Maria Marten

Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918

Source: Extract from interview with Reginald Spurgeon, C707/12/1-2, Thompson, P. and Lummis, T., Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918, 1870-1973 [computer file]. 7th Edition. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], May 2009. SN: 2000,

Text: Q. And what did you spend your pocket money on?

A. Well, it was on perhaps sweets. I don’t think I was smoking, ‘cos I wouldn’t be smoking at that age. Or there might be a fair. A fair might come into town d you’d go to that. Occasionally a tuppenny gaff.

Q. What is a tuppenny gap?

A. There’d be a portable theatre come and put up in one of the meadows in the town, and they would run plays. And they was a repertory company and was changing every night. You see, a travelling repertory company. And, terribly cold, no heating, I remember I’ve sat in there, tiered up on just wooden planks, and I’ve felt cramp, you know, almost got like cricket balls underneath my feet. Just sat there and listened. And the people on one occasion they stayed here quite a time and got friendly with people. Course they had a hard struggle. Then there would have been, the play would have been, you know, “Maria Martin in the Red Barn”, “East Lynne”, and all those things. “The Face at the Window”.

Q. I’ve heard of “East Lynne” and “The Red Barn”. What was the first ore?

A. “Maria Martin”, you’ve never heard of that?

Q. No I haven’t.

A. Well, this was a murder that took place at Polstead. A village. Murdered – this girl was supposed to have been murdered in the Red Barn at Polstead.

Q. Oh. It was “Maria Martin in the Red Barn” was it?

A. Yes. Murdered in the Red Barn. This actually did happen.

Q. And they made a kind of play cut of it?

A. Yes. They made this melodrama sort of thing.

Comments: Reginald Spurgeon (1903-?) was one of eight children of a Halstead iron moulder and his silk weaver wife. Penny, or tuppenny, gaffs were cheap theatrical entertainments put on for working class audiences. There were numerous plays made about the ‘Red Barn Murder‘ of Maria Marten, in Polstead in 1827. The memory dates from late 1900s/early 1910s. Spurgeon was one of 444 people interviewed by Paul Thompson and his team as part of a study of the Edwardian era which resulted in Thompson’s book The Edwardians: The Remaking of British Society (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1975).