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The Sleeping Girl of Turville: The True Story of a Girl Who fell asleep for Nine Years..

young lady of the time All Sources public domain
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young lady of the time All Sources public domain
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The bull and butcher turville
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A Ninteenth Century Mystery.

On may 15, 1859, a child was born, She was the tenth child from a family of twelve. Her name was Ellen Sadler. there was nothing particularly remarkable about her, or any of the other children. Until Thursday, march 29, 1871, Ellen went to bed as usual. And did'nt wake up.

And just like a sleeping beauty, she didn't wake for nearly ten years.

The story starts in a sleepy little village in the heart of the English countryside. Turville is situated in the Hambleden valley, in between Oxford and Buckinghamshire. About 400 people lived in the scattered parish, and the village was mainly dominated by the Bailey family who lived at Turville Court.

At the corner of school lane there lay an old cottage, that is still there. It was owned by a farm labourer called Frewen, his wife Ann, and her children,. the children were from her first marriage to a man called Sadler.

The day started off normally, Frewen and the children got up and went about their business, but it wasn't until they realised that Ellen wasn't getting ready, that they began to suspect there was something wrong. Ellen was a quiet child most of the time, sedate, and thoughtful, She was also known to be dreamy, and had a listless manner about her which could be quite disturbing. Sometimes her distant expression and melancholy ways, made her brothers and sisters, leave her to her own thoughts, knowing that she didn't want to join in with their childish games and sports. She didn't have any friends and most of the time, she just sat at the bedroom window looking out at the world.

She had a great reverence for sacred things, and was always good and obedient, but it troubled her mother that she would sit for hours, by the fireside, with her head in her hands, staring at the flames and watching the shadows as they danced across the walls.

In fact the only time she would show any animation was when her father would return from the nearest tavern slightly the worst for wear, and she would give him a good talking too.!

At eleven years old, coming from an impoverished village, she had to start work. Her parents sent her to Marlow to become a nursemaid for a family with two young children.

This employment didn't last for long. Her fits of somnolence became regular and she became so stupid and useless (the words used at the time), that her mistress could not keep her.

After she had been discharged from the job, she started to complain about a constant pain in her head, evidently it was much more than just a normal headache,

Her parents became worried and sent her to a doctor in nearby Marlow, who diagnosed an abscess.

Poor little Ellen was sent to Reading hospital, and stayed there for seventeen weeks. Feeling a little bit better, she was sent home to Turville on Tuesday, March 27, 1871.

Two days later, on the Thursday, Ellen went to sleep.

A Dr. Hayman, from nearby Stockenchurch, rushed in his pony and trap, as quickly as he could , but by the time he got there, she couldn't be roused. as she lay there, apparently dead, her almost imperceptible breathing was the only thing showed she still had life in her body.

So began what even the great paper, The Times, called , 'one of the most astounding, inexplicable, physiological phenomena ever known'.

soon medical men and gentry were flocking to Turville to examine the sleeping girl. Ellen's mother didn't mind these visits, even encouraging them in fact. But there was a curious occurrence when she told one visitor that, she couldn't let him see her daughter yet, as she 'had to get her ready'

Eventually when the men were allowed to see her, this is what they saw.

The Free Press of the time, graphically explained.

After climbing the rickety stairs, and walked along to the room with the sloping roof, we saw , in the smaller bed, a girl laying on her left side, with her hand on the pillow under her head. A position she was accustomed to be in before she was afflicted.

The paper quotes: Her soft dark brown hair was confined in an old net. and appeared to be very matted, a condition her mother explained by saying she did not want to comb it for fear of disturbing her.

'This threw her pale face into greater relief, her eyes were sunken, and the appearance at a distance was that of death.

Many people who came to see her wanted to take a lock of her hair as a souvenir. Her mother was willing to grant this until all the peoples demands began to diminish the supply. It was only then that she refused to cut any more.

The strange thing was that her breathing was regular and natural, and her skin was still soft and her body was warm. Her pulse was slightly fast, but that was the only strange occurrence for somebody asleep.

