Peace Day 1919 - and all that

Event Start and End Date: 

19th July 1919

The Peace Day celebrations of July 1919 in which the Town Hall was burned down are notorious in Luton's history – and an event the town seemed to want to forget for decades afterwards. Recorded here will be contemporary accounts as they were published in newspapers, documents and ex-servicemen's magazines at the time. As thousands of words were devoted to the build-up, the riots themselves and their aftermath (including court cases), there will be a large number of posts accessible via the links below of related events from June to October 1919, reproduced here in on-going form 100 years after they occurred.

Pictures from prints in the Wardown House Museum and Luton News collections, plus advertisements and articles which appeared in the local press in 1919.

Information sources: The Luton News, The Luton Reporter, Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph, Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph, DS&S Journal, documents at Wardown House Museum and sundry incidental items from national and regional newspapers.



Burnt-down Town Hall, July 20, 1919

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'A terrible story and a disgrace'

Peace Day crowd (Thurston)

[From the Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph: July 22nd, 1919]

It is a terrible story, and a disgrace which the town will never forget. For the moment we do not intend to enter into the astonishing series of happenings of the past week or more, or to ascribe the blame; all that, we take it, will be the subject of later inquiry or debate.

Our chief concern – the town's chief concern – is the restoration of public order, and townspeople generally can assist by refraining from loitering or assembling in any way in the public streets. Particularly is this desirable in the evenings. Get home and get to bed early should be the motto of every true Lutonian.

It is almost impossible to put even a round figure on the damage which had been done. Some basis for calculation, however, can be obtained when we remind our readers that when the possibility of a new Town Hall was being considered by the Town Council a few weeks ago, it was estimated that it could not be done for less than £150,000. That was purely for the building alone.

In the fire on Saturday night and Sunday morning not only the building was destroyed, but the contents also, including all the material of most of the principal departments of the Corporation.

Added to this there is also the damage sustained by shopkeepers whose premises were broken open and looted; minor damage to other properties away from the scene of the riot, but which were also made the subject of special attention; and injury, personal and material, to people who had not the slightest responsibility for any ill-feeling which may have existed, legitimately or otherwise. When it comes to paying for the damage which has been done, then again the cost will fall on the innocent more than on the guilty.

It cannot be denied that ugly rumours had been afloat in the town for days beforehand, and particularly since the use of Wardown for the proposed memorial service was refused to the Federation of Discharged Sailors and Soldiers. But even with these and varied rumours in circulation it was expected that the day would pass off quietly, particularly as arrangements had been made to hold the service elsewhere on Sunday.

It was not until the afternoon, after the procession from Luton Hoo to Wardown had passed the Town Hall, that the first attempt at rioting was made.

The special constables were on duty certainly, but only to regulate the spectators and traffic on the route, and to assist at Wardown until 5pm, after which they were to have been dismissed. For most of them, however, their turn of duty did not finish until between five and six o'clock on Sunday morning, when the military were in possession.

Some of them who took part in the proceedings round the Town Hall experienced the full fury of the rioters, and will remember to the day of their death what it means to do police duty when a crowd runs amok.

So also will the firemen, who will never again want to experience a fire at which every effort is made to wreck all their appliances, and where for at least two hours they had to carry on as best they might under a continual rain of bricks, bottles and other missiles, their only defence a jet of water with which to bowl over some of their attackers who got to threateningly close quarters. In calmer moments, the town will realise how much it owes to the leaders and men who carried on, never faltering.

While we do not propose to ascribe responsibility for the ugly feeling which brought about this display of lawlessness, and which to a material extent was purely due to the rowdiest elements of the town, with personal spite playing a part in some incidents, the effect of the refusal to grant the use of Wardown cannot very well be ignored as one of the responsible factors.

The Council as a whole have not yet discussed that matter, and those directly responsible have yet to take an opportunity of publicly justifying their action or inaction. Some will, as usual, be wise after the event, and there will be crying over spilt milk, but the fact remains that this decision, justifiable or otherwise, provided a fruitful cause of ill-feeling which not even the subsequent arrangements for a gathering at Luton Hoo, independent of all connection with local authorities, soften down.

It was freely said that if there was to be no memorial service at Wardown there would be no Peace Banquet at the Plait Hall, and towards the end of the week it was found that the character of the proposed banquet was meeting with such little support that it was desirable to reorganise it on different lines, and to have it on a smaller scale at the Town Hall.

There were also rumours of counter-demonstrations on Saturday, in the form of processions of ex-servicemen to Wardown independent of the official procession, in which, following the national conference, they had declined to participate. It was only very late on Friday that the Comrades of the Great War were persuaded to reconsider their decision, and be represented in the procession.

Negotiations were in progress al the day, but without avail in so far as the Federation members were concerned, and on Saturday they took no part at all in the official proceedings, having meanwhile centred all their energies on arranging a big demonstration for Sunday, to which they had secured the adherence of the clergy and ministers of various organisations in the town, and of some leading members of the community who were of the opinion that they had not been well dealt with at any time since the arrangements for the celebration were begun.

For the celebrations on Saturday, the town was fairly bright with flags and bunting, although there were few places where decorative schemes had been carried to any vary elaborate extent, and the public proceedings started in quite good order.

The procession from Luton Hoo included many attractive features, and was heartily cheered on its way until it arrived at the Town Hall. The appearance of the Mayor in his robes of office, to read the King's Proclamation and to address the leaders of the procession, was the signal for the cheers to change to booing. And when the second part of the procession was halted for the same purpose, matters did not improve. This second halt made a very big break in the procession, and spoiled some of its effect on the way from the Town Hall to Wardown.

At the rear of the procession there was trouble at Wardown. From later happenings, however, it would seem that the most fiery element remained in the centre of the town, bent on causing mischief. Almost as soon as the procession had gone on its way there was a demonstration at the Town Hall and inflammatory speeches were delivered with reference to pensions and other matters.

Interviews were sought with the Mayor and some of the officials, without success, and subsequently there was a determined attack on the Town Hall, the outcome being the wrecking of the Assembly Room, where a very noisy element in the crowd, and it seemed as though there might to whom it was known the projected Peace Banquet was to be held on Monday evening, instead of in the Plait Hall as at first arranged.

The decorations and illuminations outside the Town Hall were torn down, and furniture was thrown out into the roadway. However, the demonstrators were persuaded to realise that by this behaviour they were endangering the safety of many woman and children, and they desisted.

A big body of demonstrators went to the Mayor's residence in London Road, and there also ugly scenes seemed possible, but when they were satisfied the Mayor was not at his house they came back into the town. Then there was talk of an organised raid on Wardown, but it came on to rain very heavily and this seems to have modified the ardour of the agitators for the time being.

At Wardown there was nothing but the rain to mar the success of the programme, and in the town during the early evening there was little outward evidence that more trouble was to come, although the police were fully expecting it. There was certainly a good deal of unrest in Pope's Meadow while thousands of people were waiting in the rain for the fireworks display.

The time at which this would commence was only given vaguely in the programme as at dusk, and a great crowd assembled there as early as half-past nine, by which time private displays in various parts of the town were in progress. They waited patiently until ten, thinking that would start the commencement, but, when there was still no sign of a beginning, unrest began to be shown, and despite the prohibition against the use of fireworks by individuals, many were scattered promiscuously in the crowd.

The little displays going on elsewhere just served sufficiently to relieve the situation, and when the display was given at 10.30 it was quite satisfactory. Then, after watching the flares which were ignited on People's Park, Hart Hill, London Road and The Downs, as part of a scheme of bonfires and flares from end to end of the country, a big part of the crowd went home, and were well out of the happenings which had just begun to take shape in the centre of the town.

There, as soon as it was dark, rowdyism became prevalent. Doors at the Town Hall were burst open with scaffold poles, numerous attempts were made to set the building on fire, and matters developed into an absolute riot.

Petrol was seized at a neighbouring garage, and with the aid of this the rioters succeeded in getting the place well alight. Then with bricks, road mater and bottles the mob bombarded the police and also the firemen, endeavouring to wreck the engines, cut hose to pieces, and in every way sought to hinder their activities.

Many of the police and firemen were injured, and the remainder had to carry on under almost insuperable difficulties. For their conduct in such a trying time they cannot be too highly praised.

Police assistance from London was appealed for, but unavailingly, and matters showed no sign of taking a turn for the better until a body of troops were marched down from Biscot Camp.

In the meantime shops had been broken open and looted of their contents, other places had their windows shattered, and the firemen were rendered quite incapable of doing much to save the Town Hall. Indeed, they could not have been blamed in the least if much other property had been involved, which was fortunately not the case. With the arrival of armed troops later from Bedford the rioting was quickly quelled.

Throughout the whole of Sunday the centre of the town was thronged with sightseers; but until the evening they were merely the curious people, desirous of seeing what damage had been done.

A new element arrived from the side streets, and threats of more trouble became common. After a time there was a rush to the Police Station, where it was understood a Marine concerned in Saturday's events was in custody, with the object of freeing him.

Then the rush turned to the Plait Hall on it being stated that he was confined there, and not at the Police Station. This was just the time when the police had instructions to take drastic measures, and from ten o'clock until nearly midnight the centre of the town was the scene of a continuous succession of baton charges. The people who got hit were not necessarily the people who deserved it; some got tapped because they were not wise enough to hurry away when first ordered to, others because they could not run fast enough and were unlucky enough to be at the tail of the crowd.

In the result a few windows were broken, a number of people got sore limbs and the streets became pretty quiet, for the charges were developed into some of the streets farther out, and then everyone had to show a really obvious desire to get home quickly and peaceably if they wished to avoid trouble.

'From the ashes of civic neglect...'

Luton Hoo drumhead service

An unnamed ex-serviceman expressed his feelings on the Luton Hoo memorial service through the Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph (July 29th, 1919). He wrote:

“Thank God for Sunday's beautiful and impressive memorial service, in that it showed us after all our comrades have not died in vain, that their sacrifices have not been forgotten and that the memory of their glorious devotion inspired such a huge gathering of sympathisers.

“One wondered if the rush and turmoil of business life, the natural chaos resulting from the four years of battling and fighting, and the dismal spectre of commercial unrest had relegated the deeds of valour and death to the vista of the horrible unrealities of those days of tragedy.

“Our lads had died for their country, had given of their utmost and had asked nothing in return; but surely the memory of their gallant devotion will remain fresh and unmarred for countless ages down.

“Thank God that Luton has come out of the ordeal triumphantly – that from the ashes of civic neglect and internal strife has arisen so noble a spirit of gratitude and solemnity.

“What a beautiful representative audience it was, from the highest to the lowest, assembled with the same feelings and with the one desire to perpetuate in reverent worship and quiet prayer their acknowledgement and indebtedness to the warriors who had fallen upholding the principles of right and justice.

“It was a fitting setting in the Hoo for such an occasion. The rolling grass-coloured slopes, the deep green woods, the shimmering lake, surrounded with verdant pasture, were typical of our England, were actual depictions of out visions of the homeland whilst we were defying the mud and dreariness of Flanders, or sweltering in the sands of Egypt.

“The spirits of our chums were not far away – one could feel them with us. They were watching over us and bidding us unite in our efforts to make the world a better place to live in – so that they would not have died in vain.

“Could not one feel them hovering around? Could not one discern the soothing influence of their presence and sense that they were urging one on to better achievements?

“Through the huge congregation and the sound of the bands and choirs, and the beautiful scenery of the Park, was a vision of those shell-shattered graves dotted about the battlefields of France, where lay the mortal remains of those who had entered the Valhalla. They had been buried, often at dead of night: a rough trench in the ground their resting place, a rude cross marking the site, without pomp or splendour, and frequently without even a bugle call or firing party. They had been laid to rest by their comrades who had fought side by side, quietly and reverently, despite the awful tide of battle.

“So it was just and fitting that the ceremony on Sunday was carried out so simply – a simplicity which was inevitably stamped with an indefinable atmosphere of grandeur and magnificence, when one considered what such a service represented.

“The town has proved itself true to our comrades, and after Sunday's substantial evidence we cannot help but feel that after all it is a place worth being proud of.”

'Real instigators' of the riot troubles

Two letters questioning the role played by the Town Council in the Peace Day riots and the future of Mayor Henry Impey were published in the Luton News on August 14th, 1919.

'Lest We Forget' wrote: “One is glad that some, at least, of the offenders who helped to make our town hideous on Peace Day are being brought to justice. No doubt they are receiving their desserts, and rightly so.

“But what I wish to know is, to what super-authority can the real instigators of the trouble be brought, that they may also take their trial at the bar of justice? By real instigators I mean those who, by their gross mismanagement of the Peace demonstrations, their refusal to grant Wardown for the memorial service etc, etc, sowed the seeds of the trouble, the fruits of which we now see.”

And of the Mayor, 'Ratepayer' wrote: I see in the report of the recent Guardians' meeting that Councillor Bone spoke of the utmost confidence they all had in the Mayor. Now I wish to prove not only our Mayor, but all the Town Councillors, have lost the confidence of the ratepayers of Luton. I am not a Lutonian, although I have been in business here for a few years.

“If the Mayor will resign and fight for his seat as a councillor, I am prepared to oppose him in any ward and at any time. Now, be a sport and accept the challenge! I will run as an independent candidate.”

'Senseless attack' on life savers

Peace Day fire engine

[From the Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph: July 22nd, 1919]

The attitude of the crowd towards the Fire Brigade was one which, like others connected with the disaster to the town, would be unthinkable had the people in the streets not gone mad for the time being and lost all their reasoning powers. So said the Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph following the Peace Days riots in Luton.

In cooler moments they must realise with a sense of shame that they participated in a savage, senseless attack on a body of men, most of them voluntary workers, whose primary duty it is to save the lives and homes of the people from the dread results of fire.

Only just before being called to the Town Hall on Saturday evening they had responded to calls to two homes, one in Bailey Street and the other in Salisbury Road, where fires had occurred, yet people who would be prompt to condemn them if at any time they fell short in their fulfilment of such a duty, turned on them, beat and stoned them, tried to wreck their whole apparatus and, failing success, damaged some things and stole others.

For three hours the members of the Brigade worked under conditions which all sane people will sincerely hope it may never again be their misfortune to experience. How much they suffered during these three hours can be gathered from their casualty list.

Realising the conditions which existed in the streets at the time when it was reported that a fire had been started, Chief Officer Andrew sent some men on foot to the place with instructions to deal with it by using the hydrants and fire appliances installed in the building.

Wardown Peace Day exhibitsThe Chief Officer then turned out with No. 2 motor and two men and went to the Town Hall via Guildford Street and Williamson Street. When he arrived the first aid apparatus would still have been sufficient to extinguish the flames, but the crowd immediately rushed the motor, incapacitated the two firemen, and took the two lengths of hose which were ready for immediate use.

Left alone, it was impossible for the Chief Officer to attempt any work with the motor, so he extricated it from the crowd and drove back to his headquarters to turn out the remainder of the firemen. Some he sent on foot, telling them what point to make for, and others he took on the motor, after arranging for police help on arrival.

He approached the spot by a devious route, with lamps out and no bell sounding, and by this means reached the top of Dunstable Place unobserved.

Upper George Street, opposite the basket shop, was where they decided to start operations, but when this was noticed the crowd immediately made another rush, and got away with one length of hose. A second was got to work and this was kept going despite the rain of missiles with which the firemen were bombarded, and frequent attacks with sticks, bars of iron and other weapons.

Next a hydrant at the top of Gordon Street was brought into use, but instead of being able to turn the water on to the fire immediately from this point, the men working there had to use it for self-protection for some time. The powerful jet was a useful means of beating back the crowd and making some attention to the fire possible.

Later, hydrants in Manchester Street and Dunstable Place were brought into play and, although the Brigade were harassed is every imaginable way, they kept streams of water going.

Under these conditions it was obvious that there was no hope of saving the Town Hall, and by the time the military arrived – about three o'clock – the whole place, with the exception of the lower floor of the Education Department in Upper George Street, was hopelessly gutted. Adjoining buildings were kept cool by being occasionally drenched, and it is to the lasting credit of the Brigade that private property in Gordon Street and Manchester Street was not involved, and an even greater disaster brought to the town.

The fire subsided about half-past four, and apart from some minor damage to the roof of the Salvation Army premises, no damage was done by the fire to any property other than the Town Hall.

“The firemen wee rendered splendid assistance by a number of discharged soldiers, serving soldiers, regular and special constables, but they were all laid out one after the other,” said Cheif Officer Andrew.

The casualty list among the firemen was as follows:

Second Officer J. W. Plummer – hit twice on the head with an iron bar, and also hit on the head by a missile.

Foreman F. George – twice laid out with blows on the head.

G. Ireland – face and hands cut with missiles.

W. A. Pedder – internal injuries caused by a blow in the stomach.

W. Burgess – blow on the head.

W. Clarke – laid out be being deliberately struck in the back with some weapon.

S. Barber – blows on the back and head.

F. Cowley Snr – injuries to head and side.

S. Giddings – cuts on hands.

A. Day – cuts on hands.

W. G. Burgess – knocked out three times, once with a weapon and twice with missiles.

H. Bates – twice incapacitated, and suffering from concussion.

J. Garrett – injured by blows on the hands.

A. Cook – head and hand injured.

Chief Officer Andrew had his helmet damaged by a nasty lump of iron which was thrown at him, but was not injured, although he was continually used as a target for missiles. The Chief Officer and two firemen were the only ones who escaped personal injury.

The injured men, with one exception, were taken to the police station and, after having their injuries dressed, most of them returned to work. Fireman Pedder, however, had to be taken home, and Fireman Ireland was found only fit for station duty.

In all, the Brigade lost about 12 lengths of hose, some being cut about as to be useless, and others dragged away by the mob. A hydrant shaft was broken, and two branches and some couplings disappeared. Some of these have since been recovered, but in a condition which renders them unfit for use. Six of the brass helmets worn by the men were also so battered as to be unserviceable.

The No. 2 motor had some dents in the bonnet, one of the headlights and a rear lamp were damaged, and the horn also received a smashing blow, so it may be expected that there will be a considerable bill to meet even for these items.

The Telegraph was informed that it was the intention of the Deputy Mayor, Councillor Charles Dillingham to recognise the valiant work of the firemen by a gift of £100.

'The mutiny on HMS Luton'

A correspondent writing under the name 'Wireless' took a satirical look at the Peace Day riots in an article headlined 'The mutiny on HMS Luton'.

Information is to hand, he wrote in the Saturday Telegraph of August 9th, 1919, that a serious mutiny broke out on board HMS Luton on the 19th of last month. The details at present are rather meagre, but so far as can be ascertained, a section of the crew who, with others, had rendered great help to the whole of the fleet at a critical period, desired to hold a church parade on the quarter deck.

On referring to the log book, the ship's officers were unable to discover that a church parade had previously been held on that part of the vessel, and, in consequence, permission was refused. This appears to have incensed the crew, but the ruler of an adjacent island, hearing of the trouble, signalled that the crew could disembark and hold the church parade on shore. The invitation was accepted and the incident was considered closed.

On the Saturday, when the ship was dressed with bunting, another section of the crew became unruly and repeatedly called for the Captain to address them from the bridge on various grievances, but this he declined to do, whereupon the mutineers attempted to break open his cabin.

Towards midnight the crew got quite out of hand and set fire to the chart house. Assistance was procured from other ships anchored by and the mutiny eventually suppressed.

It is to be regretted that the Captain does not appear to have adhered to the British tradition of sticking to his ship to the last, as he made his escape in a small boat under cover of darkness.

He seems to have been unequal to the position, and allowed himself to be influenced by the Navigating Lieutenant and Chief Warrant Officer.

It remains to be seen whether the Captain will be allowed to retain his ship or no.

A number of mutineers have been put in irons and are now under hatches until such time as they can be brought before a court martial.

1919: Worst of six Luton riots in 124 years

Although the Peace Day riots had no parallel in local history, rioting had not exactly been conspicuous by its absence in the town, said the Luton Reporter in a special report in July 1919.

Luton riot 1895The two riots which used to be most spoken of before July 19th were the 1883 disturbances associated with the first coming to Luton of the Salvation Army and the 1895 election riots [illustrated, right, as a satirical image with faces of prominent political figures of the time included], but local chronicles give records of riots as far back as the 18th century.

The earliest that can be traced after the days of the Civil War occurred in the summer of 1795, a year noted for a great flood which covered meadows near the river to a depth of six feet, causing water to pour into homes and completely cut off the town from vehicular traffic. Corn at that time was both scarce and dear, and the action of someone coming from St Albans way in purchasing the little that came into the local market so provoked the people of Luton that they determined to prevent it.

On market day a mob, consisting chiefly of women of the town and neighbouring villages, who had come in to sell their plait, rose and seized a wagon, threw out the sacks of wheat and would not suffer any to be taken away. Towards evening the menfolk also began to riot, and it was found necessary to call out the soldiery. They put an end to the affair without further mischief, but for some time afterwards the removal of wheat had to be surreptitiously effected in the night.

Only five years afterwards the old statute fair produced a riot between civilians and soldiers, and then in 1854, the year in which the first interments were made in the general and church cemeteries, there were bread and bonnet riots. As these incidents occurred before Luton had a local newspaper published, details are not set out.

An even more exciting affair was a series of disturbances which arose between a section of the inhabitants and members of the Salvation Army in August 1883, the year after the opening of the Bute Hospital. The action of the old Army in parading the streets with band music was considered a desecration of the Sabbath and, when one night the Salvationists from No. 1 barracks assembled near the Ames Memorial drinking fountain on the asphalt in front of the Corn Exchange while the Town Brass Band was playing opposite the fountain, a crowd of several hundreds took sides against the Army and set up a hostile demonstration.

