Researcher Sarah Lister of Settle Graveyard Project has unearthed one of the 19th century’s most scandalous cases in which Craven had a part.

1826 was during the Regency years after the Napoleonic Wars and just after the death of Jane Austen. In those days coaching inns provided the main form of transport. Horses could be hired out to travel to about 15 miles to the next coaching inn.

A ‘scandal’ is an event regarded as morally wrong and causing general public outrage and we have plenty of recent examples in politics, sport and royalty. But as moral standards change over time, so do scandals.

Edward Gibbon Wakefield was a charismatic widower, aged 30. He was an international diplomat with a wealthy background but had an extravagant lifestyle and decided he needed a rich wife to match his political ambition. A cunning and audacious plot was hatched by Edward’s step-mother to acquire the family wealth of Ellen Turner, aged 15, the only heir of William Turner, a prosperous mill owner, who owned Shrigley Hall in Cheshire. Ellen, (pictured) was ‘a delicate but intelligent child’ who attended a ladies’ school in Liverpool. She was a model child, a model pupil and, hopefully, a model wife.

On Tuesday March 7, 1826 a forged letter was delivered to Ellen at her school, supposedly from the family doctor, requesting her to go in his carriage home to see her mother who was dangerously ill. Ellen’s mother was known be a bit of a hypochondriac so she was not unduly worried. Once on the carriage she met charming Edward Gibbon Wakefield who reassured her and they laughed and joked together. Over the next 24 hours, every 15 miles along the route they swapped horses at the coaching inns - quite expensive. From Liverpool and Manchester they stopped at Delph, Halifax, Huddersfield, Keighley and then the Devonshire Arms in Skipton, where Ellen fed on gingerbread. From there they travelled to the Golden Lion in Settle, the Royal at Kirkby Londsdale and then Shap, Penrith, Carlisle and finally, inevitably, Gretna Green. While horses were being exchanged Edward went into the inns to write a variety of (forged) letters which informed Ellen that her father’s bank had failed and the only way to avert financial disaster was for her to marry him. In a sinister twist, Edward was also able to say that ‘they had spent the night together’, albeit innocently, instantly tarnishing Ellen’s reputation if marriage were not to follow. Ellen was ‘fatigued, harassed and weakened by the journey’ and probably not thinking very clearly.

In England marriages could only be between men and women over the age of 21 unless they had permission of parents. In Scotland, this law didn’t apply so boys of 14 and girls as young as 12 could marry. So at Gretna Green smithy Edward and Ellen were married by ‘a 74 year old drunken blacksmith’ called David Lang who struck the anvil with a hammer when the marriage had taken place. This was a lucrative business with the cost depending on how wealthy couples looked. Edward was charged £30 and Ellen paid a tip of 20 shillings. Edward immediately put a notice in the papers for Ellen’s father to see.

Edward was sure Ellen’s father would soon agree to the marriage and pay a dowry out of fear of a high society scandal and in the meantime they travelled to Calais. However, Edward underestimated William Turner who couldn’t accept his wealth being squandered to this trickster. William tracked them down to the pier in Calais with a warrant for Edward’s arrest. When she realised what had happened Ellen said, “This is an abominable trick. Oh, he is a brute, he has deceived me, and I have never called anyone a brute before!” William brought Ellen home, but she was still a married woman.

From his luxury cell at Lancaster Castle Edward wrote to the press protesting his innocence. It transpired that Edward’s marriage to his first wife, the daughter of a rich East India merchant, had also been a runaway marriage in Edinburgh, although she was keen to marry too.

The trial in 1827 drew great attention from elegantly dressed ladies and others. The prosecution said Edward ‘unlawfully and wickedly, for the sake of lucre and gain, conspired with other persons by subtle stratagems and false pretences to convey Ellen Turner, an unmarried maid of 15 years of age, against her will’. Edward was described as a charming manipulator in a ‘get-rich-quick’ scheme.

At the trial all the innkeepers along the route gave evidence. Anne Bradley at the Devonshire Arms in Skipton said she thought Edward and Ellen were involved in a runaway wedding because they were cheerful and laughing while they ate her gingerbread.

After just an hour the jury decided that Edward was guilty of conspiracy and abduction and imprisoned for three years. Three days later, the House of Lords annulled the marriage by an Act of Parliament. The case had cost William £10,000, equivalent to half a million pounds at today’s value.

What happened to Edward and Ellen? Soon after his entry to Newgate prison, Edward ‘underwent a transformation’ and became preoccupied with prison, rehabilitation and colonial affairs. Once released he persuaded the UK end transportation for convicts and brought about penal reform in Canada, New Zealand and Australia where he established non-convict colonies by insisting on a cross-section of society. He was heralded as ‘the founder of New Zealand’. Streets, rivers and ports were named after him and a bronze bust was erected in Wellington. In 2020 public opinion turned against him protesting that his monument should be scrapped as he was ‘a sexual predator and coloniser’.

And Ellen? In January 1828, now aged 16, Ellen married Thomas Legh, the MP for Lyme who resided at Lyme Park and had supported her father during the trial. Tragically she died at the birth of her third child, a son who also died, in January 1831, aged just 19.

Contact Sarah at the graveyard project on