Evidently her body was was still flexible but she was emaciated. Her feet and legs were the only part of her that was icy cold, which was strange. Her mother placed a hot water bottle beneath them to try and keep them warm.

Year after year, people came, and began to leave what was called small donations, or 'slight acknowledgements' as the were beginning to be called.

Suspicion began to grow that maybe this was a hoax, and the people began to turn against the family.

The main trouble was the fact that, according to her mother, Ellen was being kept alive by a small amount of port wine and sugar which she administered to Ellen through two small teapots, three times a day. At first she could open her mouth slightly and take a small spoonful, but after about fifteen months, her jaw became fixed and they had to use the teapots, pouring the mixture into the corner of her mouth, where she had a small opening because of a missing tooth. Sometimes a Small amount of milk was given to her, but this was all she had.

By this time the medical world was baffled. Rumours exist that among the elder Turville residents that Royalty even took an interest in her.

The prince of wales, the future King Edward, visited her and gave her the 'laying on of hands' which people in those days believed would cure the afflicted.

By this time, the doctors who where attending to her, began to realise that the local population was finding the whole thing very suspicious. So on entering the house, usually at unexpected moments to catch the family out, they would very carefully hide pointed needles up their sleeves so as to prick Ellen on her legs and arms to try and make her react. One doctor even suggested something called galvanism, in other words electric therapy. But nothing woke her.

The offers of money to come and see Ellen was quite substantial by this time. Ellen's mother was earning two pounds a week through donations. This would be about one hundred pounds in modern money. You can understand peoples scepticism.

Eventually someone, probably out of spite, wrote to the highest echelons of government, and the home secretary of the time demanded an investigation. This didn't come to anything as they were told that the parents were not deliberately asking for money. The people became frustrated and the whole thing simmered on until after a few years, in late may 1880, after a particularly bad thunderstorm, Ellens mother came in from the fields where she had been working, and feeling frightened and jumpy consequently had a heart attack and died before the doctor could reach her.

The inquest which was held at the Bull and Butcher pub, was straight forward, but of course everybody wanted to know what would happen to Ellen. Dr. Hayman was again confronted about his diagnosis, and defended himself by saying that Ellen was definitely paralysed and unconscious. Still they thought it a confidence trick. People came forward and said they had seen Ellen walking through the grave yard at night, and looking through the bedroom window when she thought there was nobody looking.

It was decided that Ellen would be looked after by her sister Elizabeth Stacey, wife of a bricklayer.

Then a strange thing happened. Five months later, Ellen began showing signs of waking. On New Years Eve 1880, more than nine years after falling asleep, the Free Press broke the news that at last the sleeping girl of Turville, was awake. She was conscious and speaking.

Ellen was twenty one years of age. But she spoke and acted like a child. She had absolutely no memory of those nine strange years.

After adjusting back into the real world, Ellen went to stay with her Aunt, a Mrs Blackwell, annd earned her living working with beads. A few years later she married a farmer from Reading and moved out of the district. Later dying in obscurity.

Was it Narcolepsy? At the time the Doctors wouldn't have known about the illness. They are still not sure today.

Like all strange mysteries, we shall never know the truth.

Copyright Nell Rose this is the original article any other site showing this is a copy and should be reported as stolen.


 Last updated on December 30, 2013

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Comments 217 comments

Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 4 weeks ago from England Hub Author

Thanks Colin, yes you may well be right! back then it would have seemed really strange, thats why they had so many visitors, and of course her mother played on that too, taking money for her daughter, I don't blame her, times were hard back then, thanks so much for reading about one of my family members, nell


Colin323 profile image

Colin323 4 weeks ago from Ilkley, Yorkshire Level 6 Commenter

What an interesting story, and told well by you. I hadn't heard of this case before. It sounds very much like narcolepsy, but self-induced in an attempt to disconnect with the world.


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 3 months ago from England Hub Author

Thanks so much Hankscita, nell


Hankscita profile image

Hankscita 3 months ago from Florida Level 2 Commenter

Interesting, up voted and pinned.