Words were followed by blows which culminated in police court proceedings. A chronicler who described the scene of disorder and uproar ascribed the blame to the "somewhat reckless audacity of the Salvation Army officer".

More disorderly scenes followed on succeeding nights, stone and cabbage sticks being thrown at members of the Army and the ranks of their procession broken, and at the request of the then head constable the Salvation Army desisted from further processions until the Sunday night.

Their revival furnished a state of unprecedented excitement. Members of the Army were maltreated by a mob, and the Captain was so badly handled that he was rescued by some of his soldiers "more dead than alive" and sought refuge in the Plait Hall until an opportunity presented itself for him to escape by a side door.

These happenings resulted in the then Mayor, John Dawson, issuing a proclamation calling upon the Salvation Army to discontinue their processions as being likely to cause a breach of the peace. But General Booth [founder of the Salvation Army] took exception to this and insisted on the rights of the Army to carry on. The General was in a position to cite legal decisions in support of his contention that the processions were perfectly lawful and entitled to protection from the guardians of the peace. A compromise was arranged whereby the Salvation Army agreed to consider a proposal for a modified form of processioning upon the local authority withdrawing their proclamation and affording proper protection for the legal exercise of their rights.

Steps were taken to meet the emergency by the swearing in of 90 inhabitants as special constables, having a white band round the arm as a distinguishing badge. This number was subsequently increased to 150, and the sequel was that on one day the magistrates were engaged for five hours dealing with charges resulting from the rioting.

On July 26th, 1895, came the notorious election riot after Mr T. Gair Ashton (later Lord Ashton of Hyde) had been declared MP for South Beds, in succession to Mr S. Howard Whitbread, by a majority of 186 over Col Duke.

King Street was the storm centre, and stone throwing was very rife. On two occasions Deputy Mayor Asher Hucklesby read the Riot Act, and the street was cleared by the police with drawn truncheons. To hold the fort Chief Constable David Teale secured the assistance of the fire brigade and a number of civilians, but they were unable to cope with the crowd, which increased and grew more violent and threatening.

In the end the services of 46 members of the Metropolitan Police were requisitioned. Within ten minutes of their arrival they effected a complete transformation by their unceremonious methods of enforcing order, and the next night reinforcements of mounted men were sent from London to quell a renewal of the rioting.

Within two days the London police were able to return and leave the town quite quietly, but it cost the borough about £300 for police assistance and damage to property. A dozen men were brought before the magistrates on rioting charges, but all got off.

[The Luton Reporter, July 29th, 1919]

[The late James Dyer and John Dony in their book, The Story of Luton (1975 revision), said the 1895 rioting arose because there was a feeling that prominent local solicitor Mr H. W. Lathom, who was to feature in many World War One court cases, had materially affected the result by changing sides during the election. The riot began with the breaking of all of the windows in his King Street offices, followed by an orgy of window breaking all over the town centre. Many Lutonians spent the night in the fields, not daring to return.]

A riot of colour ahead of the riots

[Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph: July 26th, 1919]

Luton colour scheme last Saturday (writes a member of our staff) was suggestive of the spirit of the town during those momentous hours of the weekend. Many terms of description have been applied by admiring crowds to the decorations, ranging from “Blimey, matey, ain't it lovely” of the ragged street urchin, to the “Yes, quite effective – quite a pleasing tone about it” of the art connoisseur.

But one of the most apt descriptions of the town's appearance heard on Saturday was, we think, “A riot of colour”. A riot indeed!

On the route of the procession practically every window of every building displayed it gaily coloured flags, buntings and festoons, with banners spanning the road at intervals. Each individual building, viewed by itself, presented quite a pleasing appearance, the design in many cases being of an artistic and symmetrical nature.

But the picture presented from the end of the street, as one gazed on long rows of buildings each sporting its multi-coloured emblems – a medley conglomeration of Union Jacks, Standards, flags of America and the Allies, and banners and streamers as far as the eye could see – was simply an irresponsible, flaming jumble of colour – a riot!

But the sight of the streets expressed to a great degree the feeling of the mass of the people that joyous and carefree carnival spirit in which Luton sallied forth on Saturday morning for a “day out,” for a few crowded hours of glorious life in which to give vent to their emotions by any fitting sign, be it spectacular parade, fireworks and bonfires, or the blazing lines of the streets.

In spite of the fact that some ex-servicemen took no official part in the celebrations, the respects and honour in which they are held was evinced by such inscriptions in the streets as “Three cheers for the Boys,” “Our Army and Navy, we thank you,” “Bravo Army and Navy,” “Welcome home” and many others of similar nature.

Union Jacks were floating from from the local headquarters of the DS&S Association and the Comrades of the Great War, whilst a banner across Park Street from the club of the former bore the inscription, “Don't Pity Us – Give Us Work”.

There were many banner worded “God Bless our King and Queen,” “Long live the King and Queen,” etc, but it was noticeable that, although we have heard time and time again from every pulpit in the town that the victory is due to Divine forces, and that to Almighty God should be given all the praise, inscriptions to his effect, or making any reference to Divine aid, were conspicuous by their absence. This point struck one as a flaw in the scheme of decorations.

One or two shops and buildings were decorated in exceptionally effective style, the premises of a shopkeeper in the centre of the town being the subject of widespread comment during the whole of the past week. The drapings – in a soft, almost sombre, shade of mauve – were markedly reminiscent of the sorrow and dullness of the times through which we have passed, but the note of triumph was struck by the laurel wreaths and garlands and emblematic figures of the Angel of Victory crowning the tableau on each side. But would it not have been more appropriate had one of the figures represented Peace?

Among the public buildings, it is undoubtedly to the Modern School that the palm should be awarded, the decorations here taking the form of laurel and evergreen festoons, arranged most artistically.

In meaner streets, too, decoration was not lacking, and many a humble home in the working class areas of the town displayed its flags and streamers – signs which, although without the pomp and splendour of the more ambitious schemes, betokened, nevertheless, the joys of the populace.

Thus did the people of Luton deck their drab streets on Saturday in a bright garb of colour, and signalised, after her exile of five dark years, the jubilant coronation of Peace.

After-effects of shell-shock

DS&S shell-shock article 26-7-1919

The effect of shell-shock (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) was a consideration accepted by both judge and jury when Luton Peace Day riot cases were heard at Beds Assizes in October 1919. The jury found one defendant not guilty in the only case in which medical evidence was given, and the judge gave a non-custodial sentence of binding over to keep the peace in a second case in which the jury found a man guilty but his defence lawyer's argument that shell shock also applied in that case was accepted.

The British Library says that it was estimated that around 325,000 British soldiers suffered from shell-shock. It was a condition that only began to receive serious attention at the end of the Great War, but it was a condition that the Luton branch of the DS&S drew attention to in the first post-riot edition of its Journal on July 26th, 1919. Written by a Dr Laughton Scott and based on his experiences of treating shell-shock, it read:

“It is rather distressing that, even in these days, no better counsel is generally afforded to those who suffer from the after-effects of what is called 'shell-shock' than to avoid the papers and to forget what they have been through. For there is no advice better calculated to perpetuate the string of disagreeable symptoms which are the aftermath of the intense overstrain of war.

“Utterly mistaken as the advice is found to be, it contains a vague recognition of the part played by memories in these disorders. The concussion itself is generally a thing of slight importance, and merely furnishes the climax to a cumulative series of hideous experiences that have left their mark on the mind.

“Agonising memories remain in a large measure responsible for restless and unrefreshing sleep nightmares, vague depressions and a general sense of weariness and incapacity; not will the effect end till the mind has dealt effectively with its sorrows.

“Country life and outdoor occupation have their place in the treatment of these nervous troubles, but it is to be feared think that no more is necessary. Nothing very abstruse is necessary; but if the road to recovery is to be reasonably short and certain, one simple and psychological truth must be grasped, namely that expression and not repression of memories will alone 'cleanse the bosom of the perilous stuff that weighs upon the soul'.

“Past terrors constitute, as it were, a mental wound; dangers in every form, horrible sights, the long struggle to keep up appearances in the face of death, the foul discomfort and barren misery of warfare are stored up to form a source of irritation which is not readily assuaged.

“One has only to notice how sufferers avoid all reminders of the past to realise how acutely conscious they are of the sensitiveness of their mental wounds, which are so ready to ache anew at the prod of any chance of circumstance which touches the memories of the past.

“Repression is not the treatment of a physical wound. One the contrary, the poison must be allowed to drain away; and the knife is needed before the lancinating sore becomes a healthy scar. And in practice it is found that the analogy applies to the processes of the mind.

“It is an essential thing for a man, so far from thrusting the past into the recesses of the mind, to re-discover his war experiences and to bring them to the light of day. The instinct, strangely enough, is all the other way – probably because at first the process is painful. But perseverance is to be used, and before long it will be found that dreams disappear and other symptoms ameliorate.

“It is too short of marvellous in many cases how effectual this treatment is. The writer recently saw a Mons veteran whose condition was so alarming that it actually contemplated to put him into an asylum. He suffered from the profoundest depression and sat listlessly by himself all day, resenting interference; while at night he complained of terrifying dreams, and was often found wandering in his sleep far from home. This condition had gradually developed since the early days of the war.

"It was discovered that in the retreat he had seen a little girl murdered by a German. It chanced that the child bore a resemblance to a child of his own and, though he avenged the death, he could never escape the haunting memory. Misdirected by instinct, as so often happens, he had kept the affair entirely to himself, and the symptoms of a psychological auto-intoxication had set in.

“When careful questioning had dragged from him the well-guarded secret, the trouble lifted life clouds before the wind. In a few weeks he was perfectly well, and has since led an active and happy life.

“Such dramatic effects are naturally rare, but when they do occur they afford a startling demonstration of the mechanism of cure. One finds that after sympathetic recapitulation of war experiences not one man in ten fails to be relieved of his dreams, while considerable general improvement takes place.

“The necessary condition is that the process be repeated regularly – at first for a few minutes a day and later for as much as half an hour. It is not necessary for a doctor to be the recipient of such confidences; a trusted friend will do well enough.”

Alternative options for council offices

Cheapside Plait Hall 1907 (Hobbs)

[The Luton Reporter: Tuesday, September 2nd, 1919]

In the early part of the week it looked as if it would not be very long before Luton Town Hall could be described as having been literally brought down like a box of bricks. What the fire left standing of the building on the Manchester Street corner has all been razed to the level of the ground as far as the Salvation Army barracks, but on the Upper George Street side the work of demolition commenced over the committee rooms has been held up.

The explanation is that a difference of opinion has arisen as to the site on which provision should be made for the carrying on of Council work. The premises secured from Messrs E. Ward & Co for the highways and education departments are available only until Christmas, and the provision made in the public library building for the food office work had proved hopelessly inconvenient and inadequate, and will be quite impossible to cope with the demands made by the new rationing scheme.

In these circumstances the need is paramount for a set of premises to accommodate every branch of municipal activity, and the Deputy Mayor, Aldermen Arnold and Wilkinson, and Councillor Attwood, have had a fruitless hunt for a temporary home that will meet the requirements.

The Wesleyan Hall and Sunday School in Chapel Street, Messrs Welch's extensive block of premises in Gordon Street, and Messrs Connor's premises at the foot of the bridge steps used for so long as the Admiralty building, have all been sought for, but none are available, and the special committee have been driven to consider the best possible utilisation of Corporation property.

A visit of inspection to the Cheapside Plait Hall has naturally created a feeling of uneasy misapprehension in the minds of the tenants there, and from conversations with two or three, a Reporter representative ascertained that they had lost no time in making representations to the local authority concerning the predicament in which disturbance would involve them.

It is just 50 years this year since the Plaits Hall were first opened as a plait market, and, although the purpose for which it was originally established has long ceased to exist, there are still firms who use the Cheapside hall as a centre for dealing in and storing plait and sundry other materials used in the staple trade.

There are 24 shops or offices along the front and down the two sides of the hall, and all but two are let to tenants, while some of the tanan ts also share with the Corporation the use of the storage space in the centre of the building.

We understand there are nine different firms concerned, and all but two are associated with he staple trade. One of the plait merchants had had his place at the Plait Hall some 35 years, another tenant had been there over 40 years, first as an employee and for about 17 years on his own account, and others have been there nearly 20 years.

Another aspect of the matter was put forward by the representative of Messrs Pickford & Co, who have had their Luton headquarters at the Plait Hall for a number of years.

“We have stored in shops round the hall from 30 to 35 van loads of furniture,” he said. “This includes the furniture of at least 20 servicemen or ex-servicemen who have been demobilised and are still looking out for houses. For the storage of much of this furniture the Corporation is morally responsible because we are practically acting as the official storers for them.

“When local authorities were charged with the duty of finding storage accommodation for the furniture of men called to the colours, the Corporation consulted us and decided we could cope with the demand, and several of the people whose furniture we are storing were referred to us from the Town Hall. We have no other facilities for storage locally, and we cannot conceive what is going to happen to it if it is moved from here.”

The anxiety of the tenants has not been allayed, but still they have hopes that their disturbance may be obviated. On Wednesday evening the members of the special committee met the Tolls Committee at the Plait Hall and presented their suggestions, and, in view of the cost of the scheme proposed and the difficulties presented, the Borough Engineers was directed to get out particulars of an alternative scheme.

The first proposal is understood to involved an expenditure of between £2,000 and £3,000 in so adapting the Cheapside hall that the central floor space can be utilised as a hall for a Council Chamber, and the intervening space between this and the existing offices connected up so as to provide a double row of offices along each side.

The alternative suggestion is to make the education offices [in Upper George Street] habitable, and place a military hut on some other temporary erection on the vacant land adjoining which would give accommodation for meetings and offices.

For the latter scheme, it is claimed it will obviate any disturbance of tenants and the loss of an annual revenue of between £200 and £250, but against it there is the argument that it will involved the greater outlay, provide less convenient accommodation and mean an expenditure of money that must of necessity be in the nature of waste.

It is argues that whatever is put up on the Upper George Street site will have to be pulled down again whenever a new Town Hall is erected, whereas money expended on the Plait Hall will render it of greater value for letting purposes when the time comes for the Corporation to vacate it.

Members of the committee seem to be agreed that it is a difficult problem to know what to do for the best, and it is probable the figures of cost got out by the Borough Engineer will be the determining factor.

A suggestion that use should be made of the Waller Street Plait Hall has been definitely ruled out as impracticable, but it has been suggested that in the event of the adoption of the Cheapside scheme provision might be made for removing to the Waller Street hall the furniture at present stored in the other building.

An inspiration behind Peace Day float?

This man may have been the inspiration behind the "Jack Cornwell VC" float which became a focal point of the Peace Day parade on July 19, 1919, that culminated in the notorious riot and burning of the Town Hall.Charles Strapps

Former Petty Officer Charles Henry Strapps, pictured left, was licensee of The Rabbit pub in Old Bedford Road and was obviously proud of his naval past. His pub was a meeting place for the Comrades of the Great War organisation which belatedly entered the Cornwell* tableau, pictured below right, in the parade after it seemed ex-servicemen's organisations locally were going to follow the lead of their organisations nationally and boycott any Peace Day celebrations anywhere.Cornwell float

The link between Strapps and the Cornwell float came in a notice printed in a special Friday edition of the Saturday Telegraph on July 18th, 1919. It said: "Jack Cornwell VC. A tableau representing the boy hero will take part in the Peace Procession on Saturday. Will naval men on leave and demobilised men with uniforms wishing to take part kindly call and see Mr Strapps at The Rabbit, Old Bedford Road, at 8 pm today or attend there at 11.30 am on Saturday?"

In an article for the Bedfordshire Historical Record Society in 1978, historian Dr John Dony** wrote that "no association was indicated in the notice but Charles Strapps, an ex-petty officer in the Navy and landlord of The Rabbit, was known to be an active member of the Comrades".

But Strapps was not among the names of the General Committee of the Comrades published in notices in either The Luton News or Saturday Telegraph in 1919. The names listed were: H. Shepherd (Secretary), A. E. Talbot, A. E. Rickard, S. Bowles, H. Knott, A. N. Brown, P. W. Game, F. Arnell, J. H. Lambert, J. E. Buckingham, A. C. Toyer, H. J. Lambert, L. Baxter, F. W. Lawrence, C. C. Daniels.

To add to the mystery of Charles Strapps, an unaddressed postcard bearing Charles Strapps' image became part of the archives of The Luton News. On the reverse is written: "A short history to date - August 4th, 1914, to April 29th, 1915. Recalled a few days from HMS Fishguard before she foundered in the English Channel, September 14th [17th], 1914, losing the greater part of her crew. Joined HMS Venerable and was five times in action off Belgian Coast. October 1914 was lying close to HMS Bulwark when she blew up in Sheerness Harbour, with a loss of 800 lives. Changed position in the lane of three at 3 pm with HMS Formidable which was sunk by mine or torpedo at 2am, January 1st, 1915, while cruising in the English Channel, losing the greater part of her crew of 800 men."

The implication would be that this related to Strapps himself, who in the 1911 Census is described as a naval pensioner. The postcard photo - with the unexplained but perhaps aspirational "HMS Victory" headband - was also used in Strapps' pre-poll publicity for the November 1919 Luton Town Council elections, in which he failed to gain a North Ward seat as an independent representing the Comrades.The events of July 19th had obviously done nothing to further his later municipal election campaign. He finished fifth out of six candidates in North Ward in a low voter turnout of just over 44 per cent. The result was:Strapps election ad, October 30th, 1919

Osborne C. H. (Ind Lib) 1691 - elected

Linsell J. J. (Ind Lib) 1689 - elected

Knight T. H. (Lab) 1306

Mabley W. J. (Lab) 1183

Strapps C. (Comrades) 412

Unwin J. (Ind Cons) 335

Mr Strapps said after the count that unfortunately he belonged to the wrong trade [publican] to get much support in Luton.

"Too many non-conformists," cried someone at the poll declaration in the Plait Hall, while another cry was, "You have done your bit, and that is more than some of the Labour Party have".

Records show that Strapps, born in Lincoln on January 5th, 1869, to Charles and Elizabeth Strapps, was licensee of The Rabbit in 1910 (possibly he was the first licensee to take over after the pub was rebuilt in 1908) and was still listed there in a 1939 street directory, when his son Henry was publican.

He was described as a navy man in the 1901 Census, living at the Coast Guard Station at Salcombe Regis, near Honiton, Devon, with his wife Mabel (married 1897) and three children aged seven to 14, who were all born in Devon. He served in the Navy from 1884.

Charles Strapps died in December 1947, although no death notice or obituary notice appears to have been published in Luton to give any clues to his possible Peace Day involvement. His address at the time was 142 Cutenhoe Road, Luton.

* John Travers Cornwell was aged just 16 when, severely wounded and the only survivor at his post, he continued to man the only remaining operational gun on HMS Chester for 15 minutes during the Battle of Jutland on May 16th, 1916. He died in Grimsby General Hospital on June 2nd, 1916, and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy.

** Dr Dony had himself been at Wardown Park for the Peace Day celebrations and returned home past the deserted Town Hall at 9 pm that day, noticing that all but one of its windows had been broken. Later he was part of the crowd in George Street, but left without knowing the Town Hall was on fire.

[Sources: The Luton News archives and Find My Past website.]


Appreciative gifts to Chief Constable

Peace Day police 1919

[Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph: August 2nd, 1919]

Just before the magistrates adjourned for lunch in yesterday's riot proceedings, a very interesting ceremony was performed by the Town Clerk, who, on behalf of the police drafted into the town during the recent troubles, presented Chief Constable Griffin with a handsome walking stick and framed photographs, in appreciation of his efforts to secure fore them the maximum amount of comfort during their stay here.

Insp Wright, immediately before the adjournment, was introduced to the Town Clerk by Insp Janes, and asked him, on behalf of the united Police Forces which had performed duties during the recent riot to present a stick and photographs to Chief Constable Griffin as a mark of their appreciation for all that he had done for them since they had been here. Chief Constable Griffin, he said, had done everything possible, in the circumstances of which the Town Clerk was fully aware, in securing for them the maximum amount of comfort.

The Town Clerk, in making the presentation, said it was exceedingly gratifying that the men who had been brought into the town during the times of its adversity had thought it most desirable to co-operate with the members of the Chief Constable's own Force in giving him that permanent record of the “Peace Celebrations” in Luton. The Force depicted in the photograph and some of the members appeared with their heads bandaged.

In addition to the very large group of the united Forces, smaller photographs of the members who, for various reasons were unable to be included in the grand group, were also handed to the Chief Constable by the Town Clerk. There were also separate framed photographs of the Beds County Constabulary and of the St Albans City Police.

“We, as individual residents of the town are very grateful to all these men who have been withdrawn from their homes and usual surroundings to come to Luton at a time when Luton was not very well able to take care of itself,” said the Town Clerk. “I wish to express to each of you individually, as well as to all collectively, my personal appreciation of all you have done and all you have put up with whilst you have been in Luton.”

He did not think, however, that the had much to grumble about because Chief Constable Griffin, notwithstanding the great difficulties and mental strain of the time in dealing with the position of affairs, had been able to see that every man had been properly accommodated.

He took the present expression of appreciation as meaning that the visiting police would take away with them at least one pleasant memory of Luton's unhappy incidents.

