Drawing Ghosts
The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall 1
Mixed Media, Beeswax
8" x 10"
Private Collection

Lady Dorothy Walpole was born in 1686, and lived at Raynham Hall until she died there 1726. It was after her death that the eerie stories of the Brown Lady began to emerge.

According to legend, Lady Dorothy's father refused to consent to her marriage to her first love, the Second Viscount Townshend. Although the pair subsequently married many years later, Townshend first married another woman, who died. Dorothy, too, had stayed busy during the intervening years, becoming involved in a clandestine love affair with the well-known Lord Wharton, who was deeply in debt, and shunned from their social circle.

Although her relationship with Wharton had ended prior to her marriage, when Townshend learned about his wife's past, he became enraged. He immediately ordered that she be kept locked in her apartment at Raynham Hall, where she would be separated from him, as well as her five children. She spent the rest of her life as a prisoner in her home.

Possibly as a result of this isolation, Dorothy died when she was only forty years old. Although the official cause of death was reported as smallpox, locals whispered that she had been tortured by Townshend, then pushed down the grand staircase, breaking her neck. Others speculated that, having been left alone and shamed by her first love, she simply died of a broken heart.

Regardless of the cause, many believe that Lady Dorothy's death did not end her confinement at Raynham Hall. For the past 200 years, her ghost has been repeatedly seen climbing the grand staircase or walking the halls of her former home. The first recorded sighting of the Brown Lady was witnessed by King George IV during his stay at Raynham; according to the King, he awoke one night to find Lady Dorothy standing at his bedside in a brown dress, with her hair disheveled and her face glowing white.

Shortly thereafter, a visiting Colonel Loftus also reported seeing the Brown Lady. Upon returning to his bedroom one evening, he encountered a woman in a brown dress standing in the hallway before him. When he approached her, she disappeared. The following week, Colonel Loftus again encountered the woman; this time, however, he was able to describe what he had seen with significantly more detail; she had been wearing a brown satin dress, Loftus reported, and her skin glowed white. But Loftus also added a new and macabre twist to the legend; he explained that her eye sockets were empty and black. Both of her eyes had been gouged out.

When Colonel Loftus told his companions about what he had seen, the residents, visitors, and servants of Raynham Hall came forward with harrowing stories of their own. In an attempt to appease the spirit, a portrait of the "Brown Lady" was commissioned, and hung in the room where she was most frequently encountered.

In the following years, sightings of the Brown Lady were reported by dozens of witnesses. In one well-reported encounter, the novelist Captain Frederick Marryat and his companions stumbled upon the Brown Lady in an upstairs hallway. Seeing her approach, carrying a lantern, the men hid behind a door. According to Marryat, Dorothy was not fooled, and turned and grinned at the terrified visitors in a "diabolical manner." Her gaze was so horrible that Marryat jumped from behind the door and shot his pistol at the figure. The bullet passed through her body and lodged in the wall. The Brown Lady then disappeared.

The most famous sighting of the Brown Lady, however, would launch Lady Dorothy to international recognition. On September 19, 1936, two photographers, Captain Provand and Indre Shira, were visiting Raynham Hall on assignment for Country Life Magazine. According to Shira's account, this is what happened:

"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?'"

When the picture was developed, Provard and Shira discovered the haunting, gauzy image of a woman descending the empty steps. The picture was published in Country Life Magazine on December 16, 1936, and became an immediate international sensation.

In the eighty years since the photograph was taken, its authenticity has been hotly debated; still, there has been no official finding that the Brown Lady's picture was altered, or that the image was a hoax. Indeed, to this day, many believe the picture of the Brown Lady to be proof that at least one ghost exists -- and that she walks the halls of her old home, forever trapped in Raynham Hall.
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