The Curious Case Of Elizabeth Canning

By Laura Reynolds Last edited 14 months ago
The Curious Case Of Elizabeth Canning
Forty Hall in Enfield, where a series of talks about the history of the borough will take place. Photo: Matt Brown

It's 1 January 1753, in the City of London. An 18 year old maidservant disappears on the way back to her mother's house near St Mary Aldermanbury. She wasn't seen or heard from until nearly a month later, when she reappeared, dirty and bloodied, in ripped clothing.

The maidservant was Elizabeth Canning. She claimed to have been kidnapped from near Bedlam Hospital and taken to a house on Hertford Road in Enfield. Here, a woman tried to force her into prostitution. When she refused, she was kept prisoner until she escaped through a window and managed to return home.

Her disappearance has been the source of speculation and theories ever since. She identified Enfield woman Mary Wells and Romany woman Mary Squires as her captors. They both went to trial — despite Squires having an alibi, she was sentenced to hanging, while Wells was sentenced to branding on the thumb and six months in prison.

Sir Crisp Gascoyne, who was Lord Mayor of London and Chief Magistrate, opened his own inquiry which led to the King granting a pardon. Canning herself was then indicted for perjury, found guilty and sentenced to one month imprisonment, after which she was sent to America. The truth about the case was never revealed.

Last Updated 01 July 2016