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Home > Crime and Punishment in Durham > Crime > Mary Ann Cotton

 Why was Mary Ann Cotton so reviled?

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Extract from the Durham Chronicle, 8 March 1873. Click on image to enlarge.

Extract from the Durham Chronicle, 8 March 1873. (DUL Ref LLL 072 DUR)


Mary Ann Cotton is notorious in the North East. Mention her name and most people will quote from a 'skipping rhyme' - "Mary Ann Cotton, She's dead and she's rotten." But why was she so reviled? This source comes from a local newspaper reporting the end of her trial, focusing in particular on the passing of her sentence. Read the extract carefully(you might want to use the enlarged version or the transcript) and then answer the following questions.

1. How long did the jury retire for? Does this seem a long or short time? Does it suggest anything about how they viewed Mary Ann Cotton?

2. What is Mary Ann Cotton found guilty of?

3. Does the Judge say anything which helps us understand why so many people despised Mary Ann Cotton?

4. What reason does the Judge giving for passing the death sentence?

5. Now read the background information. Is there anything in here which helps us understand why Mary Ann Cotton was so reviled?

6. What does the case of Mary Ann Cotton tell us about crime in the 19th century?

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