Wem Town Hall

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Wem Town Hall is a building in the market-town of Wem in Shropshire, England. It is currently used as a venue for music and dance concerts, films, stage shows and exhibitions.[1]

The interior of the building was completely destroyed by fire on 19 November 1995.[2] The incident became famous as a result of a black-and-white photo taken by amateur photographer Tony O'Rahilly, which appeared to depict the image of a young girl in the doorway of the burning building. Locals averred that this was the ghost of Jane Churn, a young girl who was accused (in 1677) of starting a fire in the same town.[2] O'Rahilly later denied claims that he had used special effects to add the girl into the image.[3]

Building history[edit]

Wem Town Hall was erected in 1905.[4] It was a red brick structure[4] with a Victorian facade.[5]

In November 1995, a fire destroyed the building.[6] Local residents watched as firefighters attempted to tackle the blaze. No one was injured as a result of the fire.

The structure was rebuilt through lottery funding to serve as a community arts centre.[5] The architects retained the facade but replaced the rest of the building.[5] A plaque was placed on the building commemorating the fire.

Mystery of Wem Town Hall Ghost[edit]

Tony O'Rahilly, a sewage farm worker who was also an amateur photographer,[7] was originally stopped by police from approaching the burning building. He took a picture of the blaze from across the road with a 200mm lens.[3] The image of a girl in the doorway of the burning building was not noticed by the photographer or the onlookers; it only appeared after the photo had been developed.[3]

O'Rahilly sent the photo for analysis to the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (ASSAP), which determined that a burning piece of wood lay on the railing where the image appears, rendering the image a simulacrum.[8] ASSAP forwarded the photo to the former Royal Photographic Society president, Dr. Vernon Harrison. Harrison concluded that the image did appear to be genuine, but he continued to be sceptical, believing it could have been the smoke or light playing tricks.[3][9]

Blake Smith for Skeptical Inquirer Magazine writes "A later analysis by photographic officers of the National Media Museum concluded that the photograph was doctored. A negative made from the photograph (not the original negative) showed horizontal scan lines consistent with those of a television image across the image of the girl. The officers concluded that the girl's image was likely pasted into the photograph."[10]

In 2010, five years after the death of the photographer,[7] a 77-year-old local resident claimed to solve the mystery, citing a similarity between the girl in the photograph and the image of a girl printed on a postcard that appeared in the local paper Shropshire Star. The postcard in question was taken in 1922 and shows a young girl who resembles the so-called "Wem Ghost".[7][11]


  1. ^ "Wem Town Hall". The Thomas Adams School and Sixth Form Centre. January 2010. Retrieved 25 May 2010. 
  2. ^ a b "Wem Guide: The Haunting of Wem Town Hall". The Wem Guide. Retrieved 19 May 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c d "The Wem Ghost Mystery". BBC Shropshire. British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 19 May 2010. 
  4. ^ a b Raven, Michael (2005). A Guide to Shropshire. Michael Raven. p. 214. ISBN 978-0-906114-34-6. 
  5. ^ a b c "Community Projects". BHN Architects. Retrieved 25 May 2010. 
  6. ^ "Wem Town Hall". Mysterious Britain & Ireland. Retrieved 19 May 2010. 
  7. ^ a b c "Wem ghost mystery resolved by eagle-eyed pensioner". Mail Online. 18 May 2010. Retrieved 19 May 2010. 
  8. ^ "Wem Town Hall". Mysterious Britain & Ireland. Retrieved 25 May 2010. 
  9. ^ "Is this the Wem Town Hall ghost". BBC Shropshire. British Broadcasting Corporation. 27 October 2009. Retrieved 19 May 2010. 
  10. ^ "Ghost Photography III – Fraud". danielalderman.com. 2010. Retrieved 27 May 2010. 
  11. ^ Smith, Blake (November–December 2010). "From the Edge of Postcards: The Wem Ghost Photo". Skeptical Inquirer. Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. 34 (5): 48–50. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 52°51′20″N 2°43′28″W / 52.8555°N 2.7245°W / 52.8555; -2.7245