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

Updated on December 19, 2015
Nell Rose profile image

I love finding my ancestors, and you can't get stranger than this tale of my twice great aunt. Life is stranger than fiction!

young lady of the time All Sources public domain
young lady of the time All Sources public domain
The bull and butcher turville
The bull and butcher turville

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 didn't 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 to!

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 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 to keep them warm.

Year after year, people came, and began to leave what was called small donations, or 'slight acknowledgements' as they 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 graveyard 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.

© 2009 Nell Rose


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    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 6 weeks ago from England

      Thanks Mary, yes I wouldn't believe it myself if it wasn't family history! LOL! thanks!

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 6 weeks ago from Brazil

      It is amazing to think the body could survive on port, sugar and a bit of milk. I am surprised she still had the use of her limbs.

      Even now, with all the medical advancements, there are still oddities that doctors just don't know about.

      Such an interesting piece of family history, thanks for sharing this with us.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 7 months ago from England

      Hi Helen, welcome to the family! lol! Ellen was my great great aunt! can you give me any more info? are you from the Blackall side?


    • profile image

      Helen Cruickshank 7 months ago

      Ellen Sadler was my mothers grand mother my great grandmother

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 19 months ago from England

      Thanks Martie, she was amazing wasn't she? and she was my aunt! lol! my family just get weirder!

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 19 months ago from South Africa

      What an extraordinary and captivating true story! Thanks for sharing, Nell :)

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 20 months ago from England

      Thanks Mary, she was my Great Great Aunt! LOL! I am doing my family tree and found her, I knew she was there somewhere but not sure exactly who or what, but yep great great aunty Ellen Sadler!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 20 months ago from New York

      I must've been sleeping for it to take me three years to find this hub! What an incredible story. Imagine sleeping that long. It's a wonder she survived at all.

      Of course your way of writing makes this a pleasant read.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 20 months ago from England

      Hi Barbara, I actually wrote this from family memories! Ellen sadler was my great grandmothers sister! we grew up with the story, I wrote about it on here, wikipedia (Steve) wrote to me and said, Who and how? LOL! so I gave him the info, and I have my link on wiki! small world eh? thanks for reading, nell

    • Barbara Kay profile image

      Barbara Kay Badder 20 months ago from USA

      Thank you for another fascinating story. Where do you find theses?

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

      Thanks amy!

    • profile image

      amylove 2 years ago

      Okay this is weird and I know now sleepy beauty is real but I never heard of this but cool

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

      Thanks Colin, yes you may well be right! back then it would have seemed really strange, that's 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

    • profile image

      Colin323 2 years ago

      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 years ago from England

      Thanks so much Hankscita, nell

    • Hankscita profile image

      Sandy 3 years ago from Florida

      Interesting, up voted and pinned.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 3 years ago from England

      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

      C E Clark 3 years ago from North Texas

      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 4 years ago from England

      Thanks LastRose, glad you liked it, nell

    • LastRoseofSummer2 profile image

      LastRoseofSummer2 4 years 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!

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