THE TRIAL and execution of a Bridport woman who inspired Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles will be the focus of a BBC programme next week.

Martha Brown was tried and subsequently hanged in the summer of 1856 for the murder of her husband, John Brown. She was the last woman to be publicly hanged in Dorset.

The episode of ‘Murder, Mystery and My Family’ will feature defence lawyer, Jeremy Dein QC, and prosecution lawyer, Sasha Wass, investigating the controversies surrounding the trial whether Mrs Brown was in fact guilty.

The programme will air on BBC One at 10am on Thursday August 6.

Representatives from the programme got in touch with Frances Williams and Irene Craig, descendants of Mrs Brown, who had discovered the story themselves when looking into their family tree.

Mrs Williams said: “I don't think she was given a fair trial, within a month she had been tried and executed.

“In those days the defendant wasn't even allowed to speak in the courtroom. We read some of the newspaper reports at the time and some of the accusatory stuff that was written blackened her name before she even stood trial.

“The programme contacted my sister as our family tree was up on Ancestry, they emailed her and asked if we would interested in taking part in the production of the programme.”

The trial concluded just two weeks after Mr Brown’s death and the hanging commenced two weeks later outside of Dorchester Prison, in front of a crowd of around 4,000 people, one of which was a 16-year-old Thomas Hardy.

There were witness reports that Mr Brown was abusive to his wife and had returned home drunk on the night, which suggests Mrs Brown may have been acting in self-defence.

Mrs Williams continued: “We went to Birdsmoorgate where Martha had lived and we also went to the courtroom and Shire Hall in Dorchester, which is one of the last preserved courtrooms from the time.

“There were some really interesting findings, we learnt so much from the experts and the investigators gave us their point of view on whether they thought she was innocent.

“Now we're just waiting to see what the finished product looks like, hopefully it might do something to clear her name.”