Raynham Hall is a breathtaking country house located in Norfolk, England. The house has been the property of the Townshend Family for close to 400 years. Can you imagine the amount of history in this place? This mansion is also where perhaps the most famous ghost photo of all times has been taken. Yes, it is haunted, and she likes to show herself.
The history of Raynham Hall
Sir Roger Townshend wanted to start building his mansion in 1619, but the real construction began in 1622. He was an English landowner and politician who sat in the House of Commons from 1621 to 1629. Unfortunately, Townshend couldn’t enjoy his country house. He died the same year the construction was finished, in 1637. The house itself was designed by architect Sir Robert Pratt. He spent three years of travelling through Europe, where he found his inspiration for the design of the house.
He claimed Raynham Hall was the first of its kind in England. Which was true for a long time, because the mansion itself was very modern. Raynham Hall could have easily been built well over a century later. In the 1730’s, further additions were made by William Kent, who was hired by Charles “Turnip” Townshend. Kent added some fine work to Raynham Hall including carved chimney pieces, mosaic paintings, decorated doorways and his masterpiece: the ceiling of the marble hall.
Raynham Hall is haunted. The first ghost sighting was in 1735 at a Christmas party. The ghost, referred to as the Brown Lady, is most likely the spirit of Lady Dorothy Walpole. In 1936, the ghost was even caught on camera! The legend surrounding The Brown Lady is quite a sad one.
The legend of the Brown Lady
Lady Dorothy Walpole was Charles Townshend’s second wife. She was Robert Walpole’s prettiest sister. Robert Walpole was an English Whig politician, a member of Parliament for Castle Rising, a Parliamentary borough in Norfolk. Charles and Dorothy married in 1713, but there were rumors that the marriage wasn’t a happy one. Charles was a man with a violent temper, and he was jealous. One legend says, Charles caught his wife cheating on him with Lord Wharton, a man with a reputation. He punished her by locking her in her rooms at Raynham Hall.
Was Dorothy set up?
Another legend claims Dorothy was set up! The Countess of Wharton, wife of Lord Wharton, had invited Dorothy to stay over for a couple of days. She knew Dorothy’s husband would never allow her to leave the house alone. Whatever the truth to the matter was, the outcome was still the same. Poor Dorothy was locked inside her own house until her death in 1726. She died of smallpox.
Claims of people seeing the Brown Lady
Dorothy was, like I said before, first seen by a guest who stayed at the mansion for Christmas. She described the ghost as wearing a brown dress, and that she looked just like the lady in a painting she saw in one of the rooms. Her face was glowing, and her eyes were empty, dark eye sockets. Colonel Loftus saw her as well. His creepy claims made part of the staff resign their job at the mansion.
An angry spirit?
Captain Frederick Marryat, a friend of the well-known novelist Charles Dickens and a writer as well, wanted to investigate the ghost stories himself. He spent a couple of nights at Raynham Hall. He saw the ghost of the Brown Lady in 1836. His daughter claimed he slept with a loaded gun under his pillow, just to be sure. Didn’t the man realize a ghost is already dead? Oh well. He saw the Brown Lady in the corridors, holding a lighted lamp in her hand. He saw the ghost approach him slowly and she grinned at him in a “malicious and diabolical” way. He took his loaded gun and shot the ghost in the face. She disappeared right after he shot her. He never set foot in Raynham Hall ever again.
Was she mistreated or not?
Medical documents found in the 1960’s, claimed quite the opposite of Dorothy’s miserable life. According to the papers, she lived a happy and fulfilling life and she was much-loved. So why would her ghost be so malevolent? One thing is for sure, we’ll never truly know what happened to her. The latest member of the Townshend family living at Raynham Hall finds comfort in having her around. I guess she’s alright after all.
Ghost captured on tape!
On September 19, 1936, Captain Hubert C. Provand and his assistant Indre Shira, visited Raynham Hall for a photography assignment. They photographed all over the place, including the stairwell. Provands head was already under the black cloth, which was attached to his camera, when his assistant suddenly saw something he couldn’t believe. He urged his boss to snap the camera straight away and the ghost of The Brown Lady was captured forever. It was first published in the magazine “Country Life” in that same year. Many have claimed the photograph was fake, resembling a statue of the Virgin Mary. However, this picture still is the best-known ghost photo ever taken. The ghost of The Brown Lady has been seen numerous times, so there’s really something residing amongst the living at Raynham Hall.
Paranormal investigator Harry Price interviewed Hubert C. Provand and his assistant Shira. He believed the ghost story and the photograph were real. But hey, wasn’t this the same Harry Price who was obsessed with Borley Rectory and Borley Church? Anyway, what do you think?
Other ghosts that roam the mansion
There have been sightings of other ghosts as well, although they are lesser known than Dorothy. Other apparitions are the caretaker and his cocker spaniel, two ghostly children and the ghost of the Duke of Monmouth.
James Scott, Duke of Monmouth
James Scott was the illegitimate son of King Charles II of England. Monmouth was accused of high treason in 1683, because of a conspiracy to kill his father, the King. Monmouth, who was born in Rotterdam, was forced to flee from England and seek shelter in The Netherlands. He returned to England after his father’s death to claim the English throne, which then belonged to his uncle, King Jacob II. He even claimed his father was killed by Jacob II, by poison. He was arrested on July 15, 1685 and was executed at Tower Hill not long after. It took 8 blows with the axe to take his head off. After he was buried, people suddenly realized the man never had a portrait. So, they exhumed his body, sewed his head back on, and portraited him after all.
The Man in the Iron Mask
Others claim, Jacob II didn’t have the heart to kill his own nephew. The Duke of Monmouth is said to have been transported off to France to be imprisoned in one of Louis XIV’s prisons. To hide his identity, he wore a mask, giving him the nickname “The Man in the Iron Mask”. However, the identity of the Man in the Iron Mask was never revealed and there are more historical figures that could have been him. But why would the Duke of Monmouth haunt Raynham Hall? The only thing I could come up with, is the friendship between Sir Roger Townshend and King Charles II. But who knows?
Raynham Hall today
Unfortunately, Raynham Hall is not open to the public. Occasionally there are private tours but remember that Raynham Hall is still a private home. Still, it’s very worth taking a stroll around the 7000 acres estate the property is in. It’s a beautiful place indeed!
Do you want to read more stories of haunted places in Europe? Click here!
Cover photo: John Fielding via Flickr CC-BY 2.0
Sources: Wikipedia, historichouses.com, news.bbc.co.uk, hauntedroom.co.uk
Address: Fakenham, Norfolk, NR21 7EP, England