Many times we hear of serious crimes taking place in areas which are never close to home and we always think to ourselves it would never happen where you live, and yet crimes, and especially murders may well have happened closer than you realize – sometimes you just have to do a little digging.

Haslingden is a small town that resides within the district of Rossendale. Surrounded by moorland, it is situated roughly 16 miles North of Manchester, with neighboring towns and villages such as Rawtenstall, Helmshore, Rising Bridge, Acre and Hud Hey all within close proximity.

By the late 1800’s, the population was around 19,000 with many residents working within the factories and mills that had prospered during Industrial Revolution due to the mechanization of the wool, cotton and spinning industries.

And it is in this setting that we travel back to the 20th August 1880 and to the home of Mary and Dennis Molloy, mop maker, that was situated on Wilkinson Street, or as it was known then, New Club Houses – just off Marsden Square at the top of the town. As you can probably gather, the surname – Molloy – is of Irish origin and it was in this part of town that a large gathering of Irish families had settled, with one name in particular that some of you may have already heard of; Michael Davitt – the founder of the ‘Land League‘ back in 1879 which was responsible for liberating the Irish peasantry from the injustices of the land rental scheme; but this is a story for another time!

It was close to around 2.00pm when James, aged 20 and the third eldest of nine children, arrived back at home eagerly looking forwards to having his lunch after spending much of the day transporting goods around town as a carter.

Being of a somewhat poor neighborhood, the house was in a terrible state and witness accounts that spoke of Mary and Dennis seem to indicate they spent most of their time in a drunken stupor, with Dennis perhaps being the more guilty of the two when it came to worse-for-wear with drink.

Not having much in the way of food, Mary went out to a local shop nearby to purchase some ham, eggs and coffee and when she arrived back home some short time later, James sat down at the kitchen table and tucked into the food she had brought back.

Meanwhile, his father, Dennis Molloy, who had been sleeping upstairs, was awoken by the sound of his wife and James talking downstairs. Making his way down and into the kitchen, he ordered his son to leave the house saying; “he should have no dinner here.”

Winifred Molloy, nine years of age who was in the house at the time had made her way into the kitchen by the time her mother came back and heard her father shouting at James.

She remembered him yelling, “fetch some money for his meat!”

But her brother sat still, ignoring his father’s demand and began to tuck into the some of the ham his mother had brought back. This infuriated Dennis. He took hold of a butchers knife and began sharpening it. It was the knife he used to cut old cotton bags from to make his mops with the blade being around 14 inches in length.

Noticing the rage in her husband, Mary warned her son to leave the house saying, “Go out; or he’ll stick you.” James made his way up from the table and was about to make his way to the door but in doing so, Dennis had blocked his way. Falling backwards onto a cupboard that was behind him, James felt a sharp piercing sensation that flooded his upper body and as Dennis stepped back, Mary noticed the blood stained knife in his hand.

Screaming, she quickly pushed James out towards the door and onto the pavement outside, shouting, “Go out, Jemmy, he’s done it!”

Hearing a commotion, neighbours Mary Ann Chadwick and John Smith quickly rushed out to see what was happening.

Mary Ann Chadwick recalled hearing Mary Molloy scream, “Oh, he’s stabbed my Jemmy.” Upon looking, Mary Chadwick shouted back towards Dennis, “Dennis, Dennis. You’ve killed your Jemmy. You’ve stabbed him, he’s dying now!”

Looking at her from the door, Dennis casually replied, “Well, what did he come into the house annoying me for?”

John Smith had at this time been trying to aid poor James, holding onto his arm to try and steady him. A doctor surgery was nearby but James stumbled and slipped onto the pavement. John Smith grabbed him and did his best to keep him warm, wrapping his arms around his body whilst trying with one hand to stem the flow of blood coming from the knife wound.

Mary Molloy was also trying to get help, running to the police station which was only a short walk away just off Hargreaves Street. When she got there, Sergeant Taylor was first to respond as he stated in court of Mary screaming, “Sergeant, come out; Dennis has stabbed our Jemmy!”

Making their way out of the station and back over to Wilkinson Street, Sergeant Taylor saw James lying in the arms of James Smith. It was obvious there and then that this was a serious incident.

It seems by all accounts, Dennis wasn’t disturbed by what he had done and when Sergeant Taylor entered the house, Dennis was watching the commotion going on outside from his window.

Unfortunately, and even though a doctor had been called for, by the time Alexander McPherson, surgeon of Haslingden had arrived, James had sadly passed away. It had taken just under 12 minutes for his death and in that short period of time, James never uttered a single word.

On the 23rd August 1880, the inquest into the death of James Molloy would take place within the Market Hotel, Marsden Square, Haslingden before Mr. H. J. Robinson, coroner.

Mary Mellor, Mary Ann Chadwick as well as James Smith would all give evidence as already mentioned earlier as would police sergeant Taylor who would go on to say that after arresting Dennis Mellor, the accused told him that, “He (James), did it by himself running against the knife.” He also told the jury that when he went back to the house, after placing Dennis under arrest, he found the blood stained knife on the window ledge, which was produced as evidence.

Dr. McPherson would also describe in detail how he found the victim as well as the wounds inflicted upon him. There was a wound on the left breast about an inch in length. The wound had penetrated the lower portion of the left lung and gone into the heart. It was from 4.5in to 5in in depth, and undoubtedly caused death.

