Wem Town Hall
On 19th November 1995 Wem Town Hall burnt down. As this ninety year old building was burning some locals gathered to watch and one of them, Tony O’Rahilly, took a very interesting picture with a 200mm lens from the road. The picture, once developed, shows what appears to be a young girl in the doorway of the burning building. A young girl that neither Mr O’Rahilly nor any another witnesses to the fire saw at the time.
The photograph was passed onto the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (ASSAP) who passed it to Dr Vernon Harrison, former president of the Royal Photographic Society. Though sceptical, suggesting the figure may be created by the smoke, flame and shadow, Dr Harrison stated “The negative is a straight forward piece of black & white work and shows no sign of having been tampered with”. Dr Harrison did suggest that it could be a burning plank of wood though.
It has been suggested that the girl depicted in the photograph is Jane Churm, who will always be associated with The Great Wem Fire of 3rd March 1677. At the time of the fire she was about fourteen and whilst looking for fuel for the family fire, she inadvertently ignited their thatched roof with a candle flame. The dry conditions enabled the fire to spread quickly, burning homes and businesses throughout Wem.
The market house, church, roughly 540 other buildings including homes and outbuildings were lost in a great fire that could be seen for miles around. Many cattle were lost to the flames but possibly only one person died. He was Richard Sherratt, a shoemaker who was seen going under the market house which then fell upon him. At the end of May 1677 a brief detailing the total loss was obtained. The loss of buildings came to £14,760. 10s. Household goods totalled £8,916. 13s. 1d.
A fire brigade video was obtained by ASSAP. This showed the scene from different angles. There was a burning piece of wood leaning on the rail where the ‘figure’ appears, therefore it is likely that this is a simulacrum.
Whether the girl in the photograph is Jane Churm or not it may never be known, but it is certainly intriguing. The Town hall re-opened in 2000.
UPDATED 27/03/2013 – See Wem Rekindled by Andrew Homer