An Investigation

Frame 1

The doors do not appear to be fully closed – there are wedge shaped shadows between the tops of the doors and the frame, and the gap between the doors seems rather large.

Frame 2

The doors partially open, they open on their own, they are not pushed open by the figure

Frame 3

The doors fully open, there appears to be debris of some sort on the floor, and what I can only interpret as a step ladder to the right. The figure, if it is there at all, is well back and nowhere near the door.

Frame 4

The figure appears, the step ladder is clearer.

Frame 5

The figure reaches forward with both hands to close the doors

Frame 6

It closes the right hand door.

Frame 7

As it starts to close the left hand door the right hand one starts to swing open again

Frame 8

It closes the left hand door but the right hand door has swung open.

Frame 9

It reaches for the right hand door

Frame 10

It closes both doors. There are still wedge shaped shadows between the top of the doors and the frame, and the gap between the doors still seems rather dark. Again the doors do not appear fully closed.

Early in October 2003 the media reported that a security camera at Hampton Court Palace had taken a video of a ghost opening and closing a fire door. The video was for example shown and discussed on the BBC TV breakfast show, and stills from it were widely published in the world's press. A minor public sensation was caused.

The video as released consists of 10 frames of quite poor resolution, taken at about 2 second intervals, and shows an exterior shot of the double doors opening, a figure dressed apparently in an unusual head to toe hooded robe moving forward and attempting to close the doors, and after some difficulty succeeding in doing so. The face, due to high contrast compression artefacts, is white with no detail.

The figure attempts to close the doors in the wrong order – double fire doors require the non-locking leaf to be closed in advance of the locking leaf or the locking panic bar fouls the other leaf, and the locking leaf itself often cannot be fully shut  because you have not pushed the panic bar hard enough to lock the latches in the retracted position. When you pull back on the bar to close the door the latches extend and hit the frame and prevent the door closing. One or both is what has happened in frame 6, which is why the door swings open again. It is significant that the doors, left to themselves, are balanced so that they swing open.

It seems unlikely that a Tudor ghost would have any interest in closing modern fire doors, or indeed be actually capable of interacting physically with the modern world, or be capable of reasoning out how to correct a mechanical mistake in closing them. The simplest explanation is that the figure is a modern human. It appears to me that doors are not fully closed both at the beginning and end of the clip, that they swing open on their own when unlocked, there are confused objects on the floor, and a step ladder to the side.

The video has other very curious characteristics – why is it at such a crazy angle? Where are the usual security video captions showing date and time?

I went to Hampton Court to investigate, and spent some time identifying the location, which turned out to be the 'Story of The Palace Exhibition' in a suite of rooms to the south of the Clock Court, which had been converted from Grace and Favour Apartment 35. The fire door exited onto an alley behind the Mantegna Cartoon Gallery accessed from the Base Court.

The exhibition was not obvious and quite small, and curiously was not promoted or signposted in the rest of the Palace – it was a bit of a backwater. I got the impression it was a work experience project for a trainee exhibition curator. It is not there now. There were a number of orientation boards leading you in a winding circuit, and eventually after four rooms (when you were getting quite bored and tired), you came to a small audio-visual theatre curtained off with banks of seats. In front of you was an ingenious and rather good huge animated cut away son-et-lumiere model of William III's State Apartments wing of the Palace, with a linked audio commentary (which is still there but in a different position).  The fire door was immediately to the right of this.

The seats filled up; the performance lasted perhaps 15 minutes; it came to an end; the audience got up; they had had enough; it was not obvious there was more exhibition to be seen behind them and the obvious exit was there to the right of the model in front, and there was a large illuminated EXIT sign hanging over the door; I actually saw several people start towards the fire door until intercepted by a tatty bit of rope.

The obvious way out after the audio-visual presentation. On the opening of the exhibition the rope and the ‘Fire Exit Only’ sign probably weren’t there. Was the step ladder for fixing the hanging sign?

I examined the doors very carefully. They were warped,  the bottom of the locking leaf bent outwards so that only the top latch engaged, and that barely. There was damage where the leaves had been dragged to in the wrong order - like the ghost.

