It is said that a young girl had caused a fire near this location several centuries earlier... Could it be her ghost who haunts this building?
An Apparition is Captured on Film
As the fire burned, sewerage farm worker Tony O'Rahilly grabbed his camera and took as many photos as he could. Tony, an amateur photographer took picture after picture in an attempt to record the historic (and disastrous) event.
It was one of Tony's photographs that captured the image of the little girl in the doorway as the building was ablaze all around her.
It was not long before the image made international headlines and Tony enjoyed quite a lot of fame and attention. It was not just the photo that was important but also the history of hauntings that the photo seemed to provide evidence for.
Jane Churm, a fourteen year old girl who was living in the vicinity of where the Town Hall is located (it was rebuilt following the fire) was collecting fuel for a fire. The fuel was kept under one of the beds in her house. As she was gathering the tinder she set flame to a twig that encompassed one of the wooden joists in her house. Soon the thatch was alight and, following that, the rest of the house.
Being that it was 1677 just about every building in the town of Wem was wood and thatch built making for the perfect fuel for the fire. Before long several streets, and many homes and businesses (sources say up to 540 buildings) were destroyed by the conflagration.
It does not state how many people perished in the fire or if Jane herself was killed.
Jane Churm is said to be the little girl who was captured in the picture.
Ghosts in the Ashes
Fire crews and police had been on duty all night and the two men were the first to have entered the building since the fire was brought under control.
Two men who later entered the building claimed they had seen a girl in a long dress as they got to the top of the stairs. Although they got a look at the figure (whose face they could not make out) they quickly made for the exit.
Back to the Photograph...
Tony O'Rahilly died in 2005 but the legend of the photo lived on and got a massive boost in the media in the year 2010.
That year a 77 year old resident produced a postcard that lay claim to solve the mystery. The image on the postcard was taken in 1922 and a girl standing in the doorway of one of Wem's many buildings holds a close resemblance to the girl photographed in the fire (see inset).
Closer examination of the photo shows it may have been tampered with.
History Survives the Flames
One final note. As stated, only a few things survived the town hall fire of 1995 - namely the brick shell and facade. However, something else survived that blaze that consumed all combustible materials; a plaque made of wood and plaster.
And written on that plaque?
"THIS TOWNE WAS BVRNT THE 3 OF MARCH ANNO 1677"
The fire started by Jane Churm, the fourteen year old maid said to haunt Wem Town Hall...
What do you think?
Did Tony O'Rahilly capture the image of Jane Churm in the town hall fire?
Or was his photo a rather convincing hoax?
What of the other experiences and evidence to come through the fire?