Monday, 12 August 2013

Dr Buck Ruxton

The last of my classes at the City Lit folklore summer school on Saturday dealt with contemporary folklore. I was highly delighted when one of the students, Carol, started thinking about the new development of songs.

It occurred to her, she said, because her grandmother had been treated by Dr Buck Ruxton. Ruxton, an Indian-born GP in Manchester, murdered his wife and housemaid in 1935. He was subsequently arrested and executed for the murders.

The case was extremely high profile. As with the Maria Marten Red Barn murder of the previous century there seems to have been a theatrical dramatisation of the crime. As also happened with the Red Barn murder, Ruxton's crime also prompted a folkloric response. Across the country we find records of people singing, to the tune Red Sails in the Sunset:

Red stains on the carpet,
Red stains on the knife
Oh Dr Buck Ruxton
You murdered your wife.

I was pleased to find someone who remembered the song from within her family, but even better was the family legend that accompanied it. According to family legend, Ruxton treated Carol's grandmother on the very day that he had dismembered the corpses of his victims. He arrived at the patient's bedside, it was reported, with a cut on his hand, which he claimed he had done on a tin can.

It's a wonderful story. I have some doubts about its veracity, because there are many records of earlier criminals being used to scare children (Jack the Ripper turns up as an East London bogeyman in the early part of the 20th century, for example). Whether true or not, it's exactly how folklore tradition works with details of crimes. Perhaps the most satisfying part of the event in class was that a younger student didn't recognise the name, so Carol got to relate the whole story to her. Folklore in action!