The Chief Constable, in expressing his thanks to the members of the Forces, said he could assure them he appreciated very highly indeed their expression of appreciation of what he had been able to do for them, and the gifts would certainly always be held among his most valued treasures. He would like to mention that he had also received gifts from the Bedford and Cambridge Borough Forces.

It had been a very arduous and anxious time for everyone concerned, and he was very pleased to know that his efforts on their behalf had been appreciated.

He was essentially a policeman. He had risen from the ranks and he knew the difficulties and discomforts they all had to contend with on duty in such times as they had just experienced. In putting the men here, he fully realised the seriousness of the position, but he remembered his former experience of similar happenings, and resolved that while every man should do hit duty, he should, at the same time, get every comfort it was possible to have.

He was not concerned with he expense, but he was determined that every one of them should be housed as comfortably as possible. He had found them all “a splendid lot of fellows” and on no occasion had he had to find fault with any one. They had all done their duty splendidly and there had not been a cross word during the whole times the Forces had been together.

It had been the grandest thing that had ever happened to the Luton Force, not in that the riots had occurred, but in the fact that the members of the Luton Force had had an opportunity of mixing with members of outside forces. Such a thing always tended towards a more efficient police service. Again he thanked them all.

[The picture above fits the description of the large photograph presented to Chief Constable Griffin in 1919. It is from T. J. Madigan's 1993 book The Men Who Wore Straw Helmets (The Book Castle).]

Beech Hill troops first to answer riot call?


Men at Biscot camp were not the first to respond to an appeal for soldiers to help control the 1919 Peace Day rioters, according to the Luton Reporter newspaper. It said an officer present outside the burning Town Hall offered to go for help, but, being unfamiliar with the locations of local camps, he arrived at Beech Hill Remount Depot instead of Biscot Camp.

The Reporter said his quest for help proved successful at Beech Hill. His request had the practical sympathy of those in charge of the depot at Beech Hill and to a man a call was answered for volunteers.

They knew neither what they were in for or how long they would be required for duty, said the Reporter article, and they were unarmed - not a rifle among the lot of them. But the spirit of adventure was enough, and merrily they swung off down Dunstable Road, lustily singing.

Going down Upper George Street they opened out into formations of eights and attracted attention with a resonant chorus of "Are we downhearted?" and an even lustier "No".

Firemen at the Town Hall apparently suspected that fresh trouble was approaching, but the presence of officers at the head assured them that the new arrivals were all right, and their progress was unhampered.

Quietly and with perfect order they swung right across the front of the Town Hall and faced the crowd in a crescent formation. Immediately a change came over the whole scene. Their number was sufficient to command respect, and the crowd almost involuntarily began to press back and the throwing of missiles ceased as suddenly as it had begun.

Within half an hour the mob ceased to be a source of difficulty, the crowd appreciably diminshed and the Fire Brigade were given their first chance to fight the flames without the slightest sign of trouble through the night.

The Reporter says the soldiers remained at their post until the arrival of armed Royal Engineers from Bedford, pictured above on Sunday, July 20th.



Cash gifts to firemen attacked in riots

Luton fire engine after riots

[Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph: October 11, 1919]

Immediately after the burning of the Luton Town Hall by the rioters, Councillor C. Dillingham (Deputy Mayor) stated that he intended to recognise the valiant service of the Fire Brigade by presenting them with a sum of £100. This was a spontaneous gift in recognition of the manner in which the Brigade carried on although attacked and stones by the rioters, and also in appreciation of the fact that by their efforts the fire was not allowed to involve the property on the opposite side of Upper George Street, where Messrs Dillingham & Sons' premises are situate.

On Wednesday night, at a little gathering at the Fire Station, Councillor Dillingham handed to Chief Officer Andrew a cheque for the promised £100, on behalf of the firm of Dillingham & Sons, and also a cheque for £12 10s which had been sent to him for the same purpose by Mr Mark Lorne, on behalf of the management of the Palace Theatre. All the firemen who were on duty during the riots were present with the exception of one man, who was at the 1/5th Beds dinner [a reunion at the Plait Hall].

Councillor C. W. Escott, Chairman of the Fire Brigade Committee, said it was first proposed to have a little social gathering at which this presentation could be made, but in view of the railway strike, and the doubt as to how long it would last, it was thought best to postpone any festivities for the time being. He hoped, however, they would be able to have a little jollification later on.

Councillor Dillingham, in handing over the cheques, spoke in very high appreciation of the work of the Brigade during the riots, and said that as they fight not only a fire but also “live devils” it was marvel that some of them were not killed.

The allocation of the sum of £112 10s, as suggested by Councillor Dillingham, is to be: Chief Officer Andrew £11; each of 18 firemen £5 10s; the balance of £2 10s going into a little fund to which the firemen subscribe.

Celebrations turned into 'a bitter mockery'

[From The Luton News: Thursday, July 24th, 1919]

There is probably now no city in the civilized world which is unacquainted with the terrible scenes of rioting and pillage which disfigured the name and record of Luton and turned the town’s Peace Celebrations into a bitter mockery on Saturday night [19th July]. In the result the Town Hall and municipal offices are a mass of ruins, and the scorched and blackened scene presented to the public gaze in the early hours of Sunday morning will remain indelibly imprinted on all Lutonians. The premises of innocent shopkeepers were smashed and looted; the police, special constabulary and the fire brigade subjected to an attack ferocious in the extreme; and damage which under no circumstances can be less than £200,000 has been caused.

Dissatisfaction known to exist in the town on many matters connected with the celebration culminated in such scenes as to necessitate the employment of military aid early on Sunday morning, and of very powerful police reinforcements subsequently, the men being drawn from the Metropolis, and neighbouring counties. The grim and disastrous story is related in detail below.

The first sign that there was likelihood of trouble was when the procession reached the Town Hall. A detachment representing the Comrades of the Great War was heading the column and a halt was called in front of the Town Hall.

The Mayor [Councillor Henry Impey], wearing his robes and chain of office, came to the edge of the pavement and proceeded to read the King’s Peace Proclamation and briefly to address the discharged men. His appearance was the signal for a hostile demonstration on the part of the crowd, cheering turned into jeering. The attitude of the crowd a little later assumed a distinctly ugly character, and as a precautionary measure, Police Sgt Matsell and three constables took up a position on the steps.

Old Town Hall pre-riotThere were loud cries for the Mayor, and a section of the spectators advanced and demanded that his Worship and the Town Clerk should come to the front and give explanations of the Corporation’s decision in regard to Wardown. The request was not acceded to, and a move was made in the direction of the doors.

For quite a time Sgt Matsell and his police colleagues, though hustled considerably held their ground. Finally - overpowered by sheer weight of numbers - the police were rushed and the doors forced open. The object of the crowd which streamed into the building seemed to be the Assembly Room, in which Monday night's banquet was to be held. They swarmed upstairs, and found a table or two set out for tea, presumably for the civic party.

Immediately they commenced to wreck the furniture, and a suggestion was made that the whole of the tables and chairs should be thrown through the windows into the street. Chairs were pitched on to the pavement below, some windows being broken in the process, whilst a missile of some kind was hurled through one of the windows in the Town Clerk's office.

At this point the police exhorted the men to remember that innocent women and children were in the crowd below, who stood a serious risk of injury if the furniture were thrown out. Intruders then got on to the balcony and proceeded to tear down all the bunting and decorations, as well as the framework of the electrical illumination scheme erected the previous day.

An urgent message had been sent to Wardown for police reinforcements, and the arrival of the Chief Constable [Mr Charles Griffin] and other mounted men, and Insp F. Janes and a party in a motor-car, was the first intimation to many people in New Bedford Road and Manchester Street that anything untoward was occurring. The 20 specials who had formed part of the procession were also marched back to the Town Hall by Deputy Chief Constable Robinson. The police eventually cleared the Town Hall, and after the wreckage of chairs and bunting etc, had been carried inside, the doors were again barred.

Several members of the crowd, including a crippled ex-soldier, then mounted the Town Hall steps and impassioned speeches were made, grievances regarding pensions and other matters affecting discharged and disabled men being ventilated.

Excitement gradually simmered down, and apparently not knowing if the Mayor had left the Town Hall, a large crowd marched to his private residence in London-road. Report has it that the Chief Constable showed the greatest tact in a trying situation; that he succeeded in getting the ear of the men and asked them to nominate a leader. This they did, but on inquiry found that his Worship had not arrived home, and accordingly they took the advice of the police and dispersed.


During the late afternoon and early evening, a revival of trouble being feared, efforts were made by the local authorities to enlist police aid from London, but without avail. Between 10 and 11 pm a large and determined mob arrived to swell the already congested Town Hall approaches, armed with bricks, hammers and other weapons. Though there was a good deal of noise, no real attempt at damage appears to have been made until the lighting of the giant Dover flares at each end of the town - People's Park, Hart Hill, London-road, and the back of the Downs - lit the whole district as though it were day.

Old Town Hall firefightersImmediately, as though by pre-arranged signal, a fusillade of bricks and other missiles was rained upon the Town Hall, and the windows were smashed with great rapidity. Rushes were made for the building, but the entrance was barred by the police. Several efforts were made to fire the Town Hall, but as and when they occurred were dealt with by the police inside the building. The doors and windows of the Food Office, on the Manchester Street corner, were completely wrecked, but Inspector Janes and his comrades repeatedly ejected from the room men who had gained entry and were endeavouring to fire the place. In the end, baton charges had to be made to drive the crowd back some distance. Shortly after midnight, by the aid of the petrol referred to, the fire was actually started and rapidly assumed most serious proportions.

The Fire Brigade arrived on the scene via Guildford Street, but were immediately surrounded by the hostile elements and were prevented from attacking the flames owing to the fact that their hose pipes were severed in all directions and the two men accompanying Chief Officer Andrew were immediately knocked out by the crowd.

The shop of Mr. W. S. Clark, at the corner of Wellington Street [Walter Sydney Clark, chemist, 81 George Street], had by this time been smashed in and parts of its contents looted; but mainly the ringleaders contented themselves with taking the owner's stock of glass bottles, in order to strengthen their supply of 'ammunition'.

In addition the Herts Motors garage [70 George Street] was burst open and tins of petrol were seized to feed the fire. Weakened by their long and continuous effort to maintain the property intact, and by the loss of many of their number who had been put out of action by close contact and also the rain of missiles, the police and firemen were practically powerless, and the fire got really started in the Town Clerk's department, and in the Food Office.

Men could be seen hurling into the room all sorts of inflammable material - pieces of broken window frames, doors etc. - which they could obtain; and, the outbreak once having been actually started, was fed by fireworks and petrol until it had obtained a complete hold on that corner.

The Chief Officer had by this time lost several of his men, owing to the attentions of the crowd, and he deceived the wild elements by withdrawing his motor from the scene. A rush was made to wreck the machine by damaging the radiator, and the Chief received a heavy blow, but his helmet saved him from injury. He returned to the vicinity of the Town Hall by a devious route. He got a length of hose fixed from a hydrant in Dunstable-place, but when, with the aid of special constables and civilians (among whom, we understand, were members of the Comrades of the Great War), the nozzle was run down to near the blazing building, a rush was made to collar the hose.

The attention of the crowd being concentrated on this matter, the Brigade were enabled to get a second line of hose going, the connection being made in a few seconds. It was then the rescuers commenced to get the upper hand, for with very powerful crossed jets of water, at high pressure, the firemen swept the entrance to Upper George-street in machine-gun fashion, kept back the men who tried to rush the path (several being knocked clean off their feet), and attacked the flames in earnest.

Destroyed old Town HallIt was apparent that the main structure was doomed, and principal attention was devoted to adjoining property. In their efforts in this direction they met with considerable success, for at one time it seemed highly probably that the whole of the block of buildings back to Gordon Street might be involved. This danger was happily averted, and the flames were prevented from spreading beyond the principal set of buildings.

The Food Office was completely gutted and the situation there as such that on Monday morning it was necessary to demolish the outer walls at the corner in the interests of public safety. At one time on Saturday night, before the fire had gained a firm hold, there was a big shower of coupons and other literature thrown out of the window.

From this point onwards the crowd was somewhat less bellicose in its attitude towards the fire-fighters and police, but the grim carnival was carried to extreme limits.

Messrs Farmer & Co's piano warehouse [85 George Street] was broken into and the instruments dragged into the street. To the tune of 'Keep the Home Fires Burning' the wilder elements of the huge gathering danced and sang, some even mounting a grand piano for the purpose.

All this time the Brigade maintained its attack on the blaze, the hydrants and hose being guarded by special constables, though the force was sadly depleted, owing to the number of men who had been injured and had been removed for treatment to the police station and to the Bute Hospital. Mrs Griffin [the Chief Constable's wife] and others rendered yeoman service in this direction and the motor ambulance was kept regularly employed.



About 3am a body of the Royal Field Artillery from Biscot Camp, marching eight abreast, swung down Upper George Street singing gaily as they came. At the sight of khaki the crowd seemed to fade away, and with a cordon of troops drawn round the Town Hall, Chief Officer Andrew was able to get down to the task of obtaining control of the outbreak.

The arrival of the R.F.A. was too late to prevent the damage and looting of the premises of confectioner Mr. G. Payne and boot and shoe dealers J. M. Messrs Brown & Co in Manchester Street.

Finally a section of the crowd visited the shop of Mr Carl Caspers, hairdresser, in Bute-street, and, having smashed the windows, looted the umbrellas which formed a portion of his stock; whilst a brick was thrown through a window at the shop of Mr Hermann Stern [straw hat material merchant], on the opposite side of the road.

It was five o'clock before the special constables were able to be released, and the regular police force still fit for duty remained at their posts until they could be replaced by officers drawn from outside areas.

Early on Sunday morning, a very large body of troops were marched in from Bedford and took charge of the centre of the town.



Pc Silvester in hospitalAs has already been mentioned, the police casualties were very heavy, practically every member of the force sustaining some injury from the attacks of the infuriated mob. Many were attended by Dr. Archibald, the Medical Officer of Health and Police Surgeon at the Police Station, but in some instances the injuries were so serious as to necessitate the removal of the patients to the Police Station.

These were: - Insp Hunt (several injuries to the stomach and legs, and abrasion on the head); Pc Sear (badly cut head and lacerated ear); Pc Taylor (severe stomach injuries); Pc Silvester (severe stomach injuries); Special Constable Carter (injuries to the head). A civilian named George Fowler, of 6 Albert Terrace, was also admitted to hospital suffering from wounds on the head, which he says were due to being knocked over by the fire engine.

Constables Sear, Taylor and Silvester are all ex-Service men and the officers generally were very roughly handled. All, however, happily made quick progress under the care and attention of the hospital staff. [Pc Silvester is pictured in hospital.]



The attitude of the crowd towards the Fire Brigade was one which, like others connected with this disaster to the town, would be unthinkable had the people in the streets not gone mad for the time being, and lost all their reasoning powers.

Chief Officer Andrew"The firemen were rendered splendid assistance," says Chief Officer Andrew [pictured, right], "by a number of discharged soldiers, serving soldiers, regular and special constables, but they were all laid out one after the other.”.

The casualty list among the firemen was as follows: -

Second Officer J. W. Plummer, hit twice on the head with an iron bar, and also hit on the head with a missile.

Foreman T. George, twice laid out with blows on the head.

G. Ireland, face and hands cut with missiles.

W. A. Pedder, internal injuries caused by a blow in the stomach.

W. Burgess, blow on the head.

W. Clarke, laid out by being deliberately struck in the back with some weapon.

S. Barber, blows on the head and back.

F. Cowley, senior, injuries to head and side.

S. Giddings and A. Day, cuts on hands.

W. G. Burgess, knocked out three times, once with a weapon, and twice with missiles.

H. Bates, twice incapacitated, and suffering from concussion.

J. Garrett, injured by blows on the hands.

A. Cook head and neck injured.

Chief Officer Andrew had his helmet damaged by a nasty lump of iron which was thrown at him, but was not injured, although he was continually used as a target for missiles. The chief officer and two firemen were the only ones who escaped personal injury.

In all the Brigade lost about twelve lengths of hose, some being cut so about as to be useless, and others dragged away by the mob. A hydrant shaft was broken, and two branches and some couplings disappeared. Some of those have since been recovered, but in a condition which renders them unfit for use. Six of the brass helmets worn by the men were also so battered as to be unserviceable.

The No. 2 motor has some dents in the bonnet, one of the headlights and a rear lamp were damaged, and the horn also received a smashing blow.

Chief Constable's riot evidence

Chief Constable Charles Griffin's evidence to the Borough Court on July 30th, 1919, was reported in The Luton News, as follows:

The Chief Constable said that until the procession left the Town Hall, everything was orderly and, as far as he knew, everyone was in good humour. He went to Wardown, and between the Town Hall and the Park saw not the least sign of disorder.

Shortly afterwards he received a message and returned to the Town Hall with five mounted police. He found a crowd of about 10,000 people there, extending right through George Street to the Corn Exchange. The crowd was very excited, and there was shouting and booing.

Just as he got to the Town Hall, chairs were being thrown from the Assembly Hall windows, whilst in front of the Town Hall there was a number of smashed chairs and forms. The front windows were smashed. Part of the decorations and electric illuminations had already been pulled down.

For the remainder of the day and night (except for one short interval) he was in or around the Town Hall, and was continually in consultation with the Town Clerk [William Smith]. There were also members of the Town Council and of the Watch Committee present.

Practically continuously throughout the afternoon speeches were made by people from the pedestals near the Town Hall steps. These speeches were about inadequate pensions paid to discharged soldiers, the smallness of allowances to widows and dependants of deceased soldiers, and the lack of entertainments for the old people. Reference was also made to unemployment.

He heard no reference to the question of the refusal to hold the memorial service in Wardown Park. The speeches were of a most inflammatory character, and one speaker declared himself to be a Bolshevist. The speakers generally were encouraging those present to rush the Town Hall and to fetch out the Mayor and Town Clerk.

Chief Constable Charles GriffinThe Chief Constable (pictured right), continuing, said that the crowd threatened to go to the Mayor's house and wreck it. After full consideration, the Town Clerk advised the Mayor that, having regard to the hostile condition of the crowd and its number, it would be exceedingly difficult to obtain a hearing and might create further trouble, and witness agreed, as the person having control of the Borough.

The crowd seemed to have a complete animus towards the Mayor, and a considerable procession went to the Mayor's house. Witness estimated the number of people there at between 500 and 1,000. Inspector Janes, sergeants and mounted and foot police were also present.

The crowd tried to climb over the railings in front of the house, but the police were able to keep them back. They were engaged there about a quarter of an hour, and the major part of the crowd returned to the centre of the town after he assured them the Mayor was not in the house.

At about 6.30 the President of the Discharged Sailors and Soldiers Association, with Mr W. J. Mair JP, went to the Town Hall and, after a conference with the Town Clerk, another magistrate and witness, addressed the crowd from the steps of the Town Hall, urging them to disperse and go to Wardown.

They had a comparatively quiet hearing, and in witness's opinion, a better hearing than either the Mayor or the Town Clerk would have had. In fact, he did not think the Mayor and the Town Clerk would have had a hearing at all. The President of the Association and Mr Mair condemned what had been done and disassociated themselves from the demonstrations.

The Mayor, Town Clerk and other members of the Corporation left the Town Hall about 10 o'clock. About ten past ten the shouting was increased, and windows continued to be smashed by missiles until there was nothing left to smash. At that time any reasonable person in the building must have had fear of injury to life and limb from the dangerous missiles then flying. The crowd at that time was tumultuous, riotous and violent, and a very great danger to the public.

Passing on to deal with the strength of the Force, he said that only 40 of the regular Force and a similar number of special constables were on duty in or near the Town Hall. At that time he was very much concerned in mind whether to ignore the riotous conduct of the crowd or to charge them. He weighed the position up very seriously whether he should attack the crowd or remain on the defensive.

At that time a very determined attempt was made by the rioters to force the front entrance of the Hall, and as the Town Hall had been fired and there had been a tug of war between the police and the rioters over the possession of a constable, and police and rioters had been in conflict on the ground, matters were generally in such a dangerous condition that he felt there was no alternative but to charge the crowd. That was done in two separate attacks, and while the charges were made, stones were flying and the police were “dropping down right and left”.

Notwithstanding that some of them were badly injured, they wanted, after having been taken into the Town Hall, to go out again, and in some instances they had to be restrained from going out. “They were heroes, every one of them,” the Chief Constable added.

Describing the charges of the mounted men, he said that one of the ho0rse was injured, and “it was found that some beast had stabbed it so badly" that it had to be destroyed. That horse was ridden by Special Constable Gillam.

Among the people who were injured he mentioned Deputy Special Constable Robinson, Special Constable Carter and Mr Webb.

Witness sought outside help, as the police and specials were exhausted, until at one time they were reduced to three men in front of the Town Hall. This outside help was not then available.

In consequence of the fire the position was so serious that the injured men had to be removed from the Council Chamber, to the rear of the building, and later to the police station. The building was left to its fate.

At the police station, which was like a hospital, patients were lying everywhere, and Dr Archibald was worked almost to exhaustion. Dr Lloyd subsequently came in and rendered valuable voluntary assistance.

About five minutes to three the military arrived in small numbers, which were subsequently increased, and the streets cleared. A magistrate was fetched out of bed at three o'clock or so, but the Riot Act was not read.

The Chief Constable described the people outside the Town Hall as a “crowd of maniacs”. The women were as bad as the men.

When the fire engine came, said witness, the crowd attacked the engine, and it had to be withdrawn, but returned afterwards. The Town Hall and municipal offices were completely destroyed by the fire, and shops were looted.