The  bottom of the meeting of the leaves from the outside. The locking leaf is warped outwards

The top of the meeting of the leaves from the outside. Both are not completely closed.


The bottom locking bolt doesn’t engage, and cannot be dragged into engagement because of the warping and damage to the locking plate

  Outside I identified the position the camera must have been in – it wasn't there, there was no sign of it or its fixing.

Hampton Court fire door camera site

The camera must have been near the chimney

I put in a FOI request to the Palace with the following result:

Dear Historic Royal Palaces,

In Autumn 2003 a CCTV camera covering a fire exit from the newly installed 'Story of the Palace' exhibition recorded a figure in apparently Tudor costume closing the fire door which had swung open.

This was widely reported in the press, with stills and video, presumably as a result of an HRP press release.

Please provide the following information:

(1) A copy of the press release.

(2) The date and time the released video was taken.

(3) The date the 'Story of the Palace' exhibition opened.

Thank you for your recent email request regarding a supposed 'ghost' at Hampton Court Palace. In response to your enquiry:

(1) A copy of the press release.

No press release was issued about the incident - however the attached document was sent out to media who contacted us asking for more information about it.

Hampton Court Palace’s Ghostly Mystery

Hampton Court Palace is well known for alleged ghostly activity, so much so that one area of the palace has been named the Haunted Gallery – supposedly haunted by a screaming Catherine Howard, fifth wife of King Henry VIII.

Never before has any of this activity been captured on film, however, in October 2003 something very spooky was caught on the palace’s CCTV footage.

On several occasions palace security guards were alerted to an open Fire Door in an exhibition area of the palace.  After securing the door each time, they returned to their office to view the CCTV footage to see who had opened them.  On the first occasion the footage showed the doors flying wide open, but no evidence of why they had.  On the second occasion they were stunned when a ghostly figure in period dress suddenly appeared on the screen and closed the doors. The same thing happened on a third day, but again no figure appeared.

Stranger still was that a visitor had noted in the palace’s visitor book that she thought she had seen a ghost in that area.

One of the palace’s Custody Warders (Security Guard) described what happened:

"I was shocked when the CCTV footage showed an eerie figure in period dress in the doorway. It was incredibly spooky because the face just didn't look human. My first reaction was that someone was having a laugh, so I asked my colleagues to take a look.  We spoke to our costumed guides but they don't own a costume like that worn by the figure.  It is actually quite unnerving!"

(2) The date and time the released video was taken.

We do not have the precise date of when the footage was taken - although it was sometime in October 2003.

(3) The date the 'Story of the Palace' exhibition opened.

The exhibition opened 3rd October 2003

Best wishes Vikki Wood  Head of Media & PR Historic Royal Palaces

Thank you, that is courteous and prompt, and advances my knowledge on one date at least.

You see the tenor of my question - evidently the CCTV was taken VERY near the opening of the exhibition. It is extremely pertinent whether it was before or after.

Since this was CCTV, and every CCTV installation I have seen records the time and date the image was taken, usually on the image itself but certainly within the system, as an essential feature, it doesn't seem credible that the information is not available from your Custody Warders. It surely caused a sufficient stir to be preserved, or remembered by for example the Warder quoted in your document.

Please make further enquiry to supply this information, or provide an explanation why it is not availabe.

Apologies that it has taken me a little longer than I had hoped to respond to you - it has taken me a few days to speak to our security team.

The CCTV system in use in 2003 would have recorded the date and time that footage was captured. However since footage was only kept on the system for one month, the precise date and time would have been lost after that date. We do have a stills image downloaded from the footage - although no date and time was recorded imprinted on the image itself. The incident did indeed create discussion amongst some staff as you suggest, but understandably no one can recall the precise date since it was nearly 8 years ago. Anecdotally, however, I believe the date the footage was taken was after the 3 October opening of the exhibition.

I hope this clarifies why we don't have the precise date recorded.

Thanks for your trouble,

Slightly strange the time/date isn't actually displayed on the image.

