A genuine case of spirit photography has yet to be proved, those so far investigated either proving to be fakes or impossible to  authenticate owing to the absence of witnesses. Yet the following account and illustration of what happened at Raynham Hall,  Norfolk, the seat of the Marquess Townshend, deserves attention, since this particular photograph was taken in the ordinary course  of Messrs. Indre Shira’s work of photographing Raynham Hall for Lady Townsend, and not under any special circumstances.  The case has been investigated by Mr. Harry Price, hon. secretary of the University of London Council for Psychical  Investigation, who can give no explanation of the occurrence but refers to a remarkable coincidence in the article on Ghost  Photography that follows this account of the Raynham ghost:

“On September 19th, I936, Captain Provand, the Art  Director of Indre Shira, Limited, Court photographers,  of 49, Dover Street, Piccadilly, London, W.1, and  I were taking photographs of Raynham Hall. We  commenced shortly after eight o’clock in the morning and had taken a large number of pictures of the house and grounds  when, about four o’clock in the afternoon, we came to the oak  staircase.

Captain Provand took one photograph of it while I flashed  the light. He was focusing again for another exposure; I was  standing by his side just behind the camera with the fashlight pistol in my hand, looking directly up the staircase. All at once  I detected an ethereal, veiled form coming slowly down the stairs.  Rather excitedly I called out sharply : “Quick ! Quick ! There’s  something! Are you ready?” “Yes,” the photographer replied, and removed the cap from the lens. I pressed the trigger  of the fashlight pistol. After the flash, and on closing the shutter,  Captain Provand removed the focusing cloth from his head  and, turning to me, said: “What’s all the excitement about?”  I directed his attention to the staircase and explained that I had  distinctly seen a figure there - transparent so that the steps were  visible through the ethereal form, but nevertheless very definite  and to me perfectly real. He laughed and said I must have  imagined I had seen a ghost - for there was nothing now to be seen.  It may be of interest to record that the flash from the Sasha bulb,  which in this instance was used, is equivalent, I understand,  to a speed of one-fiftieth part of a second.

After securing several other pictures, we decided to pack up  and return to Town. Nearly all the way back we were arguing  about the possibility of obtaining a genuine ghost photograph.  Captain Provand laid down the law most emphatically by assuring  me that as a Court photographer of thirty years’ standing, it was  quite impossible to obtain an authentic ghost photograph - unless,  possibly, in a séance room - and in that connection he had had no  experience.

I have neither his technical skill nor long years of practical  experience as a portraitist, neither am I interested in psychic  phenomena; but I maintained that the form of a very refined influence was so real to my eyes that it must have been caught  at that psychological moment by the lens of the camera.

The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall ghost descending a staircase

“I’ll bet you £5,” said Captain Provand, with the air of settling the question once and for all time, "that there’s nothing unusual on the negative When it is developed.”

“And I accept your bet,” I replied, shaking hands on the  bargain.

When the negatives of Raynham Hall were being developed, I stood beside Captain Provand in the dark-room. One after the  other they were placed in the developer. Suddenly Captain Provand exclaimed: “Good Lord! There’s something on the  staircase negative, after all! I took one glance, called to him   “Hold it, boy !” and dashed downstairs to the chemist, Mr. Benjamin Jones, manager of Blake, Sandford and Blake, whose  premises are immediately underneath our   studio. I asked Mr Jones to come upstairs to our dark-room. He came and saw the negative just as it had been taken from developer and placed in the adjoining hypo bath. Afterwards he said that, had he not seen for himself the negative being fixed he would not have believed in the genuineness of the photograph. Incidentally, Mr. Jones has had considerable experience as an  amateur photographer in developing his own plates and fixing them.

Mr. Jones, Captain Provand and I vouch for the fact that the negative has not been retouched in any way. It has been  examined critically by a number of experts. No one can account for the appearance of the ghostly figure. But it is there sure enough - and I am still waiting for payment of that £5

Indre Shira”.       

Notice the ghost is nowhere identified as 'The Brown Lady' (Dorothy Walpole) – indeed it is specifically said not to be. Actually it is clearly the Virgin Mary.

I have yet to write up the full and rather seedy story which will run to many pages, but just as a taster:

Both 'Indre Shira' and 'Captain Provand' were aliases. I know their real names.

