It is a sad fact in London history – some murders get attention and the details poured over again and again, and some that are simply forgotten. The murder of Elizabeth Osborn in 1719 is one that has passed quietly away – a shame as her killer, Jane Griffin wanted us all to learn a lesson from the sorry episode.
Elizabeth Osborn was a maid working at the Three Pigeons, a tavern used by booksellers located in Butcher Hall Row – not far from modern day Paternoster Square. The tavern was run by Jane Griffin and her husband and was a great success. However Jane Griffin was said to have had bouts of temper, which ended up having disastrous consequences. On one occasion there had been strong words between mistress and servant which resulted in Griffin cutting Osborn on the arm. When Osborn showed the wound to a surgeon she said fearfully, she believed she would be murdered by Griffin before too long. When Mr Griffin told his wife to behave better to her servant, she angrily replied “Damn her the Bitch, I’ll be her butcher one time or other”. Her husband asked if she wanted to hang, and Griffin callously said “no body will think it worth their while to hang her for killing her”. Whether they were just hot tempered words, or a cool disregard for a servants life, they were to prove wrong.
The two women argued again on December 1st, Griffin accusing her servant of losing a key. Later that night Mr Griffin was entertaining a Mr Tannet and a Mr Lund when he was called down to the kitchen. After a while Tannet and Lund went to the kitchen and were horrified by what they saw – Elizabeth Osborn was lying on the floor covered with blood from a wound in her chest. “The bitch has stabbed herself” cried Mr Griffin, but doubting this Lund asked Elizabeth who had done this. “Mistress” was her breathless reply. Mr Griffin told Lund not to ask any more questions “or else I am undone”
A doctor was sent for but by the time he arrived Elizabeth Osborn was dead, and Mr Griffin had cleaned up some of the blood and the knife that she had been stabbed with lost. Jane Griffin said the incident had been an accident, that she had stabbed her with the knife but thought it would not have gone through her stays (corset). Nonetheless the magistrates had Jane Griffin arrested and taken to Newgate Prison.
At first she seemed convinced she would not be found guilty, but at the trial the dying words “Mistress” were enough to convince the jury, even though Griffin tried to convince them she only said “Miss” – which could mean another person. The dread sentence of death was given. Jane Griffin never admitted the crime but before her execution she gave a tearful farewell to her husband and daughter. She left one final warning to her daughter -
"My dearest child let the afflictions of thy mother be a warning and an example unto thee; and since I am denied life to educate and bring thee up, let this dreadful monument of my death suffice to warn you against yielding in any degree to your passion, or suffering a vehemence of temper to transport you so far even as indecent words, which bring on a custom of flying out in a rage on trivial occasions, till they fatally terminate in such acts of wrath and cruelty as that for which I die.”
A warning of what trouble a temper can cause.
Find out more stories of London crime in our Heretics and Horrors walk
Posted by By Rob Smith, Clerkenwell and Islington Tour Guide. Posted In : Heretics and Horrors