Theatre's big Peace treats for the poor

Palace Theatre in 1920s

[The Luton Reporter: Tuesday, July 22nd, 1919]

Whatever else may be said concerning Luton's peace celebrations, it will probably be agreed that one of the happiest and most pleasing features has been the solicitous care taken to make the occasion a memorable one for the aged poor and children doomed by circumstances to spend their days in the drab surroundings of the local Poor Law institutions or to rely upon assistance from the rates to eke out anything by a luxuriant existence in these hard times of costly living.

The Guardians took full advantage of the Government relaxation of official regulations to grant extra fare to the inmates of the Union House and Beech Hill Children's Homes for the celebration day, and extra out-relief of two shillings for each adult and one shilling for each child, including the boarded out children.

Besides, the Waste Paper Scheme have undertaken the responsibility for a peace outing for the inmates, and these old and young folks also had a surprise treat – perhaps the biggest surprise of their lives – on Wednesday afternoon [July 16th] when the proprietors and management of the Palace Theatre, with the co-operation of a number of enthusiastic and generous friends, entertained them in a fashion that can only be described as royal.

It was typical of the happy knack the Palace management have displayed right from the commencement of the war of putting their finger on the right spot and coming to the aid of the deserving, that it should have occurred to them to celebrate an historic occasion by a peace party to the old folks and youngsters under the care of the Poor Law authorities, and it was equally typical that having struck a happy idea they should have carried it into operation with a thoroughness that left nothing forgotten.

The invitation to attend Wednesday's matinee performance was quite a spontaneous one and represented such a delightful change for young and old that it was readily seized upon by the Master, Mr A. B. Richmond, but in accepting the invitation neither he nor any of the guests had the slightest conception of the treat in store for them, and, if their heads swelled with pride and their hearts overflowed with gratitude, there was every justification for it in the practical pains taken by deeds rather than words to make feel they were really welcome and honoured guests.

The Palace directors, Messrs L. Lyons and Joe Hart, spared no expense to give the guests something to talk about and remember for many a day, manager Mr Mark Lorne surpassed even his customary restless energy and enterprise in organising and stage managing the treat with minute attention to the smallest details, and from the heads down to the youngest and humblest member of the staff there was manifest a sense of personal pleasure in doing anything they could to help in the visitors' enjoyment, that struck the true note of sympathetic brotherhood and sisterhood. “I never enjoyed anything so much in my life,” said one of the helpers, and this was the spirit animating them all.

There were something like 90 guests. Mrs Mather and Miss Willetts brought along 26 boys and girls of varying ages from the Beech Hill Homes, and about 55 men and women came from the Union House, accompanied by the Master and labour Master, engineer, cook and several of the nurses. All carrying with them hand flags of the Union Jack presented by the Palace Theatre.

The children walked along from Beech Hill, but the old folks did things in style. Brakes were sent to fetch them, and they drove along waving their flags, two cornets and a trombone from the Palace orchestra kept them in good humour with 'Auld Lang Syne' and 'Dear Old Pals,' winding up with a fanfare of trumpets as they alighted at the Palace.

When they were seated inside the theatre the full orchestra struck up ' Auld Lang Syne' and then the guests settled down to the enjoyment of the full Palace programme, with a break during which Mr Lyons, the managing director, and members of the staff took a hand in giving out whiffs to the 'old boys' and sweets to the old ladies and children.

And how they did revel in it all. They chuckled at the comedy picture, roared at the productions of the comedy violinist and ventriloquist, and marvelled at the singing, artistic dancing, feats of magic and mental telepathy, and the wonders of the picture drama. Some of them had never seen a picture play before and could scarcely believe their own eyes.

When the show was over they were escorted up to the Palace tea rooms, where they were seated at two long tables, one for the adults and one for the children. This was where the surprises began.

First there was a tea – and it was a tea, too. Mrs Dearman had put her back into it with a will, and the tables looked a treat in more senses than one. There were sandwiches, brown and white bread and butter, lettuces, jam, cake, doughnuts and other sweetmeat specialities, and a host of willing helpers saw to it that the guests had little time for small tea-table talk while music was discoursed at the grand piano.

Someone well described it when he said: “It is the banquet of banquets and yet the ladies are here!”

Ad lib was the order of things and ample time was allowed for the enjoyment of them before more surprises came along. First there were clay pipes, tobacco and whiffs for the men, tea, scent sachets and hairpins for the women, and sweets and picture postcards of Luton for the children, and then all had silk buttonhole flags as a memento.

To wind up with, the 'old boys' were sent home with a cigar apiece, and what pipes, tobacco whiffs, cigars and tea were surplus were taken along to the Union House for the old folks unable to take part in the treat.

The Town Clerk (Mr William Smith) was among the visitors and, before the party broke up, remarked that although he had nothing whatever to do with the Board of Guardians, Mr Lorne probably thought that as he had had to do with the other peace celebrations he would be interested to see how well they were being able to enjoy themselves.

He thought the Palace Theatre proprietors and Mr Lorne, as their manager, deserving of every praise and thanks for the very nice meal they had provided at the end of a very good entertainment. It was an exceedingly nice thought on their part to remember them and give them some entertainment in connection with the celebration of peace, and he hoped it would be a day they would remember quite as much as any other day in connection with the history of the war.

They had every reason to remember it with satisfaction, because it was not to end there. Mr Lorne was so pleased and delighted with the whole function that he authorised him to say the Palace Theatre proprietors would be most happy to entertain them in that way once a year.

This announcement naturally met with a hearty round of applause, and on the Town Clerk's call three rousing cheers were given for the Palace Theatre proprietors and an extra one for Mr Lorne.

Mr Lorne's reply was characteristically brief. “I am just as pleased and delighted as you are to see you all happy and enjoying yourselves,” he said. “This day next year the proprietors, Messrs L. Lyons and J. Hart, will be pleased to see you all again.” And the cheers rang out again.

Included in the thanks also were various donors of gifts mentioned by the Town Clerk. Mr Charles Barker sent the tobacco, Mrs Charles Barker packets of tea. Mr A. E. Nicholls, whiffs' Mr Leoni Clark a box of cigars, Mr A. E. Yde-Poulsen (Messrs Woolworth) silk buttonhole flags, scent sachets, hairpins, picture postcards and clay pipes, while the Palace Theatre provided the sweets in addition to the good things for the tea.

Mr W. H. Miles, of the George Hotel, was a great factor in the carrying out of the arrangements by providing brakes for the conveyance of the old people to and from the Union House, and Messrs Faunch and Flitton also rendered greatly appreciated assistance in voluntarily loaning their vehicles to help take the old folks home.

It was indeed a jolly party that left the Palace. One helpless old fellow who had to be literally carried about, said: “What a change it has been. I've often wanted to see the inside of the Palace, but I never thought the first time I came I should have such a treat. We have never had such a time.”