“Martin’s Close” is a ghost story by the English medievalist and author M. R. James (1862–1936), first published in his More Ghost StoriesCollection of seven short stories by the English medievalist and author M. R. James, first published in 1911. (1911). The unidentified narrator is staying with the rector of a parish in which he owns some property, and is visiting to inspect his land.
The story centres around the murder of a young woman by the local squire about two hundred years earlier, but whose subsequent trial was complicated by the fact that several witnesses testified to having seen or heard the girl after her death.
As the narrator is leaving the rectory on his first morning in the parish, the rector tells him to be sure to ask his guide John Hill, the estate gardener and general handyman, about Martin’s Close when they get there, as the rector is keen to hear what Hill has to say.
Martin’s Close turns out to be a very small enclosure completely surrounded by hedges, without any obvious entrance. Hill tells the narrator that the site is believed to contain the grave of George Martin, executed for the brutal murder of a young woman “many ‘undred years ago”. He adds that the woman’s spirit was said by some to have emerged from a cupboard in the local inn, and tormented Martin. The rector is able to confirm from the parish accounts that a gibbet had been paid for in 1684, and a grave dug in the following year, both for the benefit of George Martin.
On his return home the narrator acquires a transcript of Martin’s trial, held before Judge Jeffreys, known as the Hanging Judge, and the remainder of the story continues with extracts of the evidence presented at the trial. After being found guilty of murder by the jury, Martin tries to argue that the case should be dismissed because his name is spelt wrongly in the indictment, but his objection is overruled and he is sentenced to be hanged in chains upon a gibbet near the place where the murder was committed.
The story was adapted for television by Mark Gatiss, and first broadcast on 24 December 2019 on BBC Four as part of the long-running A Ghost Story for Christmas series. It stars Peter Capaldi as George Martin, Elliot Levey, Wilf Scolding, Sara Crowe, James Holmes, Jessica Temple, Simon Williams, Fisayo Akinade, and Ian Hallard.
- M. R. James bibliographyList of the works written by M. R. James.