Catherine Dennis (1875-1891)
Local farm labourer James Stockwell was found guilty of the crime and executed in January 1892.
Catherine was born on 26 August 1875 in Bagillt, Flintshire, Wales, the daughter of labourer Edward Dennis and his wife, Mary Ellen (née Lord). Her birth was registered in early 1876.
Her siblings were Robert John Dennis, Agnes Dennis, and Louisa Dennis.
Her aunt, Agnes Dennis, had married wool fettler George Ramsden of Mirfield in the 1880s and they settled in the Linthwaite area. When a vacancy for a servant girl arose at the Ivy Hotel, Agnes arranged for Catherine to take the position and she began working there by September 1890. Agnes also arranged for another one of her nieces, Edith Hughes, to take a servant girl position locally, likely in the summer of 1891.
On the afternoon of Friday 21 August 1891, widow Margaret Brook, the landlady of the Ivy Hotel, left Catherine in sole charge of the inn whilst she visited Huddersfield. A number of men were in the Ivy at the time she left at around 2pm, including local farm labourer James Stockwell, who was eating a potato pie with a penknife in the kitchen area.
Over the course of the next two hours, Stockwell, who had consumed several pints of ale, apparently remained in the kitchen area, hidden from view and possibly dozing on a longsettle chair. In later statements, he claimed that Catherine had teased and apparently flirted with him.
Before 4pm, Catherine had gone upstairs to carry out chores and was seen cleaning the first floor windows.
As Stockwell never formally stated what happened next, the exact details are uncertain, but it seems likely he discovered that he was alone in the building with the teenage girl and decided to rape her, perhaps threatening her with his penknife if she screamed.
Shortly after 4pm, Stockwell was seen leaving the Ivy.
Not long afterwards a local butcher boy arrived to deliver meat but found the inn apparently empty. Concerned that he wouldn't get paid for his delivery, he spoke to neighbours who were surprised that Catherine wasn't around. A search was made of the inn and her body was discovered on the upper landing — she had bled to death from a single deep knife wound to the neck and there was evidence of an attempted rape.
Catherine's parents were telegrammed and, together with a number of other relatives, they travelled from Wales and attended the inquest into her death.
Local public interest in the crime had been so high that reportedly hundreds visited the area and were admitted to the Ivy in small groups to view both the murder scene and Catherine's body, which had been laid out on a bed. A sheet was spread out outside the inn for people to contribute money towards her funeral.
The police investigation initially focused on a suntanned stranger seen in the Ivy, as none of the witnesses — including Mrs. Brook — mentioned that Stockwell had been in the inn. However, Mrs. Brook remembered the following day and the police quickly discovered that Stockwell had disappeared.
The jury at the inquest into Catherine's death felt that there was enough circumstantial evidence to link Stockwell to the crime and a warrant was issued for his capture. Her body was then released to the family and, perhaps due to the fact they could not afford to take her back to Wales, she was buried at Christ Church, Linthwaite.
A public subscription was held to raise funds for a permanent headstone, which was erected in 1892 with the following inscription:
- In loving memory of Catherine Dennis who was murdered at the Ivy Hotel, Linthwaite, August 21st, 1891. Aged 16 years.
- Erected by the public as a token of respect.
James Stockwell was eventually arrested over two weeks later, having spent the time hiding out on Crosland Moor and foraging for food.
At his trial, the jury took only 10 minutes to find Stockwell guilty of murder — his lawyer had freely admitted that Stockwell had been there around the time of the murder but claimed that no evidence had been produced to prove his client was responsible. It was also stated that the Stockwell family had a history of hereditary insanity and that his sudden disappearance might have been related to that.
Although Stockwell pleaded "not guilty", a fellow prisoner testified that Stockwell had confessed details of the crime to him. He was executed on 5 January 1892 at Armley Prison in Leeds, having allegedly made a full confession of the crime to a priest the evening before.
Catherine's mother's death was recorded in early 1893 in Flintshire.
Notes and References
- At the inquest into her death held on 24 August, her father stated that his "daughter would have been 16 years old on the 26th of this month". Her employer, Mrs. Brook, gave contradictory evidence that Catherine had celebrated her 16th birthday on 26 July. This confusion about when her birthday occurred is reflected in reporting of Catherine's age — the burial register correctly records 15 whilst the subscription gravestone, likely erected a year after the burial, stated 16. If Mrs. Brook's testimony is true, it is uncertain why Catherine celebrated her birthday a month early, unless it had been necessary for her to appear to older in order to take up the position.
- Edith is listed as a 23-year-old general domestic servant in the 1901 Census, working for Joseph and Ada Berry at 3 Hill Top, Slaithwaite.