Luton Town Council's unanimous decision to use Wardown Mansion as a maternity hospital for three years or longer brought a hostile response from the local Press. Ahead of the next Council meeting that evening, the Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph led a scathing onslaught in its February 4th, 1919, edition, warning that members of the Council were riding for a fall if they did not immediately reverse their decision.
Let us make one fact clear at once, said the newspaper. The Council will have to face a very determined opposition unless they bring themselves into line with public sentiment and the townspeople's wishes. The burgesses of Luton will never consent to Wardown Mansion being taken from them in this way.
The average Lutonian takes a great pride in Wardown; it was bought for the people's pleasure and recreation, and fathers and mothers – the people who pay the piper – resent deeply this proposal to filch from them their rights to free access to the Mansion House as a show place, as a place of shelter and pleasant centre for refreshments.
Apart altogether from the point of view of the public love for Wardown is the still more serious question of the total unsuitability of the mansion for the purpose proposed. We doubt if a more absurd proposal has ever been put forward in the Council Chamber.
Can anyone imagine a more ridiculous scheme than the establishment of a lying-in hospital in the centre of public gardens, tennis courts and a public park? This fact alone should be sufficient to condemn the proposal right away.
The next thing we shall hear is that the Council propose to enclose the ornamental gardens with a close-boarded fence eight or ten feet high, to secure some semblance of privacy.
Really one begins to think the Council is getting badly out of touch with public opinion and the public wishes. It won't do. Hands off Wardown.
The scheme, as submitted to the Council, provides for the accommodation of lying-in cases, nursing mothers and a children's home.
The Parks Committee, in consenting to the proposal, explained that it was due to the urgency and importance of the matter, and the impossibility of other suitable premises being acquired or erected at present or in the immediate future,
We say the Council can find a residence in another part of the town far more suitable for the purposes they have in view. If they cannot rent one, let them buy one. Surely there are council members with some knowledge of the local property market. It is commonly thought they are well in the know; if not, our advice to them is to wait a little – and to keep their eyes open.
We say most emphatically Wardown is not suitable.
Let us examine point by point the arguments put forward by out august representatives for this astounding proposal.
The Council will pay £100 for the use of the mansion, of which sum the Government will pay half.
Councillor Primett tells us that for months he has been looking round the town for a place. A little more patience, Mr Primett. Everything comes to those who wait.
Here's another argument of the Councillor's. Some had said a public park was much too public for a maternity home, but that was all moonshine. Really, Mr Primett, you have let sentiment run away with your better judgment.
Alderman Wilkinson was afraid such a scheme would destroy some of the social amenities of the park. Hear, hear, Mr Wilkinson, but how did you vote? We are told the Council unanimously approved the scheme.
The Mayor [Councillor Impey] said he had a conscientious objection to using Wardown for this purpose...to put such a place in the centre of public recreation seemed hardly right. But! - There is generally a 'but' or and 'if' - “he wouldn't propose and amendment because he had no alternative to suggest.” And the vote, as we said before, is reported to have been unanimous.
Councillor Barford thought...subject to the use of Wardown being limited to three years in the first instance, it might remove some members' objections. The italics are ours. Doesn't it look as if some members' chief anxiety was to find an excuse for their vote? It reminds us of the words of the parable - “And they all with one consent began to make excuse.”
Alderman Oakley: They must not allow sentiment to override their better judgment...The mansion had been put to no practical use until the V.A.D. took it over. IF in three years' time they could acquire more suitable premises, they could transfer the centre without any great cost.
Councillor Briggs said: There was no immediate alternative; they were already behind the times in this work.
To both Alderman Oakley and Councillor Briggs we commend the words of Alderman Arnold: If any other scheme was possible within 12 months he would not approve of going to Wardown, for it WAS NOT DESIRABLE SUCH A PLACE SHOULD BE PERMANENTLY CENTRED IN A PLACE OF RECREATION. Yet, without waiting the 12 months to find an alternative, Alderman Arnold “supported the proposal”.
Councillor Escott considered it would be an ideal spot for the Home. Councillor Warren: We do not know any other place to which we can go. Alderman Williams did not think it was at all necessary to limit the period to three years.
Mark those words, please. And Alderman Williams went on: As to using it for indoor recreation, he did not think it would be suitable for anything but billiards and bridge, and there was no need to cater publicly for that.
It is a side issue, but why not billiards? The public will have recreation and entertainment, and we have yet to learn that billiards under municipal control would be any worse than billiards at pubs, billiards at clubs, and billiards in public saloons. There is an application pending for the opening of another billiard hall in the town, which would seem to show that someone believes there is a demand for it, and possibly profit to be made at it also.
But as we have remarked, it is quite a side issue, and a very poor argument as to the suitability of Wardown as a lying-in hospital.
And finally, Councillor Primett, replying on 'the discussion,' said: The finest picture gallery they could have was a show of healthy, chubby little children.
To which we respond that: Wardown House as a place of rest and refreshment is THE place where in summer time happy children congregate.
No, Mr Councillors, second thoughts are best. Wardown House is THE place which just puts the finishing touches to the pleasures of children – and of the parents.
When you come to think it over, we think you will acknowledge the justice of the claim and abandon the idea of Wardown as a maternity home. Get to work this evening and remedy your mistake!