Come all you bold young thoughtless men,
A warning take by me;
And think of my unhappy fate
To be hanged upon the tree.
My name is William Corder,
The truth I do declare;
I courted Maria Marten,
Most beautiful and fair.
I promised her I'd marry her,
All on one certain day;
Instead of that I was resolved
To take her life away.
I went unto her father's house
Upon the eighteenth day of May.
'0 come my dearest Ria,
And we'll fix the wedding day.
?If you will meet me at the Red Barn,
As sure as I have life,
I will take you down to Ipswich Town
And there make you my wife.?
He straight went home and fetched his gun,
His pick-axe and his spade;
He went unto the Red Barn,
And there he dug her grave.
With heart so light she thought no harm,
To meet him she did go;
He murdered her all in the barn,
And he laid her body low.
And all things being silent,
They could not take no rest,
Which appeared in her mother?s house
When suckled at her breast.
Her mother had a dreadful dream,
She dreamed it three nights o'er,
She dreamed that her dear daughter
Lay beneath the Red Barn floor.
They sent her father to the barn,
And in the ground he thrust;
And there he found his daughter dear
Lay mingling with the dust.
Come all you young thoughtless men,
Some pity look on me;
On Monday next will be my last,
To be hanged upon the tree.
Palmer, R (1979) Everyman's Book of English Country Songs
London, Dent & Sons
Sung by Mr. George Hall, Hooton Roberts, Yorks; collected by R. A. Gatty, 1907. (MS no. 661164 in Birmingham Reference Library.)
By the age of 26, Maria Marten, who was born at Polstead, Suffolk in 1801, had produced three illegitimate children, all by different fathers. The last, which lived for only six weeks, was the child of William Corder, also of Polstead. He was two years the junior of Maria, the son of a farmer, and a sort of confidence man, 'with an ungovernable propensity for forming intimate connexions with females.'
Shortly after the child's death, the couple left Polstead, ostensibly to go to Ipswich to be married so that Maria could avoid being charged with having had a bastard child. In fact, Corder took her to the Red Barn, murdered her, and buried her beneath the floor. He later said that Maria was staying at Yarmouth, and absented himself from Polstead for progressively longer intervals.
In November, 1827, having married a lady he had obtained by advertising in the Morning Herald
(he did not bother to collect the 45 replies to a further advertisement in the Sunday Times
) he moved to Brentford, Essex, where his wife set up a 'school for young ladies.'
In April, 1828, after a long period of anxiety as to her fate, Maria's father dug up the floor of the Red Barn and found the corpse of his daughter. His action was at the suggestion of his wife, Anne (who was Maria's step-mother and not her natural mother, as the song suggests), who claimed that she had repeatedly dreamed that the girl had been murdered at that spot. (Recent commentators have suggested the possibility of her complicity with Corder as the source of her information, rather than dreams.) Corder was arrested, tried, and found guilty of murder. He was hanged outside Bury St Edmund's Gaol on 11 August, 1828.
The song, originally published as a street ballad by Catnach, purported to have been written by William Corder, whose 'last night'
or 'farewell to the world'
it was. The sheet sold well over one-and-a-half million copies, and the story, in the form of song, novelette and melodrama, enjoyed a vogue lasting for a hundred years or so. Corder's skeleton is still preserved in the museum of the College of Surgeons.
(Search Roud index at VWML) Take Six