Marionettes were regular fairground entertainment, and the infamous story of the murder of Maria Marten became a touring staple. The puppets shown here were used in performances of The Murder in the Red Barn.They were two of 35 marionettes from the Tiller-Clowes troupe, one of the last Victorian marionette troupes in England. Marionette shows were a popular form of entertainment for adults in the 19th-century, many of them family concerns which travelled around the country long before the advent of film and television, presenting shortened versions of London's latest popular entertainment from melodramas and pantomimes to minstrel shows and music hall. In the 18th and early 19th-centuries their theatres were relatively makeshift, but after about 1860 many became quite elaborate, with walls constructed from wooden shutters, seating made from tiered planks of wood, and canvas roofs.
The figures were carved, painted, dressed and performed by members of the company. This is a leading working-class male who would have been a stock character, used in any play requiring an honest workman. His hair and beard are carefully carved, and his face has been painted in a slightly brown colour, as if to indicate that he works out of doors. His right hand has been carved closed to hold props, the other shaped for gesture.