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 12 months ago from England Hub Author

Hi Au Fait, yes I remember reading about the people who were buried before they checked whether they really were still alive, that was terrible. the strange thing is that the reason why I wrote this is because she was related! lol! its been plagiarised so many times that I can't catch up with them sadly, and thanks so much for pinning it, glad you liked it, nell


Au fait profile image

Au fait 12 months ago from North Texas Level 7 Commenter

Very interesting story. Hard to believe this girl survived without nourishment or fluids for such a long time. Pouring things into her mouth seems odd. One would think she might choke on them since most people aren't able to swallow when asleep. Surprised scientists haven't tried harder to solve this mystery.

I've heard that people sometimes seem as if they are dead and in the past have been buried only to become conscious again and try to escape their grave. Of course with modern embalming this isn't likely to happen, but prior to the adoption of that process it did happen now and then. More people are choosing natural burials with no embalming these days, so I wonder if accidentally burying people who appear dead but really aren't will start happening again . . .

Voted up, interesting, pinned to my 'Unsolved Mysteries' board (which I just created to accommodate this article) and will share with my followers.


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 21 months ago from England Hub Author

Thanks LastRose, glad you liked it, nell


LastRoseofSummer2 profile image

LastRoseofSummer2 21 months ago from Arizona

OK, that was kind of scary! There's no knowing, I guess, what the real cause was. But this was a fantastic hub. Thanks a lot!


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 2 years ago from England Hub Author

Hi Integrity, thanks for the vote and the read, nell


IntegrityYes 2 years ago

I definitely voted up,Nell. It is very emotional.


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 2 years ago from England Hub Author

Hi femmeflash, lol! yes I totally understand, I do think it was a genuine illness, but I think that maybe ellen did get up occasionally and not sleep all the time, she did recuperate after her mothers death, so that makes me think it was a hoax, or not? um! lol! thanks for reading, cheers nell


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 2 years ago from England Hub Author

Hi femmeflash, lol! yes I totally understand, I do think it was a genuine illness, but I think that maybe ellen did get up occasionally and not sleep all the time, she did recuperate after her mothers death, so that makes me think it was a hoax, or not? um! lol! thanks for reading, cheers nell


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 2 years ago from England Hub Author

Hi femmeflash, lol! yes I totally understand, I do think it was a genuine illness, but I think that maybe ellen did get up occasionally and not sleep all the time, she did recuperate after her mothers death, so that makes me think it was a hoax, or not? um! lol! thanks for reading, cheers nell


femmeflashpoint 2 years ago

Nell,

This was my first read regarding Ellen Sadler, and found it intriguing.

I would quickly lean toward hoax, or partial-hoax, but I can't go all the way with it because of the descriptions of her physique; how depleted and emaciated she became. It'd be hard to force a youngster to pretend to sleep for hours on end, not react to stimulus, and get continued cooperation while being starved.

Just when you think you've hard it all ... lol.

Awesome hub!

femme


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 2 years ago from England Hub Author

Hi biblechick, yes it could very well have been, back then they were not sure exactly what it was, but these days they would be able to diagnose her quickly, thanks for reading, cheers nell


biblechick 2 years ago

Dont get me wrong that is a great story, but is there any thought to it being a coma.


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 2 years ago from England Hub Author

Hi penHits, thanks for reading, yes she could well have had brain damage, but I do believe that after the mother died she woke up and got married herself, so I believe she was probably not as bad as they made out, one of these days I will go and investigate further as she was a relative of mine, well, the families, thanks!


PenHitsTheFan profile image

PenHitsTheFan 2 years ago from Home

Perhaps it was a coma? The locked jaw is not uncommon to someone in a coma. My Mom passed from colon cancer and she was sent home with hospice care. The last two days she was in a mild coma and her jaw locked. We had to rub her medicine around her mouth with a medicine dropper. Since someone in a coma isn't moving around, the medicine (or in this lady's story, wine and sugar mixture) would be absorbed into the blood stream through the gums. It would also explain why she seemed "child like" when she woke up. She probably had some brain damage.


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 2 years ago from England Hub Author

Hi Cathleen, thanks for reading, cheers nell


Cathleen J Wyatt profile image

Cathleen J Wyatt 2 years ago from Reno, NV

Another great hub! Thanks!


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