Victorian Era Murder Figurines

Nov 22, 2017 0 comments

During the late 18th century, the potteries in the Staffordshire region of England began churning out detailed ceramic figures commemorating everything from classical artwork to political movements and current events, from folk heroes to celebrities. Staffordshire figures were in great demand for the Victorian consumers seldom had affordable artwork and objects to decorate their homes with.

In 1793, a French revolutionary leader by the name of Jean-Paul Marat, who was one of the most radical voices of the French Revolution, was stabbed to death in his bathtub by a young woman and a Girondin sympathizer named Charlotte Corday. Marat’s assassination was probably the first murder and the first current event to be depicted in clay. But it wasn’t until a couple of decades later that Staffordshire figures became widely available and household items.


In 1827, a small village named Polstead in Suffolk came at the center of worldwide attention. A young woman of rather ill repute named Maria Marten was shot dead by her lover William Corder, a local farmer’s son, with whom she planned to run away and marry. Maria had already borne a child to William, and a couple more illegitimate children to different men. The two had arranged to meet at the Red Barn, a local landmark, before eloping to Ipswich. After that night, Maria was never seen again alive.

Corder claimed that he was living with Maria, and he also sent letters to her family claiming that she was in good health. But Maria’s stepmother had a dream that Maria had been murdered and buried in the Red Barn. On her persuasion, her husband went to the Red Barn and dug up the floor, and found the badly decomposed body of his daughter.

Corder, who was now married with a new wife, was later tracked down to London and arrested. He was sentenced and hanged. His execution was witnessed by more than 10,000 people.


The scene of the murder, the Red Barn

Murders and public executions were big entertainment for Victorian folks. The Red Barn Murder found wide coverage in the media. The case was closely followed by newspapers, and books were published while the trial was still underway. Songs were written and the gruesome murder was reenacted in plays. The fascination continued throughout the century and the next. The village where the crime had taken place became a tourist attraction and the barn was literally picked apart by souvenir hunters. Such huge public interest caused the Staffordshire potters to produce a number of Staffordshire models of The Red Barn. One of the figurines got sold at an auction not too long ago for £11,760.

The Red Barn figures contain three sets. The group on the left depicts the murderer and his victim. The middle group, shows William Corder standing by the open door of the barn, beckoning to Maria Marten to join him inside. The last group shows Corder standing before the judge. The figures are around 20 cm tall.

Other Victorian era murderers who have found themselves immortalized by Staffordshire potters are:


James Bloomfield Rush, who shot dead Isaac Jermy and his son Isaac Jermy Jermy in their mansion in Norwich (The Murders at Stanfield Hall, 1848)


Frederick and Maria Manning, husband and wife, who murdered her lover, Patrick O’Connor, in a case that became known as the "The Bermondsey Horror." The couple was hanged together in November 1849 and the public execution was attended by Charles Dickens, who wrote of the event, "I believe that a sight so inconceivably awful as the wickedness and levity of the immense crowd collected at that execution this morning could be imagined by no man, and could be presented in no heathen land under the sun." He would later base the Bleak House character Mademoiselle Hortense on Maria.

William Palmer (1824-1856)by Staffordshire Pottery

William Palmer, who poisoned his friend John Cook, and was executed in public by hanging in 1856. Palmer is also suspected of poisoning several other people including his brother and his mother-in-law, as well as four of his children, earning him the nickname of the Rugeley Poisoner or the Prince of Poisoners. Palmer made large sums of money from the deaths of his wife and brother after collecting on life insurance. Charles Dickens called Palmer "the greatest villain that ever stood in the Old Bailey”.


More on Amusing Planet


{{posts[0].date}} {{posts[0].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}


{{posts[1].date}} {{posts[1].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}


{{posts[2].date}} {{posts[2].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}


{{posts[3].date}} {{posts[3].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}