'Shira' was actually a broad Scotts serial entrepreneur and wide-boy chancer who inserted a spurious hyphen into his name to make it double-barrelled, and who took 'Shira' from his wife's professional name 'Madame Indre Shira', a moderately successful society psychic, palmist and astrologer in 1930's London. According to her ‘Shira’ means ‘Mother of millions’, though in what language I have been unable to discover.

Positioned 2 steps higher than in the original - the ghost looks about 5ft 6 in tall - normal height

Positioned 4 steps higher than in the original - the ghost looks about 7 ft tall, the balustrade is about at knee level.

Raynham ghost 3 Raynham ghost 4 The Virgin of Revelations

This is the statue I used, the Virgin Mary of Revelations standing on the Moon and trampling the Serpent above the Earth whilst praying for mankind - actually praying Virgins are quite hard to find, generally they have their arms open palms up in welcome.


The best ghost photograph ever taken?

No – it is a simple double exposure. I have been researching it for the past 30 years and now know a good deal about the labyrinthine back story - and nothing is as it is generally reported – she is not even 'The Brown Lady'. I omit the true names of the participants to protect those descendants still alive.

British ‘Country Life’ magazine published the following editorial in the 26th December 1936 issue (note the date, the day after Christmas; Boxing Day):


Our attitude to the extraordinary photograph published on another page of this issue is contained in the note preceding the photographer's account of his experience. After rigorous tests Mr Harry Price, hon. secretary of the University of London Psychical Research Committee, cannot account for the phenomenon, which is the more remarkable since the apparition, if such indeed it be, is not regarded as the “Brown Lady” of Raynham.

The first article in the issue is:


I have drawn the conclusion that a rather shady serial entrepreneur tried to capitalise on the society contacts of his palmist wife by setting up as a 'Court Photographer' next to Bassano on a shoestring with a bankrupt photographer, both operating under aliases; read the Marchioness' book of ghost stories and identified her as a patsy for a ghost photograph; and to generate some publicity for their nascent and flagging business fudged up a double exposure of the Virgin Mary adjacent to her private chapel; managed to sell it to Country Life for the Christmas edition; and made as much money as they could selling copies at an exorbitant price to the public. They, or Country Life, or the Marchioness, never identified the ghost as 'The Brown Lady', that was suggested by others later.

The whole subsequent edifice of  'The best ghost photograph ever taken' rests on this shaky foundation.

Indre Shira and his psychic wife took a boat to Cape Town two days after Britain declared war in 1939, and they spent the rest of their lives in South Africa, he dying in 1956 and she in 1988. Captain Provand died in Kensington in 1961; his descendants do not have the negative. However, pending my writing up the full story, to prove it is a double exposure it is not necessary to do anything more than simply consider the photograph itself. Despite other accounts, there are no obvious anomalies in the background image, but HOW TALL IS THE GHOST? No one in the last 70 years seems to have asked themselves this simple question. Actually she is impossibly small!

From publicly available measured drawings of Raynham one can find the risers of the staircase are 6 inches high. If you measure the height of the ghost in risers using the riser she is standing on (8.6) and multiply this by 6 inches, you will find she is about 4 foot 3 1/2 inches high! Unfeasibly small surely, but very suggestive of a double exposure. As a check, the staircase is actually about 4 foot 3 inches wide – imagine her rotated horizontal!

Executing a double exposure is not easy - one has to pre-prepare the negative with a photograph of a figure brightly illuminated (and probably slightly out of focus) against a jet black background. To economise on black velvet drapes one would probably use quite a small statue of the Virgin Mary, easily obtainable from a Catholic church furnishers. One would position this roughly in the centre of the frame.

Then, keeping or placing the plate in the camera, one would take the second photograph of the chosen scene. There is no way by examining the negative to physically tell it is a double exposure. Notice that the participants are careful to swear that the negative has not been retouched in any way - which of course it would not have been. I think it is impossible to say whether Provand was a participant or a patsy in this.

Now consider the problem of how to aim the camera for the second photograph, when you don't know quite where the first image is in the frame. If you take a normal indoor scene and aim too high the ghost may appear to be floating above the floor - that is why a staircase was such a clever location. Assuming the feet are on the floor, if it is in the distance (higher up the frame) the ghost will appear large, if closer  (lower down the frame) the ghost will appear smaller. This is an inevitable consequence of perspective and our brains - it is called ‘constancy scaling’ and is why the moon appears huge when on the horizon. So it is actually extremely difficult to aim the camera blind so that the ghost is correctly positioned to appear a natural size. If it doesn't appear a natural size, as here, then it strongly suggests a double exposure. The Virgin Mary (or the Brown Lady) would surely be the same size as an average woman?

