Chapter 3. The Burial of the Victims
On 15th December 1811, one week after their violent deaths, the Marr family were buried in the churchyard of St George’s-in-the-East in the shadow of the pepperpot tower designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor. In spite of the frost, crowds of mourners lined the Highway from early morning and at one o’clock the coffins were carried out from the draper’s shop at 29 Ratcliffe Highway, where the deceased met their end, and into the church where two months earlier the family had attended the christening of Timothy Marr junior.
The following verse was inscribed upon the stone -
- Stop mortal, as you pass by
- And view the grave werein doth lie
- A Father, Mother and a Son
- Whose Earthly course was shortly run.
- For lo all in one fatal hour
- O’er came were they with ruthless power
- And murdered in a cruel state
- Yea, far too horrid to relate!
- They spared no-one to tell the tale
- One for the other could not wail
- The other’s fate in anguish sighed
- Loving they lived, together died
- Reflect, O Reader, o’er their fate
- And turn from sin before too late
- Life is uncertain in this world
- Oft in a moment we are hurled
- To endless bliss or endless pain
- So let not sin within your reign.
Meanwhile, no progress had yet been made in the detection of the perpetrators of the crime. Three Greek sailors loitering with blood on their trousers on the Ratcliffe Highway were arrested on the night of the murders but released again once an alibi was established, proving they had just come up from Gravesend.
More pertinently, Mr Pugh the carpenter who had undertaken the improvements to the Mr Marr’s shop was questioned. He had employed a subcontractor to make the shop window, who requested the iron chisel (discovered on the shop counter after the killings) which Mr Pugh had borrowed from a neighbour. Once the work was complete the chisel could not be found, though the contractor claimed he had left it in the shop for Mr Pugh. However, Mr Pugh was found to be of good character and had a reliable alibi too. Either Mr Marr succeeded in finding the chisel after Margaret Jewell, the servant girl, had gone out at ten to midnight to buy oysters – or he had kept it secretly all along and brought it out in vain self-defence against persons unknown – or one of the murderers had brought it into the house as a weapon and not used it.
Without any significant leads in the case, the neighbourhood was left with only speculation and the deadly brooding fear that – although the Marr family were now buried – the train of events unleashed by their savage murder on the night of 11th December was far from over.
Click on Paul Bommer’s map of the Ratcliffe Highway Murders to explore further
The Maul & The Pear Tree - P.D. James’ breathtaking account of the Ratcliffe Highway Murders, inspired me to walk from Spitalfields down to Wapping to seek out the locations of these momentous events. Commemorating the bicentenary of the murders this Christmas, I am delighted to collaborate with Faber & Faber, reporting over coming weeks on these crimes on the exact anniversaries of their occurrence.
The Map of the Ratcliffe Highway Murders – In collaboration with Faber & Faber, Spitalfields Life has commissioned a map from Paul Bommer which will update throughout December as the events occur. Once you have clicked to enlarge it, you can download it as a screensaver or print it out as a guide to set out through the streets of Wapping.
Ratcliffe Highway Murder Walk – Spitalfields Life will be hosting a dusk walk on Wednesday 28th December at 3pm from St Georges in the East, visiting the crime scenes and telling the bone-chilling story of Britain’s first murder sensation. The walk will take approximately an hour and a half, and conclude at the historic riverside pub The Prospect of Whitby. Booking is essential and numbers are limited, so please email email@example.com to sign up. Tickets are £10.
Thanks to the Bishopsgate Institute and Tower Hamlets Local History Archive for their assistance with my research.
You may like to read the earlier installments of this serial which runs throughout December