People > Reminiscences and Family Stories > Catterall


The Catterall Connection

Tracing our Great Harwood Roots

When my sister and I became interested in researching our family tree, we discovered that over the years our parents had compiled a number of folders of family history. We decided to transfer it all into a computer database so, with a trial subscription to Ancestry, we began to build our family tree. When we finished we realised the line we knew least about was that of our own name: Catterall. When it came to the Catterall branch of the family, all we had to start with was a photo of our great-grandfather and his marriage and death certificates. The family knew him as George Holden Catterall. We knew George had emigrated from England to Australia in the 19th century and that our grandparents had visited English relatives in Great Harwood in 1955. All that had survived from this trip were two photographs and some names in a small, black address book. The first photograph was taken in front of what looked like a church and was captioned “Rhoda – English relative”. A look in the GENUKI church database produced a picture of St Bartholomew's church in Great Harwood that looked very similar. We sent an email to St. Bartholomew's Parish office with the photo attached and, to our delight, a reply from the parish administrator confirmed that the photo was indeed taken outside St. Barts.

Rhoda Hodgson (left) with our grandparents, 1955

The second photo, captioned “English relatives, 1955”, was of our grandparents and a group of people taken in what appeared to be a cemetery. The names in our grandmother's address book were:

  • Jim and Rhoda Hodgson

  • Leah and George Grimshaw

  • Bill and Hilda (no surname recorded)

  • Fred and Annie Hodgson

  • Tom and Doris Heys

Our research indicates the English relatives were grandchildren of George's sister, Alice Catterall, and her husband, William Hodgson:

  • James “Jim” Hodgson (born 1905) and his wife Rhoda Burton

  • Leah Hodgson (James' older sister, born 1895) and her husband, George Grimshaw

  • William (Bill) Hodgson (born 1900 and cousin to James and Leah) and his wife Mary Hilda Whittam

  • Fred Hodgson (William's younger brother, born 1904) and his wife Ann Woodruff

  • Doris Heys (William's younger sister, born 1902) and her husband, we think, was John T Heys (called Tom)

Identification of these people is very important to us because we feel it provides the confirmatory link between the family we had been researching and the relatives our grandparents visited in 1955. However we still don't know “who is who” in the second photograph, so if you know these people, or can confirm the location, we'd be delighted to hear from you. Another of George's sisters, Mary Ann, married William's brother Thomas Hodgson so we suspect that we might be related to many of Great Harwood's current day Hodgsons!

Family group
Our grandparents (right) with English relatives, 1955


A Skeleton in the Catterall Cupboard

During our research into the history of our Catterall family in Great Harwood, we made one sad discovery, a murder involving one of George Holden Catterall's sisters. This discovery came about after we noticed that Melinda Catterall's husband, James Leaver, was probably the same James Leaver shown in the 1881 census records as a Broadmoor inmate. We searched the English newspapers from the period prior to the census and found that the story of “The Accrington Child Murder” was reported nationwide.

Melinda married James Leaver on the 22nd September 1872 in St. Bartholomew's church. James was the youngest of three brothers living in Great Harwood. His older brother John had married Melinda's older sister Esther in 1855. James was a member of the Great Harwood Cricket Club and had played in the first eleven.

A few weeks after their marriage James and Melinda went to America, but Melinda returned in 1874 and their first child, Henrietta Leaver was baptised on the 3rd June 1874 in Great Harwood. James returned to Great Harwood around 1879 but was not reconciled with Melinda until around September 1880 when he moved into 92 Water Street Accrington, where Melinda was boarding with her cousin Nanny Smith, wife of John Smith. By this time Melinda had given birth to another child, Albert, born in Yorkshire in 1878.

While James was in America he had been confined to a Boston lunatic asylum after inexplicably trying to strangle one of his roommates. Upon returning to the United Kingdom, he wandered the country and according to testimony from his brothers, was known to act strangely. He seemed unable to sleep and would get up in the middle of the night, sing and smoke and sharpen his pocket knife with which he seemed quite obsessed.

It was on the evening of 25th January 1881 that Melinda and Nanny decided to go to the market, leaving James at home while Albert and Henrietta lay asleep upstairs. James had decided not to go saying he was tired and that he would go to bed early, as he needed his sleep. At about 7:40pm John Smith returned home from work to find James sitting in front of the fire with a bloodied pocketknife in his hand. James told Smith matter-of-factly that he had killed his daughter and, if he didn't believe him, to “go upstairs and see for yourself”. Smith went upstairs to the bedroom and found Henrietta still alive laying half off the bed with a deep wound to her neck. A small can had been neatly placed on the floor to collect the blood flowing from her neck; her brother Albert lay undisturbed, fast asleep next to her. The doctor was called but it was too late.

It is hard to know what drove James to murder his little daughter, of whom it was reported he seemed very fond. James Barr the surgeon at Kirkdale prison reported that since his incarceration James had shown no signs of insanity and had said he “slept better in prison than before he came there”. The jury found James not guilty of murder by reason of insanity; the foreman saying the jury thought his relatives were very much to blame for allowing him to remain at large.

James died on the 10th July 1927, having spent the remainder of his life in Broadmoor Lunatic Asylum, and was buried in the Broadmoor cemetery. Melinda must have been pregnant at the time of the murder, as she gave birth to her third child, Ernest, in August 1881. She never remarried but in the 1891 census was living with William Rushton at 55 Dowry Street, Accrington, the ditto below Rushton's surname being crossed out on the census form and “Leaver” being squeezed in. She is buried in the Accrington cemetery along with William Rushton, her father James Catterall, and son Albert and his wife and daughter.

Christine Cramer (nee Catterall) and Eric Catterall


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