When the military arrived and cleared the streets they arrested a sailor for a breach of discipline. About 9pm on Sunday a crowd assembled outside the police station, and said they had come to demand the release of the sailor. Witness told them he had no sailor, and then they proposed to appoint someone to inspect the cells. Witness refused to allow this, and advised them several times to go away. They did not go, however, and so he ordered the police to clear the streets. That night he had a good force of men, and when the police went out the crowd didn't stop long.

The Town Clerk: “Like all cowards, when they met an equal force, they didn't stop.” Witness: “They ran away!” He added that stones were thrown, and a Herts policeman was injured.

On Monday night also it was necessary to take a strong force of police into George Street, where there was a large hostile crowd throwing stones at the police. Witness gave the police an order to clear the streets, but the crowd ran away before the police got to them. Stones were also thrown on this occasion. One constable was badly hurt on the head, and some shop windows in Chapel Street were smashed, but to his knowledge there was no looting.

Of the police, 43 regular police were injured in the rioting on Saturday, Sunday and Monday (four of whom had to be taken to hospital), ten specials were injured (one of whom was taken to hospital) and two imported police were also hurt.

Chief Fire Officer's evidence

Fire engine 1919

[Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph: August 2nd, 1919]

The Borough Justices continued on Thursday morning [July 31st, 1919] their heavy task in dealing with the long list of prisoners who appeared before them on charges arising from the Peace riots in Luton. Another long day's sitting resulted in a considerable addition to those who will be called upon to take their trial before Judge and jury at the next Beds Assizes in October.

Chief Fire Officer AndrewGeneral evidence was given by Chief Officer Alexander Andrew, (pictured right) of the Luton Fire Brigade. He said he received the call to the fire at the Town Hall at 10.30pm. At that time only five other men were at the station.

The Brigade had been out twice previously that night to fires in Bailey Street and Salisbury Road. He at first thought, for the safety of the firemen, it would be better to use the internal appliances in the Town Hall. Second Officer Plummer and three other men were therefore sent to the Town Hall, and the hydrant at the rear of the Assembly Hall was used.

Later another message was received, and witness turned out with No 2 engine and two men. When he arrived a small fire was burning in the Food Office. The first aid apparatus would have been sufficient to extinguish the fire, and they proceeded to use it.

They had the hose unstrapped and were about to connect up to the first aid pump when the mob rushed them, striking and injuring the two firemen – W. G. Burgess and J. Garrett – so that they were unable to go on with their work. Witness was left alone, and was prevented by the crowd from doing anything. It was useless to attempt to do anything.

The crowd rushed from both sides and clambered on to the engine. Witness drew his axe and told them if they didn't get off the machine he would use his axe. They promptly got off.

Witness then started the engine to go back to the fire station – driving straight through the crowd. Whilst he was starting the engine and whilst driving through the crowd he was attacked with a perfect rain of missiles and sticks from the crowd.

The fire was developing when he had to leave. That particular side of the building was composed of old offices and wooden partitions, and these were of a highly inflammable nature.

He subsequently sent five firemen with apparatus, to approach the Town Hall from Upper George Street, under the directions of the police. Witness followed with the engine and two men. The building was well alight – the whole of the Manchester Street side and the front was burning, and the fire had worked into the main building.

The hose was connected in Upper George Street, Gordon Street and Manchester Street. When they commenced work in Upper George Street the crowd rushed from the front of the hall, and the firemen were attacked with every kind of missile.

Firemen at old Town Hall 1919It was then that 2nd Officer Plummer and three men were sent round by Gordon Street to approach the fire from the Manchester Street side of the hall.

The hose in Upper George Street was cut by the crowd, and the connections actually severed. The couplings were thrown at the firemen.

The Bench here examined three of the couplings, testing their weight.

The hose used was in 100ft lengths of of these, said witness, 15 lengths were rendered useless by cutting, and eight pairs of couplings had been entirely lost.

In consequence of the action of the crowd, they were unable to deal with the fire, which had burned itself out by five o'clock the next morning.

“Could you have saved the structure of the building if you had not been prevented by the crowd?” asked the Clerk. “Oh, easily,” witness replied.

Proceeding to put in the firemen's damaged brass helmets, witness said the helmets belonged to Thomas George Horace Bates, William George Burgess, George Ireland, William John Burgess, John Garrett and himself. (The helmets, which were in first class condition when the firemen left the station, were badly damaged).

Lamps and a motor horn from the fire engine were also produced. One large headlamp was badly bent, and the horn was severely crushed.

In driving to and from the scenes of the fire, witness collided with nothing, and during the whole of the fire no portion of the building collapsed on any firemen. The damage to the articles produced could only have been caused by missiles thrown from the crowd, because no one received what was known as an “ordinary injury”.

Fifteen members of the Brigade were injured, and 2nd Officer Plummer and William George Burgess were still unfit for duty.

The contents of some of the safes in the building were destroyed, and deeds and documents were all shrivelled. Treasury notes in some cases were charred whole.


Children's peace festivities to be held

Children's peace celebration 1919

[Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph: July 5th, 1919]

Considerable discussion ensued at the meeting on Thursday of the Council committee which is charged with the preparation of the programme of peace celebrations. It was decided to set apart two days as a festival for the juvenile element.

It was stated by Alderman Staddon that he had been assured that day, by Messrs Mappin & Webb, that the souvenir medals to be provided by Messrs Vyse & Sons would be delivered at Luton by August 20th.

The official day having been brought forward, it would have been impossible, in any case, for the firm to have carried through the order in time for the celebration on the 19th inst, and the debate centred round the question of what was, in the circumstances, the best method of distribution.

The Town Clerk said that August 20th was a rather significant date, because the schools reopened after the summer vacation on Monday, August 25th.

The Mayor [Councillor Impey] expressed the opinion that the proper place for the distribution of the medals was at the several schools.

The Town Clerk said his own idea was rather in favour of Wardown as the venue, and he suggested that the ceremony should be carried out by Mrs Thirkell, representing the generous donors, assisted by the Mayoress and Mrs Staddon.

Councillor Barford: “Make it a sort of investiture, you mean?” The Town Clerk: “Something of the sort.”

Alderman Staddon said his idea was that matters of detail could be left till a later stage, but whatever was done he wanted to see this made a real children's day. All that he regarded as essential at the moment was for the committee to approve the principle involved.

Councillor Primett, agreeing, said he was still of the opinion that the children were not being given the place in the celebration which should be theirs.

In the course of the general debate which followed, emphasis was laid by all speakers upon the necessity of securing the full co-operation and advice of the teaching staffs.

Opinion seemed to run in the direction of giving the whole of the children a tea and entertainment, Luton Hoo being, it was agreed, the appropriate place to hold such a function.

The provision of necessary funds was raised, and Alderman Staddon observed that he saw no difficulty there. There ought to be, and he was confident there were, five hundred people in Luton who would put down a guinea each for such a purpose. He suggested that the opening day of the new school term, August 25th, should be selected for this special children's festival. Councillor Primett seconded.

Mr Percy Carter, asked for his views, said such a procedure would undoubtedly prejudice very considerably the attendance record for that week. He thought the better course for scholars to begin on Monday, as at present arranged, and for Thursday and Friday to be allocated as school holidays for the purpose desired.

“After all,” remarked Mr Carter, “children do appreciate holidays, and I think, whatever you do, must be done from their point of view – not from a point of view which you think you ought not to take.”

The committee agreed unanimously with this view, and it was decided to proceed on these lines, detailed being deferred until the matter had been referred to the teaching staffs for their consideration and suggestions.

Returning to the matter of finance, the view was expressed that public subscription should be asked for, but that a suitable lead from the committee was essential if the desired end was to be realised.

Several members announced what steps they were prepared to take, the result being such as to indicate that a generous sum would be forthcoming from this source alone.

Further discussion ensued as to whether the tea could be better given in the schools or at Luton Hoo, but this point was finally left until a report has been received from the teachers.

Comrades withdraw from Peace celebrations

[The Luton News: Thursday, July 17th, 1919]

The Comrades Club at Luton has withdrawn from participating in the Peace Celebrations as a consequence of the attitude of the Town Council in refusing the use of Wardown for the memorial service to those who have fallen. The decision has been conveyed in the following letter to the Town Clerk:

“Dear Sir, Owing to the attitude that your Town Council had taken in refusing the local branch of the Discharged Sailors and Soldiers Federation request for the use of Wardown Park for a memorial service in honour and deep respect of our fallen comrades, the general committee of the local branch of the Comrades of the Great War have decided that this branch will respectfully withdraw from the Peace procession that is to be held on Saturday next. Yours faithfully, N. Shepherd (on behalf of the Comrades of the Great War)."

Comrades float advert

The Comrades were represented in the Peace Day procession with a hastily created float dedicated to Jack Cornwell, a boy VC who served in the Royal Navy. An advert published on the day before Peace Day appealed for demobilised Naval men and those on leave to take part in uniform.

Corporate 'lack of tact and sympathy'

Lady Wernher's offer

[Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph: July 15th, 1919]

The broad view taken by Lady Wernher – the result of the wide vision which might well have been anticipated – has provided the solution to what looked perilously like an impasse with regard to the Discharged Sailors and Soldiers Federation memorial service in tribute to their fallen comrades.

The offer made by Lady Wernher for the use of Luton Hoo for the purpose of the memorial service proposed, opens up another aspect.

With no desire to add to the troubles which the Town Council are experiencing, it does appear to us that something has been lacking in consideration of the whole question.

One does not for a minute suggest that the members of the Corporation or its officers are without personal sympathy for the men who have fallen or with their relatives. The ramifications of the war have been of such widespread character that there is hardly a home in this country against which such a charge could be truly laid.

But corporate sympathy does not appear to have been shown; and so far as we can see, the decision of the Council not to grant the use of Wardown for the Federation's service was based upon a mistaken adherence to precedent. The general view is that this was an occasion when, in view of all that has occurred, precedent did not apply – an opinion which is fully justified, and which we cordially endorse.

The action of the local clergy in co-operating to the fullest extent with the Federation and its Committee was one which might with every advantage have been followed by the civic authority in this instance.

Apart from the question of the actual venue of the memorial service, the regrettable development is that it now appears neither the Federation nor the Comrades will be represented in the town's peace celebrations. This is, in out view, extremely unfortunate, but it is not at all difficult for the men's point of view to be realised and appreciated.

On previous occasions comment has been made – and we ourselves have expressed our opinion when the necessity seemed to have arisen – as to the differences existent between the two organisations named.

We, with others, have deplored the fact that no basis of compromise and co-operation appeared to be possible between two bodies whose ultimate aim was precisely similar. Now, be it noted, they take a stand on common ground.

The Federation, in pursuance of a national policy, had already signified their intention to take no part in the official celebrations; and now the Comrades – holding that those who had been their colleagues in the fighting line have been unjustly treated – have announced their decision to take similar action. Thus the borough's recognition of the termination of war is rendered incomplete by the absence of the men whose gallantry and sacrifice made possible the attainment of peace.

Luton, through its various organisations, has done and is doing its level best on behalf of the men who served, their wives and dependents. No suggestion of apathy has yet been made in this respect, and in view of the fact, we do not think it would have been a difficult matter, given sympathy and tact, to have secured a full measure of co-operation in the peace festivals on the part of the servicemen's organisations.

Lady Wernher has, however, come to the town's rescue. Mourning, as she does, the loss in the country's cause of a dearly-loved son, her outlook was dominated by that touch of fellow feeling which said to make the whole world kin.

The Federation, thanks to her ladyship, will be enabled to hold their service in surroundings which cannot be improved upon – in an atmosphere which, in all sincerity and reverence, is admirably fitted for the occasion.

Lady Wernher has shown the broad and tactful spirit associated with her every action on behalf of the borough. She has demonstrated what can be done by the exercise of the spirit of tact and sympathy.

Is it, even now, too late for the Corporation to “go and do likewise” and secure the adherence of the men's organisations on the great day on Saturday?

Correspondence before Peace Day


The following letters passed between the Federation and Town Clerk William Smith after the Discharged Sailors and Soldiers were asked to take part in the Peace Procession.


July 5th, Federation to the Town Clerk:

Dear Sir, I have to acknowledge and thank you for your letter of the 3rd inst re Peace Celebrations, and am directed to inform you that the National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers at their conference recently decided to take no part in Peace Celebrations as a protest against the unemployment existing among discharged and demobilised men and the inadequate compensation to widows and dependents.

This Association will therefore respectfully withdraw from the local peace rejoicings, having in view also the fact that our brothers are still fighting and dying for this country.

Yours faithfully, H. C. Cooper, on behalf of Luton and District Discharged Sailors and Soldiers Association.


The Association had decided to take steps to hold a memorial service at the first opportunity after peace was declared and so sent, with the above letter, the following to the Town Clerk:

Dear Sir, I am directed by my Committee to make application for the use of Wardown Park and bandstand on Sunday afternoon, July 20th, for a public drumhead memorial service.

His Worship the Mayor has expressed every sympathy with this object and instructed us to apply to you for the use of the park. The service is being supported by all the clergy of the town, their choirs, and the bands of the town. I am also directed to extend a cordial invitation to the Mayor and Council to take part in the proceedings, which will be as follows:

2 pm - Muster of serving and ex-service men (preceded by the Mayor and Council, in the event of your accepting the invitation).

2.30 - March to Wardown Park.

3 pm - Drumhead memorial service.

I shall esteem it a favour if you will reply at your earliest in order to complete the final arrangements.

Yours faithfully, H. C. Cooper.


July 8th, Town Clerk to Federation:

Dear Sir, In reply to your letter of the 5th inst, I am empowered to authorise you to to use either the Moor, New Bedford Road, or Pope's Meadow, Old Bedford Road, for drumhead memorial service, on Sunday, July 20th, at 3 pm, and shall be glad to learn as soon as possible which you may select. The Council are unable to permit you to use Wardown Park for the purpose.

The Council regret that it will not be practical for them to take part in your procession.

Yours faithfully, W. Smith, Town Clerk.


The Association, which had apparently been granted an interview by the Mayor, discussed the situation again, and then replied to the Town Clerk on July 9th.

Dear Sir, With reference to your letter of yesterday's date containing the Council's refusal to sanction the use of Wardown Park for the drumhead memorial service arranged by this Association, and also the interview which the Mayor granted to two representatives of the Association.

It was stated that as a matter of principle the use of the Park could not be granted as refusals had already been given to other societies.

I am directed to suggest that comparison between the objects for which other applications had been tendered for the use of the Park, and the memorial service, we submit, can in no sense be justified. My Committee consider that Wardown Park, for reasons of organisation etc, is the most public and suitable situation for the service, and the refusal of the Council to grant the use ot it for that purpose is very regrettable and totally unjustified.

My Committee wish me to say that a refusal by the Council was not contemplated, and we are surprised at the lack of sympathy expressed by their action, and trust that the Council were not biased by the fact that we are not taking part in the Peace Celebrations, the reasons for which you not doubt are fully aware.

The Committee, making Wardown their objective, have already made arrangements and had matter printed, etc, and I am directed to respectfully ask if the Council will see their way clear to reconsider the matter and grant this Association the use of the Park on Sunday, July 20th.

I am, Sir, yours faithfully, H. C. Cooper.


To this the Town Clerk replied on July 10th:

Dear Sir, I have received your letter of the 9th inst, and will at once, assure you that there is no lack of sympathy by the Council to the proposed drumhead memorial service, nor are they prejudiced in the matter because your Association have withdrawn from the official Peace Celebration.

The decision not to permit you to hold the service is Wardown Park is definite and cannot be reconsidered.

Please therefore inform me, by the 14th inst, whether you wish to use either the Moore, New Bedford Road, or Pope's Meadow, Old Bedford Road.

Yours faithfully, W. Smith, Town Clerk.


The Federation replied:

Dear Sir, I have to acknowledge receipt of your letter of date, and note that the Council's decision not to permit us to hold the service in Wardown Park is definite and cannot be reconsidered. My Committee are sorry to have this news, and at their further direction I will inform you before the 14th inst in which place they select between the Moor and Pope's Meadow.

Yours faithfully, Hy Chas Cooper.


Luton Hoo Park offer:

The unexpected impasse was finally resolved by Lady Wernher, who had herself lost a son in the war and had a track record throughout the war of supporting servicemen and their dependents. Through her Steward, James Baker, she offered the use of Luton Hoo Park for the drumhead service, probably by telephone, based on the Federation letter sent to Mr Baker.

Dear Sir, With reference to your call today, and Lady Wernher's splendid offer to allow us the use of the Luton Hoo Park for our Memorial Service on the 20th. I am directed by my Committee to offer Her Ladyship their most sincere thanks and appreciations, and to say that the offer has been accepted with enthusiasm.

New arrangements have been made as far as the procession is concerned, and I am to ask if my select committee may come along on Thursday evening next to view the proposed site in the Park, so as to assist them, the more satisfactorily to complete the final arrangements.

We happen to be in a difficulty to secure a Union Jack, with pulley, and we are desirous of leaving the old flag at half mast during the service, are wondering if we might ask for a flag and mast to be pitched on the selected site.

With renewed thanks and appreciation for her Ladyship's kind interest, I am, Sir, yours faithfully, H. Chas Cooper, Hon Sec, Ivy Leaf Club, Park Street, Luton.


The delighted Federation members were able to write to the Town Clerk:

Dear Sir, In reply to your communication of the 10th inst, I am directed by my Committee to inform you that they respectfully decline the Council's offer of the use of the Moor or Pope's Meadow for their Drumhead Memorial Service on the 20th inst, and to say that Lady Wernher has most graciously offered the use of Luton Hoo Park for the purpose. Her Ladyship's kind offer has been enthusiastically accepted.

Yours, for and on behalf of, Luton and District Discharged Sailors and Soldiers Association, H. Chas Cooper, Hon Sec.


To wind up the correspondence, the Town Clerk replied:

Dear Sir, I have received your letter of the 15th inst, and observe that you do not desire to use either the Moor or Pope's Meadow for your Drumhead Memorial Service on the 20th inst.

I regret that any difficulty has arisen in regard to the place at which the service is to be held, and earnestly hope that the service may be most successful.

[In fact the Drumhead Memorial Service at Luton Hoo Park was postponed until Sunday, July 27th. Several members of the Council, who had previously indicated they would in other capacities attend a service at Wardown Park, did attend. But Mayor Henry Impey and the Town Clerk were notable absentees at the Hoo Park.]


Council 'no' to Wardown memorial service


Wardown refusal headline

Interpretation of local bye-laws proved a significant touchpaper to the Peace Day riots in Luton on July 19th, 1919.

Breaking the news of the Town Council's refusal to allow Wardown Park to be used for a Luton branch of a National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers Drumhead Memorial Service on Sunday, July 20th, the Saturday Telegraph of July 12th said: "A regrettable difference has arisen between the discharged soldiers and the Town Council of Luton."

It then printed the correspondence that had passed between the DS&S and Town Clerk William Smith between July 5th and 10th over an application to use the park.

A reporter who approached the Town Clerk was told "very emphatically that the bye-laws of the Council did not permit of Wardown Park being used for that or any other service, for the Park was not for any particular section of the community at any time. In view of a letter from the Association and the fact that the matter will be before the Council on Tuesday night, further comment here is unnecessary".

A letter from the DS&S and signed by its 16-strong committee was also printed. It read: "Through the medium of your valuable paper we beg to place before the public the manner in which we have been dealt by the local authorities in the matter of our memorial service to our fallen brothers.

"The suggestion to hold such a service originated in the first place at one of our general meetings, when the members decided to invite the clergy to attend a conference for the purpose of considering the best means of making such an appropriate service a real success.

"We have had their whole-hearted sympathy and support. Consequently, we proceeded to make the necessary arrangements.

"Wardown, as a public rendezvous, was considered to be a most suitable place to pay homage to those who have made the supreme sacrifice.

"In reply to an official application for the use of Wardown, we were staggered to receive a blunt refusal, signed by the Town Clerk on behalf of the Council. Thinking the Council had misinterpreted our request, we sought an interview with the Council's representative but were promptly refused a hearing.

"The following morning, July 11th, we received a written confirmation of their refusal, again signed on behalf of the Council.

"We have good reason to believe the application was never in Council. And even if it had been, is there any place too good in which to render such respect? Remember the sufferings of our heroes at the Somme, the horrors of Gallipoli, the terrors of the internment camps in Germany - sufferings in which we also shared.

"In appreciation of the valuable services of the men who so nobly gave their lives in order that the peace which we now look forward to should be a lasting one, we were generously (!!) offered the Moor or Pope's Meadow, while the [fairground] roundabouts etc are to be occupying the park, the day previous to that on which we wished to have it.

"We are cognisant of the public feeling in this matter; and the knowledge of this only accelerates our indignation at the treatment which is meted out to us by those who are entrusted with the task of making this England of ours worthy of our sacrifices.

Notwithstanding this opposition, we shall carry on, and cordially invite our appreciative public to join us at the service.

An official invitation to the local branch of the Comrades of the Great War has been forwarded to their Secretary, and it is sincerely hoped that they will co-operate with us on this memorable occasion.

Thanking you, sir, we are yours faithfully,

W. B. Clay (Chairman)

J. W. Hawkes (Vice-Chairman)

H. V. Hoy (Hon Treasurer)

H. V. Aylott

W. G. B. Aylott

S. J. Allison

H. J. Ball

S. Burgess

W. J. Ellingham

A. Mead

E. A. Barton

L. Gore

S. T. Wheewall

A. H. Samms

A. Bailey

H. Chas Cooper (General Secretary)."

An article on the Peace Day riots, written by Dr John Dony in 1978 for the Bedfordshire Historical Record Society, suggested that the DS&S had possibly made a formal polite request on July 5th for the use of Wardown Park while thinking it was not necessary to seek permission in the case of a Drumhead service.

