Five miles north of the genteel market town of Marlow, at the end of pretty country lanes, you will possibly recognise the location of this Chilterns hamlet. Turville has enjoyed a starring role in many popular films and mini-series. In 1871 it was the scene of probable deception.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Goodnight Mr Tom, Calendar Girls, Killing Eve and possibly the most watched TV series, the Vicar of Dibley are just some of the shows I can recall being filmed in Turville. The Dibley vicarage adjoins the so-called Sleepy Cottage, home of Ellen Sadler, the Sleeping Girl of Turville.
A cause célèbre
Turville came to international attention in 1871 when an 11-year-old girl fell into a deep sleep for nine years. The youngest daughter of local farm workers, Ellen Sadler (1859 - 1901), spent four months in hospital with an incurable condition. She was sent home as there was nothing further that could be done. Her mother managed to turn her daughter’s misfortune into a tourist attraction with visiting doctors, journalists and the curious each donating an entrance fee to see the sleeping girl.
The child was prodded and pricked, was fed port, tea and milk through a teapot spout inserted through two broken teeth. A contemporary Daily Telegraph journalist expanded on Ellen’s feeding: “The feeding implements stand on a little table by the side of the stump bedstead, and, at first sight, give you the idea that they are toys placed there to attract her attention should she, by a merciful termination of her trance, presently awake to life.”
Despite rumours of royalty visiting for a ‘laying on of the hands’, there was a healthy dose of scepticism and cries of ‘hoax!’ but nothing was ever proved. Parallels were made with the case of the Welsh girl Sarah Jacob whose parents claimed she could live for long periods without food, but who in fact starved to death in 1868.
This was not an uncommon phenomenon for the time as there are other well documented stories of girls and young women not eating or being asleep for long periods in the 19th century.
A happy ending
Ellen woke in 1880 and claimed to have no memory of the previous nine years. She went on to marry and have five children and lived out her years in a neighbouring village. But her case has remained in local folklore including in tales of witchcraft. An embellished account of the story can be found in the 1973 collection Witchcraft in the Thames Valley by Tony Barham.
Hopefully the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang lead Dick van Dyke also recovers from his reported car crash in Malibu, California today.
If you don’t already subscribe to Micro Travels, but have enjoyed reading this
From the ridge above the Hambleden Valley, the iconic Cobstone windmill watches over the pretty brick and flint cottages clustered around a tiny village green, pub and church. The only way to get to Turville is on foot or by car. Popular at the weekends with walkers and pub-goers, you’ll have the place to yourself during the week.
There is a footpath up the steep hillside to Cobstone Windmill, but there is no public access to the windmill which is a private house.
Links you will need
Local businesses to support include the working art Turville Studios that are open to visitors on the first Sunday of the month from 11 - 4pm.
The popular Bull and Butcher pub has dining spaces inside and out, booking advised.
Discover Coffee, Crafts, Cake and Chilterns beechwood on a visit to three working studio’s in the Hambleden Valley.
There are some lovely circular Hambleden Valley walks that can be enjoyed at any time of the year.
Thanks for the interesting article Mary and for the plug for our studios ! Much appreciated:)