The Ghost of Seed Hill

As a location in Huddersfield, Seed Hill no longer really exists, but it was the area to the east of the modern-day Shorehead Roundabout and is more-or-less where Sainsbury’s supermarket and car park is now located. This 1894 map of the area shows Seed Hill Road:

seedhillmap1894

In the mid-1800s, Samuel Routledge (born 1803 in Brampton, Cumberland) ran a profitable dye business at Seed Hill but, in 1852, an attempt to expand into trading with Australia, saw him overstretch himself. Needing to raise further capital of £5,000, his bank recommended that he “apply to his friends for a guarantee” and his property was put up security. By June 1853, he was in debt to his bank to the tune of over £4,500 with further debts of £5,764. The following year, Routledge declared bankruptcy. When it became obvious that the value of Routledge’s estate would not cover his debts, a court case in July 1855 ensued as to whether those who guaranteed the £5,000 loan were liable or not for the other outstanding debts.

A few months before that case was heard, Routledge’s creditors had moved to begin selling off his estate and, in mid-March 1855, advertisements began to appear in local newspapers:

Huddersfield Chronicle 10 March 1855

The dwelling house mentioned in the advert was soon to become one of the most notorious residences in Huddersfield. The events surrounding the “Seed Hill Ghost” were reported widely both locally and nationally, and some of the newspaper articles are occasionally contradictory, so the following is an attempt to pull together the facts of the story as best we can, 160 years after they occurred…

On the evening of Friday 16 March 1855 at around 7:45pm, a vigorous knocking sound echoed through Samuel Routledge’s house. Routledge was away at the time, so his maid rushed to answer the door to find out what all the urgency was. However, when she opened the door, there was no-one there. No sooner had she closed the front door than loud banging sounded from elsewhere in the house. She thought it must be coming from the kitchen and went to investigate but found the room was empty.

The maid, perhaps suspecting a practical joke or perhaps getting fearful, left the house and roused a night watchman from a nearby yard. He accompanied her back to the house and stood guard in the passageway. Before long, the loud knocking sound echoed once again through the house. Perturbed, he announced that he would he was unprepared to remain on guard there overnight, unless there was someone else to watch over him!

Fortunately for the maid, the ghost of Seed Hill apparently slept at night and soon the rappings diminished. In their first article about the strange events, the Huddersfield Chronicle (24/Mar/1855) quoted a policeman as saying, “it’s a woise boggert, for he ligs to sleep at’neets”. Before J.K. Rowling appropriated the word for her Harry Potter novels, a “boggart” was a catch-all term applied to a mischievous and/or malevolent spirit dwelling in a house or location, so we can translate our strongly-accented policeman as saying “it’s a wise spirit, for he lies down to sleep at night”. In past times, boggarts were blamed for everything from the milk turning sour overnight to any sudden aches or pains.

After the respite, this particular boggart awoke and knocking noises once more sounded through the house, sometimes loud enough to be heard in every room. With the master of the house returned, attempts were made to ascertain where the noises were coming from — pipes throughout the house were checked, but to no avail. It seemed no-one could agree on where the source of the rapping actually was.

By now, news of the strange happenings was spreading quickly and locals were keen to experience the events from themselves. According to the Chronicle, small groups were admitted into the house where they waited expectantly for the knocking to begin… sometimes the spirit would oblige, other times not. During the evenings, large groups of people wandered around Routledge’s dye works and the neighbouring area in hope of experiencing something supernatural, but the ghost became shy with only a few sounds being reported on the Wednesday.

Thursday saw a return of the noises and it was reported “sewers have been searched, goits fathomed, pipes cleared, but all has yet failed to discover the cause of the day-rapper”. By now, the Chronicle had a journalist on-site and he reported:

We heard the singular phenomenon three times on Thursday, about noon, with some dozen others, distributed in and about the rooms on the ground floor, but none could agree as to where it came from, only that it was loud and indefinite, and produced a pitiful change in the air of some of the listeners. [On Friday] the rappings were as loud and frequent as ever, and though many gentlemen of our acquaintance, who are not easily “gulled,” visited the spot […] they assure us that there is an air of strangeness about these loud, frequent, and imperious rappings which their philosophy cannot solve ; and how or by what instrumentality brought about they, in common with Mr. Routledge, are unable to trace. At the same time we would caution the credulous against placing reliance on the thousand silly rumours afloat, as it is possible that more minute examinations of the premises may tend to make clear what is at present, to say the least, a very mysterious exhibition on behalf of something or other which has so far evaded the vigilance of the thousands who have crowed around the premises as Seed Hill during the week.

