The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall
19th August 1936

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The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall

The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall

The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall

Does this famous image show the rarely-seen ghost of Lady Dorothy Walpole - said to have haunted Raynham Hall in Norfolk since her death from smallpox in 1726? Or does it represent something all together more earthbound - a smear of vaseline on a camera lens.... a double exposure or simple trick of the light.

The photograph originates from 1936, when Capt. Hubert Provand and his assistant Indre Shira were tasked with taking photographs in and around the hall for an article about the house and its history for Country Life Magazine. The two men claimed to have already taken one photograph of the main staircase when the vapourous apparition appeared, seemingly descending the stairs while gradually taking the shape of a woman. Provand removed the lens cap and Shira pressed the button and the ghost was captured forevermore on film. Since the photograph's publication in the December 1936 issue of Country Life, it has become hugely iconic and much-reproduced in books of ghosts and the paranormal. 

Like many classic photographs purporting to show ghosts, questions about its authenticity have never been far behind.

Sceptics point out that it would be a simple job to create a fake of a similar nature using double exposure techniques. Supportive evidence for this theory can perhaps be detected if you follow the line of the bannisters. On the right-hand side of the frame, there is a clear break in the bannister. Above this break the line of the bannister travels at a distinctly different angle.

This could perhaps be explained by the presence of a landing partway up the stairs, and in the photograph no such landing is discernable.

To some this suggests that the image is a composite of two or more photographs, coupled with a double-exposure to create the presence of the ghostly figure.

However, a recent visitor (see comments below) states that there is in fact a landing at that point on the stairway. While this doesn't necessarily show that the photograph is a genuine record of a ghostly manifestation, it does undermine the 'double exposure' claim somewhat.

Those in favour of the 'hoax' explanation also point out that the figure itself seems close in appearance to representations of the Virgin Mary in commonplace Christian iconography. While indistinct, the figure appears to be wearing a hooded shroud, which raises the suspicion among the cynical that the picture was faked using a double-exposed photograph of some statuary over a pieced together picture of the stairway.

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Author: Ian Freud   |  Last updated: 14th August 2014 | © Weird Island 2010-2020
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