The Mysterious Case of Elizabeth Canning

Bevis Hillier investigates the alleged abduction 250 years ago, of a young servant girl, which divided London society at the time and has puzzled historians ever since.

Elizabeth CanningOn New Year’s Day 1753 an eighteen-year-old London maidservant called Elizabeth Canning was abducted in the City by two ruffians. She was carried off in a carriage to a brothel in Enfield, eleven miles out of London. Here, ‘Mother Wells’, the madam of the establishment, tried to force her to become a prostitute. Canning refused. A hideous gypsy crone staying in the house, Mary Squires, cut off the girl’s stays (worth 10 shillings), and Elizabeth was imprisoned in an attic with only a few crusts of bread and a jug of water to live on. On January 29th, after almost a month in captivity, she escaped through a window and walked all the way back to her mother’s house in the City. That, at least, was Canning’s story; and she was sticking to it.

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