The Shrigley Heiress Abduction 1826 ; Cheshire

by Veronica

Most old Stately Homes in Britain have a story to tell but none more shocking than the Shrigley Hall with its infamous Shrigley Abduction of 1826.

The Shrigley Heiress Abduction of 1826

Visiting Shrigley Hall in August for Frank Beswick's son's wedding put me in mind of the famous story connected to the former owners. Here is a tale which shocked Georgian England when Shrigley's wealthy 15 year old heiress Ellen Turner was abducted from school and deceived then forcibly married to a fortune hunter.

Shrigley Hall stands in beautiful Cheshire countryside high above the Cheshire plain and looks out over stunning views. It was built by “Cottontot” Mr William Turner, a new money cotton mill owner who held his businesses in Blackburn, Lancashire which is North of Cheshire.
William Turner demolished the Old Shrigley Hall and had his mansion built to launch himself into Cheshire society. The house is magnificent with a central staircase and a beautiful blue and gold ceiling in the hall.

The magnificent blue and gold  ceiling
The magnificent blue and gold ceiling

The background to the abduction

Within a year of the house opening though, a scandal rocked British society. Edward Gibbon Wakefield was a scoundrel who made his living by marrying heiresses. A widower, he had married an heiress in 1827 who had died and he was in search of another heiress to marry. His first heiress had been sixteen when they eloped and he had two children by her living in Paris. His cruel eye fell on 15 year old Ellen Turner, William Turner’s only surviving child.

In March 1826, Wakefield's servant arrived at Ellen’s boarding school in Liverpool . On February 28th 1826, Wakefield with his brother William Wakefield and a servant named Thevenot had arrived in Macclesfield and acquainted themselves with Mr Turner’s family situation learning that Ellen was heiress to her father’s and also her uncle’s fortunes. Wakefield's party left on March 5th purporting to be going to Paris but instead they arrived at The Albion Hotel, Manchester in a Wilmslow Post Chaise and proceeded to Liverpool.

At 8 am on the Tuesday morning March 7th 1826,  a carriage arrived at Ellen’s school with only the servant in it. He gave the Headteacher, Miss Dalby, a letter and convinced her to give Ellen into his charge.

LIverpool and Shrigley near Maccesfield

The letter

6th March 1826

The letter read accordingly.

“Madam – I write to you by the desire of Mrs Turner of Shrigley who has been seized with a sudden and dangerous attack of paralysis. Mr Turner is unfortunately away from home and Mrs Turner wishes to see her daughter immediately. A steady servant will take this letter and my carriage to you to fetch Miss Turner and I beg that no time may be lost in her departure as though I do not think Mrs Turner is in immediate danger it is possible she may be very soon incapable of recognising anyone.  Mrs Turner particularly wishes that her daughter should not be informed of the extent of her danger as without this precaution Miss Turner might be very anxious on the journey and the house is so crowded as in such confusion and alarm that Mrs Turner does not want anyone to accompany her daughter. The servant is instructed not to let the boys drive too fast as Miss Turner is rather fearful in a carriage.

I am madam your obedient servant,

Jno Ainsworth MD

 “The best thing to say to Miss T is that Mrs T wishes to have her daughter home rather sooner for the approaching removal to the new house and his servant is instructed to give no other reason in case Miss T should ask any questions, Mrs T is very anxious that her daughter should not be frightened and trusts your judgement to prevent it . She also desires me to add that her sister of niece or myself should she continue to be unable will not fail to write to you by post. "

the superb central staircase at Shrigley Hall
the superb central staircase at Shrigley Hall
me and 2 of my girls

The abduction

When summoned,  Ellen stated that she did not recognise the servant as one of her father’s household but he quickly countered this that he was new because of the move to the new house. The extreme plausibility of the young man’s manner left no room for suspicion and the headmistress handed Ellen into the waiting carriage.

The carriage stopped in Manchester where Edward Wakefield made his first appearance.  Ellen had never seen him before but he spoke that he was from her Papa and gave another lie and false story. He stated that the story of her mother’s illness was false to hide the truth from Ellen’s school. Wakefield told Ellen that her father was to meet them and in order to save himself from financial ruin, William Turner had to marry Ellen off to Edward Wakefield. Wakefield said that the Macclesfield Bank of Daintry and Ryle had failed and also Blackburn Bank which meant that Ellen’s father was ruined. Ellen agreed to the marriage in order to save her father from financial ruin. They proceeded to Gretna in Scotland, the place of over the border for secret weddings where Wakefield told Ellen that her father could not attend for fear of being seen outside.  Ellen and Wakefield were married at Gretna, Scotland.