Observe the following four images produced by me in Photoshop (things are easier now!) showing a fixed height ghost image apparently standing on different steps of the staircase. The higher up she stands (and therefore apparently further away) the taller the ghost appears, and vice-versa - actually she is the same height in all four photographs.

The view down the staircase from the landing towards the photographer’s position

The description of the taking of the photograph does not add up – focusing under the dark cloth was done with a ground glass screen, which had to be removed and the negative dark slide inserted, then there was nothing to see and the photographer would stand by the camera to take the exposure. One would never remove or replace the lens cap to take an exposure with one's head under the cloth; plate cameras were not like modern SLR's!

The Marchioness’ private chapel beneath the stair

‘Captain Provand’

'Provand' wasn't a WWI army captain (as I am sure they hoped people assumed) but had been a photography tutor in the Navy during the war. The ‘Art Director’ was a once very successful but now failed society photographer who had gone bankrupt 15 years earlier.

Madame Indre Shira Astro-Cheirologist Captain Provand the photographer of the Raynham ghost

On subsequently seeing the the ghost photograph the Marchioness identified it, not as the Brown Lady, but as the Virgin Mary – which she clearly is. The Marchioness had a private chapel under the staircase (was that why it was chosen?) and she was known to be very devout and interested in ghosts.

What probably actually happened can be deduced from the frontispiece of the same issue, generally reserved for ‘Girls In Pearls’ on their engagement. No one seems to have noticed that this is a portrait of the Marchioness and her daughter sitting on the steps of Raynham Hall, ALSO TAKEN BY INDRE SHIRA.

Marchioness Townshend on steps of Raynham Hall by Indre Shira

My guess is that Shira initially approached Country Life as a ‘Court Photographer’ to sell them this photograph taken speculatively, and having got a toe-hold introduced the ghost photograph as suitable for a ‘Christmas Ghost Story’ edition (in the Dickens tradition).

Both the Marchioness and Lady Elizabeth (the Marquess was at school) look bemused and irritated, as though they are thinking ‘What am I doing pandering to these awful people; why did I let them into my house and persuade me to sit out here?’

Marchioness Townshend's private chapel beneath the staircase at Raynham Hall The view down the ghost stair Raynham Hall

Positioned 2 steps lower than in the original - the ghost looks about 3 ft tall, the balustrade is at her eye level.

Positioned as in the original - the ghost looks about 4 ft 3 in tall - the balustrade is well above her elbow.

Raynham ghost 1 Raynham ghost 2 The Oak Stair at Raynham Hall today

Courtesy 1st Option Locations

The Oak Stair today looking in the same direction (the ghost feet are due to the HDR software merging two images)


Copyright Roger J Morgan 2017

The 'Court Photographers' studio was a rented first floor dingy room in Dover Street (where the genuine Court Photographers Bassano were located), and the camera used was second or third hand with worn bellows. They displayed the photograph outside and sold copies of it for a guinea (£1.05 in 1936, equivalent to £67 in 2015).

Marchioness Townsend (who had a labyrinthine back story of her own - Charles G Harper 1906 - “The Tichbornes are among the few genuinely ancient families of England who can trace their descent back to Anglo-Saxon times. They were knights centuries before the Hogwards (pig-keepers) became Howards and Earls and Dukes; and were great landed proprietors long before the original John-at-town's-end, wherever that was, became Townshend and commenced climbing up the social ladder that led his descendants into a Marquisate and into quaint marriages and all kinds of odd predicaments”) did not commission them to photograph Raynham, neither did Country Life – they wrote to her after the publication of her book 'True Ghost Stories' 6 weeks earlier in August 1936 asking to, and she only gave them permission on a day when the public were admitted anyway. She thought them distasteful and pushy, especially Madame Indre Shira who kept up a constant sycophantic chatter.

'Look at Your Hands' Madame Indre Shira 1934 cover 'Look at Your Hands' Madame Indre Shira 1934 blurb

Madame Indre Shira’s book ‘Look at Your Hands’ Denis Archer, London 1935. Actually a compilation of her weekly articles from the Daily Sketch