There have been many eyewitness accounts of this haunting as well as it being one of the most reliably photographed ghosts in history.
The spectre has been identified as Lady Dorothy Walpole from a portrait of hers that hangs in Raynham Hall.
Lady Dorothy was sister to Robert Walpole, the English Prime Minister of 1722, and a member of the wealthy Walpole family of Houghton Hall. Born 1686 and died in 1726.
Dorothy is said to have fallen in love with the Second Viscount Townshend of Raynham Hall but her father would not allow her to marry him; there being a conflict of interests as her father was Lord Townshend's guardian.
So Lord Townshend married the daughter of Baron Pelham of Laughton, but she died in 1711.
Meanwhile the beautiful Dorothy began an affair with Lord Wharton, a well know philanderer. When Lord Wharton had to leave the country in order to evade his debtors and probably a few angry fathers and husbands, Lady Dorothy’s father decided to marry off his daughter to the now widowed Lord Townshend, quickly!
So the beautiful Lady Dorothy married her first love Lord Townshend who was unaware of her 'goings on' with Lord Wharton. It was not until quite some time later that Lord Townshend learned of his wife’s affair. After hearing the news it is said that he ordered her to be locked up in her apartments and further instructed that she not be allowed any further contact with their children.
Lady Dorothy eventually died at the age
40 on 29th March 1726, according to records, after
contracting smallpox. However legend says that
infact she died as a result of either being pushed or
having thrown herself down the grand oak staircase.
Documented sightings of her haunting
Before Captian Marryat retired for the night he joked with two other guests that he was carrying a pistol to protect himself from the lady. On their way up to their bedchambers all three of them suddenly came face to face with a ghostly female figure. She passed right by them and grinned at them in a ‘diabolical manner’.
Captain Marryat, produced his pistol and fired directly at the spectre. The bullets however, passed right through her and embedded themselves in the door beyond. After this incident a number of staff left the hall. Whether it was the ghost or the fact that they might get shot at by the guests is not clear..
In November 1926 Lady Townshend was
staying at Raynham Hall with her young son and his
friend. Both boys claimed to have met the Brown
Lady on the staircase. Not knowing about the haunting
they assumed her to be another guest. Only later
they realised they had met no living person when they
saw the same lady in a portrait that was dated from the
1600s in one of the bedchambers.
In the 1800s, one Colonel Loftus, claimed that he and his friend Hawkins saw the ghost. Again as they were retiring to bed. They say they saw a woman in a period dress in one of the upstairs corridors; and that she was an aristocratic lady, dressed in brocade with her hair in a coif and her features lit by an unearthly light and empty eye sockets.
The time was 4pm in the afternoon. They had just taken one photograph of the grand oak staircase 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 for the Captain to take another photograph quick.
This Provand did. When Provand emerged from underneath the protective cloth he asked his assistant what it was that he had just photographed. Shira explained that he believed they had just photographed the Brown Lady.
At the development of the picture Shira insisted that a chemist named Benjamin Jones also be present as well as himself and Provand.
When the picture was developed it clearly showed a hooded female figure coming down the staircase. The original photograph was published in Country Life, on December 16th, 1936, together with a full account.
Picture supplied courtesy of Fortean Picture Library
The picture and the plate were later examined by experts who were satisfied that there had been no trickery involved.
One further sighting but not at Raynham Hall was by George IV, the Prince Regent, whilst he was a guest of the Marquess of Cholmondeley at Houghton Hall. According to legend his highness was not best pleased upon sighting ‘The Brown Lady’ and demanded a new bedchamber, immediately.
The Duke of Monmouth, two ghostly children and a ghost of a cocker spaniel are also reported to haunt Raynham Hall.