Miss Challand, the Local Clairvoyant

The name “Miss Challand” cropped up in the previous blog post about the “Seed Hill Ghost” of March 1855. To summarise that particular event, ghostly knocking sounds and ringing bells were heard in the house of dyer Samuel Routledge and it was reported that Miss Challand had been brought in twice in an attempt to shed light on what was happening, but without any success.

It eventually transpired that a young Irish servant girl in the employ of Routledge was behind it all, so Miss Challand’s inability to contact the spirit responsible for the noises is entirely understandable. Of interest, one of the articles about the “Seed Hill Ghost” includes a brief description of Challand’s second visit to the house, which followed a few hours after the bedclothes and pillows had been inexplicably ripped from a bed and left strewn upon the landing and staircase:

During the evening a clairvoyante was again brought into the house, thrown into the mesmeric state, and performed some strange antics over and under the bed and among the bed clothes, put to no purpose.

The description paints a comical scene and you’d be forgiven for wondering what Miss Challand’s credentials actually were, but another article describing her first visit to the house provides hints:

The services of Miss Challand, who has “got her name up” as a faithful clairvoyante (since the discovery of the body of the missing female from Marsden), were put into requisition ; but, after being placed in the required state, nothing could be elicited from her, inasmuch as, not having heard the ghost perform his operations, she could discover nothing to detect his whereabout, or the means he employed to effect such startling sounds.

Intrigued by the reference to the “missing female from Marsden”, I started hunting through the newspaper archives.


The Disappearance of Sarah Ann Lumb

Although her father is named as farmer “John Lumb” in one of the articles about her disappearance, it seems much more likely that he was the John Lumb, married to Mary (née Whitehead?), who is listed as the landlord of the Old Ram Inn on Town Street in Marsden in the 1851 Census — 11-year-old “S. Ann Lumb” was listed as their oldest daughter on the census.

On the evening of Thursday 14 December 1854, Sarah Ann was walking home in heavy rain with a friend, Hannah Haigh.1 After saying goodbye to her friend, she headed towards the bridge in the village to cross over the river. In the darkness and perhaps blinded by the driving rain, she seemingly misjudged where she was — instead of stepping onto the bridge, she accidentally fell into the river.

The rains had swollen the river, which was running faster and deeper than usual, and Sarah Ann was rapidly carried downstream. Her screams altered those living nearby and the alarm was quickly raised that someone was in the water but, despite a frantic search, they could find no-one in the darkness.

The search continued the following day and, by now, it was known that Sarah Ann was missing and likely the person heard screaming. Within a week, her family were offering a £5 reward “to any one who shall find the body”. The Huddersfield Chronicle (23/Dec/1854) reported that several readers had written in to urge the authorities to fence off the gap in the wall near the bridge, where it was believed Sarah Ann had tumbled into the river.

In the days after her disappearance, items of clothing were found in the river. Her skirt was found the day after she disappeared, about a quarter of mile downstream from Marsden. Her shawl was found a few days later, followed by her flannel petticoat on Christmas Eve and her dress skirt on 28 December.2

Her family grew increasingly desperate and reportedly consulted a “wise man” in Holmfirth, but he could give them no information. It seems someone then put them in contact with a “mesmerist”3 by the name of Captain Hudson who was staying locally. Sarah Ann’s uncle, builder Samuel Whitehead, and local mill-owner Joshua Farrar approached Hudson and asked if he knew of anyone who could help. He gave them the name and address of a dressmaker named Challand who lived in Moldgreen, Huddersfield, who he claimed had the gift of clairvoyance.

Whitehead and Farrar then went to Miss Challand and asked her to accompany them back to Hudson’s residence. Perhaps at the insistence of the Captain, they didn’t explain anything to her. Hudson then placed Challand into a hypnotic trance and he asked her if she knew why the two men had come to her. She replied, “Yes, about the young woman who was drowned at Marsden.”

Whitehead had brought with him the clothes that had been found in the river and Challand said that Sarah Ann had had the shawl wrapped tight over her head to help fend off the rain, which, if true, perhaps helps explain why the girl misjudged the bridge.

Hudson now asked her to see where Sarah Ann Lumb’s body was now. Challand appeared to fall asleep for around five minutes before she began describing the progress the girl’s body had taken down the river. She ended by stating that Sarah Ann’s body was within 100 yards of the second bridge in Mirfield and that the body was covered in mud, apart from the feet.

Whitehead then travelled to Mirfield on 4 January with some workmen and began searching the river around Legard Bridge, but could find no sign of the body. A local then told them that, if they wanted the “second bridge in Mirfield”, they were at the wrong location — Shepley Bridge was where they should be looking. Whitehead moved his workmen there, where they soon found Sarah Ann’s body 20 yards from the bridge. Just as Challand had told him, the girl’s body was buried but her feet were exposed.

According the subsequent inquest, which was held at the Ship Inn, Mirfield, on 5 January, a post mortem proved death by drowning. It was recorded that Sarah Ann’s body had been carried downstream a distance of 14 miles and that Mary Ann Challand claimed to have known nothing of the deceased prior to being hypnotised by Captain Hudson. The jury returned an open verdict.

The Huddersfield Chronicle reported the events in an article titled “Extraordinary Mode of Finding a Missing Human Body“, which was republished verbatim in a few other regional newspapers.

On the evenings of 12 and 13 January, Captain Hudson gave a “mesmeric demonstration” to a packed house at the Old Ram Inn, Marsden, hypnotising several people. However, it seems most people were there to see his companion, the clairvoyant Mary Ann — by now, most of the locals had heard that she had helped find Sarah Ann’s body. The Chronicle (20/Jan/1855) reported that Mary Ann failed to do anything at either lecture, so “the audience had no proofs given of her powers as a clairvoyante, so that unbelievers remained unbelievers still.”

