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Murder in Woburn

Woburn does not seem a violent place today but, as an important market town which also held a fair it has had its share of violence in the past. One of the Woburn parish registers [P118/1/4] has the following entry: “November ye 23, 1744 – George Hall, a Butcher of Cranfield, returning home thro’ Burchmire Lane, was robb’d by a footpad, and wounded in so terrible a manner that he died in this Parish the next day. This is the 2d. murder in yt Lane in three Years and the Authors not discover’d”. Birchmoor Lane was, presumably, the road which led to Birchmoor Green and then ran on past Birchmoor Farm and branched to Aspley lane and Horsepool Lane. No doubt the butcher was on his way home via Aspley Guise and Salford.

Another murder (or not – the article will make it clear) is mentioned in Bedfordshire Notes and Queries Volume II published in 1889 by Frederick Augustus Blaydes. He wrote: “I have recently purchased a curious little pamphlet entitled “The BLOODY TRAGEDY or, a dreadful Warning to disobedient Children, giving a sad and dreadful account of one JOHN GILL, in the Town of Woburn in Bedfordshire, who lived a wicked Life”. Then comes a short summary of his crimes, how he cut his Father’s and Mother’s throats, because would not give him money when he asked for it; and how he robbed the house of plate and money and set fire to the house after violating and murdering the maid-servant. The imprint is “London, Printed by J. Evans and Sons, 42 Long-lane, west Smithfield (Price One Penny)”. The pamphlet is a small one, consisting only of one sheet folded quarto. Page 1 is headed “The Life of John Gill”, but curiously enough the pamphlet goes on to describe the criminal under the name of Mr. Jones! On page 3 is a rude woodcut representing a man riding on a monster like a dragon, with forked tongue and tail; and on page 6 is a circular woodcut about the size of a crown piece with a portrait, presumably of the criminal, though as these blocks were made to do duty for various purposes, it is quite possible that they have nothing to do with the text. There is no date on the pamphlet, and I should be glad to learn whether the man’s name was Gill or Jones, and in what year the events related happened. I should add that the criminal was tried and sentenced to be hanged, after which he was cut down, and his body hung in chains”.

Alas, the parish registers for Woburn do not have the burials of both a man and a woman named Gill or Jones on the same day or even close together. This, of course, throws doubt on the whole story as either an embroidery of events or a misapplication of a tragedy which happened elsewhere to Woburn.