The Red Barn Murder was the most famous murder of the 1800s and it attracted worldwide attention. Crowds flocked from all over England--and from beyond--to see the murder site, and so many people claimed a piece of the barn as a souvenir that it was almost vanished. The case was closely followed by the Times, and books published while the trial was underway depict Corder, Marten, the Red Barn, and Corder standing before the judge. The Staffordshire figures very closely resemble these illustrations, which clearly inspired them.
The Red Barn Murder is an enthralling yarn that was the subject of books and movies well into the 20th century. As late as 2004, the case again made the news when the Royal College of Surgeons released Corder's skeleton to a distant relative. Last I heard, the relative was trying to get his scalp and skin (used to bind a contemporary copy of a book detailing the story) from the museum case that housed them.
I admit to finding the Red Barn Murder fascinating. I read everything I could find about it, and my research helped me locate the images that are the figures' design sources. I even went to Polstead, the site of the murder. The barn has, of course, gone, but I was able to see the Marten family cottage, the Corder home, and other sites referred to in reports of the time. Unanswered questions about the murder abound, and I am not sure Corder really did it. You can read all about it in my book, People, Passions, Pastimes, and Pleasures: Staffordshire Figures 1810-1835. To my mind, the Red Barn Murder remains one of the best murder mysteries ever--and perhaps one of the great unsolved crimes of all time.
- The figure of Corder before the Judge is particularly rare. I know of only two other examples. One is on a low rectangular base. The other stands to one side of a spill vase, while figures of Corder and Marten together stand on the other side. The source engraving too is very rare.
- You may wonder why figures connected to the Red Barn Murder are so rare when the murder was THE event of its day. Well, they are rare because murder was not a proper subject for middle class decor, and figures such as these were made for a middle to upper-middle-class clientele.