Catherine Hayley (c.1842-?)

Catherine Hayley was an Irish-born servant girl responsible for the Seed Hill Ghost hoax of 1855.


She was likely born around 1842 in County Sligo, Ireland, the daughter of Anne Hayley.[1]

Sometime before 1851, Anne and her four children moved to the Huddersfield area. Whether her husband accompanied them and died locally or if he had already died in Ireland is uncertain, but 30-year-old Anne was listed as a widowed washerwoman in the 1851 Census. Her oldest daughter, 14-year-old Margaret, was named as a street hawker.

By 1854, Catherine had found employment as a servant girl in the household of Seed Hill dye works owner and widower Samuel Routledge (c.1803-1856). In a newspaper report, it was stated he had taken her in "from motives of charity".

On the evening of Friday 16 March 1855, the household was disturbed by inexplicable loud knocking noises. These continued throughout the daytime, but not during the night, and were soon dubbed the Seed Hill Ghost. Like the other servants in the house, Catherine was seemingly greatly alarmed by the noises — as one newspaper later reported, "no one for a moment thought that she could he capable of playing such extraordinary tricks, so successfully as she had done."

On Thursday 29, the "ghost" ripped sheets from beds and left them strewn about the house. Routledge, who had apparently suspected someone within the house was responsible, questioned his servant and eventually Catherine admitted to being responsible. It emerged that she had taken a strong dislike to the new housekeeper and had hoped to scare her from the house.

The banging noises were a mixture of Catherine hitting a metal wash tub in the kitchen (which she could easily hide behind should anyone enter the room) and also using a small stone to knock on the doors and skirting boards in the hallway. By removing her clogs, she had been able to quietly creep upstairs to pull the sheets off the beds. After sneaking back downstairs, she put her clogs back on and screamed loudly, pretending to have been frightened at finding the sheets in disarray.

Unsurprisingly, Routledge threw the young girl out of his house.

As the story of what happened spread, it seems many of the working classes of Huddersfield felt that she had not only successfully hoodwinked Routledge, but also his gentlemen friends and the local police who had spent many hours investigating the "ghost". Enterprising pub landlord John Tasker, of the Queen beerhouse on Old Street, Castlegate, gave Catherine employment and, no doubt, she regaled the regulars with her version of the events, much to their amusement.

Catherine Hayley's name appeared once again in the newspapers in May 1855 when she was called before the local magistrates as a witness. Mrs. Tasker had been caught by police officers carrying pints of ale after 10pm and they alleged she was serving drinks after hours. Under oath, Catherine stated that Mrs. Tasker had simply been tidying up and was carrying undrunk glasses of ale.

Given Catherine's notoriety, Superintendent Thomas asked her whether or not she was capable of lying. To the amusement of the court, Catherine replied, "Yes sir, when I've a mind to!" With that, the magistrate found Mr. Tasker guilty and fined him 10 shillings plus expenses.[2][3]

In the years following the incident, the term "Seed Hill Ghost" was used by local newspapers for a number of incidents in which young girls faked paranormal activity.

The last definite record of Catherine Hayley is the 1861 Census, when she was living with her mother on Kirkgate. Anne Hayley died in 1890, aged 67.

She is possibly the "Catherine Haley" who married Irishman Timothy Flaherty in 1865 in Huddersfield. If so, she died in 1883. Intriguingly, the 1871 Census lists the couple living in Windsor Court, Huddersfield, with a 15-year-old "stepson" named Thomas Healey. Thomas was born around 1856, raising the possibility that the teenage Catherine fell pregnant and had an illegitimate son.[4]

Further Reading

Notes and References

  1. The family name is also recorded as Haley, Healey and Heeley.
  2. "A Beerseller in Trouble: Second Appearance of the Seedhill Ghost" in Huddersfield Chronicle (12/May/1855).
  3. "The Woes of John Barleycorn" in Halifax Courier (12/May/1855).
  4. If this is indeed our Catherine Hayley, then her birth year is given as circa 1835 in her post-marriage records.