Monday, June 1, 2009

The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall

One of the classics.

Dorothy Walpole, in her younger days, was in love with her father's ward, Charles Townshend. Her father wouldn't allow the two to marry, lest people should think that he was after the Townshend fortune. Charles married another woman, and Dorothy eventually started up a relationship with the "infamous" Lord Wharton, who was a real ladies' man.

The story seemed to end happily in 1713, when Dorothy finally married Charles Townshend after the death of his first wife. Thirteen years later, though - and what an unlucky combination of thirteens it was! - Dorothy's death was pronounced on March 29, 1726. The cause was stated as smallpox. Rumor abounded, though, that an empty coffin had been buried, and that Dorothy was still alive, kept captive by her husband after he learned of her earlier affair with Wharton. Other rumors had it that Dorothy died when a push from her husband sent her down the grand staircase, breaking her neck in the fall.

In the early 19th century, King George IV (then Prince Regent) saw the apparition of a pale woman, hair dishevelled, standing by his bed. He promptly left the house, stating that he had seen something he hoped never to see again; soon, all the servants had decamped as well.

A Colonel Loftus then saw Dorothy in 1836, when he was a member of a large house party. One night, he saw a woman in a brown dress in the hallway, but she disappeared before he could speak to her (thinking she was another member of the party whom he hadn't yet met). The following night, Loftus saw her again; this time, he was able to approach her and look her in the face. To his horror, he saw that her eyes had been gouged out. Again, the "brown lady" vanished.

Captain Frederick Marryat, a popular author, had a memorable run-in with the ghost. By that time, tales of the Brown Lady were told and retold, and Marryat was familiar with the story before he stayed at the Hall. One night, two young men knocked on his bedroom door and invited him to come to the room where one of them was sleeping, so Marryat could see the new gun the young man had bought. Marryat agreed, visited the bedroom, and duly admired the weapon. When he returned to his own room, the young men volunteered to accompany him, "In case you meet the Brown Lady."

On the way back to Marryat's room, the three men saw a light approaching them. Thinking that it was a nurse coming from one of the nurseries, and not wanting to frighten her, they hid behind a door. Marryat was standing near the crack between the door and the jamb, and he watched as the light stopped in front of him, and the Brown Lady herself, eyeless, looked at him with a "diabolical" grin on her face.

Also armed, Marryat jumped from behind the door and shot at the apparition, which disappeared. The following day, the bullet was found in the opposite wall. The Brown Lady never again appeared when Marryat was in the house.

In 1926, two young boys saw the Lady. Perhaps her most famous appearance occurred in 1936, when two photographers from Country Life magazine were taking photos of the interior:

Is it real, or is it simply a double exposure? These two men were journalists, well-respected in their field, and not the sort of people who were likely to perpetrate a hoax.

Maybe someone will take another photo of the eyeless Brown Lady.

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