Mace bearer's riot evidence

[From The Luton News: Thusday, July 31st, 1919]

Frederick John Rignall, mace bearer and manager of the Luton Town Hall, gave formal evidence at the Borough Court on Wednesday, July 30th, 1919, about the Peace Day arrangements and the passage of the Peace Day procession to Wardown.

After the procession had gone, he said, the Mayor and others entered into the Town Hall and the crowd, which had been kept back by the procession, assembled in front of the Town Hall.

Witness said that at this juncture the crowd, which was very large, was noisy and disorderly. Witness stayed in the main entrance of the hall, and some members of the Council stood at the top of the steps. As there was nothing more to be done at the Town Hall in connection with the celebration, orders were given for the double doors to be closed.

He then went upstairs to his office, which adjoined the Assembly Room, where his wife and children were. After being there about two minutes, there was a great deal of noise below – the crowd shouting for the Mayor and the Town Clerk – and he went again to the entrance hall. The “next he saw was the police go over, and the crowd rushed into the building”.

They said they wanted the Mayor, and rushed upstairs. Witness went first. He judged there were about 80 or 90 people in the room at that time. They followed witness to his office, demanding the presence of the Mayor and stating they knew witness had him there. He told told them only his wife and four children were there, and they said they intended to see.

Macebearer Frederick RignallWitness made an attempt to close the door, but the crowd burst it open, knocking him over in doing so. Finding the Mayor was not there, they returned to the Assembly Hall, where some of the councillors' wives or relatives had been standing at the window. Witness took his wife and children into the back yard by the rear staircase, the main stairs being crowded with people.

There had been a dance in the Assembly Hall the previous night, and there remained in the room catering utensils, mirrors etc, belonging to the persons who arranged the dance. On the front of the Town Hall were flags and other decorations, with streamers extending from the front of the building to a tramway pole in the street.

Returning to the room, he saw the crowd smashing up everything there, and throwing chairs out of the windows. Some young men threatened to throw the forms through the window, but witness appealed to them not to do so, because of the danger to the people below. At the same time the decorations were being pulled down.

Mr Rignall (pictured right) recognised among the people the prisoner Long, standing near the windows. He rushed up when witness was appealing to the crowd to refrain from throwing forms through the window, and urged the men “not to take any ------ notice of him; and if he said another word he would throw him out of the ------ window in two ------ minutes”.

Witness was surrounded by the crowd, and someone shouted, “We don't want Rignall – get on with the business”. So far as he could see, there were women in uniform in the room.

The crowd then left witness alone, and, descending the stairs, entered the Council Chamber, and there broke several chandeliers and electric globes with chairs. Then someone shouted, “Come on, boys! Up to the Mayor's house!” Then they left the building and went into the street.

The Chairman: “Do you know who made that remark?” Witness: “No, sir.”

Witness was in the building for the remainder of the day, and heard the commotion outside, and the speeches which were made. The crowd, in his opinion, was at that time noisy rather than hostile.

Shortly at 10pm window smashing began at the Town Hall, and continued so long as any glass remained. Pieces of iron, bricks, bottles and other missiles were used. He was not easily frightened, but the outburst was terrifying.

While in the Town Clerk's room witness was struck by a brick which came through the window and knocked him over. The man who threw the brick stood on the window sill.

About this time fire broke out in the portion of the building used as the Food Office, and witness helped, with others, to put it out. It was restarted and put out several times. They were attacked with bricks and missiles, and efforts were then being made to smash in the main door of the Town Hall and force an entrance. The crowd outside extended as far back as Bute Street, and the main entrance had been barricaded with chairs and tables.

Witness remained in the building until about 12.45am, when it was well alight. Windows of the premises of Messrs Dillingham, Farmer and Clarke had been smashed, and he saw the crowd throwing things at the firemen, many of whom were knocked over time after time.

Between 10.10 and the time he left the Town Hall, witness said many injured police and special constables were brought in, and on one occasion he had eight lying there together. The position in the Town Hall was very dangerous during the whole time.