Dr Dony said the request may have presented the Town Clerk with a difficulty as the Town Council was not due to meet again until after the peace celebrations. With the nine-member Parks Committee also not due to meet, the only committee meeting to be held was that of the Tolls and Public Buildings Committee on Monday, July 7th. Six councillors who were on both committees were asked to stay behind to consider the request.

Those six councillors (not the whole council) decided not to allow the DS&S to use Wardown Park, a decision later reported to the Watch Committee which gave its silent approval to it.

As a result, the Town Clerk replied to the DS&S on July 8th: "I am empowered to authorise you to use the Moor or Pope's Meadow...and shall be glad to know as soon as possible which you may select. The Council are unable to permit you to use Wardown Park. The Council regret that it will be impractical for them to take part in your procession."

The bye-laws that proved the stumbling block were approved in August 1905 "with respect to the pleasure grounds known as Wardown Park".

Clause 27: A person shall not deliver a public address in any part of the pleasure ground. Provided that the forgoing prohibition shall not apply in an case where, upon application to the Council for permission to deliver any public address in the pleasure ground, upon such occasion or on such day and at such hour as shall be specified in such application. The Council may grant such permission subject to compliance with such conditions as they may prescribe.

Clause 28: A person shall not play any musical instrument or sing in any part of the pleasure ground.

Dr Dony said exceptions to clause 28 were made of a similar nature to those provided for in clause 27. Bands and concert parties who performed frequently on the park bandstand were presumably allowed with the permission of the Council.

[Re Clause 27: In July 1917 the DS&S had been given permission to use the Wardown Bandstand for a fund-raising concert.]

[Saturday Telegraph, July 12th, 1915]

[The 1919 Peace Riot in Luton, article by Dr John Dony for the Bedfordshire Historical Record Society, 1978]


The Comrades of the Great War position over the refused use of Wardown was contained in a brief article in The Luton News of Thursday, July 31st, 1919.

That read: “We are desired to make it clear that the local branch of the Comrades of the Great War were not associated with the DS&S Federation in the request for Wardown Park for the memorial service. The position, we are informed, was this:

“The Comrades proposed to the DS&S Federation a joint memorial service, and found that the latter already had the arrangements well advanced. They therefore dropped the idea for the time being. Later, after Wardown was refused and the DS&S Federation publicly invited support at the services, the Comrades decided to do so.”


Council attempts an explanation

[The Luton News: Thursday, July 24th, 1919]

Luton Town Council met on Tuesday (July 22nd, 1919) in an atmosphere of grave responsibility, and it was apparent that the seriousness of the position weighed heavily upon the members of the governing body. It was anticipated, said The Luton News, of Thursday, July 24th, that a statement would be made relative to the unprecedented scenes witnessed in the town on Saturday and Sunday, and this was in fact forthcoming from Alderman H. Arnold, who was voted into the chair in the continued absence of the Mayor [Councillor Impey].

The pronouncement, given in extenso below, reviewed the circumstances which culminated in the riotous proceedings on Saturday, and was not only an explanation of the Council's action in regard to what was referred to as “the Wardown incident,” but also an unequivocal assertion that it was the intention of the Corporation, in their capacity as the governing authority, to take every necessary step in order adequately to recover and maintain order and public safety.

A gratifying feature was the receipt of letters from the Trades and Labour Council and both the local organisations for ex-servicemen condemning in the strongest terms the outrage on Saturday and Sunday, and pledging support to the local authorities.

Only one member, Councillor R. F. Briggs, followed the Chairman's statement on the main question, but the meeting unanimously endorsed the references made as to the heroism displayed by the police and fire brigade in the terrible trial to which they were subjected. On this point the residents will learn with satisfaction that steps are to be taken to recognise publicly and in appropriate manner the conduct of the services concerned.

During the proceedings, some of the brass helmets worn by the firemen while undergoing a bombardment of bricks, bottles and other missiles for three hours, were brought into the room and exhibited to the members. They bore striking evidence of the attention bestowed upon the wearers by the mob, and one was bent and twisted at the front in such a manner as to leave no room for doubt that the owner of the helmet owes his life to the protection afforded by his headgear.

It was reported that Sir Leonard Denning, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary for the Home Office, had visited Luton on Monday and had entirely confirmed the action of the executive officers in calling in military aid and in requisitioning police reinforcements from outside areas; and the town was further assured that there were now located in the borough sufficient police - “it is not proposed to mention the number” - as to be able to cope with any developments.

Incidentally, it was learned that highly important papers and documents had been incinerated on Saturday, and several recommendations in the reports of the committees had perforce to be withdrawn on this account. The Mace, said the Town Clerk, had been found, but it was in a terribly blackened condition, and time only would show if it was usable.

The Town Clerk also stated that some parchment deeds belonging to the Corporation, under the pressure of the tremendous heat to which they had been subjected, had contracted in a remarkable manner. Stamps, signatures and writing alike had been reduced in such fashion as to constitute one of the most remarkable transformations imaginable.

Harry Arnold when Mayor (1907-09)The Council, as is generally known, had held three meetings in private on Sunday night and Monday, and at these, in the absence of the Mayor, Alderman Arnold had presided, by the unanimous desire of his colleagues. When the members assembled again on Tuesday, Alderman Arnold [pictured right as Mayor in 1907-1909] made a statement in which he said:

“I think it it is desirable I should make some reference to the deplorable and regrettable occurrences that have recently happened in Luton. It is perhaps the more desirable because of the widespread misunderstanding and misconception of the attitude of the members of the Council in so far as their relationship to the men who have fought in the great war, and those who made the great sacrifice, is concerned.

“There is among many people, I believe, and idea that in connection with what we may call the Wardown episode there was manifested a lack of sympathy on the part of the Council to discharged soldiers and to those who had fallen. I think it is necessary for the Council to take the very first opportunity to deny anything of the sort, and to state most explicitly that no person in Luton has a higher admiration than the members of the Council for what has been done by our soldiers in the great and terrible war that has gone on for four or five years, or more reverence for those who made the supreme sacrifice, and sympathy for those who have suffered bereavement. I think I am speaking for every member of the Council when I say there is no lack of sympathy, although that sympathy has been very difficult for us to express.

“In regard to the question of Wardown, I think there has been a good deal of misunderstanding over what has taken place. It frequently happens that between meetings of the Council questions arise which demand instant decision, and I may be allowed to explain the ordinary method of the procedure.

“When a question arises which demands prompt attention it is the invariable rule that the committee concerned should be consulted. If a meeting of that committee is taking place early enough, questions of that sort are always submitted to the committee. If it is a matter of supreme importance and there is time to consult the whole committee, then it is usual for the officers of the Corporation to consult the Chairman of the committee, and in that way a prompt decision is arrived at.

“It is one of the most regrettable things in connection with the business of the Corporation that the request from the Federation of Discharged Sailors and Soldiers for the use of Wardown for a drumhead memorial service came after the last meeting of the Council. Perhaps it is even more regrettable that there has been no Council meeting since, when a formal statement could have been made as to the proceedings that had taken place.

“This application, as I have said, subsequent to the last meeting of the Council. There was no meeting of the Parks Committee convened at that time, but there was a meeting of the Tolls Committee, of which the majority of the Parks Committee are members. These members were asked to stay behind after the meeting of the Tolls Committee, and this application was placed before them. They were asked to express their judgment, and they arrived at a decision.

“Before I refer to that decision I should like to say there are one or two other things that have a bearing on this particular question. You all remember that very recently we had a controversy over Wardown with reference to what I will call the Maternity Home question. The committee dealing with this question recommended that Wardown House should be used for that purpose. There was a great deal of public discussion about it, and ultimately it was thought desirable to withdraw the proposal.

“One reason was that it was stated Wardown was a place for the use of the whole of the people of the town, and that it should not be allotted to any particular section, or any part of it restricted to a section of the community.

“Now may I say – and I am not a member of the Parks Committee – that the committee in the consideration of this question certainly had that to bear in mind.

“Another question they had to consider was the unfortunate relationship which exists and has existed between the Federation of Discharged Sailors and Soldiers and another association of similar character in the town – the Comrades of the Great War. Whatever I say is said without any desire to accentuate any differences between two two bodies. Every member of the Corporation regrets that the interests of discharged soldiers and sailors are not looked after by one united body.

“The Federation of Discharged Sailors and Soldiers asked that Wardown should be granted to them for a service, and at the same time a request was made that the Mayor and Corporation should officially attend the service. During the war there had been various attempts, I believe, on the part of both of these bodies, to get the Mayor for the time being to associate himself with one or other of these bodies, but as they were sectional and were not united, it was in their judgment undesirable to do so (“hear, hear”).

“The latest application came from one of the bodies and not the other, and the Parks Committee thought it would create a certain feeling of jealousy, although they would have been glad to recommend the Council to accede to the request had it been a united one. I think I am perfectly justified in saying the Corporation and members of the Council would have been glad under those circumstances to have attended officially (“hear, hear”).

“Perhaps I should refer hear to one other thing. I have been informed – and I believe there is a solid foundation for it – that some little time before this application came along, the Comrades of the Great War approached some members of the executive of the Discharged Sailors and Soldiers with a view to having a united service of this sort at Wardown. Unfortunately, the suggestion was not considered favourably by the Federation, who said they were having a service of their own. That is my information, and I believe it is correct. It also has a bearing on the matter.

“Considering the controversy that has taken place, and the fact that there was a certain amount of feeling between these bodies, the members of the Parks Committee then present, in their judgment thought it would be inadvisable to accede to the request. What they did was to suggest Pope's Meadow, which they considered even more suitable, because there was a flat piece of ground where the service could have been held, and rising ground from which the general public could have witnessed the service and shown their sympathy. So far as the Parks Committee were concerned, that was their judgment.

“There was a meeting of the watch committee shortly afterwards. The Town Clerk referred to the application which had been made, and there was no suggestion of any member of the Watch Committee demurring to the decision.

“I think it is an explanation of what actually took place. It was very far from the desire or thought of members of the Parks Committee or any other member of the Council to in any way manifest any lack of sympathy towards discharged soldiers and sailors, or any lack of appreciation of those who had made the supreme sacrifice (“hear, hear”) I think that covers the position of members of the Council in relation to the Wardown question.”

Alderman Arnold continued: “There are one or two other things to which it would be advisable for me to refer now. I believe, apart from the question of Wardown, other circumstances entered very largely into the feeling which has been exhibited during the last few days – questions of a national character which entered very largely into the feelings of those who became so disorderly.

“Those who were in the Town Hall during the afternoon and evening of Saturday, and heard the speeches made outside, know that in those speeches Wardown was very rarely referred to, if at all. Other questions, national and personal, were continually referred to by those who spoke from the Town Hall steps.

“I believe there has been a certain amount of feeling on the part of discharged sailors and soldiers that the public men of Luton have not shown any appreciation of the services rendered by them in the war. I believe to some extent they have been dissatisfied.

“In Saturday's procession the Discharged Sailors and Soldiers and the Comrades were both invited to join. They accepted the invitation in the early days of making the arrangements. Later the Discharged Sailors and Soldiers withdrew (the National Executive having decided against taking any part in such celebrations), and did not take part, I believe, in the procession. The Comrades also withdrew, but reconsidered the question, and on Saturday were in the procession with their band.

“Although the Discharged Sailors and Soldiers were not prepared to join in the programme, they had suggested there should be come recognition of them as a body and what they had done, and this was taken into consideration by the committee which had to arrange the Peace Celebration.

“We came to the conclusion that at least £1,500 would be required to do anything adequate for the entertainment of Luton's ex-servicemen. There would have been considerable difficulty in raising this money, although I do not say it would have been impossible, and there was another difficulty in the way. It was practically impossible to make the arrangements because the facilities would not have been available at this time.”

The one response to Alderman Arnold's statement came from a disgruntled Councillor Briggs, who said: “It was decided last night that we should have a short statement from you. I was not going to say a single word tonight, but after the words that have fallen from you I must at once make my position clear with regard to the Wardown incident.

“I want to state now specifically that as a member of this Council I have had no official intimation that the Discharged Sailors and Soldiers ever applied for Wardown Park. I have had no official intimation that it was refused. I have had no official intimation that we were asked to take part in their procession, and I have had no official intimation that as a Council we refused to take part in it.

“I have seen the letters in the newspaper, and that is the only way in which I have become acquainted with this matter. I want to disassociate myself at once from the decision that was taken to refuse Wardown. It is said it was refused on the ground that there was some bye-law, and that they were only a section of the community.

“We have had meetings there of sections before and during the last five years we have broken bye-laws galore and taken no notice of this breaking of bye-laws. I for one would have held up both hands to allow this solemn memorial service to be held at Wardown.

“I do not want to say more, only that I deprecate the abominable outrage on our town. We are disgraced in the sight of all England (“hear, hear”). But there is some cause for it. Before we say anything else let us get the town under control again. Let us appeal to people for law and order. And, when we have got the town under control again, then will be the time to trash out these matters.

“I resent bitterly a decision of that magnitude being taken without my consent, and I resent being blamed as a member of the Council for something I have no part or parcel in.”

Counting the cost of Peace riots

Riot bill headline

[Beds & Herts Wednesday Telegraph: October 1st, 1919]

Last night part of Luton's bill for the damage done during the rioting in July last, and for the cost of additional police drafted into the town to restore order, came before the Town Council, and will reach the ratepayers through the considerably increased rate [an additional 1s 6½d in the £ on top of estimates already agreed] which is to be levied for the next half year.

The Mayor, Councillor Impey, was not present at the meeting of the Council. Instead he sent a letter that his health was such as would not permit him to attend.

The Watch Committee submitted detailed statements with reference to the cost of the outside police, and reported that they had authorised the payment of the various amounts.

In connection with the claims for compensation for damage to private property, they recommended the Council to pay certain of the claims in full; that in the case of other claims reductions should be made in the amount allowed; and that still others should be deferred for further consideration.

The claims recommended by the Watch Committee for payment in full were (for personal property destroyed in the Town Hall):

Archibald Dr W.: £6 11s.

Brightman J, Building Inspector: £9 17s 6d.

Beasley Miss O. W. (Town Clerk's Department): £1 10s.

Camm (Borough Engineer's Department):£16 16s 3d.

Greenwood W. (Borough Engineer's Department): £13 2s 9d.

Jackson Miss M. (Health Visitor): £9 7s 4d.

Jackson Miss S. (Health Visitor): £9 5s 2d.

Keens T.: £2 11s.

Middle E. A. (Engineer's Department): £7 7s.

Nuttall Miss M. E. (Municipal Midwife): £3 4s 6d.

Newbury A. W. (Engineer's Department): 10s.

Pugh A. R. (Engineer's Department): £5 5s.

Rignall F. J. (Tolls Collector): £9 19s.

Smith A. (Engineer's Department): £9 14s 9d.


Caterers' and entertainers' property which was at the Town Hall and which was destroyed:

Dudney & Johnston Ltd £22 1s.

Stearn R. J.: £11.

Webdale J. & Sons Ltd: £17.


Plate glass and other windows broken with cost of boarding up etc:

Brandon J, 47 Chapel Street: £1 13s.

Breadsell T. E., 78 Chapel Street: £9 2s.

Burgess J., 57 Castle Street: 5s 6d.

Cherry & Son, 31 Guildford Street: £17 11s 8d.

Cooper T. W., 14 Hastings Street: £17 2s 9d.

Day A., 13 Chapel Street: £7 14s 5d.

Dillingham C., 87 George Street: £61 4s.

Gibbons H., George Street and Park Street: £11 7s 6d.

Gibbs & Dandy, Chapel Street: £14 18s 2d.

Herts Motors Ltd, George Street: £19 3s 10d.

Impey E. W., Manchester Street: £8 6s.

Partridge H. G. & Co, 10 Chapel Street: £13 12 6d.

Prosser T. W., 24 Wellington Street: £13 13s 5d.

Rose M., 35 Chapel Street: £12 13s 6d.

Sanders W. N., 43 Chapel Street: 11s 6d.

Stern H., 5 Bute Street: £7 17s 10d.


Other property destroyed or stolen:

Cartoons damaged and boarding up windows, Dillingham C. & Sons: £9 6s 6d

Telephone apparatus damaged and destroyed, Post Office telephones: £40 13s 6d.

For property destroyed in Manchester Street Hall, Salvation Army: £8 10s.

Ten silver tea spoons and three jugs, Wright Miss E. W., Midland Hotel: £1 10s.


In the claims given below the Committee did not recommend full payment, and the amounts given in brackets indicate the total of the claim for compensation, those set out being the amount recommended by the Committee for payment:

Bottoms S. (Engineer's Department), personal property (£17 13s): £5.

Brown J. N. & Co Ltd, 9 Manchester Street, including £128 9s 9d for stock stolen and £100 for loss of business (£285 5s 10d): £185 10s 5d.

Caspers C., 4 Bute Street, including £182 good stolen or destroyed (£232 8s 10d): £201 16s 1d.

Clark W. S., George Street, for damage to property and fittings, stock stolen and damaged, and £66 loss of profits (£874 4s 3d): £726 10s.

Long, Matthew, 6 Upper George Street (£10 7s 9d): £5.

Payne W. O., Manchester Street (£44 15s 3d): £35 17s.

Messrs S. Farmer & Co's total claim was £531 8s 9d. The Committee recommended payment of £424 19s 6d, and also the maker's charges for renovating two damaged pianos estimated at £81. Total £519 19s 6d.


The following claims were referred to a sub-committee:

Bass E., 54 Stanley Street, for property and money destroyed in the Town Hall: £45 17s.

Cheesums Ltd, boardings and two motors damaged in Guildford Street: £141 10s.

Green J. W. Ltd, windows broken at the Clarence Hotel: £13 10s.


Mr S. W. Skillman abandoned his claim for £4 in respect of damage at 85 George Street. Other out-of-date claims submitted to the Committee were:

Bowles G., 43 Stuart Street, broken fence: £4 5s.

Benskin's Brewery Ltd, damage at Midland Hotel: £10 19s 9d.

Whiting C. W., 38 Chapel Street, broken windows: £20 5s.

Sworder Dr H., George Street, broken windows: £1 10s.

Cumberland H., Hart Hill, Freemason's regalia and other articles: £400.


The claims total £3,100 15s 7d, and the total amounts so far recommended for payment are £2,137 11s 9d.


The amount passed for payment in respect of outside police assistance were:

St Albans City: £130 11s 4d.

Northampton Borough: £164.

Bedford Borough: £215 8s 4d.

Cambridge Borough: £86.

Bedford County: £145 17s 6d.

Herts County: £558 8s 8d.

Police meals at Ceylon Hall (W. Gillam): £722 14s 6d

Loss of horse stabbed (W. Gillam) £50.

Other small items for transport, catering etc brought the total bill in this connection to £2,164 1s 1d.


Alderman Oakley moved the adoption of the report, which was seconded by Alderman Cain, and agreed to without discussion.

A fuller idea of the cost of the riot was given in the estimates for the borough and district rates for the next half year. The riot items, including the totals of the sums already mentioned, were:

Special police expenses: £2,174.

Grant to local police: £245.

Grant to Fire Brigade: £100.

Compensation claims allowed: £2,140.

Claims yet to be settled: £593.

Office supplies and furniture: £1,245.

Cost of demolishing the Town Hall: £100.

Total: £6,597.


The Municipal Mutual Insurance Ltd, with regret, have stated that they are unable to make any payment to the Council in respect of the loss sustained by the destruction of the Town Hall during the riot. In formally reporting this, Alderman Cain, Chairman of the Finance Committee, said he did not think any of them expected the insurance people to pay anything.

The Finance Committee presented estimates for greatly increased borough and general district rates, the increase on the original estimates demanding a total advance of 1s 6½d in the £.

The initial estimate for the borough rate, approved on April 1, amounted to £15,231, and this has now risen to £28,202, included in which is the halfpenny rate for library purposes. Increases of teachers' salaries account for £3,925, and the new rate of police pay for another £2,980.

Labour for demolishing the Town Hall absorbs £100, and office requisites £713. There is another echo of the riots in an account of £5,252, including £2,174 for special police expenses and £2,140 for compensation for damage.

The original estimate for the general district rate of £20,140 has ascended to the sum of £27,122, made up of a variety of items, among which are £1,400 for new motors for the Highways Committee, and £600 for clinker crushing apparatus.

The estimate came before the Council on the report of the Finance Committee, the adoption of which Alderman Cain could not say that it was his pleasure to propose, but these things had to be met. Alderman Oakley seconded.

In its October 7th edition, the Luton Reporter said: “Rates of 6s 6d or more in the £ will give Lutonians cause for serious thinking this half-year. Last half-year they came to 4s 1d, so that Peace year will stand out memorable as the first in which the town's rates have exceeded 10s in the £.”


Riot claims1

Riot claim 2

Riot clai 3

Riot claim 4
Riot claims 5

  • Riot compensation forms from the Wardown House Museum collection.


Regarding the considerably bigger cost of replacing the burned-out Town Hall, The Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph of August 9th, 1919, had reported that a comprehensive figure had been current throughout the land, in which the sum was put at anything from £200,000 to £250,000. Council members had claimed that these statements had no justification, were wildly exaggerated, and were calculated to injure the borough.