So it doesn't seem possible to rule out that the CCTV was taken on the opening day - which would of course provide a mundane explanation - I am sure there was an opening ceremony, which could well have included re-enactors.

Usually you would expect the time and date to be recorded, although for some reason this information was not transferred when the images were downloaded from the system we used back then.

We didn't hold an opening ceremony for the exhibition - it wasn't a major exhibition for the palace. We do have costumed interpreters at the palace, although they do not go into that exhibition space. At the time it had been suggested that it could have been one of our interpreters on the CCTV, but having spoken to them, none of them had been in the exhibition area and they didn't have a costume like that worn by the figure in the footage.

From personal recollection, I don't believe the footage was captured on the first day of opening the exhibition. The fire doors had 'popped' open a couple of days prior to the day the figure was captured on CCTV, and security thought that school children might have been responsible; i.e. the exhibition was already open to visitors a couple of days before the CCTV captured the figure.

The event was a mystery to us at the time - and whilst it has continued to create interest from the public ever since, we are as yet none the wiser as to who (or what) the figure was.

The most pertinent question as a result of this exchange is how did the footage come to be sent to the media and press?

It was not an official press release, the PR Department only reacted to the fact afterwards.

The only conclusion to be drawn is that it was an unnofficial leak from the Custody Warder’s CCTV Centre, which would also explain why there is no original copy of the video (as sent to the media) and data on it now available.

Why isn’t the CCTV camera still there? Very fortuitously one of the TV news reports had taken a shot of the camera, which explained why the video had been at a crazy angle – the camera, which had sagged, was attached to a short length of horizontal scaffolding pole fixed between two brick castellations with wooden wedges – clearly it was a completely temporary lash-up.

Hampton Court fire door camera

Compare to my shot of the same above


My scenario goes like this:

The ‘Story of the Palace Exhibition’ is being set up (this surely must have taken a week or two); or it is the opening day; or the exhibition has just opened and is bedding down.

The obvious exit at the end of the audio-visual presentation is through the fire exit - either people do this, triggering the alarm, and/or they inadequately shut the doors, which are so warped and damaged that in any case they often don’t lock but look closed, and eventually they swing open spontaneously (perhaps as a result of wind).

The door alarm keeps going off. Probably when investigated they are found open, or inadequately closed.

The Custody Warders rig up a temporary CCTV camera to watch it, perhaps attached to a local stand alone more domestic recording device/computer that does not overlay the time and date data on the image, and is not connected into the main system.

The videos mainly show the doors just swinging open on their own, or perhaps show puzzled members of the public exiting the audio-visual show and either leaving them open or not shutting them properly - and the doors on the video we have do appear inadequately closed both at the beginning and end and swing open on their own.

One video shows a person dressed in a ‘robe’ shutting the doors after they have swung open. Someone leaks the video to the media as a ‘ghost’. The Palace PR is forced to react, and seizes a PR opportunity.

There appears to be a step ladder to the side of the doorway and some objects on the floor - this may indicate the exhibition was still being set up and the hanging EXIT sign erected.

After it becomes obvious that the audience for the audio-visual show are exiting the fire door, an ad-hoc rope barrier is placed across it and a notice attached to the door.

This solves the problem and the temporary CCTV camera is removed

I submit that the figure could well be a woman in an expensive, if somewhat eccentric winter coat with a fur lined hood - it was October after all (frame 7 looks particularly female); or (despite the assertions to the contrary) a Tudor re-enactor associated with the newly opened exhibition. The idea that the face is a skull is a result of the video compression algorithm. He/she notices the inadequately shut doors swing open and public spiritedly strides forwards to shut them.

Copyright Roger J Morgan 2016

Plan of Hampton Court Palace showing position of fire door Plan of 'The Story of the Palace Exhibition' showing fire door Hampton Court fire door from inside Hampton Court fire door 1 Hampton Court fire door 2 Hampton Court fire door 4 Hampton Court fire door 3 Hampton Court fire door 5

The damage to the  meeting of

the leaves from the outside from

the panic bars being incorrectly operated

on closing

The top locking bolt barely engages