Polstead from Bell Hill
The Red Barn Murder

The Place

Map of Polstead in the Nineteenth century
Map of Polstead
The village of Polstead lies in wooded and hilly country between Sudbury and Ipswich, just north of Stoke by Nayland, and south west of Hadleigh. It sits on the River Box, and is known for its several ponds, and as the home of Polstead Black cherries, but it is best known from the story of the Murder in the Red Barn. In 1828 the village had only about twenty households, and the only thing that happened there was the annual Cherry Fair, held in July.

The Red Barn
The Red Barn - the murder scene
The Red Barn occupied an isolated position on Barnfield Hill, about a mile from Polstead church and half a mile from the Martens' cottage. It was used for storing and threshing the grain after harvest. The Corder family rented it, together with the nearby fields, from Mrs Cooke of Polstead Hall.

The barn was a large wooden construction with outbuildings attached and stood in an enclosed yard. Part of the roof was thatched. The rest was covered in red tiles from which the barn seems to have derived its name. Drawings, plans, even pottery models survive to show what the barn was like.

Corder and Maria often walked to the Red Barn, so it was natural that he arranged to meet her there on her last day. He said that had not intended to kill Maria in the barn, but before they left an argument arose and he shot her dead. After the widespread press coverage of the murder, thousands of visitors made a pilgrimage to the Red Barn - Curtis estimated over 200,000 during the summer of 1828 alone. Many shed a tear for Maria. Many more took pieces of the barn as souvenirs. Rumours suggested that the barn's owner was so irritated by souvenir hunters that she threatened to have it demolished. It continued to stand, however, though in a ruinous state, until 1842, when an arsonist burnt it down during a period of agricultural unrest.

St Mary's Church at Polstead
St Mary's Church, Polstead
After the inquest of 1827, Maria Marten's body was taken from the Red Barn and buried in St Mary's Churchyard in Polstead. Unbelievably the body was exhumed and parts of it used as an exhibit at Corder's trial. Even after she had been returned to her grave, Maria was not left in peace. Large numbers of visitors took away chips of the headstone as souvenirs until it completely disappeared. Nowadays the only indication of her grave is a wooden plaque nailed to a shed at the side of Polstead Church.

Go to Red Barn Homepage Go to next topic - Discovery & Arrest Created 19 June 2001 by St Edmundsbury Museums Staff
Last updated 27 December 2006
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