THOUGH it's nearly eight years since he smouldered his way into millions of female hearts in the TV dramatisation of Jane Austen's love story, Pride and Prejudice, rich and handsome Mr Darcy, played by Colin Firth, is still most women's dream date, according to a survey earlier this month.

But how many know of his connection with East Lancashire?

In the novel, it was the bright and witty Elizabeth Bennet who ended up as mistress of Pemberley, his magnificent mansion. Yet, in real life, it was a Blackburn-born heiress whose marriage made her the chtelaine of Lyme Hall in Cheshire, the splendid house that was Darcy's in the TV series - but only after she was the 15-year-old bride at the centre of a sensational abduction case that enthralled Georgian England.

She was Ellen Turner, daughter of William Turner, a rich Blackburn mill owner who was the town's biggest employer and who - six years after the scandal - became one of the two men elected in 1832 as the town's first MPs.

Turner - whose family on his uncle William's side had founded the water-powered mill at Helmshore that today is the Higher Mill textile museum - had spinning and calico printing mills at Mill Hill and Ewood.

But he was on his way up the social ladder as the new High Sheriff of Cheshire when Ellen was carried off from her Liverpool boarding school, taken to Gretna Green, duped into marriage there with a stranger and then taken to France.

The tale that shocked the country and filled its newspapers is told again in a new book* by Kate Atkinson, who was Education Officer for 18 years at Lyme Hall which is now a National Trust property.

Her research was helped by Blackburn local history enthusiast Barbara Riding who says that Turner, who was Whig MP for Blackburn for nine years until 1841, is still remembered for the almshouses at Bank Top which he and his wife, Jane, endowed in 1833.

The couple, whose Blackburn home, Mill Hill House, stood on the present-day site of St Peter's RC Primary School, are buried in St John's churchyard in Blackburn.

But by the time of Ellen's abduction the Turners had moved to Shrigley Hall, near Macclesfield, and Ellen, their only surviving child, was the richest heiress in Cheshire - and, as such, became the target of the machinations of Edward Gibbon Wakefield, an impecunious 30-year-old would-be MP, who heard of Ellen's wealth from his stepmother who lived at Macclesfield.

Wakefield lured the girl away from her boarding school with a tale that her father's business had collapsed and that his errand was to take her to Carlisle where Turner had gone to escape his creditors.

But his true goal was to get her over the Scottish border to the English elopers' mecca of Gretna Green and dupe her into believing that by marrying him - taking advantage of Scotland's less-strict marriage laws - she would save her father from ruin.

It was a ploy that worked. But Wakefield's hope of commandeering his bride's fortune was dashed because he wrongly guessed that Turner would accept him as her husband rather than risk a public scandal.

And scandal it was - it filled the newspapers for two whole years after Ellen was rescued from France and Wakefield and his accomplice brother eventually appeared in the dock. The pair were jailed for three years.

The marriage, which had not been consummated, was annulled by an Act of Parliament.

At the age of 17 Ellen went on to wed her immensely wealthy next-door neighbour Thomas Legh, of Lyme Park.

In celebration, Turner's employees in Blackburn were given a half day's holiday and for those at the Ewood Mill a whole sheep was roasted while another was boiled in a large copper at the works.

But, alas, Ellen did not live happily ever after. She died in childbirth just four weeks before her 20th birthday.

*Abduction -- The Story of Ellen Turner, by Kate M. Atkinson (Blenkins Press, £5.95), available in Blackburn at the Central Library and at Bookland, Ainsworth Street