To Stop Her Mouth – a contemporary art installation exposes an 1800’s scandal that shocked society
A new audio artwork at Lyme in Disley tells the story of a scandal from its Regency past – which resulted in a high profile court case and turned into the media frenzy of the age.
From Sunday 16 September to Sunday 4 November visitors to the National Trust attraction in Stockport will experience the true story of heiress Ellen Turner who was abducted from her school at 15 years old and coerced into marriage by a fortune hunter – a man she’d never met before. In its day Ellen’s abduction, and the subsequent trial, rocked 1800s society with her character and behaviour scrutinised both inside the courtroom and outside through the extensive press coverage of the trial. Lyme’s former owner, Thomas Legh, was a magistrate at the trial and later went on to wed Ellen Turner.
The new installation titled ‘To Stop Her Mouth’ uses Ellen’s only recorded words spoken at the trial of her abductor, Edward Gibbon Wakefield. The National Trust commissioned Creative Industries Trafford (CIT) and Waterside Arts to creatively produce the successful Live at Lyme project in 2017, and this work continues the partnership.
CIT and Waterside Arts have worked with North West based company Filament, audio producer Joel Clements and designer Lis Evans to deliver unique creative content for this immersive audio experience as part of the Trust New Art programme, which seeks to connect people to places through contemporary art across the National Trust properties.
Filament’s Sarah Richardson says: “We knew the story of Ellen Turner’s abduction was a fascinating one but as we explored it further it struck us how her experience reflects the experiences of many other women, and men, who stand to give evidence. In the run up to the trial Ellen’s character and behaviour were scrutinised by the defence, the press and the public, and yet aged only 16 she stood in front of a crowded courtroom to tell her version of events. We are excited to be creating a piece of work that will enable Ellen’s words to be heard once again. We hope To Stop Her Mouth will help visitors to better understand this remarkable story from Lyme’s past.”
The experience takes place in the house at Lyme, the very place where Ellen lived with Thomas Legh as his first wife. Visitors will listen to six short snippets of conversation as they move through the house, following Ellen’s abduction journey via Scotland to France. Part of the experience also allows visitors to listen in as Mr Scarlett, the defence for Ellen’s abductor, gathers evidence which he hopes will stop her mouth and prevent her from standing as a witness. The piece finishes in the Saloon, where visitors will take a seat as a juror to hear some of Ellen’s compelling evidence and determine Edward’s guilt.
Pamela Pearson, Visitor Experience Manager at Lyme says: “Last autumn we worked with Creative Industries Trafford and Waterside Arts to tell a number of stories from Lyme’s Regency past. This year we wanted to cast a light on Ellen’s story and we were delighted to have the opportunity again to work in partnership with such a creative team, as well as new artists, to make this a reality. We hope the experience connects people with this powerful story and they get a real sense of the public scrutiny Ellen faced.”
After her trial, Ellen’s life continued to be one of tragedy. She went on to marry Thomas Legh, owner of Lyme and magistrate at Wakefield’s trial, when she was 16. Ellen’s first pregnancy did not reach full term but she and Thomas became parents to their only surviving child, Ellen Jane, on 20th February 1830. Ellen became pregnant again but sadly the son she was carrying was stillborn. Shortly after his birth, Ellen died on 17th January 1831 when she was just nineteen years old.
Catherine Newbery, Contemporary Arts Programme Manager at the National Trust says: “Ellen’s story is one of intrigue and was very much the tabloid headline of its time, but it’s one we don’t currently share with our visitors at Lyme. By working with artists we’re able to tell this powerful story in an entirely new way and connect our visitors to the personal sides of these special places through different art forms. ‘
‘To Stop Her Mouth’ opens at Lyme on Sunday 16 September 2018 and ends Sunday 4 November. For more information visit: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lyme/features/to-stop-her-mouth