The Brown Lady of Raynham has reputedly haunted Raynham Hall, at East Rainham, for nearly three centuries. In The Night-Side of Nature (1848), Mrs Crowe reports:
The Hon. H.W. — told me that a friend of his … had often seen her, and had one day inquired of his host, ‘Who was the lady in brown that he had met frequently on the stairs?’ … Many persons have seen her.
Charles Loftus, the brother-in-law and cousin of Lord Charles Townshend, owner of Raynham, in his autobiography My Youth by Sea and Land (1876), gives his account of the ghost, ‘who, in 1842 and 1844, caused such excitement among the inmates, visitors and servants’. After saying that he did not himself see her, he relates the experience of three young men of the family, cousins, staying in the house in October and November 1855. Encountering her one night on the stairs, they pursued her, but when they had her cornered she waved her hand and disappeared. Next morning, after hearing their adventure, one of the family exclaimed:
‘This is exactly what occurred to me – the same appearance on the stairs, with precisely the same dress, and high-heeled shoes. I made notes of it all at the time. And, oh! the awful expression of those glazed, hollow eyes, and the parchment-colour of her pinched cheeks! Who can she be? I said nothing about this when it occurred to me in 1844, but it is perfectly true.’
Loftus, who was a Townshend on his mother’s side, knew the apparition as the ‘family ghost’ (his words), Lady Dorothy Walpole, sister of Sir Robert Walpole. Loftus calls her ‘Lady Dorothy’, and refers to her ‘well-known face and figure’, recognizable from a portrait at Raynham showing her in the dress in which she often appeared, ‘of a brown silk brocade spangled with gold’.
Lady Dorothy married the second Viscount Townshend in 1713, but the marriage seems to have been unhappy. Norfolk tradition said she was a young and beautiful lady, forced to marry an old man against her will, but the antiquary Walter Rye remarks that never was there a tradition with less foundation. Dorothy’s husband sent their children to be brought up by his mother at Raynham, and some suggest that it was to find them that, after her death from smallpox in 1726, she returned to the Hall. However, Charles Loftus writes:
Two reasons were given by her family why she could not rest; one was that she was offended because her family had not been ennobled, and the other that some of her husband’s family possessed wealth to which she conceived herself entitled. So that on one side she hated the Walpole, and on the other the Loftus, family on their appearance at Raynham.
According to his daughter Florence, Captain Marryat (1792–1848), who lived at Langham, spoke of seeing the Brown Lady. Holding up the lighted lamp she carried, she ‘grinned in a malicious and diabolical manner’, so enraging him that he fired his revolver at her. She immediately vanished and the bullet lodged in a door.
Though Loftus speaks of the haunting having ceased, Florence notes, ‘I have heard that she haunts the premises to this day,’ and indeed she reputedly appeared on 19 September 1936, when a photographer, Indra Shira, and his assistant Captain Provand, were photographing the oak staircase. Shira suddenly called out to Provand to press the trigger, and Provand had no time to see what Shira saw: a ghostly figure coming down the stairs towards them. However, a misty shape resembling a woman in a long dress appeared on their photograph published on 16 December 1936, in Country Life.
Lady Dorothy also haunted Houghton Hall, built on the site of her old family home. According to Walter Rye, George IV, as Prince Regent, saw a little lady dressed in brown, with dishevelled hair and ashen face, by his bed in the State Bedroom and ‘with many oaths’ declared, ‘I will not pass another hour in this accursed house, for I have seen that what I hope to God I may never see again.’
William Dutt, in Highways and Byways in East Anglia (1901), says the ‘Browne Lady’ was introduced from Houghton into Raynham ‘when one of Sir Robert Walpole’s sisters married a Marquis of Townshend’. This suggests that some people believed her to be a spectre who moved to Raynham with Dorothy on her marriage, like a handful of other family apparitions that were passed down in the female line.
The change of haunt is characteristic of spirits attached to families such as banshees and dynastic White Ladies, both of which normally serve as death omens. This may be why not everyone calls her a Brown Lady: Walter Rye refers to her as the Grey Lady, and in The Perlustrations of Yarmouth (1875) she is called the White Lady, and said to have appeared a few days before the death of the Marquis of Townshend in 1863. Possibly one sort of apparition has evolved into another, a hereditary death-warning into a historical ghost.