Murder of Maria Marten, The
DESCRIPTION: William Corder has Maria Marten meet him at the red barn before they go to Ipswich to be married. He murders her and buries the body in the red barn. Her body is discovered by following her mother's dream. Corder is tried and sentenced to be hanged.
EARLIEST DATE: before 1862 (broadside, Bodleian Harding B 14(239))
KEYWORDS: courting homicide dream gallows-confession mother
May 18, 1827 - Maria Marten meets William Corder at the "red barn" and is murdered
Nov 1827 - Corder marries Mary Moore in London
Apr 18, 1828 - Supposedly informed by a dream experienced by Maria's stepmother, Maria's father finds the body
Aug 8, 1828 - Corder convicted and condemned to death. He admits to the crime in his condemned cell
Aug 11, 1828 - Corder executed (source: timeline on pp. 240-241 of Tom Pettitt, "Mediating Maria Marten: Comparative and Contextual Studies of the Red Barn Ballads" in David Atkinson and Steve Roud, Editors, _Street Ballads in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Ireland, and North America: The Interface between Print and Oral Tradition_, Ashgate, 2014)
FOUND IN: Britain(England(South))
REFERENCES (3 citations):
Wiltshire-WSRO Mi 628, "Maria Martin" (1 text)
Flemming G. Anderson and Thomas Pettitt, "'The Murder of Maria Marten': The Birth of a Ballad?" in Carol L. Wdwards and Kathleen E. B. Manley, _Narrative Folksong: New Directions: Essays in Appreciation of W. Edson Richmond_, Westview Press, 1985, pp. 132-178 (8 texts, 1 tune, some of which might be "Maria Marten" rather than this)
Bodleian, Harding B 14(239), "Murder of Maria Marten, by William Corder" ("Come all you thoughtless young men a warning take by me"), E.M.A. Hodges (London), 1855-1861; also Firth c.17(110), Firth b.25(379), "Murder of Maria Marten by W. Corder"; Firth c.17(111), "Murder of Maria Martin by W. Corder"
NLScotland, L.C.Fol.70(71b), "The Murder of Maria Marten by W. Corder," unknown, c.1845
cf. "Maria Marten" (subject)
NOTES [945 words]: Description based on broadside Bodleian, Harding B 14(239). Roud assigne the same number to "Maria Marten"; the texts are clearly different and told from a different point of view. This is a gallows confession.
There is a sequel broadside -- Bodleian, Johnson Ballads 2416, "A copy of verses, on the execution of Wm. Corder, for the murder of Maria Marten, in the Red Barn, Polstead," unknown, no date -- in which he is executed August 11. The commentary to Broadside NLScotland L.C.Fol.70(71b) states that a "broadsheet published in London by James Catnach about this crime sold over one million copies."
Hall, notes to Voice03 for "Maria Marten": "The story captured the popular imagination through its additional representation in the melodrama, Murder In The Red Barn, played by countless amateur and touring companies."
Yates, Musical Traditions site Voice of the People suite "Notes - Volume 3" - 19.8.02: "[Marten's] three illegitimate children -- to different fathers -- and her possible criminal activities with Corder became overshadowed by the myth that grew up around her death. Indeed, research now suggests that her mother's 'supernatural dreams' were motivated not so much by psychic phenomena as by her own criminal knowledge and probable association with Corder."
A note for The Haunting of William Corder on the Alistair Ferguson site: "The true-life murder of Maria Marten, upon which John Latimer's famous [Victorian] melodrama 'Maria Marten; or The Murder in the Red Barn" is based, has been adapted several times over the years. This is my version of the story."
There are references at IMDB [Internet Movie DataBase site] to movies from 1902 (Maria Marten: or, The Murder at the Red Barn), and 1935 (Maria Marten, or The Murder in the Red Barn). - BS
To the above compare Alexander, p. 200, article "Murder in the Red Barn":
"The story of Maria Marten and her murder achieved the status of a folk tale largely because of the melodrama The Red Barn or the Gypsy's Curse that was based on the tragedy. The play was first performed in 1828, the year after Maria's death, and one reason for its outstanding success was its theme of a simple village girl betrayed by a heartless member of the gentry. The story was given further prominence by a book entitled The Awful Adventure of Maria Monk.
Marten, according to Alexander, was a mole-catcher's daughter, and William Corder, who had gotten her pregnant, preferred a London school-keeper named Mary Moore. In 1827, he told Marten to meet him at a red barn; she "was never seen alive again." Later, he tells Maria's parent that he has married her, but Maria's mother had nightmares and managed to convince the authorities to find the body.
In a macabre development, after Corder was hanged, his skin was cured and used as a binding for a record of the proceedings.
According to RoudBishop, when Maria Marten gave birth to William Corder's baby, it was her third child, by three different fathers (one of the fathers being Corder; that baby apparently died and was secretly buried; Pettitt, p. 236). After Marten was murdered, it took eleven months for her body to be found. Her stepmother had had a dream which led Marten's father and a neighbor to excavate the red barn and find the body. Corder -- who had left town shortly after Marten disappeared -- was at once suspected and was taken into custody two days after the body was found. He was tried at the August 4 Assizes, with the trial itself lasting from August 7-8. He was hanged outside the Bury St. Edmunds gaol on August 11. (The above summarized from the timeline on pp. 240-241 of Pettitt).
Although a lot of the accounts say the murder was premeditated, Corder himself said he did it in a fit of rage, and that he had not expected to bury Marten (Pettitt, p. 237; this in contrast to the various reports that he had already dug her grave).
For more on this story, see now Tom Pettitt's essay, cited in the bibliography. On p. 219 it reports that there were at least six broadsides regarding the crime, although most clearly have not survived.
Pettitt, p. 221, reports that this was clearly the most popular of the Maria Marten songs; there are eleven versions of parts of the text, plus a number of versions of the tune without text.
Pettit, p. 241, breaks down the broadsides versions of this song into sixteen components, and then looks at the traditional versions to see which survived. Every one of the seven substantial versions includes Corder's self-identification and his statement that he courted Maria, that he promised to arrange their wedding, that he arranged to meet her at the barn, and that Maria's mother dreamed the body at the barn. Six of seven versions include his statement that he was resolved to kill her, his statement that he did murder her when she arrived, that her father dug her up at the barn, and a final request for pity. Six other plot elements occur in two to five versions, but only one mentions that Corder buried Maria in the barn, and all omit mention of the mother's anxiety.
The Digital Tradition lists this has been collected from one Joseph Taylor (initially in 1908), who sang a three-verse fragment to the tune of "The Star of the County Down"/"Dives and Lazarus."
In addition to the song, there appear to be several books about this case. Andersen and Pettitt apparently regard Donald McCormick's The Red Barn Mystery (John Long, 1967) as being the most informative. More recent is Shane McCorristine, William Corder and the Red Barn Murder: Journeys of the Criminal Body (Palgrave Pivot, 2014), but it's listed as just 112 pages, so it probably isn't very substantial. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.5
- Alexander: Marc Alexander, A Companion to the Folklore, Myths & Customs of Britain, Sutton Publishing, 2002
- Pettitt: Tom Pettitt, "Mediating Maria Marten: Comparative and Contextual Studies of the Red Barn Ballads" in David Atkinson and Steve Roud, Editors, Street Ballads in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Ireland, and North America: The Interface between Print and Oral Tradition, Ashgate, 2014
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