The Lady of Raynham Hall appears wearing brown, disheveled, and without eyes.

Dorothy Walpole

Raynham Hall, Norfolk, has been owned by the Townshend family since the seventeenth century. It has been famous ever since.

Lady Dorothy Walpole was born in 1686, sister of 1722 (and first-ever) English Prime Minister Robert. At age fifteen, she caught the eye of Second Viscount Townshend of Raynham Hall, then 27.

Walpole's father refused to give his blessing for a marriage. This was not an age issue; it was the sixteenth century. Because the elder Walpole had become Townshend's guardian fourteen years prior, he feared that a union between his daughter and his responsibility would communicate that he was hoping to gain the Townshend family fortune. He halted liaisons between Dorothy and the young Townshend smartly.

Here, the story diverges. Triverges.

There is a version in which Dorothy Walpole found Townshend completely, irreconcilably repulsive. This version is not interesting, nor is it by any means verifiable.

In another version, Dorothy forgot about Townshend and became amorous with notorious philanderer Lord Wharton. When debtors and angry patriarchs chased him out of England, the elder Walpole promptly dismissed his misgivings and married his daughter to Townshend to save face.

In still another version, Dorothy and Townshend were married without incident, but Dorothy quickly took a lifestyle of hard partying and sexual debauchery.

Regardless, after some years of marriage, Townshend experienced a prolonged fit of rage, sent the children to live with their grandmother, and imprisoned Dorothy in her quarters at Raynham Hall.

Dorothy died in 1726, age forty. Records assert that she succumbed to smallpox, but others believe that she starved to death, or fell down the main staircase (or was pushed).

The Photo

On September 19th, 1936, photographers for Country Life magazine captured the most famous ghost photo ever taken: Lady Walpole walking down the stairs.

"Captured" and "ghost" are troublesome words. More on that later. But the story goes thus:

Professional photographers Captain Provand and his assistant Indra Shira were taking images of Raynham Hall for the magazine. When preparing for a shot of the main staircase, Shira noted a woman-shaped fog moving up the steps; he instructed the captain to (quickly) take the cap off the lens; cap off, Shira hit the trigger for the magnesium flare.

Says Shira:

"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?'"1

Shira asserts that when the negative was developed it revealed the now-famous image of Dorothy, Brown Lady of Raynham Hall, and that he did it with three witnesses present to verify its validity. The photograph, as well as a synopsis of its capture and development, appeared in Country Life on the day after Christmas, 1936.



By 1936, the ghost of Dorothy Walpole had been famous for a long time. She'd had witnesses. She had been shot at.

"Brown Lady" because she always appeared wearing a luxurious brown cloak. Dorothy Walpole was known during her lifetime for expensive tastes.

The first transcribed encounter with the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall occurred near Christmas 1835, recorded by Lucia C. Stone. Viscount Townshend's descendent Charles had invited a number of friends to the estate for yuletide festivities, the most germane being a Colonel Loftus. Loftus reported seeing the apparition in his chambers and running into it in the hall; he described an aristocratic, very stately woman with her eyes gouged out.

The servants gave notice and left.

Author Captain Frederick Farryat was next to see the Lady, though there is no recorded date for his sighting. He lodged for a week at Raynham Hall, requesting specifically to stay in Walpole's room. He had brought a pistol with him, joking that it was to protect himself from the ghost. Most accounts say that Ferryat believed that the sightings were a manifestation of local smugglers; he planned to catch them, and plug them.

As Ferryat approached his room with two companions, he reportedly saw a figure gliding along the hallway carrying a lantern. The Captain and his friends took refuge in a doorway; when the image passed, it turned and grinned. Captain Ferryat waited until the ghost had passed before he hopped out and discharged his pistol. The bullet lodged in the wall after, Ferryat said, passing through the Brown Lady's head harmlessly.

She continued to appear with less fanfare for the next century. Country Life's photograph is the last known sighting.

Photohacking c. 1936

And what of that picture?

Paranormal enthusiasts assert that Shira's photo is hard evidence of the existence of ghosts. Indeed, experts with Country Life examined the image, finding that it was "unlikely to have been tampered with." Thanks, publishers of the photo.

Likewise, the witnesses to the development of Shira's famous image remain without name or credential.

Photo Analyst Joseph Nickell reached an obvious conclusion: the image is simply two photographs transposed together.

By the early 1930s, this had already become a very old and tired method for producing ghostly photos. It's called double exposure. Take an exposure of a chair. Then on the same frame, take a brief exposure of a man sitting in a chair. The result: the chair, with a man-shaped piece of fog in it, fingers curled around the armrests. Instant ghost.

Any storyteller with basic photography skills could produce what were, at the time, convincing and unsettling snapshots. It stands to every kind of scrutiny that a pair of professional photographers would be capable of the same feat. Whether they were willing to risk their reputations on such a stunt is a question only Shira and Provand would be able to answer.

So "capture" and "ghost" are troublesome words.

Since their photo is one of the most famous in the world, it seems worth the risk.

Shira and Provand's famous photo is featured at every source listed below.

1 Presumably, from Country Life's December 26th article, reproduced at


Anomalies Unlimited

Castle of Spirits


Museum of Hoaxes

Mysterious Britain

Norfolk Coast



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