The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall is probably the most famous and most widely used ghost photo there is. According to legend, the "Brown Lady of Raynham Hall" is the ghost of Lady Dorothy Walpole (1686-1726) and is so named because of the brown brocade dress she wears.
It is said that Lady Townsend's husband, Charles Townsend, suspected his wife of being unfaithful and even though she is listed as having been buried in 1725 many people think that her death and funeral were faked. Instead, Lady Townsend was locked away in a remote part of the house until she passed away in 1726 from smallpox never allowing her to even see her children. Ever since then she is thought to be haunting Raynham Hall.
The first recorded claim of a sighting of the ghost was by Lucia C. Stone whilst attending a party at Raynham Hall at Christmas 1835. Stone says that Lord Charles Townsend had invited various guests to the Hall, including a Colonel Loftus, to join in the Christmas festivities. Loftus and another guest named Hawkins said they had seen the "Brown Lady" one night as they approached their bedrooms, noting in particular the dated brown dress she wore. The following evening Loftus claimed to have seen the "Brown Lady" again, later reporting that on this occasion he was drawn to the spectre's empty eye-sockets, dark in the glowing face. Loftus' sightings led to some staff permanently leaving Raynham Hall.
On September 19, 1936 Captain Hubert C. Provand, a London-based photographer working for Country Life magazine, and his assistant Indre Shira were taking photographs of Raynham Hall for an article to appear later in the year.
The two men's account claims that they had already taken a photograph of the Hall's main staircase, and were setting up to take a second when Shira saw "a vapoury form gradually assuming the appearance of a woman" and moving down the stairs towards them. Under Shira's direction Provand quickly took the cap off the lens while Shira pressed the trigger to activate the camera's flash light. Later, when the negative was developed, the famous image of the "Brown Lady" was revealed. The account of Provand and Shira's ghostly experience at Raynham Hall was published in Country Life magazine on December 26, 1936 along with the photograph of the "Brown Lady".
The photograph and the account of its taking also appeared in the January 4, 1937 edition of Life magazine.
Soon after the noted paranormal investigator Harry Price interviewed Provand and Shira and reported: "I will say at once I was impressed. I was told a perfectly simple story: Mr. Indre Shira saw the apparition descending the stairs at the precise moment when Captain Provand’s head was under the black cloth. A shout – and the cap was off and the flashbulb fired, with the results which we now see. I could not shake their story, and I had no right to disbelieve them. Only collusion between the two men would account for the ghost if it is a fake. The negative is entirely innocent of any faking."
Experts called in by Country Life stated that the photograph and its negative did not appear to have been interfered with. Since then, however, some critics have claimed that Shira faked the image by putting grease or a similar substance on the lens in the shape of a figure, or by himself deliberately moving down the stairs during an exposure. Others claim that the image is an accidental double exposure or that light somehow got into the camera.
The Brown Lady has not been reported as being seen since this alleged sighting in 1936.