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Chapter 3. The Burial Of The Victims

December 16, 2021
by the gentle author

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

I am indebted to PD James’ ‘The Peartree & The Maul’ which stands as the authoritative account of these events. Thanks are also due to the Bishopsgate Institute and Tower Hamlets Local History Archive.

You may like to read the earlier instalments of this serial which runs throughout December

1. The Death Of A Linen Draper

2. Horrid Murder

3 Responses leave one →
  1. December 16, 2021

    I am anxiously waiting for the next chapter.

  2. Catherine Smith permalink
    December 16, 2021

    I am bewildered by the image. Are the coffin bearers swathed in fabric and are there effigies or plumes above? It must have made for a difficult job……..

  3. Jennifer Newbold permalink
    December 16, 2021

    What bizarre illustrations. It appears that the men bearing the bodies are concealed beneath some sort of pall or skirt. I presume that if you couldn’t afford a funeral car, convention required that you recreate the closest thing, but how could they see where they were walking? (And a catafalque with legs is a very odd sort of thing.) Very interesting!!

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