Although Routledge had been away when the noises first started, gossip began to spread that he was behind it all and that he wished to put off potential buyers of the house at the upcoming auction — “Numerous rumours detrimental to Mr. R. and his family were rife in every quarter, and every one explained the extraordinary circumstance in his own way.”

News of the ghost had by now spread to neighbouring towns and cities, with other regional newspapers carrying the story in their Saturday editions…

Halifax Courier (24/Mar/1855):

The Seed Hill Ghost.

The people of Huddersfield have been amused, surprised, and alarmed, as the case may be, these few days back, by the reported visits of a ghost, which secrets itself somewhere in the premises or mansion of Mr. Samuel Routledge, of Seed Hill. What questionable shape it may yet take, who can tell, but so far it has modestly kept out of sight, no one having seen its saucer eyes, if it have any, nor its horns or anything to make “night hideous,” beyond a noise. It is known, as yet, but as a ghost of percussion.

Leeds Times (24/Mar/1855):

During the whole of the past week the neighbourhood of Seed Hill, and in fact the whole of the “lower region” of the town of Huddersfield, has been in a state of extraordinary excitement owing to most alarming “noises” made in the house of Mr. Samuel Routledge, an extensive dyer, at Seed Hill. Mr. Routledge first called the attention of the police and the public to the matter last Saturday, declaring that the noises resembled the “striking of a door or a table-top with a stick or switcher with all one’s might;” that these noises were very frequent, and had frightened all his servants and even the cat from the house, and that he was thus left in awful solitude. The rumour spread rapidly, and every day since the house has been regularly besieged by crowds of people, all anxious to see and hear for themselves the marvellous doings of the ghost. On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, several policemen were stationed inside the house. The ghost, however, was not to be intimidated either by the crowd or the police — “bang, switch, bang, switch, bang, switch,” — continued at intervals to echo through the corridors and rooms of the building. Impudent and cunning ghost! He is quite a ventriloquist; when you are seated in the dining-room, the sound appears to come from the front door ; and when you are at the front door, the sound appears to proceed from the dining room. A policeman was therefore placed at each of these places, determined to catch the ghost. “Bang, switch” echoes once more; each policeman rushes from his post to catch the fugitive ; they meet in the passage, and a terrific collision takes place, each knocking the other down, and in the mêlée the ghost escapes ! These watchings continued until Wednesday evening, when the police, fairly baffled, raised the siege, and left the ghost in undisputed possession of the fortress. The phenomenon remains a mystery, but the premises are advertised for sale by public auction on the 2nd of April, and rumour insinuates that the ghost is merely the result of some hidden galvanic wires, or some subterraneous steam pipes, and the ruse is to frighten purchasers, so that the house may be sold very cheap.

Leeds Intelligencer (24/Mar/1855):

A Ghost Story.

During the early part of the present week a good portion of the Huddersfield public have been running mad in their endeavours to discover the workings of a certain ghost, said to have located himself at the residence of Mr. Sam. Routledge, dyer, Seed Hill. On Sunday and Monday last several hundred people visited the place, and, strange to say, not a few returned deeply impressed with the reality of the story. How to capture the bane intruder has been a point which has drawn largely on the resources of the ingenious, aided by the light of official police experience, but up to the present time he continues his perambulations unchecked and undismayed. We record this much of this idle tale, as illustrating the great amount of superstition still prevalent in the popular mind.

Extra night watchmen were now employed to guard the house — perhaps with the hope of catching a hoaxer — and a joiner was “engaged to thoroughly examine the house to ascertain if any mechanical apparatus had been fixed whereby, with the aid of galvanism or other scientific means, the strange unearthly sounds might be produced”. However, said joiner could find no evidence of trickery.