At this point in the story, it’s tempting to assume that fame and fortune awaited Mary Ann, the Huddersfield clairvoyant who found the drowned girl. However, events in her own life were about to take a sad and tragic turn.

Mary Ann Challand

Mary Ann Challand was born in August 1838, the daughter of corn miller Thomas Challand and his wife, Mary (née Broadly).4

By the time of the 1851 Census, 12-year-old Mary Ann was living on Smythey Lane, off Springfield Terrace, Huddersfield, with her parents and her older brother brother, George. Not long after, they appear to have moved to Moldgreen, Huddersfield.

In June 1854, Mary Ann’s mother brought a case against a man named Charles Oldfield whose dog she claimed had attacked her whilst she was fetching in washing from her clothes line. However, discrepancies in her statements led to the case being dismissed.

1855 would be a tumultuous year for Mary Ann Challand. Following her work in locating the body of Sarah Ann Lumb in early January and then her attempts to contact the “Seed Hill Ghost”, her father Thomas died a few months later and was buried on 30 May. Her mother Mary appears to have sunk into a depression following the death of her husband5 and on the morning of Wednesday 18 July she told a neighbour that “she thought she would not see the day out”.

At noon that day, she visited Mary Ann at her place of work and then at around 1:30pm, she met her son, George. We can only speculate what her final words were to her children, but within a couple of hours Mary Challand had taken her own life.

A rent collector named Benjamin France called at Challand’s house around 4pm that afternoon and assumed the property empty when he received no reply to his shout of “holloa”. Letting himself in, he was horrified to see Mary hanging from the stairwell banister. Rather than cut her down, he altered some neighbours and went off to find a policeman.

An inquest was held the following evening at the Kaye’s Arms in Moldgreen with George Dyson presiding. Dyson was critical of Mr. France for not immediately cutting Mrs. Challand down in case she had only just hung herself. The jury returned a verdict of “suicide whilst temporarily insane”.

If Mary Ann continued to be a clairvoyant after the death of her parents, it was not reported in any of the newspapers that I have access to.

The 1861 Census has 22-year-old unmarried Mary Ann living as a lodger at the house of police constable George Ramsden, 33 Templar Street, Leeds. Her occupation is given as “milliner”, which ties with the contemporary newspaper reports that she was a dressmaker.

She married engineer Benjamin Haigh on 7 March 1863 at St John the Baptist in Halifax. Oddly, her father is not marked as being deceased.


The 1871 Census has them living in Manchester, with two young daughters: Clara and Ellen. Ten years later, they were living at 7 Portland Street, Litchurch, Derbyshire, with a third daughter, Edith. All three daughters appear to have been given the middle name “Ann” after their mother. By 1901, 62-year-old Mary Ann was a widow and was living with her married daughter, Ellen Bowes, in north Manchester.

Her brother, George Thomas Challand, married Ellen Sykes on 14 January 1856 at All Hallows, Almondbury, and he worked as a farmer in Dalton, Huddersfield. He died on 26 April 1883 and was buried at All Hallows on 30 April.

Mary Ann died in 1903, aged 67, and was buried St Bartholomew’s in Whitworth, Lancashire.


Whether you believe in her gift or not, it certainly seems she helped bring closure to a grieving family who had lost their teenage daughter in tragic circumstances. For that alone, Mary Ann Challand, the clairvoyant of Huddersfield, deserves to be remembered.

As for Captain Hudson, who seems to have been Mary Ann’s mentor, he crops up in many other interesting articles and deserves a blog post of his own!

Further Reading

The death of Sarah Ann Lumb was reported in these articles:

  1. This was likely the Hannah Haigh who is listed as a 21-year-old weaver lodging at Warehouse Hill, Marsden, in the 1861 Census.
  2. This implies to me that Sarah Ann knew how to swim and also knew that her heavy clothes would drag her down, so she attempted to remove as much as she could before she drowned.
  3. Sometimes called “animal magnetism“, mesmerism was popular during the 18th and 19th centuries and often involved putting a subject into a hypnotic trance.
  4. There is a conflict in the historical records. One record lists Mary Ann’s date of birth as being 3 August 1838 and her baptism as being 5 June 1843 at St Peter’s in Huddersfield, whilst another gives no date of birth but states the baptism took place on 4 August 1838. It seems more likely that the former is the true record.
  5. One newspaper report implied that she’d become an alcoholic.

2 thoughts on “Miss Challand, the Local Clairvoyant”

  1. In case you’re a sceptic and suspect a more rational explanation, it’s worth noting that the disappearance of Sarah Ann Lumb took place about 3 years after the Holmfirth Flood of 1852.

    In that tragedy, 81 people were killed when the embankment of the Bilberry reservoir collapsed after heavy rain, releasing over 85 million gallons of water into the River Holme. Many of the victims were recovered from the Holme, or the Colne and Calder downriver, and contemporary newspaper reports stated the bodies had become stuck and partially buried in the mud on the banks of the rivers. At least one body, that of Betty Earnshaw, was eventually recovered at Mirfield.

    At Shepley Bridge in Mirfield, where Sarah Ann Lumb was found, the river slows for a large bend before going over a weir (which also slows the river). This slowing action causes the river to begin depositing items it was previously able to carry when flowing more quickly.

    However, even a brief glance of the route of the River Colne downstream from Marsden, and then into the Calder to Mirfield, shows dozens of weirs and mill ponds, any one of which might have become her resting place.

  2. Thank you so much for the information on Mary Ann Challand aka my Great Great Grandmother! I was absolutely amazed to find anything on her let alone something so startling, and also the background on her parents. I have been researching my family tree and have become addicted. This article has been able to fill in some gaps.

    Once again thank you and please keep up the excellent investigating!

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