One of England's most celebrated ghosts is the wraith of a lady whose portrait used to hang in a
room at Raynham Hall, Norfolk, the seat of the Marquesses of Townshend. According to the best
authorities, she was Lady Dorothy Townshend, and her ghost which has haunted this particular
stately home for nearly two hundred and fifty years once caused considerable affright to George
IV, was shot at by the author Frederick Marryat, and later successfully photographed.
The lady, who has achieved such success on the spectral plane, had, according to her
portrait, large and shining eyes, and was dressed in brown with yellow trimmings and a ruff
around her throat. A harmless enough looking lady of the early eighteenth century, except when
seen by candlelight, when a strange almost evil expression was seen upon her face. It was also
said that when the candlelight was thrown upon the portrait from some angles the flesh appeared
to shrink from the face and the eyes to disappear giving it almost the semblance of a skull.
This portrait was sold among the Townshend heirlooms at Christies in 1904 and was
called 'The Brown Lady-Dorothy Walpole, wife of the second and most famous Marquess of
Dorothy Walpole was the daughter of Robert Walpole, Member of Parliament for
Houghton in Norfolk. Her brother was the great Sir Robert Walpole, who was England's first
Prime Minister, though the office was not recognized in those days.
When Dorothy was a young girl her father became the guardian to Viscount Charles
Townshend, whose father died when the boy was thirteen. In the Walpole home two future
statesmen were growing up and maturing, for young Charles Townshend achieved greatness in
the political sphere as well.
There was also the beginning of a rather sad romance. Dorothy fell in love with Charles,
but her father, so the legend went, forbade the match, for he did not want it to be thought that he
was trying to gain a family advantage by marrying his daughter to his ward. Lord Townshend
married a daughter of baron Pelham of Laughton, but she died in 1711. A year or so later he
married Dorothy Walpole, his first love.
But Dorothy in her disappointment had apparently gone off the rails. Unknown to Lord
Townshend, already a rising young statesman, his mind fully occupied with such matters of high
state as the negotiation of the Treaty of Utrecht, Dorothy had not apparently conducted herself as
a young unmarried Georgian lady should. She had in fact acquired a somewhat tarnished
reputation, having been, it was said, the mistress of a well-known profligate by the name of Lord
Wharton, who had the doubtful distinction of being bitingly satirized by Pope. Wharton later fled
the country, and his creditors, and lived in eccentric and disreputable exile, throwing in his lot
with the Old Pretender.
Dorothy Walpole was twenty-six when she married Lord Townshend. The legend adds
substance to the rumors of her reputation, for according to it there was an estrangement between
her and her husband, who, having belatedly discovered about the Wharton episode, kept her
locked in her apartments at Raynham Hall and treated her so badly that in 1726 she died of a
broken heart. According to another story it was a broken neck, which she acquired by falling
down the grand staircase at Raynham. A contemporary record, however, says she died of
At that time her husband and her brother were ruling England between them, so she was a
lady of dome importance, and if her death had been, to say the least, inconvenient for someone, it
is possible that the actual cause of it was concealed. The bewailing of her ghost ever since would
suggest that this was so.
In 1730, after differences with his boyhood friend and brother-in-law, Walpole,
Townshend retired to Raynham and devoted the rest of his life to agriculture.
We may never know whether Lady Dorothy Townshend died of smallpox, of a broken
heart, or by falling-or being pushed-down Raynham's grand staircase. Whatever unsettled her
spirit for all time is something of a mystery. But, however she met her death, her ghost soon
became the terror of the visitors and servants at the Hall. She has been seen by a number of
persons for the better part of two and a half centuries, and is in fact an extremely well-established
ghost-one of the few who have been tackled by both firearms and cameras.
It is no use trying to shoot a ghost, of course. The celebrated author who tried to do so
should have known better. But the photographer was more successful and achieved one of the
rare ghost pictures which all the experts agreed had not been faked.
For her photograph the Brown Lady seems to have appeared in her bridal dress, though on
the occasion of the foolish and rather ungallant attempt to shoot her she was dressed in brown as
in her portrait.
The Townshends became marquesses in 1786, and their seat at Raynham Park, which is
about four miles to the south-west of Fakenham, was one of the country's great houses, where
royalty as well as the aristocracy were lavishly entertained. There George IV visited the
Townshends when he was Regent, and the Brown Lady frightened him out of wits.
His Royal Highness awoke Raynham in the middle of the night, saying that a lady dressed
in brown 'with disheveled hair and a face of ashy paleness' had appeared at his bedside in the
State bedroom. 'I will not pass another hour in this accursed house,' he declared to the
accompaniment of many vigorous Regency oaths. 'For tonight I have seen that which I hope to
God I may never see again.'
The Brown Lady, it was becoming clear, was no social asset. In those days of princely
hospitality and great house parties it was a serious business for the family ghost to frighten away
the First Gentleman of Europe.
They told a story of how some gentlemen of the household sat up for three nights in the
corridors where the Brown Lady had been seen. They had gamekeepers stationed at the doors and
played cart to pass the time. On the third night they say her.