A letter opposing a maternity home at Wardown, from a ratepayer who was one of the original supporters of the acquisition of the park and mansion for the town, added fuel to the controversial debate at the meeting of Luton Town Council on February 4th, 1919.
The letter, read at the meeting from Mr S. J. Worsley, of 3 Ivy Road, Luton, received an unsympathetic hearing from most, but the debate produced the first hints of unhappiness among some Council members to the proposal. And it came in the wake of a scathing attack on the proposal published in that day's Tuesday Telegraph.
Mr Worsley's letter read: “At your last meeting you exceeded your duty by passing a resolution to use Wardown House as a Maternity Home, and also applying to the Local Government Board to sanction you doing so, thus robbing the ratepayers and public of their right of use of the same, which they have had for 12 years. Neither the Council not the Local Government Board have the right to take the rights of the public away.
“A public meeting was called by the Mayor, C. H. Osborne, for September 1st, 1903, when 187 ratepayers voted to purchase Wardown for the use of the public, and not for a small portion. We secured Wardown by a small majority of 36. I am proud to say my vote was in that number. Therefore, I claim the right to have a voice in this matter.
“I would remind the Council they are servants of the public. It is their duty to call a ratepayers' meeting for the public to have their voice in the matter and give the Council their sanction or otherwise, and not the Local Government Board. I cannot conceive any sane person thinking a house in the centre of a public park a suitable place for a maternity home. As a family man with a slight knowledge of maternity cases, I consider Wardown House the most unsuitable place.”
Councillor Primett, after the letter had been read, said he hoped there was still a little sanity left amongst them. He had never yet known any movement that was for the good of the public but what there was some opposition.
He had not come across half-a-dozen people who were opposed to the scheme. He had certainly come across some, not half-a-dozen, who had wondered whether it was the right place for this purpose, but when it had been pointed out to them that there was an entrance from Old Bedford Road and some other details had been explained, they had expressed themselves agreeably surprised, and said it was just the place.
To suggest they were robbing the public was stupid. They were all interested, and it was no robbery at all. The house had been a white elephant, and now they could put it to a good use. One point must be faced. It was not simply a maternity home. People must not forget that it was also to be a hospital for children on the ground floor, and a home for neglected infants as well.
It had been discussed by the Maternity and Child Welfare Committee at length, and after they had come to a unanimous decision it was brought before the Council, and they also were practically unanimous. Two or three had qualms and wondered whether it was the right spot, but in its widdom the Council agreed to a three years' tenancy.
There was no other place they could have. Councillor Primett said his attention had been called to an article which he considered a confounded cheek by someone who tried to cut in and suggest that they should ask for Holly Lodge to be given to them. He would like to see Holly Lodge and grounds belonging to the Council when the time came, but it was nothing to compare with Wardown for this purpose.
As Mr Worsley had sent a copy of his letter to the Local Government Board, Councillor Primett suggested that the matter should be allowed to rest there, for there was no need for them to take any action. He accordingly moved that the letter be filed.
Alderman Wilkinson said he was not going to accuse the committee of being insane, for they had acted with the best motives. But, although he might be in a hopeless minority, he felt most strongly Wardown Mansion was not a proper place for such an institution.
He admired the work being done by the committee, but he did appeal to them to further consider whether they were not placing their centre in the wrong position. He was not going to suggest Holly Lodge or any other place should be taken, but he did believe the committee had not exhausted the possibilities of finding another place, and he appealed to them to take the matter back and further consider it all round.
Councillor Barford said he was in a delicate position, because he was a member of the committee concerned, but he wished to make his position somewhat clearer than might be considered from the statement made by Councillor Primett that the vote of the committee was unanimous. One hand at least was not held up for the resolution, and considerable objection was made, pretty much of the tenour of the objections that had been raised in the Press and elsewhere.
He supported the motion that the [Worsley] letter should be filed, because it was somewhat insulting – in fact, very insulting – but he also supported most cordially the suggestion by Alderman Wilkinson that the matter should be reconsidered. In his opinion a case had been fully made out for reconsideration of this important matter.
Councillor Barford said he had heard many views of the reverse order to those Councillor Primett had heard, and he hoped matters might be suspended until the committee had full opportunity of going further into the matter.
Councillor Bone: Is it not a fact that the Council has had this business before it and passed it practically unanimously? Now the Alderman suggests it should go back for reconsideration. Perhaps I do not know much of the rules and regulations of the Council, but I think there must be a motion to rescind our previous decision before it can go back.
Alderman Staddon said he supported the committee's scheme only on the grounds that it was for three years, and there was no alternative proposition. He supported it in the hope that in those three years other accommodation would be found and te centre speedily removed.
He would go further and say there was a tremendous opposition to the Wardown scheme, and he was in thorough agreement with it. But there was no alternative for the moment, and the three years agreement was to tide over the difficulty. In his opinion it was only a temporary measure.
Councillor Briggs said he also supported the proposal because there was no immediate alternative, and said perhaps Alderman Wilkinson in his wisdom would suggest another suitable place, for he was sure the committee would be pleased if her could do so.
The Mayor: I want to say this. In my position as Mayor a number of people have come to me and spoken about the matter, and the general tone of their remarks has been, 'Mr Mayor, what are you going to do at Wardown? It is a great mistake to turn that place into a maternity home.' I have not had one approach me to commend the Council for its decision. I simply state that because the Chairman says he has not heard any opposition.
It was agreed that the Worsley letter should be filed.
[The Luton News: Thursday, February 6th, 1919]