Alderman Wilkinson – giving what he termed an “exceedingly generous estimate” - put the sum at £60,000. Subsequent speakers succeeded in bringing the amount far below this, and when the discussion ceased it had fallen to the neighbourhood of £20,000.

However, The Times on August 8th had published a list of the most serious fires in the United Kingdom during the month of July, together with the estimated loss incurred. Luton's Town Hall outbreak was the second largest recorded, and the figure placed against it was £100,000.

That estimate, said the Telegraph, presumably took no account of the valuable documents that have been lost, the labour cost which would be involved in preparing a large number of new plans for housing, drainage and other schemes, or of any other items of heavy expenditure incidental to the occurrence.

DS&S Journal reaction to rioting

DS&S reaction to riots

In the DS&S Journal of July 26th, 1919, Editor Herbert Pruden wrote: “It is with the deepest feelings that I commence the Journal today, for as I write it is almost impossible to get the views of the ruins of out Town Hall from my mind.

“It will not come as news to any of our readers to know that on Saturday night, 19th July, on the very day set apart by the country for rejoicings over that Peace for which we have struggled and fought so hard, one of the most terrible and awful disasters has occurred, a disaster which will never be forgotten so long as Luton remains.

“And now comes the question which must be answered. Who is the cause of such wanton destruction, and who are the perpetrators of so awful an outrage? And to this question is most emphatic: The Discharged Sailors and Soldiers Association is in no way whatsoever responsible for one piece of such lawlessness.

“True, we asked for the use of Wardown Park for the most sacred cause it is conceivable to imagine; equally true that we were grievously hurt when this was refused, but owing to the extreme kindness of Lady Wernher we had offered to us a park for this occasion hallowed by the memories of her son, who gallantly gave up his life for his country. When this was offered, we accepted it with delight.

“There our controversy happily ended, and when, following this, we learned unofficially that there was likely to be trouble and disorder, we immediately, through the whole of the local Press, called on every man in the Association not only to keep order, but to maintain it.

“On Friday last we issued another statement to the Press of a similar nature, and on Saturday our members of committee did all that was humanly possible, when trouble had commenced to brew, to preserve and maintain the order and discipline which we, as soldiers, had so thoroughly been taught to observe, by speaking at the Town Hall and using every endeavour to persuade our men to keep away from the trouble.

“And finally, what can we say of the members of the regular police, the special constables and the firemen? Only this, that if ever men behaved with patience, dignity and bravery, it is those men whose duty it was on Saturday night to uphold law and order and to battle with the flames.

“Our sincerest and most heartfelt congratulations go out to every one of these brave fellows, and to those were so shamefully and so cruelly ill-treated we offer our deepest sympathy, and we hope they will speedily recover.”

DS&S to boycott Peace Celebrations

DS&S advert re Peace Celebrations

On the proposition of Mr L. Gore, seconded by Mr E. A. Barton, the Luton branch of the Discharged Sailors and Soldiers Federation unanimously agreed at a special general meeting at the Ivy Leaf Club, Park Street, on Monday, June 30th, 1919, to adhere to a resolution passed at the Manchester Conference of the National Federation that the branch should take no part in peace celebrations until such time as all discharged and demobilised men had been found employment.

After Chairman Mr Clay and fellow delegate Mr S. Allison had presented their report on the conference, a member said it seemed shameful that the country should be prepared to spend so much money on peace celebrations, when men who had fought for the peace were searching for work.

It was also reported at the Monday meeting that a conference had been held by representatives of the Federation and the clergy of Luton. Chairman Mr W. B. Clay, in making the announcement, said the conference was held at the club on the previous Thursday, and clerical representatives of every denomination in the town were present.

The principal discussion was in regard to the arrangement of a memorial service for fallen comrades, and he (the Chairman) felt he must say that they had received every help possible from the ministers.

Mr H. Ives, who was chairman of the conference, said the Rev A. E. Chapman and the Rev E. B. Mahon were arranging the service, and the march and congregating of the men would be in the hands of the Federation. An invitation had also been sent to the members of the Comrades Association to attend. It was also suggested that collections should be made on behalf of the widows' and orphans' fund.

Mr Clay said the reverend gentlemen were greatly surprised and pleased with the efforts the Federation had made, and had complimented them on the good their funds were doing. In addition to the clergy there were also present members of the various local bands, who decided to give their assistance.

It had been agreed to hold the service at Wardown, but if this did not prove possible, it would take place on the Moor.

[Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph: July 1st, 1919]


[The response to the DS&S national decision received a mixed response locally. In line with its resolution (above), Luton branch later placed an advert in the local Press stating that it would refrain form taking any part whatsoever in official Peace Celebrations and appeared to have adhered to that. In Dunstable DS&S members did take part in the official procession, including entering a float. At Leighton Buzzard, around 500 ex-servicemen turned down an invitation to a free dinner, and at St Albans the DS&S asked that any money intended to be used on their behalf in the celebrations should instead be given to the city's war memorial fund.]

Differing views on Peace Day riots

Two shades of opinion resulting from the Peace Day riots were published in The Luton News on August 28th, 1919. The newspaper said it had received many letters but the strong terms and language used by most of the writers had resulted in them being held over.

From Mr F. C. W. Janes, a letter asking if the Corporation were to blame for the troubles. He wrote:

“May I venture to make a protest against the spirit of unmitigated condemnation so widely manifested against the members of our Town Council in connection with the lamentable issue of our Peace Celebrations? Writing after the event one is, of course, easily able to convict them of many sins of omission and commission.

“The town has been ringing with vehement complaints concerning their shortcomings, real and supposed, until we are in danger of forgetting the magnificent service rendered not only without fee or reward but at a personal financial cost which would surprise the whole community could it be made known.

“It would be impossible to find any town governed by men with cleaner hands and less self interested motives than the men who are now subjected to so much stupid and illogical abuse. And yet the most deplorable feature of our last few weeks' experience, following the dastardly action of out local Bolsheviks, has been the astounding efforts of supposedly sane, respectable citizens of Luton to find some excuse for these blackguards by attaching the blame to the Council.

“Wherein lies the offence of the Council in this matter? The crime most frequently laid to their charge was the refusal to grant the use of Wardown Park for a memorial service. The Aldermen and Councillors are the trustees of the town's property; a trust they have always discharged with conspicuous fairness; and to suggest that they intended to deliberately give offence to noble hearted men who have risked their lives in our defence, and, were still, to show base ingratitude to those who have made the the supreme surrender is surely beneath contempt.

“The statement made by Alderman H. Arnold is on record concerning this and other matters and has not been publicly challenged in any particular. It is quite clear from that statement that whatever blame is due should be fairly distributed; as it is evident our Town Council was not the only body to make mistakes.

“I therefore protest most strongly against the despicable, mean and cowardly treatment meted out to our public men in this tragic moment of our town's history.

“They do not need my defence. They are well able, given fair play, to meet their traducers. But as one who knows something of the anxieties and responsibilities of public life, I appeal for a spirit of 'sweet reasonableness' to dominate the criticisms it is right and proper for use to indulge in when discussing the actions of our public men.

“'Lest we forget,' may I emphasise the implication contained in the statement made by our courageous and efficient Town Clerk in the police court, that prior to 10.10 pm no windows were broken on the night of the riot. From the critics of the Town Council the cry goes forth 'Clear them all out'. Before we do that, would it not be well to ponder the stern fact that the immediate cause of Luton's disgrace was the sudden appearance in George Street at 10pm of hundreds of drunken lunatics.

“Is it not possible that the clearing out process should commence in another direction?”

In offering an opposite view, The Luton News published a letter from 'A Lover of Luton Town and People,' a correspondent not identified but described as “one of the most prominent gentlemen in Luton”. He wrote:

“Never before has Luton stood in greater need of a real friend, of someone who really knows her, of someone who can reinstate her in the good opinion of all whose appreciation is worthy having. Truth waits upon imagination, and without imagination no one can understand her present undesirable position in the eyes of the nation.

“The first question that has to be asked and answered is – What caused out trouble? Cause there must be. It is the easiest thing in the world to express indignation when rioting, incendiarism and every kind of violence is seen and felt by all. But what caused it? The judicial mind must reconstruct the situation. Let us try.

“Luton, like every other town in the country, is called upon to celebrate the great Peace in history. The men who have fought in this most bloody war are home again, many maimed for life. Nothing is too good for those who have fought and bled for their homes and country. Every member of the community is anxious to express gratitude. The men must be feasted and welcomed by a grateful populace. They must be made to feel that those who have stayed at home feel the burden of a lasting debt of gratitude that shall be paid at all costs. What shall they have? Let them speak.

“With deference born of gratitude, the civic fathers in official robes wend their way to learn their pleasure. 'Brothers,' speaks the Mayor, in tones indicative of strong emotion, 'we thank you for all you have done in return for all you have done for us. You have but to speak your wishes and a grateful people will respond with boundless generosity.'

“Such would have been the picture the dullest imagination would have seen before the fateful day, and not a voice in Luton would have failed to say, 'So let it be'.

"What were the facts? Nothing was done for the men who have done so much for us! With a lack of imagination that staggered the silent onlookers, a banquet for the rich was advertised by the civic authorities. To the lasting credit of the town there was practically no response, and the proposal fell through, but the mentality of those who made this suggestion had been appraised at its proper value by an indignant people, and the town squirmed helpless and ashamed at this latest manifestation of incompetence.

“But the great tragedy was the refusal of Wardown. The men's only wish was scorned and summarily refused. Nothing will ever obliterate this act from the minds and hearts of the people of Luton. No special pleading can ever account for the want of imagination on the part of the authorities. No extenuating considerations can ever mitigate the stupidity of such a refusal. No appeal remains for those responsible for it.

“To the eternal disgrace of the town a wise and generous-hearted lady had to do what the civic fathers refused the people the opportunity of doing. All honour to the Lady of the Manor, but where is the imagination? Where the indignation of Luton men and women? Are we to be content to allow one generous-hearted lady to discharge our indebtedness to the men who have fought for us as well as for her?

“Oh, sons of the people! I say we have been wronged, our generosity has been scouted and our indignation cannot spend itself in punishing the poor wretches whose madness is partially explained by an atmosphere of indignation that has not yet been dissipated by the universal abhorrence of their excesses.

“Oh that someone with a little imagination would co-ordinate the factors of Luton's lurid imbroglio and show to the world that when wisely governed she is as peaceful, law-abiding and deeply religious a town as any in the country.”

Divisive question of use of Wardown

Council 'manifesto'

It should have been unthinkable that a town would refuse to allow ex-servicemen to hold a memorial for fallen comrades in its principal park at the end of the bloodiest international war in Britain's history. But it happened in Luton, a town that in 1919 had divisions among ex-servicemen themselves and a Council led by a Town Clerk who seemed to regard the local authority's position and decisions as paramount.

On June 30th, 1919 – three weeks before Peace Day - the Luton branch of the Discharged Sailors and Soldiers Federation unanimously agreed to adhere to a decision taken by the Federation nationally to take no part whatsoever in any official Peace celebrations while ex-servicemen were still unemployed and in a dispute over pensions. The Town Council, via Town Clerk William Smith, was informed of the decision in a letter dated July 5th.

On the same date the DS&S - which excluded officers from membership other than those who had risen through the ranks - made what they seemed to have presumed was the courteous formality of requesting the use of Wardown Park to hold a drumhead memorial service in remembrance of their fallen comrades of the war. Churches and bands had agreed to take part, and the Mayor and councillors were invited to be present. Their request letter addressed to the Town Clerk included the sentence: “His Worship the Mayor has expressed every sympathy with this objective and instructed us to apply to you for the use of the park.”

Unlike in other towns, such as neighbouring Dunstable, a memorial service for the fallen was not included in the Peace celebrations planned by the Town Council for Saturday, July 19th. The DS&S had previously suggested that the celebrations in Luton be spread over two days, the Sunday being devoted to ex-servicemen, with a parade ahead of the drumhead service conducted by local clergy. As the DS&S were not taking part in official celebrations, it was unlikely that they expected any ratepayers' money to be devoted to their event.

Rival ex-servicemen's organisation The Comrades of the Great War offered to help organise the service but their offer was turned down by the DS&S, although the Comrades were invited to attend.

Town Clerk William Smith 1912-1932And at that point the seeds of doom seem to have been sown. The lack of co-operation between the two main ex-servicemen's groups offered an excuse to reject the use of Wardown on the grounds of “sectional” interest, with Town Clerk Smith (pictured, right) giving his advise based on park bye-laws from 1905. The Press advertisement (above), published after Peace Day, said that if both groups had jointly applied for the use of Wardown, it would have been granted. The advert went to great lengths to attempt to justify the Council's decisions, and maybe was an attempt to try to excuse a situation that need not have arisen and in the wake of strong criticism of the Council from the Press, the clergy and many sections of Luton society.

Furthermore, the decision had not been taken by the full council, who were not due to meet until after Peace Day, but by six members of the nine-member Park Committee hastily called together following a meeting of the Tolls and Public Buildings Committee to which they also belonged. Their decision to refuse the use of Wardown, based on the advice offered by Smith, was rubber-stamped later by the Watch Committee. Smith also told the DS&S that the Council would not be represented at any service on the alternatively offered sites of People's Park or the Moor.

The DS&S had refused to take part in the Council's Peace Day procession, so could it have been tit-for-tat that the Council would not be represented in the ex-servicemen's event? And the “sectional” interest argument had been used when a public campaign had previously forced the Council to drop the idea of using Wardown House as a maternity hospital. Did Town Clerk William Smith feel the Council's authority was being undermined by what had happened?

The Town Clerk's role in the Council decision-making leading up to Peace Day was questioned in the Evening Post Echo in 1979, when the daughter of Mayor Henry Impey's executor and a future councillor said her father had told her that Henry Impey had told him that the problems which cause the riots were the fault of the Town Clerk.

Unlike previous Town Clerks who had moved on to bigger things after a spell in Luton, William Smith held office for nearly 20 years, until his death in 1932. In 1918 he had turned down the offer of an Army Council job to keep his hold on the reins at Luton Town Council.

And it was Smith, supported by Chief Constable Charles Griffin, who urged Henry Impey to leave town following the riots, while remaining in Luton himself.

Following his death, Smith was described as having a stern exterior which belied a generous, warm-hearted nature. But he was also described as an “autocrat” and “a not popular man”.

Eleven sentenced by Luton magistrates

Riot charges heading - ST 2-8-1919

[Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph: August 2nd, 1919]

Yesterday morning [August 1st, 1919] the Bench decided to deal with the larceny cases, and it was understood at the opening of the day's proceedings that the Justices might see their way to dealing with those charges without committing the persons concerned to the Assizes.

The Town Clerk, in his opening statement, said that amongst the persons charged in conen with these riotous proceedings were several who were found in possession of stolen articles. That being so, they must have been out in the streets somewhere between 12 o'clock Saturday and 2 o'clock on Sunday morning, or they must have been associated with the people who were in the crowd.

Riot charges - LN 7-8-1919Consequently, they were as much rioters in the eyes of the law, though they actually did nothing then, and were assumed, by the law, to be persons actually concerned in the demolitions. There was no way of getting away from that proposition. It had been clearly laid down by the High Court, and he did not propose to read any extracts or judgments or legal decisions regarding the matter, as in his statement on the opening day he said enough to make that quite clear.

It was his duty to ask that every one of these persons should be sent for trial with the others who were actually guilty of active participation in the rioting; but after giving very grave consideration to the matter, especially bearing in mind that some of them were women, he was going to take it on himself to withdraw the charges of rioting against the women, thought perhaps not against all the men charged with larceny.

“It is wonderful how acquisitive women are at times,” said the Town Clerk, “and what awfully powerful liars they are.” They had lied in these cases, and changed their own story at least twice in some instances. If the Bench found it possible to deal summarily with some of these cases it would end the suspense of these women, who must have had a very bad mental time while on remand.

This must not be understood, said the Town Clerk, as any sign of weakness. He would ask the Bench to administer to those people found guilty of stealing property from the damaged shops, or being in possession of such property, the strongest possible reprimand – one that would be a leson to them for life to keep out of riotous proceedings, and also to behave themselves as good citizens, and not be led away by wild, drunken and irresponsible people.

Mr H. W. Lathom, who represented all but one of the prisoners charged, later addressed the Bench. One great thing in their favour, he said, was that not one of them had had the slightest charge against her previously.

Considerable stress had been laid upon the fact that the women, when questioned, lied. They all knew it would be impossible for anyone – and they would be committing the biggest lie they ever told – to say they never lied. Everyone lied when it was a case of trying to evade responsibility for some foolish act. It was historic that when anyone was questioned concerning wrong doing, they lied.

After presenting his defence for individual defendants, Mr Lathom said there were thousands and thousands of people out that night, a night of great excitement, and they all knew that when there was an element of great excitement, people who were thoroughly innocent and had not the slightest intention of joining in, were led away, became excited and thoughtlessly committed acts of folly.

In conclusion, he thanked the prosecution for having taken the action they had in these cases, which enabled the magistrates to deal with the offenders.

The magistrates then retired, and were absent some 20 minutes or more. On their return the Chairman announced that the Bench considered the offenders were most fortunate in that the prosecution had reduced the charges against them. The magistrates had taken into consideration those cases in which the prisoners had been retained in custody.

Some of the offenders were young girls who did not think, to the fullest extent, what they were doing. They ought to have known, however, that in mixing with crowds of this description on that night that the goods they had must have been stolen.

They had accepted the goods and, in the eyes of the law, which was very reasonable in that respect, they were equally as the persons who actually stole them. He then announced the decisions of the Bench as follows [click on names in yellow for more detail about individual cases]:

Emily Tilcock, fined 30 shillings, or 14 days.

Ellen L. Goodridge, fined £5, or one month.

Edgar C. Goodridge, fined £5, or one month.

Ada Andrews, fined 40 shillings, or 14 days.

Bertha Field, fined 40 shillings, or 14 days.

Rose Winifred Bacon, 25 shillings in each case, or 10 days.

Emily Gilbert, fined 40 shillings, or 14 days.

Ellen Gilbert, fined £3 or 21 days.

Mr Lathom, on behalf of the offenders, thanked the magistrates for the careful consideration they had given the cases, and, in view of the circumstances, the merciful sentences they had imposed.


In the case against Amos Gooch, who was originally charged with rioting and larceny and it was then intimated that the charge of rioting be withdrawn, Mr Barber who appeared for him said that in the circumstances his client would plead guilty to the larceny charge.

The magistrates retired, but were not long absent, the Chairman announcing on their return that in view of his attempt to lead a new life, Gooch would be fined £5 or one month, and he would be bound over to keep the peace for 12 months.


In the case of Walter Wells, charges of riot and damage to a boot shop were withdrawn, leaving only a charge of stealing.

Mr Lathom, for the defence, admitted the offence, and said Wells had never had anything against him. His wife was very ill through worry, and had he given the boots back he might have been let off. He was very sorry for his folly.

Wells was fined £5 and ordered to pay £1 8s 6d for the boots, and 15 shillings court costs.


In the final case dealt with by magistrates, a charge of rioting against George Saunders was withdrawn by the Town Clerk on Saturday, August 2nd. Saunders was said to have joined hands with other men and tried to rush the Town Hall, but, after being pushed back by police, he went home.

Nevertheless, Saunders was bound over to keep the peace for 12 months in the sum of £10.

Ex-servicemen groups condemn the rioting

The local branches of the Federation of Discharged Sailors and Soldiers and the Comrades of the Great War both issued statements condemning the Peace Day violence.

In The Tuesday Telegraph of July 22nd, 1919, Mr H. C. Cooper, Secretary of the DS&S, issued a disclaimer that the branch was in any way responsible for the display of lawlessness which had been seen during the previous weekend.

DS&S appeal for orderIn a statement he said: "The possibility of any disturbances on Saturday was considered at several meetings of the executive committee and, acting on their behalf, I first of all made a public announcement in The Luton News and other papers to the effect that, although the Federation members were taking no official part in connection with peace celebrations, they would be no parties to to any conduct other than that in keeping with the behaviour of men who had done their bit for their country during the war.

"Although these announcements were made, we heard on Thursday that there were further rumours of impending trouble, so a further announcement was made on Friday evening in the local Press urging everyone to refrain from doing anything whereby a breach of the peace might be occasioned.

"On Saturday afternoon it came to the notice of the committee that certain disturbances had in fact arisen at the Town Hall, and the Chairman (Mr Clay) was asked by one of the magistrates to go to the Town Hall to interview him and others. With other officers of the Federation, Mr Clay went to the Town Hall and addressed the crowd from the Town Hall steps. He appealed to the public to maintain order, particularly during the later hours of the day, for the sake of their noble dead, and in his attempt to dissuade the public he was well received.

"Later we were again informed that rioting was taking place, so several of our committee went down to see whether we could render the authorities any assistance in restoring and maintaining order. Mr Clay and others were quite ready to try and make another public appeal for good order and self-restraint, even though at that stage such an appeal might have involved the speakers in a position which might have not a little personal risk, but the police advised that it was too late for any useful purpose to be served by such an appeal, as the crowd was by that time entirely out of hand.

"We did all we could to prevent any trouble arising, and nobody can regret more than the Association the disaster to the town that has been caused.

"My committee particularly ask me to express their sympathy with the members of the police force and special constabulary, and of the Fire Brigade, who acted so bravely and who were injured in the performance of their duties."


On July 21st, a special meeting of the Comrades of the Great War was held at which the weekend rioting was discussed. It was unanimously decided that the following statement should be issued to the Press via Secretary Mr N. Shepherd.

