Captain Frederick Marryat was aware of the ghost stories associated with Raynham Hall. The English Royal Navy officer and author of several popular nautical novels had been staying at Raynham in 1836.
Although he was sceptical, Marryat had insisted on sleeping in the hall’s haunted room where, it was rumoured, the ghost of Dorothy Walpole was believed to manifest. Lady Walpole was one of the hall’s former residents and there was a portrait of her hanging in the so-called haunted room. It was said that in the flickering candlelight, her eyes seemed to continuously observe anyone foolhardy enough to spend the night there.
Marryat had slept with a revolver under his pillow just in case the frightful phantom should show itself although so far the ghost had failed to materialize. Yet on the third night, that was all set to change. With the rest of the household having retired to bed, the Captain was making his own way back to the supposedly haunted chamber, walking down a gloomy unlit corridor with his trusty revolver.
Suddenly he caught sight of an eerie light at the other end of the passageway. As it steadily advanced towards him, Marryat could discern that the light came from a lamp carried by a mysterious female figure. Clad only in his nightclothes, the Captain decided to hide behind the door of an adjoining room. Nevertheless, he was curious as to this woman’s identity, so decided to observe her through the aperture of the doorway.
When the figure was level with Marryat’s hiding place, it abruptly stopped and, as if aware it was being watched, slowly turned to face the onlooker. Marryat could see that this strange female was attired in a brown brocade dress and as she gently lifted the lamp towards her face, the Captain recoiled in horror as this odd, unearthly woman grinned at him in what he described as a malicious and diabolical manner. This so enraged the Captain he leapt from his hiding place and discharged his revolver into the woman at point blank range. The bullet however past right through the apparition and lodged itself within a nearby door. The ghost meanwhile vanished into thin air.
Raynham Hall is a splendid country house in Norfolk, England. It is situated near the town of Fakenham and is the seat of the Townshend family. With a number of ghosts, Raynham has a longstanding reputation for otherworldly activity. Reputed to haunt the 17th century hall is the spectre of the ill-starred Duke of Monmouth and some phantom children. However the most famous spirit is that of Dorothy Walpole, the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall.
Captain Marryat wasn’t the only person to have witnessed Raynham Hall’s Brown Lady. A Colonel Loftus and his friend Hawkins also had a gruesome encounter with her when they stayed at the hall. Late one night Loftus suddenly noticed a woman on the landing. He didn’t recognize her and when he went over to investigate, she promptly disappeared.
Intrigued, the Colonel kept vigil the following night and was in luck when he caught sight of the mysterious woman again. However as he approached her, he received a terrible shock when he saw that there were only two gaping black holes where the lady’s eyes should have been. Loftus produced a sketch of the horrifying phantom and an enquiry was launched, although this didn’t yield anything.
Arguably the most dramatic sighting however was in 1936, a whole century after Captain Marryat’s hair-raising encounter with the Brown Lady. Two London-based photographers had been conducting a shoot at Raynham Hall for a feature in Country Life magazine. They had been setting up their camera at the foot of the main staircase when one of them suddenly noticed an unearthly figure materializing on the stairs. He alerted his assistant and the man snapped a picture. The resulting image shows a misty female form descending the grand oak staircase.
Since its publication in the December 26th 1936 issue of Country Life, the authenticity of this photograph has been vigorously debated between believers and sceptics of the supernatural. The former camp proclaims it to be conclusive proof of the existence of ghosts while the latter suspect the film may have been tampered with. Either way, the famous ghost photo has never been effectively debunked.
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