Whilst the Museum is closed and our collections unable to be seen by visitors, we have created a weekly virtual museum with an Object of the Week feature from our collections.
Object of the Week : E is for Elstree Murder
This week’s virtual Museum feature highlights items from the collection and how they can be weaved into a murderous tale from 1882.
We have a brick, made at the Elstree Brick Works on Barnet Lane and which was donated to the Museum from the Station Master’s House when it was demolished. Bricks made at the Brick Works were used by the Midland Railway Company for works along the railway line and Elstree Tunnel. A Brick alone might not seem very exciting but the Brick Works was the site of a controversial murder on a Sunday afternoon, 13th August 1882. George Batchelor, the Brick Works Foreman, was out walking his dogs when something caught his attention in his Works. He saw a man peering intently through a hedge on the far side of the field, so went to investigate. The voyeur slipped away before Batchelor could reach him but halfway across the field, he suddenly stumbled across the chilling sight that the man had been watching. A stocky young man behind a large stack of bricks, standing over the prostrate body of a young woman saturated in blood.
The woman later died from the head injuries she sustained and the stocky young man, George Stratton, was charged with her murder. His sentence was to hang, but two days before execution was due to take place, a reprieve was sent certifying him as insane. He was transferred to Broadmoor where he remained until his death in 1908.
Elstree Met Police House
The young woman was identified as Eliza Ebbern. She had spent her last few hours in the Red Lion, Elstree, at lunchtime, sitting beside a man named James Freeman. She had offered him half a penny for a share in his dinner, saying: ‘That is all I have’. Freeman gave her part of his food before leaving the inn. Later that afternoon, Eliza was seen with two men outside the Artichoke Inn, swigging from a bottle, laughing and joking. After a while, the three began walking up the hill towards Barnet Lane. One of the men fell back, leaving Eliza to walk alone with her stocky companion. As they neared the Brick Works, they passed John Birch, a bricklayer who recognised the man as George Stratton, having worked with him at the Brick Works some months previously.
Eliza Ebbern was buried in Elstree Churchyard on 17th August. Some of the village children scattered flowers on the coffin as it was lowered into the ground. It later transpired that Eliza was 28 years old and had left home in Watford at an early age, with no job and was living rough.
As for George Stratton, it will never be known whether he was really insane at the time of Eliza Ebbern’s murder. Doubt was cast on his reprieve when the Barnet Press printed a report on his history, stating that he was a perfect master of the art of assuming lunacy when convenient. The newspaper described him as a ‘cunning imposter’ and that he was once heard to boast that he could commit even murder with impunity.
Engraving photo of St Nicholas Church Elstree