Is this a photograph of ghosts under York Guildhall?

9 Feb 2015 @ 8.23 pm
| History

Richard Brigham of York Past And Present tells the spooky tale of an unexplained image…

The position of Common Hall Lane. Photograph © British History Online
York is full of history. It’s a fair comment when people say that York’s architecture, from every period of time, is as diverse as a box of assorted chocolates.

Like any city with a rich heritage, stories of ghosts, hauntings and “spooky goings on” are rife. It would seem we have as many ghosts as we do residents.

As much as I like a really rich ghost story I’ve always looked at it as just that: a story. Nothing we haven’t heard before – from tales our parents would tell us to scare us, to television shows and books designed to thrill the imagination.

Then something happened.

Common Hall Lane

One of the oldest buildings and sites in York is the Guildhall. Its heritage can be traced back more than 800 years. There are original parts of the hall that survived the bombing of 1942.

Running from the River Ouse underneath the Guildhall is Common Hall Lane.

As you can imagine, hidden history like this generates a lot of interest. People want to see it.

York Past And Present have been doing tours of the Guildhall since October last year. Common Hall Lane is the last place we visit on the tour. It’s a great finale as it’s a place that spurs people’s curiosity.

The tour we had on Saturday, January 7, 2015, was no different than any other. The group had gathered together for a coffee and a chat at a nearby pub before commencing the tour at 11am.

The tour started as always in the reception area of the Guildhall and after listening to a brief history of the building proceeded to the usual places that we visit on the tour – the Main Hall, Room 1, the Cellars and so on.

After an hour or so we headed outside for the last part of the tour: Common Hall Lane.

After opening the doorway that leads down to the lane, via a small spiral like stairway, the group headed down with Lianne Brigham leading the way.

Among the people on the tour was Sue Hogarth. She was one of the first people into the lane. Seeing that the passage was clear – other members of the group were queuing behind her on the stairs – she snapped a quick shot and proceeded down the lane to explore.

Hours later, when members of the York Past and Present Facebook group were posting their images online, Sue noticed something.

In the light from the gated riverside entrance there seemed to be a figure.

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A figure seem to be standing in the light at the end of Common Hall Lane. Image © Sue Hogarth. Click to see a bigger image

On closer examination, after zooming in and cropping the original image, it soon became apparent that there wasn’t one figure in the light – but three.

Never saw the figures

Sue said she had no idea what she had captured at the time of the tour. This is what she said:

It was the last section of the tour. Everyone in the group were waiting to come down the stairs into Common Hall Lane and while it was quiet and no one was around I thought I would get a photo.

It was empty. There was only the tour leader and myself there. So I took the shot. All I could see was the tunnel and the light from the river end.

I certainly never saw any silhouettes or figures. It wasn’t until I got home and looked at the picture that I realised the figures were there.

It is important to remember that when this image was taken there were only two people down Common Hall Lane. They were Sue Hogarth and Lianne Brigham, neither of whom were at the river end.

A closer view of the end of the tunnel
And besides, the lane itself is thick with mud, so group members were advised not go down that far.

Whatever the circumstances the point is that when this was taken the only two people around were stood next to each other and at the opposite side of the lane.

Other anomalies

It seems there may be other anomalies in the photograph. By zooming in on the image and clearing up some of the digital noise we noticed that the big gates that secure the lane from the river end don’t seem to be there.


Who can be sure? Maybe we are looking at something ghostly – or maybe it’s to do with the brightness of the light streaming in through the entrance.

What – or who – is in the light?
What is clear however is that there does seem to be three figures standing in what would have been the river entrance to Common Hall Lane.

It was also pointed out that the silhouetted images look like they are wearing cloaks.

Whatever your beliefs about ghosts and the supernatural, it certainly is a strange story and one, I must admit, I can’t explain.

Sue’s photograph can be added to the many strange and ghostly sightings and stories that are linked with the Guildhall.