Manchester, England to Gretna, Scotland


All the while waiting for her father to meet them, Ellen was taken to Calais, France. Ellen’s family were still unaware of what had taken place thinking that their daughter was still at school in Liverpool. Wakefield sent a letter from Calais to announce the marriage. Turner used as many of his new well connected friends as possible to assist him in the recovery of his daughter. They arrived in Calais interviewed Ellen and ascertained that the marriage had not been consummated. Ellen stated that she had been married and brought to France and entirely against her own will. Wakefield signed a statement to say she was still as virginal as snow.

Wakefield was extradited to England, arrested, tried at Lancaster Assizes and served 3 years hard labour in Newgate gaol, London.  When he emerged, he emigrated to New Zealand and set up a company which established settlements there. William Turner had Ellen’s marriage annulled by a special Act of Parliament and she married Thomas Legh, a local Cheshire landowner. She died in childbirth aged 19. Ellen’s child Ellen Jane inherited the Shrigley estate when she was aged just 11 years old.

Manchester to Calais

Ellen's tale

Ellen's tale  sounds like the stuff of a romantic melodrama but of course seen in the context of Georgian England 200 yeas ago, no telephones, poor roads,  innocent girls, fortune hunters it is evident that it could happen and did actually happen. It was widely reported in the press at the time and Wakefield had no option but  to make a new life across the globe. He would not have been accepted by Georgian or Victorian society.

A sad but interesting tale.

chandeliers and plaster work on ceilings
chandeliers and plaster work on ceilings
Updated: 11/15/2016, Veronica
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Veronica on 08/18/2017

It reads like a Mills and Boon bodice ripper but it is absolutely true. Incredible. These days no school would hand a child over like that to someone who turned up to collect them .

Ty for posting.

janisleofwight on 08/18/2017

What an amazing story. It seemed double tragic that she should then die so young. The house looks amazing. Thanks, Veronica.

Veronica on 04/18/2017

I used the photo because I had wanted to show the staircase that Ellen would have used but yes. The story is absolutely true but it does read like a melodramatic novel. Isn't the ceiling gorgeous?

The photo was taken at Frank's son's wedding. The girl in the beautiful blue dress is my gorgeous daughter-in-law.The baby is her daughter, my lovely granddaughter aged 9 weeks. I don't think I have seen many baby girls more beautiful than she is. But of course ... grandma would say that!

DerdriuMarriner on 04/18/2017

Veronica, Let's hope that he didn't get any ideas from Sense and Sensibility!
That is a lovely family picture on the central staircase. Who are the two girls with you? One of them has a beautiful blue dress or skirt on.

Veronica on 11/18/2016

Indeed. We must not use 21st C standards for 1826 though.

The legal age for marriage for girls was 12 years old in Britain until around 1928. Ellen was 15 and so well above marrying age and not considered to be a "child". There would have been very few schools for girls and those that were available would have been private ones. Now, it would be nothing to commute Shrigley, Macclesfield to Liverpool each day ; approx. 90 mins. Then, going by the remote Speke Road would have taken hours in a horse and carriage.

It is commendable that The Turners wanted an education for their daughter and did not consign her to a home governess.

frankbeswick on 11/17/2016

The problem arose with the propensity of parents to dump their offspring onto boarding schools. Nevertheless, child safety was compromised.

Veronica on 11/17/2016

I wanted to look at a different aspect of Cheshire and not just a stunning location but something about the people in the past and a little known event.

frankbeswick on 11/17/2016

Your articles on Cheshire contain fascinating information. As I have said before, you have followed good practice by establishing a niche for your writing.

Veronica on 11/17/2016

Yes indeed and what a good job too!

As a teacher, I can't imagine handing a child over to a stranger who came to collect her.

blackspanielgallery on 11/16/2016

Things were different when communications were difficult. Today, one call would be enough to get matters right before a child is released to a stranger.

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