When you walk over Canton Bridge to the west and across past the Westgate Public House, over the road was a toll gate, or turnpike, on the Cowbridge Road. Today, this area is known as Cowbridge Road East.
Go back almost two centuries and the toll gate keeper saw a little girl, around nine or 10 years old standing on the western side. She was dragging behind her a horse’s collar, which it was said was almost as big as her. She sat down at the base of the hedge at the side of the road (it was rural then).
After an hour or so the tollgate keeper noticed that she was crying. An hour later she was still crying and it was dark… in those days, very dark!
When a constable on his beat passed that way in the early hours, the keeper showed him the girl. He took her into custody, and the horse’s collar. She intimated that a travelling showman had told her to wait for him at the turnpike but he did not turn up.
She was dressed in rags. She didn’t know her real name, but they called her Ellie. She did not know how old she was. She did not know where she was born. She did not know which town she was in. She did not know who her mother and father were. It was said she was an imbecile. Little Ellie was put in front of the magistrates and sent to the workhouse. Her future looked very bleak. What happened then is not known.