A Real-life Scandalous Elopement

A Real-life Scandalous Elopement

I just came back from camping in the beautiful Lake District and the wonderful surprise is that for once it didn’t rain for seven days solid (just for two 😀 ) so I could take some amazing photos which I hope you’ll like.


We were near Penrith, some 25 miles south of Gretna Green, but with my family trekking up hill and down dale we didn’t manage to get to that ever so famous village. The road is a far cry from the old turnpikes, thank goodness, but those hills and dales must have seen many young hopefuls dashing at the amazing speed of 10 mph (or very likely less) on their way to the border and a marriage over the anvil.

Elopements featured in my previous post too. If you haven’t had a look yet, click to find out more about the romantic past of Derbyshire and the not-so-well-known ‘Gretna of the Peak’, the little chapel in the village of Peak Forest, where apparently young people could dispense with the waiting and the reading of banns and could marry in haste. (Whether or not they repented at leisure afterwards is not mentioned in the registry 🙂 ).

But as I was searching for romantic stories of elopements, I came across a fascinating one. You can find the full story here, but in a nutshell, it’s a tale of treachery and deceit involving Miss Ellen Turner, the daughter of the wealthy Sheriff of Cheshire and one Mr Edward Gibbon Wakefield, who was, shall we say, a Wickham extraordinaire.

He contrived to send Miss Turner a letter, whereby she was persuaded to leave the ladies’ seminary where she was boarding, on account that her mother was very ill. He met her at a coaching inn along the way to tell her that while her mother was in fact in perfect health, it was her father who was in dire straights and needed her assistance. He claimed that her father’s bank had failed, that he was ruined, and the only solution was for his remaining property to be passed to her. Then, if she agreed to marry her father’s ‘friend’ Mr Wakefield, once the wife’s property became the husband’s, he would restore it all to her father.

Like Mr Wickham, he was plausible and persuasive, claimed that the scheme had been concocted by the family solicitor and moreover he was extremely charming. Long story short, the fifteen-year-old girl believed him. Off they went to Gretna Green and she married him, only to discover it was all a hoax and her father was far from ruined, but her life stood to be once she found herself married to an unscrupulous rogue.

Luckily for Miss Turner, she had a lucky escape. Her uncles caught up with the newlyweds in Calais, the deceit was unravelled and she returned to England with them. Wakefield stood trial for felonious abduction and the marriage was dissolved through Act of Parliament.

But this story caught my eye not only because it’s the stuff of Regency Romances. While I was reading the article I kept thinking ‘Miss Turner, I’m pretty sure I heard of you…’

Lyme Park, Cheshire. Photo J. Starnes

Turns out I did, and there is a connection between Miss Turner and one of my favourite places in the word: Lyme Park in Cheshire. Now I must admit, hand on heart, that whenever I visit it in my mind I’m not touring the ancestral home of the Leghs, I’m going to Pemberley.

But be that as it may, Lyme Park is the ancestral home of the Leghs and one of them was the flamboyant Thomas Peter Legh, who spent several years of his youth exploring distant and exotic lands (there is a large portrait in the house, which for all the difference of costume, still shows sufficient similarities to remind us of Lord Byron).

Staircase Lyme Park, Cheshire. National Trust

His early beginnings are unusual, to say the least. His father was the lively Colonel Thomas Peter Legh who, while a ‘kind landlord with a benevolent heart’ seems to have led a very lively private life, resulting in a number of illegitimate children. Of those, only one was to be extremely favoured by fate. Born John Clarke, the Colonel’s illegitimate son with a maid at a nearby vicarage, he was claimed by his father, re-baptised Thomas Peter Legh and made the heir of the Colonel’s vast fortune, in the absence of other heirs (the Colonel never married).

So, where is Thomas Peter Legh coming into this tale I began with? At Lyme Park the story of his life is told in several display boards, and one of them informs us that in 1828 he married Miss Ellen Turner, daughter of a wealthy industrialist and victim of the notorious abduction perpetrated by Mr Wakefield. As a local magistrate, he must have become closely involved in the case following her abduction and, at his 36 years of age, is it so difficult to imagine his heart softening at the young girl’s plight and the embarrassment that must have come with a public trial? He had a vast personal fortune inherited from his father, he was not a gambling man and his estate was not encumbered, so I’m tempted to believe he didn’t need to marry the daughter of a rich mill owner for her dowry.

Wouldn’t it be nice to put on some rose-tinted glasses and dream that he married her for love?

15 Responses to A Real-life Scandalous Elopement

  1. Love the photos and the tale…as they say, “Truth is stranger than fiction. (Mark Twain — ‘Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.’)

  2. I always enjoy what you share with us Joana and today’s offering is no exception.The story of Miss Turner and Mr. Leigh is fascinating. Are these the Leighs that Charles Austen Leigh ended up in the family?

    • Hugs & thanks, Brenda, I’m so glad you liked the post!! Bless them, it was such a sweet story 🙂
      I think they’re not the same Leighs (the name was spelled slightly differently, but I guess that doesn’t mean much, many spellings went back and forth). On the other hand the families of the highest circles were so interconnected that I shouldn’t be surprised if there was a link between them somewhere. Thanks for reading the post and for the lovely comment!

  3. I loved your story of Ellen Turner and Thomas Peter Legh! My romantic heart finds it lovely. <3 And, as usual, your pictures are fantastic! Thanks for sharing! 😀

    • Thanks, Zoe 🙂 So glad you liked the pics and the story. There is an aura of knight in shining armour, isn’t it, and very romantic? We don’t know for sure, but it’s nice to imagine.

  4. Joana, I have tears in my eyes from the beauty of your photos. How lucky you are. If you decide you need a personal maid for your next outing, I am available. 🙂

  5. Joana, amazing photos and what a story, OMG!!! I am so glad you enjoyed your trip…and no rain, wow. Welcome back home, get some rest, and thank you for this amazing post. JWG

  6. FYI, Edward Gibbon Wakefield became the manager of the new NZ Land Company which purchased land from the Maoris to sell to the white settlers. Guess he remained a crook.

    • Amazing! Thanks for that, Vonnie, I never knew. I guess some have no limits. Can’t believe he got away with so much when some were in big trouble for stealing a loaf of bread.

Comments are precious!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.