1855, October~November (ca.): Three Brave Men in Raynham Hall

Charles Loftis [1796-1883] was one of eight siblings to Charlotte Loftus [1792-1866], who was better known to history as Lady Townshend of Raynham Hall, Norfolk, England, after she had married into the Townshend family. Because of this close tie to Raynham Hall, Charles Loftus and all of his siblings spent much time there during holidays... and Charles is unique from his siblings in that he wrote about his experiences at Raynham Hall later in life. As part of this selection of old memories, Loftus also presented some of what he had heard and experienced regarding Raynham Hall's famous ghost, the "Brown Lady."

        Loftus' memories of this and much of his childhood were recorded in his 1876 book, My Youth by Sea and Land: From 1809 to 1816. Only part of one chapter of this book is devoted to discussing the ghost, popularly believed to be the spectre of Lady Dorothy Townshend [1686-1726]... and the anecdotes he gives don't name the people involved, and generally are from thirty years previous to his book's publication. So either we believe what Loftus tells us or we don't... there is no more evidence. Obviously, this is not an ideal situation for reporting a ghost!

Three Brave Men in Raynham Hall

        According to Loftus, an encounter with the ghost of Raynham occurred sometime during the shooting season in 1855, in October and November of that year. "Three young men of the family, all cousins," had stayed up rather late one evening after dinner chatting in the smoking-room. As they were headed to the stairway to go to their rooms, they saw an unusual woman at the top of the stairs, holding a lamp. She was old, skinny, had yellow parchment-like skin, and sunken cheeks and eyes. She was wearing a very old-fashioned brown silk brocade dress, spotted with gold and lace, with a yellow-white lace cap.

        All three men immediately realized they were looking at the ghost of the hall... and all three immediately agreed to chase her.

        So, as the 'Brown Lady' walked silently to the Brown Staircase -- from which her nickname was derived -- the men all grabbed up their candles and ran up the stairs to pursue her. They followed the ghostly woman up the house and through many rooms until they reached a room she had no escape from... and then, waving her hand to them, she disappeared.

        Stunned for a moment, the three men made a minute investigation of the room, looking for any hidden door, closet, or trap-door that could give an explanation; but there was nothing. It was well past midnight when the first two of them quit the quest and went to bed; the third man continued to search and watch out for the ghost until after the servants rose, then he too gave up and went to bed.

        In the morning, the last young man was approached by another member of the family and induced to tell what had happened; they then told the young man that essentially the exact same experience had occurred to them in 1844, down to the description of the ghost. It was decided to inform Lord Charles, who then ordered a strict search of the house. A police constable was asked to search the servants rooms, and then each room of the family. Carpenters were employed to investigated the walls and floors for any hidden openings or other trickery. Nothing was found that could explain what the three men had seen and chased.

Some Observations

        Being that Loftus was eighty years old when he dictated his book -- he'd been blinded years previous -- it seems likely that one reason no names are given may be because he didn't remember all of them. There is also a clear tendency in the book itself for Loftus to avoid speaking of other people too much; he wanted the book to be about him, and his own take on things... so it's also possible that he avoided naming names to keep the focus on himself as narrator rather than on the people he was talking about in this case.

        I mention all of this because the account above has some distinct similarities to a different reported encounter with the ghost of Raynham Hall that I am tracking now, one that involved a person who was a reasonably famous author at the time... and I suspect the two stories may be the same, with Loftus dropping said famous author's name to keep him out of the re-telling.

        This is the only accounting I've seen that has described the 'Brown Lady' as appearing old. The sheer detail of the description given by Loftus...

"an old lady in a brown silk brocade dress, spotted with gold, open-laced at the bodice and sleeves, a yellow-white lace cap with fly-pinners edged with lace pendent on each side, and either a muslin neckcloth, with laced ends, tied round her throat, or lace from her cap pinned under her chin (which it was, neither of them could decide)"

... smacks of poetic license, considering he claims to have never seen the ghost himself. I wouldn't trust this description very much.