Most of my morning today was spent clearing out the loft of my old red barn. One, two, and the trash flew! That led me to thinking about barns as I searched for a suitable poem for today's post. There must be thousands of great poems about barns, I thought, as I tore through the works of Robert Frost, James Whitcomb Riley, and a pile of cowboy poetry. But, alas, most of the poems about old barns seemed fairly pedestrian. I kept searching, looking for something memorable - or at least interesting.
Finally I came up with today's selection, an old English ballad about a young woman who was murdered in 1828 at a place called The Red Barn. The ballad was put to paper by a fellow named James Catnach in 1908, and has undergone some modifications since its original publication.
Maria Marten, the daughter of a local mole catcher, was a young woman of twenty-six living in the British countryside of Sussex. Her virtue had been besmirched. Maria had a son out of wedlock a couple of years prior to her murder, then she left the baby with her father and step-mother as she went out into the big world. Away from home and on her own, Maria encountered William Corder, the shiftless son of well-to-do parents - and she again wound up pregnant. William, not surprisingly, grew tired of his easy conquest and left Maria so that he could marry someone more of his own social standing.
At that point, Maria disappeared. Her step-mother, who may have also been one of William Corder's several mistresses, told her husband that she had a dream that Maria had been murdered and was buried in the Red Barn. The husband didn't put much stock in his wife's tale, but eventually took his shovel to the Red Barn and began digging. There he found the skeleton of a woman.
William Corder was brought back from his new home in London, charged with the murder of Maria Marten, convicted, and hung.
The following is James Catnach's ballad describing the murder of Maria Marten and the hanging of William Corder. When you have finished this fine tale and are perchance looking for me, I will be out working in my old red barn!
Now, where did I put that shovel?
The Murder of Maria Marten
by James Catnach
I was hung upon a tree