Wife’s body under the floorboards

An impoverished tailor with a wife and small child started behaving increasingly erratically as his wife began to lose patience with her alcoholic spouse. JAN BONDESON tells how she came to a sad end – but her killer escaped the noose.

Just where Loampit Vale, Lewisham, changes its name to Loampit Hill, there is a small terrace of four narrow houses, probably a good deal older than the surrounding ones.

In 1908, the 40-year-old repairing tailor George Hume lived in one of these little houses, No 3 Loampit Hill, with his 27-year-old wife Bertha and their young son.

He had been a soldier, serving in India and South Africa, but had been invalided out of the army after suffering sunstroke.

Hume had opened a tailor’s shop in Hither Green Lane, but it had failed miserably.

In 1908, Hume gave up the lease and moved his tailoring utensils back home to No 3 Loampit Hill, where he opened a makeshift tailor’s shop in the front room.

After his tailoring business had failed, George Hume became increasingly dejected and morose.

He had always been a heavy drinker, but now he spent more time in the public houses than in his humble little tailor’s shop at Loampit Hill.

Although he had made sure the front of No 3 was adorned with signs saying ‘G. Hume, Repairing Tailor’, he often deserted the shop to go drinking, leaving his wife Bertha in charge.

She of course objected to his drunken habits, and there were several quarrels.

The discovery of the murder from the Illustrated Police Budget, November 28, 1908.

On November 13, 1908, Mr David Sterry, one of George Hume’s few remaining customers, came to No 3 Loampit Hill to deliver a coat he wanted to have mended.

George was complaining that his wife had been away all afternoon, and that he had not had any tea.

Just as Sterry left, she arrived home. Two days later, the neighbour Fanny Willcox, living at No 5 Loampit Hill, saw George and Bertha with their little boy.

The next day, she again saw George sweeping the doorstep up to his shop.

She asked him ‘How is the missus?’ and he replied that she was poorly and that he had just given her some medicine.

Later the same day, the concerned Mrs Willcox again approached her neighbour, but this time he told her his wife had gone away.

Mr Sterry met George Hume in the street on November 16, asking him if his coat was ready.

Hume replied “No, I’ve done my bloody lot in! Come and have a drink, and I’ll tell you something that will surprise you.”

Seeing that Hume was already quite inebriated, Sterry declined this invitation.

Later the same day, the off-duty police constable John Smith saw Hume walking down Lewisham High Street, quite drunk and leading his little son by the hand.

When asked what he was doing, Hume replied ‘I’m going to give the little bugger a wash!’ Constable Smith thought Hume quite unfit to look after a child and took him into custody.

On the way to the police station, the impoverished tailor made various more or less confused utterances, one of them being “I suppose you think you have got a decent job?” directed at the policeman.

He several times pointed at the opposite pavement, saying “Look at them; they are making dumb motions at me!” although there was no person to be seen.

At the police station, Inspector Cornelius Garner thought Hume quite insane, and he was sent to the Mental Ward of Lewisham Infirmary.

No 3 Loampit Hill.

At the Mental Ward, the attendant John McArdell noted that George Hume smelt strongly of drink and seemed quite confused.

When his pockets were searched on arrival, two gold rings were found. But as George Hume sat gibbering in the mental ward, his father-in-law William Curtis came to No 3 Loampit Hill to see his daughter.

Since there seemed to be no one at home, he broke down the ramshackle front door.

In the front room, used as Hume’s workshop, there were cuts in the linoleum carpet, and some of the floorboards seemed quite loose. There was a very unpleasant smell in the room.

When Mr Curtis called at the police station, Inspector Garner remembered the drunken tailor George Hume who seemed to have lost his reason.

He went to see Hume at the mental ward, and although the lunatic himself had nothing worthwhile to contribute, the attendants told him about the gold rings found in Hume’s pocket.

Hume had been making incoherent statements about the fidelity of his wife and the paternity of his child.

Inspector Garner returned to No 3 Loampit Hill, where he removed the linoleum carpet and lifted the floorboards. Underneath them was the fully clothed body of Bertha Hume.

She had been strangled with a piece of string tied tightly around her neck.

Remarkably, the police file on Hume at the National Archives contains a mounted photograph of this horrid spectacle, the body lying next to the lifted floorboards.

When arrested by the police at the mental ward, for the suspected murder of his wife, Hume seemed quite surprised, saying: “I almost forgot all about it! If I had not been jealous of her it would not have happened, but I could not stand the disgrace. I knew I had done something and I was going to give myself up.”

The trial of George Hume at the Old Bailey for the murder of his wife was not a lengthy affair.

The medical officer of Brixton Prison, who had kept Hume under observation, gave his opinion that the prisoner had genuine insane delusions, and was not responsible for his actions.

George Hume was duly detained at Broadmoor, but was released 11 years later.

Hopefully, he did not return to the house at No 3 Loampit Hill, to dispose of another wife underneath the floorboards.

The murder house is still standing, and its external aspect is virtually unchanged since 1908, apart from the windows being replaced and the signs of ‘G. Hume, Repairing Tailor’ removed.

This is an edited extract from Jan Bondeson’s Murder Houses of South London (Troubador Publishing, Leicester 2015).

Main Pic: The discovery of the body of Mrs Hume underneath the floorboards, from the Illustrated Police News, November 28, 1908


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