The Brown Lady of Raynham

The picture immediately to the right was taken in 1936. It purports to show the ghost of the 'Brown Lady' who haunts Raynham Hall in England. The image is widely believed to be one of the best and most convincing of all the known photographs of ghosts. In many publications it is presented as actual photographic proof of the existence of ghosts.

According to legend, the Brown Lady of Raynham is the ghost of Lady Townshend who was married to Charles Townshend, a man known for his fiery temper. When Charles learned of his wife's infidelity, he punished her by imprisoning her in the family estate at Raynham Hall, located in Norfolk, England. He never allowed her to leave its premises, not even to see her children. She remained there until her death, when she was an old woman.

Over the next two centuries Lady Townshend's ghost was repeatedly sighted wandering through Raynham Hall, suggesting that she never left its premises even after her death.

For instance, in the early nineteenth century King George IV saw her while he was staying at the hall. He said that she stood beside his bed wearing a brown dress, and that her face was pale and her hair disheveled.

In 1835 Colonel Loftus sighted her. He was visiting the house for the Christmas holidays and was walking to his room late one night when he saw a figure standing in the hall in front of him. The figure was wearing a brown dress. He tried to see who the woman was, but she mysteriously disappeared.

The next week Colonel Loftus again saw the figure. This time, however, he got a better look at her. He said she was an aristocratic looking woman. She was wearing the same brown satin dress, and her skin glowed with a pale luminescence, but, to his horror, her eyes had been gouged out.

Colonel Loftus told others of his experience, and more people then came forward to say that they too had seen a strange figure. An artist drew a painting of the 'brown lady' (as she was now known), and this picture was then hung in the room where she was most frequently seen.

A few years later the novelist Captain Frederick Marryat was staying at Raynham Hall. He decided to spend the night in the room in which she was most frequently seen. He studied the painting of her and waited to see her, but she never appeared that night.

However, a few days later he was walking down an upstairs hallway with two friends when they suddenly saw the brown lady. She was carrying a lantern and glided past them as they cowered behind a door. According to Marryat she grinned at them in a 'diabolical manner'. Before she disappeared, Marryat leapt out from behind the door and fired at her with a pistol that he happened to be carrying. The bullet passed through her and lodged in a wall.

The brown lady continued to be sighted by various people over the next century. However, the most remarkable sighting of her occurred on September 19, 1936.

Two photographers, Captain Provand and Indre Shira, were on assignment at Raynham Hall for the magazine Country Life. According to Shira, 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 they developed the picture they found that they had captured the image of a ghostly woman, apparently the famous brown lady, drifting down the stairs. The picture was published in Country Life on December 16, 1936.

Skeptics, however, argue that the picture is a fake. The photo analyst Joe Nickell examined the photograph and concluded that it was nothing more than two images composited together.

While the picture of her might be a fake, there is nothing to prove that the brown lady of Raynham herself isn't real, although she has rarely been sighted since 1936 (although the late Marchioness of Townshend told Dennis Bardens in the 1960s that she had seen the figure several times).

The absence of Lady Townshend from Raynham Hall may be due to the fact that she reportedly also haunts Sandringham House, and so it could be that she is simply choosing to spend her time there instead. At Sandringham she appears as her young, happy self, whereas in Raynham she appears as the eerie, aged brown lady.

  • Dennis Bardens. Ghosts and Hauntings. New York. Taplinger Pub. Co. 1965.
  • Daniel Cohen. The Encyclopedia of Ghosts. 1984.

Brown Lady of Raynham
The ghostly image of the Brown Lady of Raynham

Raynham Hall
Raynham Hall in Norfolk, England