He also went on record to say that considerable violence must have been used in giving the wound and it was not likely to have been made by the deceased pushing against the knife.

Once all of the witnesses had taken to the stand, and having summoned up the evidence, the coroner said the jury would have no difficulty in coming to the conclusion that James died from the effects of the wound. What they had to decide was to how the wound was inflicted?

Did Dennis purposely attacked his son which resulted in the stabbing OR was Dennis telling the truth and it was James that perhaps fell onto the knife when darting from the kitchen table?

The coroner would remind the jury that if what Mrs. Molloy said was true in that she told her son to, “Get out, he’ll stick you.” then the proper verdict would be one of willful murder as it would show premeditation. But if they believed that Dennis had sharpened the knife ready to be used for the process of his work (making mops), and in a sudden passion he had used it, the offence might be reduced to manslaughter.

The jury retired to make their decision and returned around 50 minutes later. When asked, the verdict of willful murder against the prisoner was announced.

Dennis was taken into custody and remanded in jail in Preston to await official charges that would be made to him four days later.

Dennis Molloy appeared at Haslingden Public Hall on Friday, 27th August to face charges of willful murder. A large number of people had been awaiting his arrival by train from Preston that they thought would be arriving by 10.00am that morning but instead, he had been put onto another train that wouldn’t arrive until sometime after 11.15am. Most of the people waiting were factory and mill workers and they lined the streets as Dennis Molloy was transferred by two police officers from the train station and towards the police station.

At around 12.00pm, Dennis was brought into the Public Hall which had already filled with people eager to follow the case.

Taking to his seat, Dennis, and with no one to appear for him, listened intently to the evidence put before Mr. R. Townsend by Superintendent Henderson. After all witness evidence had been made, Mr Townsend asked Dennis if he had anything to say to which he replied, “I wish you to be so good to as to let my wife come up. I want her to speak, your Worship. She knows as much about it as anybody.”

Mr. Townsend turned down his plea, replying, “Your wife cannot say anything either for you or against you.”

Not happy with this, Dennis continued, “She knows how it was done. It was done by him running against it. I wish you be so good as to let her speak, because she knows that he came and rushed on me.”

Again, Mr. Townsend reiterated his answer, “Your wife cannot say anything for you here or elsewhere. She cannot either speak in your favour or against you.”

Realising he wasn’t going to get his wish, Dennis replied, “I have nothing to say about it, only it was done by him running at me. He wasn’t going to beat me. As for the girl, she knows very well that he was running at me at the time the knife was handled. He done it himself. I am innocent as anybody here that it was done willfully, although it was done. I have no more to say, only it was not done willfully.”

Ending the discussion, Mr. Townsend formally sentenced Dennis Molloy to trial at the next Manchester Assizes.

After Dennis had signed a statement to the events that took place, he was removed to the cells where he would sit and wait until later that afternoon from where he would be taken to the jail at Manchester, Strangeways.

On the 3rd November, 1880, and before Sir John Mellor, Dennis Molloy aged 50 was indicted at the Manchester Assizes for killing his son James. However, it seems that the grand jury were not completely satisfied that the killing was premeditated, throwing out the bill and charging him on a lesser crime.

Prior to the proceedings, Dennis stated that he was too poor to employ counsel so Sir John Mellor would request that a man by the name of Mr. Foard to take up his defense.

In opening the case, prosecutor Mr. Cooper would go into detail not only the crime itself but also give a brief character summary of James Molloy. He would state, due to being paralyzed down the left side of his body, James was unable to do much work, having taken on the role of a carter on a part time basis. Mr. Cooper would argue that Dennis implied that James was idle and a dissolute young man and his conduct greatly irritated him to the extent that they quarreled on many occasions over this.

Police surgeon Alexander McPherson gave full details as to the wound sustained on James’ body and how it would undoubtedly have caused his death but it was Mr. Foard, defending Dennis, who would urge the jury to consider the fact that it was James that had impaled himself onto the knife by running at his father and there was no intention of Dennis wanting to do him any harm.

This final statement by Mr. Foard would work as, with all the evidence put before them, the jury, although returning a verdict of guilty; Dennis Molloy would only be sentenced to six months imprisonment.

James Molloy’s body would be interred into St. James Cemetery on the 24th August, 1880.

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Thanks to for valuable information and photos used for this article.

Sources used for this story;

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser – Monday 23 August 1880

Bolton Evening News – Wednesday 25 August 1880

Illustrated Police News – Saturday 28 August 1880

Burnley Express – Saturday 28 August 1880

Blackburn Standard – Saturday 06 November 1880

+ many more courtesy of the British Newspaper

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5 responses to “THE WILKINSON STREET MURDER (1880) | Haslingden”

  1. Anon avatar

    Wow I used to live on Wilkinson St, but over period of time I felt there was something wrong about the street something just didn’t seem quite right.

    1. Chris avatar

      There are some quite disturbing stories that I’m going to be covering in the coming weeks that take place in surrounding areas. Like I say at the beginning, you only have to scratch away the surface of modern times to uncover the real stories took place back in Victorian Engalnd.

  2. Paul Hammond avatar
    Paul Hammond

    A interesting read about Haslingden’s history.

    1. Chris avatar

      Many thanks for taking the time to read (or listening) this article. There are loads more interesting stories that revolve around Haslingden that will be appearing soon.

  3. Jennifer Irving avatar
    Jennifer Irving

    Very interesting, thanks for this.

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