The Turner-Wakefield Scandal
In 1826, a Gretna Green wedding scandal enraptured the nation's attention. It involved the abduction of a wealthy mill owner's daughter by a double-crossing rogue named Edward Gibbon Wakefield, who tricked her into eloping to Gretna Green where they were married.
Ellen, an attractive, intelligent girl, was the daughter of William Turner, a mill-owner and Sheriff of Cheshire. Ellen, not yet sixteen years old, dreamt of romantic elopements just like any teenage girl; little did she know that her romantic dreams would become a waking nightmare of deceit and betrayal.
It Began With a Letter
The drama began on the 7 March 1826 at Misses Daulby's Seminary for the Daughters of Gentlefolk - Ellen's school near Liverpool. That morning, a letter arrived from a Dr Ainsworth stating that Ellen's mother had been stricken with a sudden paralysis and that Ellen must return home, Ellen had no reason to expect a lie. Anxious to be at her mother's side, she departed, accompanied by Thevenot, the family butler.
When the carriage stopped in Manchester to change horses, Ellen was shown into a private room. Inside was a handsome, well-dressed man of about thirty years of age, they talked until the carriage was ready to leave. By this time, Ellen was enchanted by the gentleman's flattery.
In the carriage, the gentleman introduced himself as Mr Edward Gibbon Wakefield, her father's friend. He told her that her mother was not ill after all; on her father's instructions, Ellen was to travel to Kendal to meet her father.
Ellen arrived at Kendal to find her father was not there. Wakefield informed her he had some bad news to break to her: her father's bank in Macclesfield had failed and his business was ruined. Mr Wakefield told her that the only way to help her father was by carrying out the plan proposed by Mr Grimsditch, the family solicitor.
The fictitious plan was that all her father's property was to be given to Ellen and as she was still underage, she would have to marry so that the estate would be given back to her father by her husband. Then followed Wakefield's proposal: 'Your father begs you, if you ever loved him, to accept my offer in marriage'.
Sealed With a Kiss in Gretna Green
Though astonished, her ingrained sense of duty to her father led her to believe she must accept; besides, to her, her suitor was not a villain but the most charming man she had ever met. She agreed to the marriage and they proceeded to Gretna Green.
Web of Deceit Unravelled
After the ceremony, the newly-weds left for France. In Calais, Ellen's uncles caught up with the couple. As the web of deceit unravelled before her, Ellen's distress deepened: not only were her father's affairs in good order, her new husband had tricked her for his own gain.
Ellen returned to England with her uncles. Wakefield stood trial on 23rd March l827 and was found guilty of felonious abduction and unlawful marriage. After a trial that captured the nation, Mr Wakefield was sentenced to three years' imprisonment in the notorious Newgate gaol. For Ellen, the problem of deciding whether she was married was solved by a special act of parliament, which annulled the marriage.