On Sunday 25 March, the ghost began to extend its repertoire and the servant bells “were continually rung, but no explanation offered itself as to the cause”.

On Monday, the renowned local clairvoyant, Miss Challand, visited the house. Sadly, the ghost decided to cease activity during the visit and, despite going into a trance, Miss Challand could offer up no explanation.

Tuesday and Wednesday saw further knocking and bell ringing. However, the latter was ceased when Routledge unhooked their wires. Perhaps frustrated by this ploy, the ghostly activities now moved to the bedrooms of the house. Late on Thursday afternoon, the bedclothes and pillows were found ripped from the beds and left on the staircase and landing. This, together with the continued knocking, was the final straw for the housekeeper who fled the house, vowing not to return. Apparently that night, the watchman hired to remain in the house overnight was so scared that he “dared not close his eyes” and nod off.

Routledge returned that evening, having been away in Bradford during the day, to learn that his housekeeper had left. By now, the cost of investigating the cause was becoming serious, not to mention the ongoing local gossip, so he re-doubled his efforts to get to the bottom of the mystery. Perhaps he had had time to reflect on the events whilst away in Bradford, but he had apparently grown convinced that someone in the house must be behind it all.

It would seem the clairvoyant had already been asked to return that evening and, having gone into her trance, “performed some strange antics over and under the bed and among the bed clothes, but to no purpose”(!)

Together with some trusted companions, Routledge took up a walking stick and began banging walls and objects to see if he could replicate “the same dolorous sound” as the ghost. After much investigating, one of the group “accidentally struck the end of the barrel of a large washing-machine standing in the back kitchen, and like magic the sounds were at once explained, and on the outer end being examined hundreds of indentations were discovered.” He had indeed been right to suspect an “inside job” — but who?

Quite how many people were residing in the house at that point in time isn’t recorded, but the 1851 Census lists Routledge (a widower), his three young daughters — Catherine (aged 5), Annie (4) and Lucy (1) — along with two servants — cook Margaret Wright (26) and housemaid Eliza Barker (21). By 1854, Routledge had taken in another servant girl (“from motives of charity”), a young Irish “urchin” named Catherine Hayley (her name is variously reported as “Haley”, “Healey” and “Heeley”). One by one, apparently Routledge questioned everyone in the house and all denied having anything to do with the noises. In a dubious instance of stereotyping, a journalist later reported the Irish servant girl as saying “Shure [I know] nothing about it at all at all”!

It seems the following day, Routledge again questioned everyone and, this time, young Catherine Hayley admitted that she had “knocked a little”. That was enough for him, and he took the girl to the local police station where she was interviewed further. Here it emerged that Catherine had taken a dislike to the housekeeper and began making the noises to frighten her, for a “bit of fun”. As events escalated, she’d hoped that the noises would scare the unwanted curious visitors away.

The Chronicle reported that Catherine had used a stick and a small sandstone to bang on the washing tub and on the doors in the passageway — when the latter were examined closely, indentations were found from the banging. As for the bedlinen, she explained that she waiting until no-one was around, then slipped off her clogs, run silently upstairs, and pulled off the sheets and pillows, dragging them behind her and leaving them disarrayed on the landing and stairs. Having crept back downstairs, she slipped on clogs back on and screamed, alerting the watchman sat in the parlour. As she was wearing clogs that would have sounded on the stairs, it seems no-one thought for a minute that she was actually the culprit.

In fact, throughout the events, young Catherine had pretended to be scared by the noises and “no one for a moment thought that she could he capable of playing such extraordinary tricks, so successfully as she had done”.

Unsurprisingly, Routledge booted young Catherine out of his house. In summarising the conclusion of the story, the Chronicle lamented that some of the locals now regarded her as a heroine who had outwitted all those gentlemen who had tried to identify the source of the noises.

