Article from Women's Illustrated 1952




When Raynham was built in the Seventeenth Century, the stately pillared front was considered very advanced, for elsewhere architecture was still Elizabethan.

Raynham Hall is one of the oldest and most splendid of the great houses of Norfolk, the home of the Townshends for over 300 years

Raynham Hall is one of the most splendid of the great houses of Norfolk. It was begun by Sir Roger Townshend in 1619, more than a hundred years before the foundations of Holkham Hall were laid by Thomas Coke, Earl of Leicester, or of Houghton by Robert Walpole, Earl of Oxford., (Incorrect - Robert Walpole, Earl of Orford - Encyclopædia Britannica)

And Raynham's picturesque nobility is still not overshadowed by the staid grandeur of Holkham or the restrained good taste of Houghton. Sir Roger is traditionally believed to have employed Inigo Jones as his architect, and the house has many of the most spectacular characteristics of that master of classical architecture. There is no documentary evidence, however, to prove that the design was by Inigo Jones. [self portrait] [ext. link1] [ext. link2]

Nevertheless, the house was the first of its kind in England. Perhaps because of the three-year grand tour of Europe which Sir Roger had undertaken, Raynham was built in an entirely new style, abandoning native tradition and following the Italian form and plan. Raynham could easily be mistaken for a house built nearly a century later.

Sir Roger was descended from an adventurous and distinguished family. His grandfather, another Sir Roger, fought outstandingly against the Spanish armada and was knighted on board ship Lord High Admiral for his gallantry.

His father, Sir John, was knighted In battle at the siege of Cadiz in 1596. He was MP for Norfolk until 1603, when he fought a duel with Sir Matthew Browne which resulted in the death of both combatants.

Sir Roger was also MP for Norfolk for some months, but his life's work was the creation of Raynham Hall. At his death in 1637 it was still incomplete.

Sir Roger's second son, Horatio, was Commissioner for the Militia in Norfolk under Cromwell. He devoted most of his energies to securing the restoration of King Charles II and was arrested in 1659 for attempting to seize King's Lynn for the royal cause.

On the return of Charles II to the throne he was created Baron Townshend and in 1682 he was further rewarded with the title of Viscount Townshend of' Raynham. Charles Townshend was only twelve years old when he succeeded his father as 2nd Viscount in 1687. Though his godfather had been Charles II and James II, he became a Whig politician. He had a distinguished Parliamentary career, mostly as a partner to his near neighbour and brother-in-law, Sir Robert Walpole [portrait].

He was Secretary of State and a Privy Councillor to Queen Anne, George I and George II. Eventually he quarrelled with Walpole because, in the latter's words, "As long as the firm was Townshend and Walpole the utmost harmony prevailed; but it no sooner became Walpole and Townshend, than things went wrong."

In fact, it was a rivalry over their houses, Raynham and Houghton. After the quarrel with Walpole, Townshend retired from politics in 1730 and devoted himself to enlarging Raynham and improving local agriculture.

He was known as "Turnip" Townshend, because he introduced turnip cultivation on a large scale and first advocated its use as Winter fodder for cattle.

In 1713, Lord Townshend married Walpole's handsome sister, Dorothy. She was his second' wife, and is reputed in the gossip of the time to have been previously the mistress of Lord Wharton, "whose character was so infamous, and his lady's complaisant subserviency so notorious, that no young woman could be four and twenty hours under their roof with safety to her reputation."

Lady Townshend was buried in 1726. But there is a tradition that she did not die in that year and that the funeral was a mock interment.

Instead, she is rumoured to have been locked up in the house by her husband. This is why the ghost of "Dolly" Townshend, the "little brown lady of Raynham," is said still to haunt the oak staircase of the house in the twilight.

The Hall at Raynham was designed by William Kent, the one-time coach-painter who turned his talents to designing houses and furniture

To add the North wing to Raynham and decorate the interior, the 2nd Viscount called in William Kent, later to be one of the architects of nearby Holkham. Much of Kent's finest work can be seen at Raynham, especially in the elaborately carved chimney-pieces, the mosaic paintings and decorated doorways. The impressive and beautiful ceiling of' the Marble Hall with its motif of Lord Townshend's coat of arms (see picture on right) is famous.

Perhaps Kent's most characteristic embellishment to the house is the decoration of the white and gold State Dining room with its screen copied from the Roman arch of Severus. It was described by Kent's contemporaries as "a most preposterous thing," but today it is admired by many experts. Many fine portraits still adorn Kent's splendid rooms at Raynham. Hanging beside his lovely black and white marble chimney-piece in the Princess' Room is a painting which is believed to be a preliminary sketch for the famous Van Dyck portrait "Children of Charles I." Until 1904, there were many more paintings at Raynham, including several fine family portraits by Kneller and Reynolds. The most famous and valuable was "Belisarius " by Salvator Rosa, which was presented to the 2nd Viscount Townshend by Frederick William, King of Prussia. This was valued at 5,000 pounds in 1804, but was disposed of a hundred years later for 273 pounds.

The 7th Marquess Townshend of Raynham is the present owner of the Hall. He is thirty-eight years old, and succeeded to the title when he was only five.

CHARLES, 3rd Viscount Townshend, succeeded his father in 1738. A courtier and bon vivant, he left only a small legacy to his son, but was reputed to have invested 50,000 pounds in the name of a housemaid who was his mistress. Lady Townshend had been on distant terms with her husband since his succession to the title and she survived him by twenty years. During this time her reputation for wit, gallantry and beauty grew. She was the original of the rakish Lady Bellaston in Fielding's novel " Torn Jones."

George, the 4th Viscount, was created Marquess Townshend of Raynham in 1787. He was a whimsical and capricious character, full of courage and impetuosity.

He was responsible for the Act of 1757 which first established the militia on a national basis. He also took part in the assault on the Heights of Abraham in 1759 and assumed command of the army after the death of General Wolfe. In the same year he is believed to have killed the ageing Lord Leicester of Holkham in a duel. He died in 1807.

A strange and tragic event ended the public careers of two of his sons. The Reverend Lord Frederick Townshend, Rector of Stiffkey, and Lord Charles Townshend, MP for Yarmouth, set out together for London from Norfolk one day in 1796.

When the coach reached Oxford Street, it was discovered that Lord Charles was fatally wounded, presumably having been murdered on the journey by his brother. Lord Frederick was found insane and committed to the care of a doctor. The 3rd Marquess was eccentric, taciturn and rather effeminate.

His wife left him before they had been married a year, and she filed a petition for divorce alleging non-consummation. Soon afterwards the Marquess left England and spent the rest of his life at Genoa. He died there in 1855 at the age of seventy-seven under the alias of "Mr. Compton."

Lady Townshend never proceeded with her divorce. In 1808 at Gretna Green she bigamously married a brewer , from St. Ives, by whom she had many children. Her eldest son was educated at Westminster School under the name of Lord John Townshend until 1828, when he adopted the courtesy title of Earl of Leicester. He continued to use the title after he became MP for Bodmin in 1841 until an Act of Parliament in 1843 explicitly declared him illegitimate. He died in 1903 at the age of ninety-one.

The 3rd Marquess was succeeded in 1855 by his cousin John Townshend. The present Marquess Townshend of Raynham was born in 1916 [now 85] and succeeded to the title when he was only five years old. During the War, he was a captain in the Scots Guards. Now he devotes most of his time to farming in Norfolk, keeping up the long family tradition. He married in 1939 and has three children - two daughters and a son, Charles, Viscount Townshend, who is nine years old [now 55].