Brown Lady of Raynham



Dorothy Townshend, portrait from the studio of Charles Jervas
National Portrait Gallery, London, number 2506.
This portrait was previosuly identified as Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.
From the studio of Charles Jervas

Lady Dorothy Walpole was born in 1686 and died in 1726. Her brother was Sir Robert Walpole, considered England's first Prime-minister. She married Charles, 2nd Viscount Townshend, also a statesman and business partner to her brother Robert Walpole.

She died under mysterious circumstances at Raynham Hall, possibly of smallpox, and is said to be the ghost that haunts Raynham Hall, Houghton Hall and also Sandringham House.

An interesting note from the famous Horace Walpole,
Dorothy's nephew

"People don't know the how entertaining a study of ancestors can be - Who begot who is a most amusing kind of hunting. And then, one grows so pious to the memory of a thousand persons one never heard before"

(Walpole to the Rev. Cole, 5th June 1775)

Selected Extract From "Ghosts of East Anglia

by Tony Ellis

The ghost of the Brown Lady, so called because she is always seen on the staircase and in the corridors of Raynham Hall wearing a brown brocade dress, haunts this 16th century Hall. The Brown Lady has been identified as Dorothy Walpole from a portrait that hangs in the hall. She was the daughter of Robert Walpole, one-time Member of Parliament for Houghton, in Norfolk, and sister of the more-famous Sir Robert Walpole, the 18th century Prime Minister.

Dorothy is said to have fallen in love with the Second Viscount Townshend but her father, who was Lord Townshend’s guardian, refused his consent to their marriage because he felt that if he did agree it would be misconstrued by other parties that he was using his guardianship in order to gain an advantage for his daughter. Lord Townshend eventually married the daughter of Baron Pelham of Laughton, but became a widower in 1711. Shortly afterwards he finally married the love of his life, Dorothy Walpole.

However, in the meantime Dorothy Walpole had become the mistress of Lord Wharton, a well-known profligate, who had to leave the country rather suddenly after building up a pile of debts. It was after his marriage to Dorothy Walpole that Lord Townshend learned of his wife’s previous conduct with Lord Wharton and ordered that she be kept locked in her apartments at Raynham Hall. She died at the age of 40, on 29th March, 1726, officially of smallpox but there were those who said that she had died of a broken heart, or even a broken neck after either falling, or being pushed down the Grand Staircase. It is believed that she returns to Raynham Hall in search of her children, from whom she had been parted by her husband, after he had learned about her affair with Lord Wharton.

In 1836, the author Captain Marryat was staying at Raynham Hall and asked his host, Lord Townshend, if he could sleep in the room from which the Brown Lady was said to appear. As he was about to retire to bed for the night, two young men, relations of Lord Townshend and fellow-guests in the house, called into his room and said that they wished to discuss a gun that they intended using the following day whilst out on a shooting party. Captain Marryat accompanied them both to their room. A few minutes later, whilst all three were returning along the corridor to Captain Marryat’s room, joking that the gun would protect them from the Brown Lady, they saw a female figure advancing towards them, carrying a lamp. As she drew nearer, Captain Marryat, dressed only in his trousers and vest, realised that he had seen the woman before, in a portrait that hung in his room. The three men could see that she was dressed in a brown brocade dress. As she passed them she looked straight at all three “in such a diabolical manner” that they became scared.

By this time all three realised that the figure that was passing them was the ghostly Brown Lady and Captain Marryat pulled the trigger of the gun. The bullet went straight through the figure, which disappeared just after the shot was fired, and was later found embodied in a door immediately behind where she had been.

In 1849, a Major Loftus (Loftus was married to Lady Elizabeth Townshend, daughter of George, 1st Marquess Townshend) was spending a few days at Raynham Hall and was having a game of chess one evening with a friend called Hawkins. After finishing the final game they decided to retire to bed and proceeded upstairs. As they were wishing each other goodnight, Hawkins pointed to the figure of a woman standing by one of the doors in the corridor. What astounded the two men was the old-fashioned clothing she wore. As they stood staring at her, the figure slowly vanished. The following night the Major saw the apparition again, this time face to face, and he was startled to see that her eye-sockets were empty, totally devoid of eyes. As a result of these two experiences a number of servants gave in their notice and detectives were engaged among the new staff to make an attempt at laying the ghost.

In November, 1926, Lady Townshend was staying for the weekend at Raynham Hall when, with her son and a friend, she saw the Brown Lady on the staircase. None of them had heard of the Brown Lady prior to this meeting but all swore that the woman they had met was the same one that was portrayed in the portrait of Dorothy Walpole.

In September, 1936, the now world-famous picture of the Brown Lady was taken by Captain Provand, whilst he was on a photographic assignment for the magazine “Country Life”. He had taken one photograph of the old staircase when his assistant, Indre Shira, called out that he could see a form on the stairs and asked Captain Provand to take another shot. Although the figure did not appear in the viewfinder, it appeared on the photographic plate, and after the negative had been examined by experts it was confirmed that it had not been touched up or faked in any way. The picture was subsequently published in “Country Life” on 6th December, 1936.

George IV visited Raynham Hall when he was Prince Regent, and the Brown Lady is said to have frightened him out of his wits. He woke up in the middle of the night to see the ghostly figure standing at the foot of his bed. He promptly left, saying “I will not spend another hour in this accursed house, for tonight I have seen that which I hope to God I never see again”.

The Duke of Monmouth is said to haunt the room in which he once slept, and one elderly spinster, having received a visit from this ghost, described it as “an agreeable and flattering experience”.

Two ghostly children and a spectral cocker spaniel are also said to haunt the house.

Charles Townshend, 2nd Viscount (1674 - 1738) had 12 children,

Married in 1698 to Elizabeth Pelham (b.???? - 1711) had 5 children
  • Charles Townshend, 3rd Viscount (1700-1764)
  • Thomas Townshend (1701 - 1780)
  • William Townshend (1702 - 1738)
  • Roger Townshend (1708 - 1760)
  • Elizabeth Townshend (???? - 1785)

Married in 1713 to Dorothy Walpole (b.1684????-1726) had 7 children
  • George Townshend (1714/15 - 1762/69)
  • Augustus Townshend (1716 - 1746)
  • Horatio Townshend (1718 - 1764)
  • Rev. Edward Townshend, Dean of Norwich (1719 - 1765)
  • Richard Townshend (1721 - died young)
  • Dorothy Townshend (1722 - 1779)
  • Mary Townshend (1724 - 1776)