighting of her ghost.

Lucia C Stone recorded the first reference to the ghost in 1835; the sighting took place at Christmas of the same year. Lord Charles Townsend had invited a number of guests to the hall for the Christmas festivities. Among them was a man called Colonel Loftus, who, with another guest called Hawkins, witnessed a figure in a brown dress. He also ran into the apparition on the main stairs. He described her as an aristocratic looking lady with one horrific feature: where her eyes should have been there were only empty sockets, highlighted in a face that glowed with an unearthly light. The captain drew a sketch of the apparition, and others also said that they had witnessed the ghost.

The next sighting was by a Captain Marryat (1792-1848), an author of sea novels, although no firm date is given for this encounter. In most accounts the captain has asked to stay in the haunted room because he believes that the haunting is the result of local smugglers. He is returning to his room with two companions, when they see a figure with a lantern coming towards them. They take refuge in a doorway, and the figure turns and grins at them in a "diabolical manner". The captain, who is armed, looses off a shot, which passes straight through the figure and becomes lodged in the opposite wall. Fortunately for the Captain the figure is not a guest with a sense of humour in disguise, and the apparition vanishes.

The next publicised sighting was in 1926, when Lady Townsend admitted that her son and his friend had witnessed the ghost on the stairs. They identified the figure with the portrait of the lady hanging in the haunted room.

Ten years later in 1936, the most famous event occurred in the dubios history of the haunting. Two professional photographers, Captain Provand and his assistant Indre Shira, were taking photographs of the hall for 'Country Life' magazine. The date was the 19th September, and at 4.00pm that afternoon they were photographing the Hall's main staircase. They had completed one exposure, and were preparing for another, when Shira saw a misty form ascending the stairs. He shouted to the captain that there was something on the stairs, and asked if the Captain was ready, he replied "yes" and took the cap off the lens, while Shira pressed the trigger for the flash light.

After this the captain came up from under the protective cloth, and asked what all the fuss was about. Shira explained that he had seen a shadowy, see-through figure on the stairs. When the negative was developed it showed the famous image. There were three witnesses to the negatives development, as Shira had wanted an independent observer to verify the event. He ran and got a chemist called Benjamin Jones, who managed the premises above which the development studio was located. A full account of the experience was published in Country Life magazine on the 26th of December 1936.

The photo was later examined by experts at the Country Life offices, where it was declared unlikely to have been tampered with. There have been a few detractors saying that Shira hoaxed the image by smearing grease on the lens or moving in front of the camera, but there is unlikely to be a definitive explanation for the photo. It is still held in the offices of Country Life.

There have been more recent stories suggesting the haunting has moved to a road between South and West Raynham, but this has not been verified. The spirit has not been reported at the hall since the photograph was taken.

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