"While not agreeing with the decision of the Town Council in refusing the use of Wardown Park to discharged soldiers, the Comrades decided to take part in the Peace celebration as a fitting recognition of the glorious victory achieved by our sailors and soldiers of the Empire, and while pressing the claim of those who have suffered for fair and just treatment, they wished at the same time to recognise and show their appreciation of the glorious deeds of the men who fought for this victory.

"The Comrades deprecate the riotous and unlawful action of the mob, and sympathise with the Police and Fire Brigade in their thankless task of doing their duty under such trying circumstances.

"The Comrades intend to continue their active campaign on behalf of disabled men and dependents of the fallen and ask the support of the Council and police in this effort.

"Captain Donald Simson, the honorary chief organiser from London, attended the meeting, and it was decided to call another meeting at an early date, to place the whole problem in front of the recognised authorities in Luton, realising the citizens' wish to do justice to the men who served the Empire."

[Tuesday Telegraph, July 22nd, 1919]

Feeding the 5,000-plus at the Hoo

Hoo sports day page in Luton News

[Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph: August 19th, 1919]

For tea during the ex-service's sports day at Luton Hoo there were four large marquees and each marquee was intended to supply four parties at intervals of half an hour. The fact that, as in the case of the sports, there were separate tents for the different parties was in no sense an attempt at segregation but an essential part of the arrangements in order that the company should be distributed as evenly as possible throughout the marquees and also throughout the four periods.

It worked very well indeed, and without any crushing, up to the closing stages. Then the “Unattached,” who were in much greater strength than any of the other three sections, began to develop a large queue, and to get over this the men who were waiting were divided among the other tents.

No attempt was made to seat the guests in the marquees. Advantage was taken of the brilliant weather to make a picnic in the open. Men went into their tent, took a plate, packed it with such comestibles as pleased their fancy, obtained a cup of tea and straightway went out to an enclosure in front of their marquee, sat on the grass with their pals and carried on.

Waitresses moved about among them with additional supplies for those who were in need, and the general report was that everything was available in liberal quantity and that everybody enjoyed this al-fresco way of having tea.

Lady Wernher made a tour of the tea tents to personally assure herself that the arrangements were giving general satisfaction.

Having regard to the previously expressed opinions as to the difficulty of arranging for the refreshment of such a large gathering with any probability of success, it is noteworthy that Lady Wernher placed full confidence in the capability of a local firm to undertake the task. Instead of the contract being placed in London or elsewhere, it was given to Messrs Slater, of Park Square, who have on a number of previous occasions been entrusted with the catering for various functions at Luton Hoo.

The four marquees used for the service of refreshments were each 120ft long, and from these tea was supplied by a staff of 150 to the 5,200 ex-servicemen from Luton and to 550 people from the Luton Hoo Estate. In the evening refreshments were served to 12,170 people.

For tea there were meat patties, brown and white bread and butter, sandwiches, assorted cakes, sultana and cherry buns, dessert biscuits and fruit.

Messrs Slater inform us that their provision for the refreshments to this huge gathering of people included: Tea, 1½ cwts; milk, 100 gallons; fruit cake, 3,000 lbs; buns, 18,000; pork pies, 20,000; 4lb loaves, 700; lemonade, 1,000 gallons.

Few tears shed for old Town Hall

Town Hall on Peace Day

  • Old Town Hall on Peace Day, shortly before the rioting broke out.

Although words like “disaster” and “degradation” were applied by the local Press to the Peace Day riots, there appears to have been few tears shed over the loss of the Town Hall as a building. For instance, The Tuesday Telegraph (July 22nd, 1919), in giving a brief history, said:

Luton Town Hall was purely utilitarian, and quite devoid of architectural or historical interest. The part of the building including the Council Chamber and the Assembly Hall was built in 1847 at a cost of about £2,200, the capital being raised in £10 shares. In 1874 Davis [Frederick Davis, author of Luton Past and Present] records that the shareholders were contemplating disposing of the building.

A feature of the building was the clock, which was provided by public subscription [August 1856] to commemorate the return to peace after the Crimean War.

In 1887, the jubilee year [Queen Victoria's golden jubilee], there was a proposal to erect a new Town Hall and municipal building, and although this never fully materialised, the Corporation at various times took useful steps towards that end by acquiring neighbouring properties, and bringing them into municipal service as and when required.

Town Hall map 1887Many people remember when the Belgium Arms was a popular tavern by the side of the Town Hall and when there were occupied cottages in Foster's Yard. Within quite recent years warehouse property has been bought to extend the area for a new building, and the result of this policy of acquisition has been that the Corporation acquired a magnificent site for future development, and meanwhile carried on their activities in a miscellaneous collection of premises connected by a variety of odd passages and stairways. [The map, right, is from 1887.]

When the last Luton Corporation Act was passed, one of the matters dealt with was the erection of a new Town Hall, power being taken in the Act to do this, subject to a minimum number of years elapsing before the work was put in hand.

Quite recently the Corporation were considering the practicability of proceeding with the scheme, but it was estimated the character of the building which would have been erected before the war for £75,000 would now cost at least £150,000, and it was further decided to postpone the matter, and in the meantime to effect certain improvements in the existing accommodation by taking in one further lot of premises at present still used as a shop.

Apart from all the municipal documents which have been destroyed, there were a few interesting documentary exhibits in the Mayor's Parlour, some of which are irreplaceable.

The rival publication, The Luton Reporter (July 22nd, 1919) also found the Town Hall crowded and inconvenient in many ways in view of the vast increase in the business and importance of the municipality. In fact the town had long outgrown it.

The original 1847 building had been extended by the acquisition of the Belgian Arms from Messrs Wilson and Roberts in 1887 (to be utilised as offices for the Inspector of Weights and Measures, the Toll Collector and the Sanitary Inspector). In 1897 two warehouses in Upper George Street were added, and in 1899 a butcher's shop in Upper George Street and three cottages in Foster's Yard, off Upper George Street.

Early Town Hall pix

  • Town Hall illustration from 1847 and, right, a Frederick Thurston photo c1880 when the building had its bell tower.

Final function at the old Town Hall


Luton old Town Hall in 1914

The last formal event held before the burning down of Luton Town Hall was a public dance, admission two shillings. An advert appeared in the Luton News of July 10th, 1919, to publicise the weekly Saturday dance at the Town Hall - the next on July 12th - and explaining that the following dance would be brought forward to the Friday [July 18th].

Town Hall dances advertIn view of the Peace Celebrations, there was to be no dance the following Saturday night, said the advert [no event at all was was scheduled to be held inside the Town Hall on July 19th].

The Friday 18th event was billed as a Grand Victory Peace Dance from 7pm to 1am. As with the usual Saturday dances, it was a public event but with the normal admission price of 1s 6d raised to two shillings.

The event was not part of the "official" Peace celebrations programme. Dance MC Mr E. Bass, of 54 Stanley Street, Luton, was probably an organiser, claiming over £45 in compensation for lost instruments and other musical items and £7 in Treasury notes.

In the Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph (July 26th, 1919) a correspondent wrote: “Apropos of the dance held at the Town Hall on the eve of Peace Celebration Day. An historic dance indeed! Of that gay assembly, and amid so much light and colour, who dreamed that in a few hours hence a building echoing with so much music and laughter would stand blackened against the sky in ruins?

“To the dancers it will probably remain for ever in their memories; not altogether for its nearness to such a deplorable event for its own sake, since the orchestra, the peace decorations of red, white and blue, the smoothness of the floor, the arrangement of the dances and the dancing surpassed anything the Town Hall had ever seen.

“The Hall, viewed from the outside that night, in its victory garb, with strains of happy music and a blaze of light issuing from it, promised a glorious morrow. Those who saw this happy, festive touch and the stark grimness of the Town Hall presented 24 hours later will remember both vividly as a set-off one against the other.”

Riot compensation claims

Reproduced above is one of the pages of compensation claims resulting from the riots. Listed second from the bottom is the claim for £22 1s from caterer A. M. Dudeney, of 54 George Street [Dujon Restaurant], for bowls, jugs, dishes, towels etc provided for the dance and lost in the Town Hall fire. J. Webdale & Sons Ltd., of Wellington Street, also claimed £17 for mirrors and bunting destroyed in the blaze.

Final preparations for Peace Day

Peace Day programme

[Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph: July 5th, 1919]

So far as the peace celebrations are concerned, Luton children came into their own on Thursday evening, when the Council committee which is charged with the preparation of the programme of rejoicings decided to set apart two days as a festival for the juvenile element, though this portion of the rejoicings is necessarily deferred until a period subsequent to the official day – Saturday, July 19th. It was agreed to issue a public appeal for subscriptions to meet the cost, which is expected to be in the neighbourhood of £500.

The meeting was held at the Town Hall, and the Mayor (Councillor H. Impey) presided. Deliberations of the committee are not, in the ordinary way, open to the Press, but in view of the short time elapsing prior to the celebration, and to the greater public interest in the matter, the Town Clerk immediately agreed with our suggestion that the reporters should on this occasion be admitted, and the committee endorsed his view without hesitation.

A long agenda was discussed, the meeting extending over a period of about two hours, and the arrangements for the great day in Luton were carried a good step further.

A point that was emphasised was the necessity of assistance in carrying through the programme decided upon, in view of the period of time anticipated has been materially reduced in consequence of the Government decision to select Saturday, July 19th, as the “day of days”.



The Town Clerk reported that a meeting of the Fireworks and Decorations Sub-Committee had been held earlier that (Thursday) evening, when the question of having a display of daylight fireworks was considered. The sum required by Messrs Pain was £50, and the committee came to the conclusion that it would be more desirable to expend £20 upon a balloon demonstration in the afternoon.

If daylight fireworks had been decided upon, said Mr Smith, pieces of the material would be dropping all over the place, and might create danger and excitement.

“I hope, in any case,” the Town Clerk added, “the committee will consider the question of issuing an official notice absolutely forbidding the discharge of fireworks in the Park and the streets on the day of the celebration.

“After last week's experience [of fireworks being thrown in crowded streets], it seems quite patent that something of the sort must be done, for on Saturday last I felt thoroughly ashamed of what happened in the street of Luton.”

The committee agreed with this expression of opinion, Alderman Arnold remarking that the indiscriminate discharge of fireworks in the public thoroughfares on Saturday last constituted a great public danger. It was decided to issue notices on the lines indicated.



It was reported that, in reply to a request to illuminate the Corn Exchange, the Gas Committee (through Mr William Phillips) had written stating that they were regretfully forced to decline the task. This action was in no sense due to disinclination to assist the committee, but solely owing to the fact the mechanics who were needed for this class of work were still serving with the Forces.

The committee recommended that there should be placed on the Corn Exchange one big light, similar to that at the Town Hall, and this was agreed to.



It was reported that the procession (except the scholars) will assemble at Luton Hoo Park, by the kind permission of Lady Wernher, at 2pm and proceed to Wardown Park via Park Street, George Street, Manchester Street and New Bedford Road. It will be composed as follows:

Bands to be interspersed in positions to be fixed by Chief Marshall (the Chief Constable): Red Cross Band, Salvation Army Temple Band, Salvation Army No 2 Band, Central Mission Band, and Comrades of the Great War Band.

Police and Chief Marshall.

Dominions: Emblematic car which the political clubs have agreed to provide.

Navy: Contingent of 48 (including 12 to be selected by the Comrades of the Great War and 12 by the Luton and District Discharged Sailors and Soldiers Association.

Army: Contingent of 200 (including 75 to be selected by each of the Associations).

Air Force: Contingent of 48 (including 12 to be selected by each of the Associations).

Prisoners of War: Contingent of 48 (12 to be selected by each of the Association)

Volunteer Force: Contingent of 56 officers and men.

Friendly Societies: Contingent of 48.

Emblematic car provided by Hewlett & Blondeau Ltd.

YMCA: Contingent of 8.

Emblematic car provided by Fricker's Metal Co Ltd.

YWCA: Contingent of 8 wearing some distinctive dress.

Emblematic car provided by Skefko Ball Bearing Co Ltd.

Special constables: Contingent of 20.

Emblematic cars provided by Commercial Cars Ltd and Vauxhall Motors Ltd – contingent of 20.

Emblematic car provided by Thermo Electric Ltd.

N.A.B.C.: Contingent of 20 from Biscot Camp.

Emblematic car provided by Davis Gas Stove Co Ltd.

W.R.A.F: Contingent of 20.

Emblematic car provided by G. Kent Ltd.

Boy Scouts: Contingent of 24.

Emblematic car provided by Brown & Green Ltd.

Girl Guides: Contingent of 24.

Emblematic car provided by Hayward Tyler & Co Ltd.

St John Ambulance contingent.

Red Cross Society: Wardown V.A.D.

'Peace Enthroned' official emblematic car, provided and decorated by Messrs R. H. Marks, B. Deacon, S. Horn, A. Staddon, A. Strange and F. Webdale.

'Child Welfare' emblematic car. The Child Welfare workers have asked to provide this, and have agreed to do so.

Tradesmen's Association emblematic car provided by the Association.

'Allotments': Emblematic car, the Allotment Holders' Federation have been asked to provide this.

'Education': 24 boys and 24 girls each from the Modern School, Beech Hill, Chapel Street, Christ Church, Dunstable Road, Hitchin Road, Old Bedford Road, St Matthew's, Surrey Street, Tennyson Road; 24 boys each from Queen Square and Waller Street.

The girls will wear white dresses, and the committee will provide sashes for the girls, and bands for the boys' hats. The scholars will assemble at the East Ward Recreation Ground by not later than 1.40pm and then proceed to Park Street, where they will line up, witness the procession and join up at the end.

In connection with the Service contingent, it was left to the Chief Constable to take such steps as he considered desirable in order to bring them up to the required number.

Alderman Staddon mentioned that if the use of the lorries would be of any assistance, the two large vehicles owned by Messrs Vyse & Sons would be gladly placed at the disposal of the committee.

In refence to the children's contingent, Mr Percy Carter said the sashes and hat bands would be on hand in good time.



On the suggestion of the Town Clerk it was agreed that distinctive badges should be provided for the committee and other officials. “There may at times be need for committeemen to intervene, perhaps, and we don't want, in such event, to be forced to explain who and what we are. That is always a most unpleasant proceeding,” he said.



Mr A. Staddon, it was reported, had offered to take in hand the official programme, and said that from any profits accruing on its sale, a portion would be allocated to the Peace Fund. The Offer was accepted.



The Town Clerk presented a draft programme of a sports meeting at Wardown, during the afternoon and evening, drawn up by representatives of the Luton Cricket Club, the Luton Cricket League and the Luton Harriers.

£50 had been allocated for the purposes of prizes, and the sum of £47 10s had been utilised in this manner. First, second and third prizes were to be given for each event, the list of the latter being:

Mile, half mile, quarter mile, 220 yards and 100 yards flat handicap.

Half mile and mile scratch cycling races.

100 yards race for boys under 10.

220 yards for boys under 16.

100 yards veteran race, 40 years and over.

(For each of the above races an entrance fee of 6d will be charged).

Girls (under 15) egg and spoon race, musical chairs and skipping race.

Cigarette race for ladies and gentlemen.

Sack race.

Tilting the bucket.

Ladies' potato race.

The draft programme was approved. It was agreed that the sports commence at 3.30pm and that entries for the first ten events should close on Saturday next, 12th inst. Help in preparing the ground was asked for, and volunteers will be welcomed.

The committee resolved not to have any swimming events in the lake.



It was decided to invite Messrs Durler, E. Shoosmith, Eling and Goodge to arrange a series of tennis competitions for the afternoon and evening, £10 being voted for the provision of prizes.

A similar resolution was adopted in regard to bowls contests, application to be made for this to be undertaken by the secretaries of the Beech Hill, Luton Town and Wardown clubs.



The disposition of five bands was left in the hands of the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, Alderman Arnold and the Town Clerk.

Entertainment programmes were delegated to the Mayor, Chairman of the Parks Committee (Councillor Yarrow) and the Town Clerk.

Councillor Escott was asked to undertake supervision in regard to the dancing at Wardown at the close of the sports.



It was announced that, at a meeting held earlier in the evening, the Luton Choral Society had decided to abandon their proposed special performance in the Parish Church.



The Plait Hall was chosen as the venue for the subscription banquet, which is to be held on Monday, July 21st, and it was resolved that Messrs Webdale be asked to undertake the decoration of the hall.

The Mayor, Deputy Mayor, Alderman Staddon and Alderman Oakley were appointed an executive sub-committee in connection with this matter.

First Peace Day riots cases in court

Peace riots prosecution list

  • The final list of defendants at the end of Magistrates Court hearings in Luton.

On Wednesday, July 23th, 1919, the first police court proceedings arising out of the looting of shops during the previous Saturday night's riot were heard at the Borough Court before magistrates Mr F. J. Brown and Alderman H. Arnold.

Six persons were in custody, reported The Luton News the following day, one being an ex-soldier who was said to have been seen in the crowd dressed in clerical attire while the Town Hall was burning. In court he was in ordinary attire, and was wearing the 1914-15 ribbon and a wound stripe.

The charges preferred against the six were:

Emily Tilcock, 49, married, straw worker, 3 New Street – stealing three odd slippers, value 7s 6d, between 19th and 20th July, the property of James Neve Brown.

Amos Gooch, 38, blocker, 22 St Anne's Road – stealing a quantity of toilet requisites, value 4s 3d, the property of Carl Caspers.

Ellen Gilbert, 37, married, machinist, 11 New Street – receiving the property mentioned in the previous charge, well knowing the same to have been stolen.

Rose Winifred Bacon, 21, of 28 New Street – stealing a bottle of scent and two books, value 10s 6d, the property of Walter Clark.

Emily Gilbert, 19, machinist, 11 New Street – stealing an umbrella, value 10s 6d, the property of Carl Caspers.

Frederick Plater, 27, labourer, 69 Chase Street – stealing two odd boots, value 14s 9d, property of James Neve Brown.

With the exception of Emily Gilbert (bailed), all were remanded in custody.

Holidaymakers suffer a riot backlash

Two weeks after the Peace Day riots, the Luton Reporter newspaper (August 5th) gave its view of what it headlined “Luton's burden of debt and disgrace”. Its editorial read:

In spite of the visible scars and stains left by the disastrous happenings of a fortnight back, the town had become more or less restored to a normal condition of affairs in time for what has always been known locally as the holiday month. Unhappily there remains the burden of debt and disgrace.

The financial burden involved will take a lifetime to efface and the unenviable notoriety that has thus been given to the town will also take some living down.

Luton has become a bye-word all over the country. It stands condemned of what the Town Clerk has not hesitated to describe as an outbreak of Bolshevism, anarchy, drunkenness and criminality, and the innocent as well as the guilty must suffer. Many there are who have had insults heaped upon them.

Some who have booked rooms at the seaside for their holiday have had to forward deposits as a guarantee for good behaviour, others have had deposits for rooms returned with the information that neither their money nor their presence was desired. Just imagine reputable citizens being told that “Luton hooligans are not wanted!”

Quite as serious is the financial aspect and we cannot imagine anything more futile than the attempts made by some members of the Town Council to try and minimise the loss the town has suffered.

Alderman Wilkinson and others complained of the publication broadcast of an estimated damage of £250,000, but they were a long way from convincing any thinking person that this figure is very wide of the mark. Every speaker was careful to base their case upon the value of the Town Hall premises before destruction. But that surely is a false standpoint from which to view the matter. The only sound calculation of the damage done is the cost to the ratepayers.

Not many months back we were told the lowest figure for a new Town Hall was £150,000 and on top of that has to be brought into account the cost of replacing the contents, the temporary premises, compensation for private properties damaged and looted, provision of extra police assistance, and other expenses incidental to the riot.

This is the bill to be reckoned with and the ratepayers will be lucky if they get off with less than an extra sixpenny rate this half-year or next, and another sixpence in the £ for 50 or 60 years for a new Town Hall.

Hoo extends a welcome to ex-servicemen

Luton Hoo house guests, sports day 1919

  • Lady Wernher and her sports day house guests.

[Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph: August 19th, 1919]

Across the gates at the Park Street entrance to Luton Hoo was a great red streamer with the one word. “Welcome” - and “Welcome” was the underlying spirit of everything connected with the ex-servicemen day's festivities. The entrance gates were also festooned with laurel.

The ground of the festivities was laid out about half way between the gates and the mansion, and in the bright sun of Saturday afternoon it suggested, even from a distance, that there were good times in store.

For a week the Luton Hoo estate staff had been laying out the estate grounds, where four sets of events were to be run simultaneously; erecting bandstands and concert platforms; and in other ways making preparations for the pleasure of a big crowd. Having done this, the sports officials were invited on Friday evening to pass judgment on what had been done, and to offer criticism, but everything had been done so well that no criticism could be offered.

Cricket and sports began at 2.30, by which time Lady Wernher was on the sports ground. With her were Major H. A. Wernher and Lady Zia Wernher, Lady Medina, Lord Louis Mountbatten, Count M. de Torby, Sir Charles Russell, Hon Mrs Victor Stanley and Miss Stanley, Major C. Craufurd-Stuart DSO, Capt Arthur Critchley-Salmonson DSO, Miss Pryce, Miss Henderson, Miss Stewart, Miss Jennings, Miss Cochrane and Mr Ernest Gape.

For their convenience a special stand was provided at one end of the enclosure, and most of the events finished near this stand; but the gentlemen were busy for a large part of the time assisting in starting or judging various events, and the ladies were also moving about the enclosure to see things at closer quarters.