Coda

What with the events of March 1855 and the bankruptcy, it is perhaps a surprise to learn Samuel Routledge decided to get married again. On 1 May 1856, he married Margaret Thompson at the Church of St. John, Newcastle-upon-Type. However, the marriage was short lived and he died only a few months later, aged 53. He was buried on 23 August 1856 at St. Paul’s in Huddersfield.1 He had previously married Elizabeth Mills in Sheffield on 24 February 1844 and she died not long after the birth of last daughter, Lucy, in 1849.

Lucy Routledge was born 1 February 1849 and was baptised on 8 March 1850 at St. Paul’s. Following her father’s death, she attended a boarding school for girls in East Keswick and eventually became a governess. By 1871, she was employed by the Lee family at Wester Hall, Haughton, Northumbia. The 1881 Census found her employed by the Bankes family of Willow Green, Little Leigh, Northwich, Cheshire. A decade later she was a governess for the Weeks family of Bedlington, Morpeth, Northumberland. By the time of the 1901 Census, 51-year-old Lucy was living with her sister Catherine at 34 Little Horton Lane, Bradford, Yorkshire. It seems likely that the sisters lived together for the rest of their lives, and Lucy passed away in 1930 in Bradford, aged 80.

Catherine Routledge was born 22 February 1846 and was baptised 1 May 1846 at St. Paul’s. She married sometime around 1886, although I haven’t been able to find details of the marriage. By 1901, when her sister Lucy was living with her, she was a widow and had reverted to her maiden name. The 1911 Census shows her occupation as “herbalist” at 36 Clive Place, Great Horton, Bradford, and Lucy was still living with her. She died in 1936 in Bradford, aged 90.

Annie Routledge was born 5 March 1847 and baptised 26 May 1847 at St. Paul’s. Following her father’s death, it seems she was made a ward of Huddersfield doctor John Moxon and his wife, Sarah. There are no obvious records for Annie after the 1861 Census, so she likely married.

As for the “Seed Hill Ghost”, Catherine Hayley, she was very likely born around 1842, the daughter of washerwoman Anne Hayley. Anne was born around 1821 and lived in Sligo, Ireland, where she had at least four children with her husband. What led the family to move to Huddersfield around 1850 is uncertain, but by the time of the 1851 Census, Anne’s husband had died, leaving her a widow at age 30 with four children to support. Her oldest daughter, 14-year-old Margaret, is named as a street hawker in the census. By 1861, six years after she had been fired by Samuel Routledge, Catherine was living with her mother on Kirkgate, Huddersfield. Anne eventually died in 1890, aged 67.

In the years after 1855, a number of other cases of young girls faking paranormal activity were recorded elsewhere in Yorkshire and, more often that not, their activities would be compared to those of the “Seed Hill Ghost”.

It should be noted that Catherine apparently found another job straight away at a local public house run by John Tasker. In May 1855, she was called before the magistrates as a witness in a case where the police alleged Tasker’s wife had been caught serving beer after 10pm. Under oath, Catherine swore that the pub had been empty at that time and that Mrs. Tasker had been bringing in glasses of undrunk ale from outside when she was spotted by the police. Given her notoriety, Superintendent Thomas asked Catherine whether or not she was capable of lying. To the amusement of the court, Catherine replied that she could if she had a mind to. The magistrate fined Mr. Tasker 10 shillings plus expenses.

The 1861 Census is the last definite record I could find of her life — she was definitely not the “Catherine Hayley” who died on 26 January 1862 in Huddersfield2 but perhaps she was the “Catherine Haley” who was married in Huddersfield in 1865, or perhaps she was “Kate Healey” who married locally in 1880?

Whatever became of Catherine, the fact remains that for nearly two weeks in March 1855, she fooled everyone in Huddersfield and her deeds were reported throughout the country!

Further Reading

Local newspaper reports:

For more things that went bump in the night locally, see Haunted Huddersfield (2012) by Kai Roberts.


In a future blog post, we’ll find out what happened the day THE GHOST came to Huddersfield…

ghosticoming

Footnotes

  1. Oddly, I could find no newspaper reports of his death, but the burial register entry is in black and white.
  2. That Catherine was related to William Hayley of Hillhouse.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *