The Lodger and the Lady – A murder in Woburn Sands 1899
As in any district as old as ours, there have been several shocking murders, though thankfully few and far between. Just as now, those committed within the last hundred and fifty years have all been subject to intense media interest and speculation.
In 1899, a man called George Jeffrey had been lodging with James and Eliza Burt in one of the cottages where the Chinese take-away now is on Woburn Road, for about six years. George had been a drayman with the Northants brewery of Phipps and Co., but had recently been sacked. He had then worked for Benskins Brewery, who had a depot in Woburn Sands, as a bottler, but had also been sacked from this job, about six weeks prior to this incident. Since then, he had found employment as a stableman and odd job man at The Fir Tree Inn, for the landlord Benjamin Garrett.
George had met James Burt when they both worked at Phipps’ and James looked upon him almost as a brother, and had helped him out between jobs. James’ wife Eliza was 42, and the Burts had had 7 children.
On January 12th, James had left for work as normal at about 7am. Charles Burt, his eldest son, worked as a telegraph messenger at Woburn Sands Post Office, and usually took his mother a cup of tea in bed, as she was still nursing year-old twins. He went up to see her again, before leaving for work. When he opened the door, a dreadful sight met his eyes. George Jeffery had entered the room and cut Eliza Burts throat, ear to ear with a straight razor. He had then committed suicide the same way, and lay by the foot of the bed, the razor still in his hand. Young Charles ran all the way to Phipps stables, where his father was working, and called out, “Oh do come father, George has murdered mother and himself!”
An Inquest was held at the Fir Tree Inn that same evening, before Mr F T Tanquerary, with a jury foremaned by Mr Mallom of the Dene, Aspley Hill. A letter had been found on Georges body, addressed to his brother, which included the following lines:
“…I hope and prey God will forgive me for what I have done…..I have made up my mind to take both our lives….Give my watch to little F. Burt…….Tell Harry to keep from all girls. They are a bad lot. This is what they have done to me. Goodbye.”
He also made references to an illicit affair he was involved in with Mrs Burt, but these were not fully reported in the newspapers at that time.
The witnesses called included the deceased’s family, the murderer’s brother, PC Hewitt of Aspley Heath and Dr Robert Brander of Woburn Sands.
George, who had been about 30, was said to have been of a sullen and morose disposition, and as a man of violent temper. After a short deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of Wilful Murder on Eliza Burt and Suicide by George Jeffrey. They forfeited their fees to aid the Burt family.
George was buried at St Michaels, Woburn Sands. The register records that he was buried without service. Eliza was also buried there, a few days later.
James Burt was left with 7 children to bring up. Unfortunately, this was not the end of tragedy for the Burt family. Three of the boys, including the both twins, died fighting in World War I. The twins were killed within a month of each other in 1917, and Frederick, who George had left his watch to, was killed in May 1918. [See the War Memorial research for their story.]
Page last updated Jan. 2019.