Welcome to the next piece in a series of frights. We’ll explore the famous haunts, monsters, and things that go bump in the night of the 1800’s. In this edition, we head to Norfolk, England to learn about mysterious Brown Lady of Raynham Hall, a lady that wore brown long before Steampunk.
Back in the 1970’s, I was fascinated by ghosts, monsters, and such. Shows like “Unsolved Mysteries” and a series of elementary books about the Loch Ness Monster, Big Foot, and other odd creatures piqued my curiosity. One of these scary stories was about the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall. The Lady still fascinates me and many others today.
The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall-Who Was the Lady?
The Lady was really Lady Dorothy Walpole. Born on September 18, 1686, she was the sister of Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister of Great Britain. Lady Walpole became the second wife of Charles Townshend. Dorothy reportedly fell in love with Charles, but Dorothy’s father, Robert, was Charles’ legal guardian at the time. And Dorothy was only 11 or 12 years old. Robert refused Charles’s proposal, and Townshend married his first wife, Elizabeth Pelham.
Townshend was born at Raynham Hall into a family of Baronets and other blue bloods. He eventually gained the title of Viscount Townshend after serving as a statesman in various capacities and developing an agricultural revolution in Britain. The Viscount was also known to be stubborn and have a violent temper. After his first wife Elizabeth died, he was reunited with Dorothy. Their wedding was a lavish affair. The marriage lasted thirteen years and produced seven children.
Although Townshend collaborated with his brother in law on foreign policy, he also competed with Walpole for several positions. This did not bode well for Dorothy, as Townshend became increasingly jealous. Dorothy often cushioned the tension between the two gentlemen.
A Rocky Marriage
Their marriage further soured. Another statesman, the salacious, yet popular Thomas Wharton, had taken Dorothy as a lover prior to their marriage. Wharton was considered a “rake”, had an “open” marriage, founded one of the first “Hell-fire Clubs”. And while drunk, broke into the church at Great Barrington, Gloucestershire, and defecated on the communion table and in the pulpit. Wharton was known to carouse, so much so that he infected his first wife, Ann Lee, with syphilis.
It was not known if he had infected Dorothy. However, it was widely believed that Dorothy, like many women that lay with Wharton, could not escape his charms. People suspected she continued the affair with him even after her union with Townshend. He became enraged at the whispers.
When Dorothy died suddenly of smallpox, rumors spread that Townshend killed her by pushing her down a grand staircase, or faked her death. Others believed he hid her away at Raynham Hall, and locked her in certain rooms to keep Dorothy for himself.
The true history of Dorothy’s demise is murky at best. Dorothy and Wharton were well liked individuals. Wharton’s talents as a statesman eventually outgrew his reputation. Townshend was said to remain bitter, although later records show that all three were good natured folk. But not long after her death, perhaps Dorothy never got the freedom from the Hall that she desired?
A Brown Lady Wanders
After a Christmas celebration at Raynham Hall in 1835, two guests, Colonel Loftus and Lucia C. Stone, decided to retire after a game of chess. While walking to their respective rooms, they noticed a shadow of a woman in a doorway. She appeared to be wearing antiquated brown brocade clothing. As they approached, the woman disappeared. The very next night, the Colonel saw the ghost again. Only this time, it appeared that her eyes had been gouged out, “dark in the glowing face”. Not long after, guests and servants reported doors closing and locking unexpectedly and a shadowy figure seemed to roam the halls.
One Skeptic is Convinced
In 1936, a hunting party at the Hall included a skeptic. Royal Navy Captain and author Frederick Marrayat sought to disprove the ghost and requested a room in which Dorothy’s painting was hung. He believed that smugglers were using this farce to keep strangers away from the Hall and he kept a gun under his pillow.
There was no activity the first two nights, but on the third, as Marrayat was preparing for bed, two of his hunting companions came to his room. They requested his presence in one of the parlors to show off a new gun from London. The three proceeded to examine and marvel at the firearm. The men even joked that perhaps this weapon would be effective against the Brown Lady.
Upon returning to their rooms, they encountered a woman quickly approaching them. Marrayat, in a state of near undress, hid in the doorway so as not to offend the lady. The other two men joined him to allow the woman to pass. As she drew near, Marrayat recognized the woman as the same one as the painting. He prepared to question her, and the woman faced the men and “grinned in a malicious and diabolical manner”. Marrayat shot at the brown figure, and she disappeared, and the bullet lodged in the door across the hall. He was clearly disturbed and never questioned the presence of the Brown Lady again.
Accounts of the mysterious Brown Lady continued. In 1926, Lady Townshend and her son reportedly saw the spectre on the staircase. Ten years later, on September 19, 1936, Captain Hubert C. Provand and his assistant Indre Shira arrived to take pictures for an article for Country Life magazine. They had just taken a picture on the stairs when a visible mist appeared. Shira directed to Provand to keep shooting and what they developed became one of the most famous images in history. The negatives of which remain in the Country Life archives; a clear photo of a woman in brown period clothing descends the grand stairs.
The celebrated photo first appeared in the December 26th edition of the magazine. Due to its popularity was reprinted in the January 4, 1937 edition. A famous paranormal investigator of the time, Harry Price, thoroughly examined the photo and interviewed the two photographers. He determined that the ghostly image was genuine.
Other investigators claim that the film was double exposed, that the ghost appears to be like many popular versions of the Virgin Mary, in gracious robes with hands in prayer position. Many also argued that the Lady fit the perfect gothic horror story of a lovely woman trapped by a horrific husband. Dorothy’s sudden end made fodder for an epic tale.
More Appearances of the Lady
The current Lord Raynham believes that the ghost is there, although “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”.
But the sightings aren’t just at the Hall. The Lady had been seen at Sandringham House and at Houghton by several royal guests. This includes a young George the IV who awoke with the Lady at the foot of his bed. He left saying 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”.
Is the Lady forever imprisoned in the home due to a bitter husband? Or is she a lonely spectre seeking comfort from visitors? We may never know.
Sources and photos courtesy: Wikipedia, Curious World Productions, Mysterious Britain, and Paranormal United.
Victoria L. Szulc, “The Countess”, is a multi-media Steampunk artist/writer working on her fourth Steampunk novel, “Lafayette to London” and is the resident artist and a tour guide for Haunted STL Tours. You can follow her works, social media links, and shop links at mysteampunkproject.wordpress.com.