One of the most famous ghosts with a strong connection to Christmas is the “Brown Lady” of England’s Raynham Hall.
The Brown Lady was first seen on Christmas and it is at this time of year she is most often reported by witnesses. The story behind her haunting, however, hardly ranks of one of the merrier Christmas tales.
The lady in question was Dorothy Walpole, sister to the Prime Minister of England in the early 1700’s. She was a child of wealth and privilege and had almost anything she wanted—save the choice of a husband.
In fairness, Walton had a nefarious repute, the great English historian Macaulay described thus: “His mendacity and his effrontery passed into proverbs. Of all the liars of his time he was the most deliberate, the most inventive and the most circumstantial. What shame meant he did not seem to understand.” He was also known to be a lecher and a drunkard of the first order, breaking into a church once to relieve himself on the alter and pulpit.
While Townsend lavished presents on her, his hands were cold to the touch, and though it produced children, it was a loveless marriage.
It was not surprising, then, when Lord Townsend learned that his wife was having an affair with Lord Walton, his revenge was swift and terrible.
Townsend was notorious for his foul temper and rather than face the humiliation of a public divorce, he instead devised a more insidious punishment for his faithless wife. He imprisoned her in her room in Raynham Hall and kept apart from family, children and friends.
Officially, she died of smallpox a few years later, but there is some suspicion that her estranged husband speeded up her demise, putting out her eyes so that she should never set eyes on another man again.
The Brown Lady, so called because of the brown brocade dress she was seen in, was first seen by outsiders in 1835. Two two houseguests, Colonel Loftus and a man named Hawkins claimed that as they were going to bed at the end of a pleasant evening with the current Lord Townsend, they passed a ghostly lady in the hall, all dressed in brown, her face aglow.
What caught their eyes about the Brown Lady, however, was that she had none—just empty black sockets where her eyes should have been.
She continued to be sighted over the years by various folk—including royalty—and finally, in 1936, a curious reporter from Country Life Magazine decided to investigate the story of the Brown Lady for himself.
The reporter, Hubert Provand, had little luck tracking the elusive lady in brown and instead busied himself with taking photos of the interior for his magazine, so commoners could see how the other one percent lived. He had already taken one picture of the grand staircase, when his assistant saw a vapor forming at the top of the stairs, which started moving down the stairs. With his head still stuck under the black camera cloth, his assistant directed him to take another shot, not knowing what he was photographing. When the film was developed, Provand found he had the image of a gossamer-like female figure descending the stairs.
While the professional debunkers have parroted their usual accusation of fakery, all objective investigators of this photo have declared it authentic. If her phantom form is not quite the elegant figure that adorns the painting of Dorothy Walpole in her upstairs bedroom, there is little doubt at Raynham Hall that the Brown Lady was indeed captured on film on Christmas day. And who is to say that they are not right?