The ghost of Christmas past

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country -

I’LL bet you £5,” said Cap­tain Provand, with an air of set­tling the ques­tion once and for all time, “that there’s noth­ing un­usual on the neg­a­tive when it’s de­vel­oped.”’ So wrote Court pho­tog­ra­pher In­dre Shira in COUN­TRY LIFE on Box­ing Day 80 years ago (De­cem­ber 26, 1936). The ex­tra­or­di­nary out­come of that mo­ment has been called the most fa­mous ghost pho­to­graph of all time.

The pair were at Rayn­ham Hall, Nor­folk, seat of the Mar­quess of Town­shend, on Septem­ber 19, 1936, pho­tograph­ing the house for the mag­a­zine, when Shira de­tected ‘an ethe­real, veiled form com­ing slowly down the stairs’. Ex­cit­edly, he or­dered Provand, his art di­rec­tor, who had al­ready set up to pho­to­graph the stair­well, to ‘press the trig­ger’ in­stantly.

The Rayn­ham ghost was al­ready well known as the Brown Lady, thought to be Lady Dorothy Walpole (1686– 1726), sis­ter of Sir Robert Walpole, aunt to Gothic nov­el­ist Ho­race Walpole and wife of the 2nd Vis­count Town­shend. The story goes that, upon dis­cov­er­ing her adul­tery, her hus­band, Charles, kept her in a locked room un­til she even­tu­ally died of smal­l­a­tions

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