I just watched Lucy Worsely’s take on the Red Barn murder as well as the case of the Mannings, the so-called ‘Bermondsey Horror’. Both cases I have researched myself fairly extensively, so I suppose it was inevitable that I might have had some issues with the way the facts were processed for a television audience – even if it was on BBC 4.
Lucy Worsely has an idiosyncratic presentational style, and got into her subjects, literally, to the extent of dressing up as Maria Martin and Marie Manning to act out snippets from their brief lives – Maria was murdered and Marie Manning committed murder and was publicly hanged along with her husband. It makes interesting material for a TV programme, but it is only as good as the quality of the research.
There were a number of errors of fact in the piece on the Red Barn murder, including some spurious material repeated from Donald McCormick’s thoroughly discredited book on the affair. Most egregious though, was the claim that Corder said his hand trembled when he was holding Maria at gunpoint, and the pistol went off by accident. In his defence in court, Corder claimed that Maria had shot herself; he only admitted shooting her in a confession made 12 hours before his execution and all he said about it was:
...A scuffle ensued, and during the scuffle, and at the time I think she had hold of me, I took the pistol from the side-pocket of my velveteen jacket, and fired. She fell, and died in an instant
Not so much to complain about on the Mannings, except to say that although Dr Worsely pointed out that Charles Dickens’ character, the French maid Hortense, who killed Mr Tulkinghorn in Bleak House was based on Marie Manning, she failed to mention the connection. Serjeant Ballantine defended Mrs Manning in the murder trial, and Ballantine was acquainted with Dickens – they were both members of the Garrick Club.
Ah well, back to Grub Street… After the book on the Red Barn murder is finished – should be ready for the summer – I will redouble efforts to get my TV script of Henry’s Trials accepted by a TV production company. Perhaps I should contact Lucy Worsley…
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs