Raynham Hall is a nearly 400 year-old country house in Norfolk, England; a county situated along that country's central east coast bordering the North Sea. Considered one of the great houses of Norfolk, it has been home to the rather influential Townshend family during its entire existence. The most famous inhabitant of Raynham Hall was Charles Townshend, 2nd Viscount Townshend (1674 - 1738), who lived to become a leader in the House of Lords. Today, the structure is best known as a place allegedly haunted by the spirit of a lady who, for over more than a century, has been seen wearing a brown dress.
As legend has it, the mysterious apparition is the ghost of Lady Townshend, the wife of Charles Townshend, who known for his hot temper, reportedly imprisoned his wife in the mansion for the rest of her days after discovering that she had been unfaithful to him. From the time he had put her away until she died of old age many years later, she was never even allowed to see her children again.
According to an article in the website, Mysterious Britain & Ireland,
the first mention of the lady ghost was recorded by Lucia C. Stone in the year 1835. The sighting reportedly took place at Christmas when a couple of Lord Charles Townshend's invited guests, a man known as Colonel Loftus and another, simply called Hawkins, claimed to have seen the figure of a woman wearing a brown dress. The following week Colonel Loftus sighted the ghost once again. This time he spotted her on the main stairs and described her as a lady who had an aristocratic look about her with one disturbing feature--empty sockets where her eyes should have been. Loftus also said that her face glowed with an unearthly light. After the colonel drew a sketch of what he had seen, others admitted to having seen the same lady as well. An artist made a composite painting of the Brown Lady from the descriptions he received and the piece was then hung on a wall in a part of the house where the ghost was most frequently seen.
Another purported sighting took place when an author of sea novels, a Captain Frederick Marryat (1792-1848) came for a visit. The author's purpose was reportedly, to prove that a ghost did not inhabit Raynham Hall but rather, that alleged sightings were the result of smugglers. Still, by the captain's own account he and a couple of companions saw a figure carrying a lantern coming toward them. Taking refuge in a doorway, the three stood by as the figure, while walking past, turned and grinned at them in a "diabolical manner." The captain fired a shot at close range but the bullet passed right through the lady and lodged in the opposite wall. At that point the ghost vanished. That date of that purported encounter is unknown.
In 1926 the then Lady Townshend reported that her son and a friend had spotted the apparition on the stairs. Both identified her as resembling the portrait that had been hung on the wall many years before.
The best known reported sighting took place ten years later, on September 19, 1936, when two professional photographers, a Captain Provand and his assistant Indre Shira, working for Country Life magazine arrived to take pictures of the hall. It was around 4:00 pm when Shira allegedly saw the Brown Lady. Shira put it this way:
"Captain Provand took one photograph while I flashed the light. He was
focusing for another exposure; I was standing by his side just behind
the camera with the flashlight pistol in my hand, looking directly up
the staircase. All at once I detected an ethereal veiled form coming
slowly down the stairs. Rather excitedly, I called out sharply: 'Quick,
quick, there's something.' I pressed the trigger of the flashlight
pistol. After the flash and on closing the shutter, Captain Provand
removed the focusing cloth from his head and turning to me said: 'What's
all the excitement about?'"
The photograph that the two came up with is the one at the top of this article, and it is one of the best known of its type. Some call it a hoax; yet, it was later examined by experts at Country Life magazine, who considered it unlikely that the picture had been tampered with. The photo was eventually published in the December 16, 1936 issue of the magazine.
It is said, there have been no further sightings of the Brown Lady since the photograph was taken. There are those who say that she finally left the confines of Raynham Hall to haunt another place, Sandringham House, where she appears as her young, happy self before being locked away for so many years by her husband. Then again, there are those who do not even believe in such things as ghosts, apparitions and haunted houses. Who knows where the truth lies? The question is, what do you believe?
Mysterious Britain & Ireland
Museum of Hoaxes: The Brown Lady of Raynham
Photograph: Captain Provand and Indre Shira. Published in Country Life magazine December 16, 1936