A photo from the haunted house of Raynham Hall in Norfolk, England, perhaps portrays one of the most famous ghost stories over the centuries.
In September 1936, two professional photographers, Captain Provant and Indre Sira, undertook to photograph the interior of the house on behalf of Country Life magazine. The photo raised many questions about its authenticity as it could be the product of editing, even if the technology was not so sophisticated at the time.
It became one of the most famous hauntings in Great Britain. The “Brown Lady” is so named because of the brown brocade dress it is claimed she wears.
The ghost in the brown dress
According to legend, the “Brown Lady of Raynham Hall” is the ghost of Lady Dorothy Walpole (1686-1726), the sister of Robert Walpole, generally regarded as the first Prime Minister of Great Britain. She was the second wife of Charles Townshend, who was notorious for his violent temper. The story says that when Townshend discovered that his wife had committed adultery with Lord Wharton, he punished her by locking her in her rooms in the family home, Raynham Hall. According to Mary Wortley Montagu, Dorothy was in fact entrapped by the Countess of Wharton. She invited Dorothy to stay for a few days knowing her husband would never let her leave, not even to see her children.
Another version tells how it is said that Lady Dorothy, the second wife of Charles Townshend, repudiated her husband and then he locked her in his exotic residence, Raynham Hall.
In 1726, she died, imprisoned at home and starting Christmas since 1835, many have claimed to have Dorothy’s spirit appear in front of them at home, wearing a brown dress. Thus, the ghost acquired the name Brown Lady of Raynham Hal
Since Christmas of 1835, several have claimed to have Dorothy’s spirit appear in front of them at home, wearing a brown dress.
The brown lady became one of Britain’s most famous ghosts when the two photographers from Country Life magazine claimed that they saw her and photographed her (photo, above) on the stairs of her home. The photograph of the two photographers was published in the magazine on December 26, 1936, and caused a stir.
Sira described the scene of the photograph
“I stood by Provant as she prepared to take the photo to push the flashlight, looking directly at the staircase. Suddenly I detected an ethereal veil slowly descending the stairs and yelled “Quickly, quickly, there is something” and press the flash button. After the flash and shutting the shutter, Provan removed the cloth from his head and turned around and said, “What is all this excitement?”
Before the two photographers, there were other testimonies that said they saw Dorothy’s spirit circulating in the haunted house. In 1815, Prince Regent saw an airy form of a woman appear and disappear into the house, which looked very much like the portrait of Dorothy who was hanging on the wall. A similar experience, and in fact in duplicate, it is terrible that even General Lofthus, who was at home at Christmas.
In 1836, captain Frederick Marat, a friend of writer Charles Dickens, saw Dorothy’s ghost roam in the corridors of the house and smile in a diabolical way, as he reported in his testimony. He terrified took a gun and shot at her side, and the ghost disappeared.
A ghost or a trick?
Some critics have claimed that Sira has falsified the image by putting a grease or a similar substance on the lens in the shape of a figure, or moved down the stairs itself during an exposure. Others claim that the image is an accidental double exposure or that light somehow got into the camera.
Joe Nickell has written that a detailed examination of the photograph shows evidence of double exposure. John Fairley and Simon Welfare wrote, “There is a pale line above each stair-tread, indicating that one picture has been superimposed over the other, a patch of reflected light in the top of the right-hand banister appears twice.”
The magician John Booth wrote the photo could easily be duplicated by naturalistic methods. Booth had the magician Ron Wilson cover himself in a bed sheet and descend the grand staircase at The Magic Castle in Hollywood. The fake ghost image looked very similar to the Raynham Hall photo.
Other critics point out that the image of the lady closely resembles that of a standard Virgin Mary statue as would be found in any Catholic church, the light patch covering the bottom one third of the image, resembling an inverted “V” shape, being very indicative, as the outer garment above it drapes down on either side at an angle. Also, the head is covered and the hands appear together as in prayer, and the square or rectangular pedestal on which she stands is also clearly visible. This strongly suggests that the photo is a simple superimposition of the Madonna statue on the empty staircase.