A SCANDAL involving the apparent kidnap of a 16-year-old girl that rocked Taunton 200 years ago has been recounted in print.

Maria Glenn disappeared from her uncle’s house in North Town during the night of September 21, 1817, and the next day her family claimed she had been abducted by a local family called Bowditch.

Maria had spent the summer on the Bowditches’ farm recovering from whooping cough and it seems that when they learned she was an heiress, they decided she would be perfect match for James, one of the sons.

Which is when they hatched a plot to kidnap her and force her to marry him.

Maria’s uncle, a barrister, managed to retrieve her before she was walked up the aisle and went on to investigate the crime and prosecute ten people he thought were responsible.

Following a sensational trial at Dorchester, four of them were jailed.

But unfortunately for Maria, lots of people in Taunton sided with the Bowditches and suspected Maria in actual fact been trying to elope with James.

Several witnesses came forward claiming to have seen her behaving with him in a seriously disreputable manner in French Weir Fields.

Maria made the mistake of accusing a number of prominent Taunton men of being in league with the Bowditches and eventually almost the whole town turned on her and posters calling her a liar were plastered on walls and shop windows.

The Bowditches then managed to persuade the authorities to charge Maria with perjury for lying at the trial.

With a possible prison sentence hanging over her, her uncle whisked her out of the country and away from the controversy.

Author Naomi Clifford, who spent three years researching The Disappearance of Maria Glenn, said: "Part of the problem for Maria was the age-old prejudice against teenage girls.

"People choose not to believe them when the stories they tell are too difficult to deal with.

"And although it only happened rarely, kidnapping heiresses was definitely a thing.

"In those days everything a woman owned went automatically to her husband. The kidnappers counted on the girl’s family hushing the whole thing up and to trying carry on as normal.

"The feeling against Maria was very high and the insults were very personal and vitriolic.

"I think ordinary people were manipulated by Maria’s enemies, who were some of the most powerful men in Taunton.

"Maria had a lot to contend with, and she must have been extraordinarily brave to face up to such frightening opposition."

The Disappearance of Maria Glenn by Naomi Clifford. Pen & Sword, £19.99 (ebooks are available).