Even when the programme commenced there was a big gathering, and this increased considerably during the afternoon. Programmes and cigarettes were distributed to the men as they arrived, over 7,000 packets of cigarettes being provided.

The Luton Red Cross Band and the Comrades' Band occupied the two bandstands in the sports enclosure. The Red Cross Band started punctually at 2.30, and playing alternately, the two bands provided an almost continuous performance of music until the end of the sports.

On either side of the bandstands two excellent sports tracks were laid out, complete down to the smallest detail. Large noticeboards showed the section competing on each track, and smaller notices indicated where every competition began and ended.

For convenience of organisation it was necessary to have these four sets of sports – Luton Hoo, Federation, Comrades and Unattached. There was no shortage of entrants for the sports. The record entry in any one sectional event was 67 for the 100 yards flat handicap, and on all four grounds numerous heats had to be run.

There was no time scheduled for the sports beyond that fixed by the evening programme, which was to commence at 6.15 with a presentation of military decorations. Things were managed so nicely, however, that by going on continuously and not stopping for tea, it was found possible to complete the sports programme about ten minutes before the time fixed for the presentation of medals. This end would not have been achieved but for the fact that things were organised so well, and competitors were always ready to toe the mark when called on. The many heats did not permit of time being wasted, and things were kept going very briskly.

Special competitions were arranged for disabled men, and it was a noticeable point that of the silver cups included among the prizes the two finest were allotted to the competitions for disabled men. These men were taken to Luton Hoo by car, and special seats were provided for heir comfort.

There was also a special little platform with a seat for one – Mr S. Ellingham, of North Street, Luton, who saw service in the Crimea, India and China, has seen Britain conclude peace on five occasions, and left the Army before many of hose who made themselves eligible for Saturday's gathering by fighting in the great war, were born. He had a brave array of medals, and throughout the afternoon held quite a little court. Lady Zia Wernher and others of the house party went to him to chat about his experiences in the days of long gone by and to him, as to many others, Saturday will undoubtedly provide some treasured memories.

In all sections of the sports there were three flat handicaps, a sack race and tilting the bucket. For Luton Hoo people, however, as not only the ex-servicemen employed on the estate, but all the employees and their wives and children were being entertained, some extra competitions were added – a race for girls, one for boys and one for veterans.

The sack races and the tilting competitions were especially enjoyed by the house party, and there was great fun among the general spectators when Lady Wernher decided, and Major Harold Wernher announced by megaphone, that there would be a special sack race for the members of the house party – the gentleman members, he added. Sir Charles Russell was given a big start in this, and although he fared like a good many more and had a tumble, he was later called up with the winner, Lord Louis Mountbatten, to take a prize. When the crowd saw that they were dolls they went almost wild with delight.

After the sectional events had been completed there were inter-contests, and the whole sports programme was one which was attractive alike to competitors and spectators.

In a cricket match, a team composed partly of Luton Hoo and partly of unattached opposed another made up of DS&S and Comrades. The conditions provided for each side o be limited to a maximum of an hour's batting, and there were prizes for each member of the winning team, and also for their umpire and scorer. Luton Hoo and Unattached won by 44 to 25, largely owing to the bowling of J. M. Lyon (Luton Hoo) and F. G. Mullett (Unattached).


Hoo sports day for ex-servicemen

Lady Wernher and ex-servicemen, Hoo sportsday 1919

  • Lady Wernher and ex-servicemen at Luton Hoo sports day, August 16th, 1919.

[Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph: August 19th, 1919]

On Saturday all roads from Luton led to Luton Hoo. From the day when Lady Wernher, our generous Lady of the Manor, intimated her desire to act as hostess to the gallant sons of the borough who have fought the good fight and have been spared to return, the keenest possible interest has been displayed by the whole town in the successive stages of the arrangements for a vast gathering.

When the great day arrived on Saturday, the most sanguine expectations were more than realised, and it is almost superfluous to say that the function will remain vividly imprinted on the minds of all who were privileged to participate.

All the circumstances leading up to a unique assemblage were such as to invest it with a glamopur not only exceptional, but thoroughly deserved. All up and down the country, practically wherever peace celebrations have been conceived, the authorities have shown wisdom and tact in realising that the men around whom, in the main, the jollification should centre were those whose sacrifice and gallantry had made peace possible.

And if it be rather ub the nature of exaggeration to say that Luton proved itself the exception so far as was concerned the recognition of this elementary principle, it is certainly true to point out that little more than lip-service was paid to the ideal.

The entertainment of the town's discharged and demobilised men was, in plain language, “turned down” because in their wisdom the City Fathers (or that section who held the seats on the Peace Celebration Committee) decided it was too big a proposition.

The discharged men, for their part, made it absolutely clear that they were prepared to give first place to the children, if arrangements were made for this section of the community to be feted on an adequate scale. Again the Committee decided this was too big an undertaking – though they revised that attitude later.

It would not be difficult to point out that, if the situation made demands which were too heavy for the Committee as constituted, a reasonable policy would have been to have invited the assistance of representatives of the various interests affected. Whether this course commended itself to our councillors, or was even considered by them as a practical step, it is not possible for us to state.

The fact which is clear, however, is that nothing of the kind was done. Not until a late stage was any provision made to take the public into the confidence of the Committee – though the public were most intimately concerned – and even then the initiative came from the local Press.

Justly or otherwise – and, in out opinion, more the former than the latter – the common people came to the conclusion that the peace festivities in Luton were being conceived by a “close corporation,” that they were being organised for the glorification of the few rather than for the entertainment of the many, and that they showed every sign of proving little better than a “wash-out”.

History has recorded how completely the public view was borne out – how, in fact, they were characterised by unprecedented disaster. History will, beyond doubt, eventually apportion blame where blame is due; but in the meantime the average Lutonian has arrived at certain conclusions on the point. The nature of these conclusions is by no means a secret; they are known to all who care to observe.

There may be some among our rulers – we have every reason to believe there are – who are adopting the “ostrich policy” in a child-like belief that what they cannot see does not in fact exist. But it will, we think, require a great deal of persuasion before the public mind is cleared of the convinced impression that vision, coupled with reasonable regard for essentials on the part of the responsible Committee, could have saved out town from the stigma which has fallen upon it.

The people's just claim is that they were never consulted – that they were never given an opportunity to say whether they were prepared to raise funds for this exception day on the scale which was necessary. They say, and rightly, that the town's record during the war is convincing proof that its citizens have never fallen short of a proper standard when money has been required for a good object.

There can be no suggestion that the recognition of the discharged men was other than a good object, and there is no reason to assume that, for the first time in such matters, the common people would have done anything but “their bit”.

The public memory is proverbially short – but it is not so short that it will readily forget these factors.

It is refreshing, then, to turn to what actually did happen on Saturday – to record what was proved to be possible when many minds are working in harmony for a common end. As we have observed on a previous occasion, Lady Wernher first decided that she would be responsible for the invitation to a peace celebration. From that moment onward, she asked the co-operation of the men who were to be her guests. It was an attitude suggestive of broad outlook, tact and vision – and it achieved the desired purpose to the utmost extent possible.

Strong committees were set up to represent the several organisations – the DS&S, the Comrades of the Great War, the Luton Hoo estate employees, and those men who were attached to no association. Working with energy, and being met with sympathy and cordiality by Lady Wernher and her agent Mr James Baker, all difficulties vanished as mist before the rising sun, and a programme was evolved calculated to appeal to the most widely-varied taste.

It was in this spirit that her Ladyship approached a task which had been declared by the Town Council to be too big a proposition. It was because of that fact that she was able to invite and provide for a gathering of ex-servicemen numbering close upon 6,000, and so to extend her invitation that the men were joined in the evening by their wives or other lady friends, bringing the total of those who found pleasure and recognition in the beautiful Hoo park to the region of 11,000.

It was an unprecedented day and an unqualified success. From start to finish there was not a dull moment, and it was plain to everyone present that Lady Wernher and members of her house party enjoyed the function to the full. Here Ladyship was here, there and everywhere among her army of guests. Major Harold Wernher was happy in the extreme among “old soldiers” once more.

The whole spirit of the gathering was one of camaraderie and friendship, and the viewpoint which dominated it from the outset was finely expressed by those at the Hoo: “The men we are doing it for are worth doing everything for.”

The lady guests were also catered for on a generous scale, and for them – as for those men who were not of an athletic turn of mind – there were band performances and concert programmes at intervals.

The distribution of prizes was another interesting feature of the day's proceedings; and an attractive addition was the presentation to half a dozen local heroes of British and Allied decorations won in various theatres of war. This was something which turned all minds for a moment to the gigantic struggle in which the Empire had been involved and lifted the festival to a plane above that of a mere jollification.

Whilst no formal resolution of thanks could express with any degree of adequacy of feelings of gratitude and regard felt for Lady Wernher by the huge assemblage, the cheers with which the proposition was endorsed gave an inkling of the people's opinion. They were indeed tremendous.

Her Ladyship's reply was finely phrased; and while it disclosed the donor's appreciation of and fellow feeling for the men of the town who have helped in bearing the heat and burden of the day, also contained an appeal which was most appropriate and which we are confident will not fall upon deaf ears. It is up to those who are welcomed, indeed honoured, guests on Saturday to demonstrate that they are deserving of the high opinion held of them by Lady Wernher. For our part we have no fear that out great-hearted neighbour will be disappointed in this respect.


Related items from the Hoo sports day:

Hoo extends a welcome to ex-servicemen: Click here.

Feeding the 5,000-plus at the Hoo: Click here.

Six heroes receive their medals: Click here.

Hoo sports day prizewinners: Click here.

Vote of thanks to Lady Wernher: Click here.

Hoo day entertainers and organisers: Click here.

Hoo sports day prizewinners

[Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph: August 19th, 1919]

The prizes for the special events were distributed by Lady Wernher. Then Lady Zia Wernher handed the awards to the winners in the Luton Hoo and Unattached sections, and the Hon Mrs Victor Stanley distributed the awards won by the Federation and Comrades competitors.

The prizes had throughout the afternoon been displayed on three stands and were of a standard quite in keeping with all the other arrangements made by Lady Wernher for these festivities. Silver cups were provided for the principal competitions, and these all bore an inscription that they were presented by Lady Wernher at peace festivities at Luton Hoo on August 16th, 1919. The prizewinners were:


Hoo sports 16-8-1919LUTON HOO

100 yds flat handicap – 1 Hough, 2 Vass, 3 Hammett.

220 yds flat handicap – 1 Chaney, 2 Hoff, 3 Vass.

440 yds flat handicap – 1 Hough, 2 Reader, 3 Vass

Sack race – 1 Hough, 2 Cox, 3 Crick.

Tilting the bucket – 1 Hammett and Hough, 2 Reader and Angell.

Silver cups for boys under 14 – 1 A. Cox.

Veterans race – G. Ward.

Girls' race – 1 Annie Jude, 2 Alice Hunt, 3 Hilda Ward.



100 yds flat handicap – 1 H. F. Gray, 2 Squires, 3 Whitham.

220 yds flat handicap – 1 Squires, 2 H. F. Gray, 3 F. Stanford.

440 yds flat handicap – 1 P. M. Turpin, 2 E. J. Webber, 3 H. F. Gray

Sack race – 1 H. Ford, 2 E. C. Cooper, 3 Henman.

Tilting the bucket – 1 W. Gore and A. Biddell, 2 Squires and Whitham.



100 yds flat handicap – 1 S. L. Rickard, 2 F. C. Brown, 3 W. Parsons.

220 yds flat handicap – 1 S. L. Rickard, 2 E. Smith, 3 F. C. Brown.

440 yds flat handicap – 1 S. L. Rickard, 2 Perkins, 3 S. Hawkins.

Sack race – 1 W. Darby, 2 J. Rogers, 3 S. Hawkins.

Tilting the bucket – 1 Palfrey and Bent, 2 Bosworth and Darby.



100 yds flat handicap – 1 W. T. Panter, 2 W. E. Fisher, 3 C. W. Wright.

220 yds flat handicap – 1 W. E. Fisher, 2 W. T. Panter, 3 W. G. Ireland.

440 yds flat handicap – 1 B. Sharp, 2 W. G. Ireland, 3 J. Horton.

Sack race – 1 J. Jennings, 2 A. Horton, 3 R. Piggott.

Tilting the bucket – 1 H. Hull and F. W. Crowe, 2 E. W. Cooper and G. Smith.



Slow band race with instruments – Major H. A. Wernher was the starter and Mr Ernest Gape the judge. Behind each competitor there was a steward to see that he neither stopped moving along the course not stopped playing. Result – 1 G. A. Hopkins, 2 A. J. Everett, 3 W. Brigginshaw.

Disabled men (one leg) throwing the cricket ball – 1 F. Bent 70 yds, 2 Pettingall, 3 Smith.

Disabled men (one arm) taking off and putting on collar and tie – 1 W. Perry, 2 W. Smith, 3 F. Coke.

Tug of war, 9ft pull, teams of eight. In the semi-final Unattached beat Comrades 2-0, Luton Hoo beat DS&S 2-0. In the final Luton Hoo won by two pulls to one.

Relay race, four relays of 220 yards – 1 Unattached (Fisher, Panter, Ireland, Smart) won easily. 2 DS&S (Webber, Edwards, Squires, Whitham).

Silver cup for competition among winners of sectional 100 yards – W. E. Fisher (Unattached).

Silver cup for competition among winners of sectional 220 yards – W. T. Panter (Unattached).

Silver cup for competition among winners of sectional 440 yards – S. L. Rickard (Comrades).

Sack race for gentlemen of Lady Wernher's house party – 1 Lord Louis Mountbatten, consolation, Sir Charles Russell.

Hoo sports invite to ex-servicemen

Lady Wernher sports day invite

[The Luton News: Thursday, August 7th, 1919]

There is to be nothing on the small scale about the festivities which Lady Wernher is arranging for the ex-servicemen of Luton and of the Luton Hoo Estate. These are to be held on Saturday week, and something of the magnitude of the task which Lady Wernher has set herself can be gathered when we state that four sports grounds will be in use simultaneously, as about 5,000 discharged sailors and soldiers are expected during the afternoon, and probably nearly 10,000 people in all when lady relatives and friends arrive for dancing and other entertainments.

Following the letters of invitation which were sent to the two local Associations of ex-servicemen, and gratefully accepted by both, a joint committee was set up to confer with Mr James Baker, the steward of the Luton Hoo Estate.

The preliminary arrangements for the sports were made, and then came the question of getting into touch with such ex-servicemen as were not members of either organisation. By announcements in the Saturday Telegraph and Tuesday Telegraph these men were invited to attend at the Corn Exchange on Tuesday evening to hear details of such arrangements as were already made, and to selected from their number some representatives to serve on the committee responsible for making the arrangements.

Quite a large number responded to the invitation, and the meeting was of a very happy, informal character. Mr James Baker was in the chair, and representatives of the Federation and Comrades accompanied him.

“The festivities are to be a big success,” said Mr Baker, “and we want the help of the unattached men just as much as that of the organised men in securing this big success.” That was the tone of the meeting throughout, and, although Mr Baker confessed that acting as Chairman at a meeting was not a job much in his line, he managed to get the necessary business done very promptly and agreeably.

First he asked for three men to join the general committee. These were forthcoming in Messrs Stanbridge, Hemsley and Wilkinson, and they were promptly told that they would be expected at a meeting to be held last (Wednesday) evening.

Then, as it is understood there are about 1,600 unattached men, and therefore quite sufficient to produce a good list of competitors for the sports, seven others were asked to volunteer for service as a sports committee. “Active men who can run about a bit on the day,” was Mr Baker's only condition, as they would be required to do duty as stewards on the great day, and the seven were found in Messrs Inns, Hoar, Robertson, Davis, Cooper, Else and Catling.

There are to be four sports grounds prepared as otherwise, according to Mr Baker, “they might go on for a week”. The Federation, the Comrades and the unattached men, and the ex-servicemen in Lady Wernher's employ, would therefore each have their own sports ground.

The events would include 100, 220 and 440 yards flat handicaps, tilting the bucket, a race for bandsmen playing instruments, special events for disabled men, tug-of-war for teams of eight, and a team race for teams of anything from eight to 12. There would be a similar programme on each sports ground, and something 140 or 150 prizes were being given by Lady Wernher.

There was also to be a cricket match between a Luton Hoo XI and an eleven representative of the ex-servicemen of Luton.

About 5,000 were to be catered for in the afternoon and at the tea, so it was quite impossible for Lady Wernher to invite ladies until after tea, when there would be dancing and other entertainments.

For members of the two organisations [DS&S and Comrades], it was explained by Mr Baker, tickets would be sent to those two organisations. Separate rickets would be issued for ladies, and every ex-soldier would receive one of these with his own ticket. “If you are not married, bring your mother: she will like to come,” said Mr Baker.

While there would be no difficulty in seeing that all organised men received their invitations,, it rested to a large extent with the unattached men whether they got theirs or not. Arrangements were being made for the tickets to be available for all who applied for them. Mr Wilkinson was acting as secretary for the unattached men's committee, and the use of the Comrades Club for meetings etc was gladly accepted.

In order that Lady Wernher's generosity would not be abused, it was understood at the meeting that applicants for tickets should be required to produce their protection certificates or other papers proving their bona fides.

Before the meeting dispersed a very cordial resolution of thanks to Lady Wernher was passed, and another to Mr Baker for his active interest.

Hostile reaction to Wardown decision

Drumhead advert, Wardown cancelled

Reaction to the public revelation in the Saturday Telegraph that Luton's biggest ex-servicemen's organisation had been refused Council permission to hold their drumhead memorial service in Wardown Park was, not unnaturally, hostile in correspondence to The Luton News on the following Thursday [July 17th, 1919].


From William Armstrong, of Mondella, Park Street, Luton: The local authorities are needlessly creating for themselves an unenviable reputation. In their corporate capacity they are doing things which, individually, they would shrink from. Not satisfied with banning women Guardians, co-equal in authority with themselves, from attending the Peace Banquet, their latest act of intolerance seems well-nigh incredible.

The Council have bluntly refused permission for the use of Wardown Park next Sunday - a fitting sequel to Saturday's Peace Celebrations - for a memorial service to those brave men who have nobly fallen in the defence of their country. This action is not only an insult to the disabled and demobilised soldiers and sailors who organised a public drumhead memorial service, warmly supported by the clergy of Luton, but it has aroused widespread indignation. The reasons given for this refusal are, to say the least, absolutely childish.

What is the defence? That bye-laws - passed in pre-war times - are prohibitive of the noble purpose of a solemn memorial service in unprecedented circumstances of national loss.

Where in this religious service is the violation of the sacredness of Wardown Park? It is more like a consecration than a desecration.

Again, it is contended that the Park is not for any particular section of the community at any time. This reason is equally as fallacious as the first. This memorial service is not for any section of the public - unless the soldier-cripples and fortunate survivors are a prohibited section, nowithstanding their great sacrifice for others. No, the general public are invited, and would have warmly responded.

The people of Luton will not easily forget the attitude of the Council in showing such lamentable lack of sympathy for this solemn ceremonial. With scant courtesy, the promoters of the memorial service are relegated to the choice of two out-of-the-way places. a No Man's Land as it were.

Words of contempt fail adequately to express public disgust at this deplorable business. Wise councillors are an ornament to a town. Have we got them? Judge ye by their fruits.

PS: It needed a lady - Lady Wernher - to exemplify a more sympathetic and broader minded spirit than our autocratic mandarins to come generously forward and offer Luton Hoo for the purpose of the memorial service next Sunday. This is the right and final exposure of the Council's action.


A letter signed "Non-Member and Sympathiser," said: The war brought us several surprises which, in turn, seemed more staggering than the forerunner, but I will venture to say that people have never been so staggered as by the thunderbolt which was dropped amongst them by your announcement in the Saturday Telegraph that the Council, through the Town Clerk, has refused permission to the Luton and District Discharged Sailors and Soldiers Association to hold a drumhead service in Wardown in memory of our comrades who fell so gloriously and so nobly in the Great War.

Is it really imagined that discharged soldiers are "a particular section?" Were the men recruited from the Liberal Party alone, or the Conservative Party alone, or the Labour Party, or any other party, alone? No, sir, I will venture to remind the Council that the volunteers and those who had to follow came from every section represented in Luton, from the lowest to the highest.

Surely the action of this Association is to be commended. On no other occasion have I heard that a memorial service has, or is, being held in Luton for our honoured dead. I feel that we are too prone to forget these dear chaps. By all means rejoice in a manner worthy of British citizens, but let us never forget that amongst it all there is the sorrowing mother, wife or sweetheart asking the eternal and unanswerable question "Why?"

No mansion or park on earth is too good to hold a service for them, so do let us offer of our very best. Their memory is sacred to us; let our thoughts and our actions be equally sacred. To offer Pope's Meadow or the Moor is an insult to that memory, and I trust the members of the Council will realise this and offer warmly and generously Wardown for this service. Not only this, but to come themselves and show by their presence that they are not ashamed of those who made the supreme sacrifice - for the Council, as well as their country.


From "Two Luton Lads of the Army of Occupation": We happened to be home on Saturday and noted in your issue of the Telegraph a lot of correspondence concerning the refusal of the Town Council to permit Wardown Park to be used for a drumhead service.

We are sure everyone will cry shame on the Town Council. Had this been 1914-15 we should have seen all the big-wigs etc of the Council mounted on a platform asking for volunteers for the Army, but, alas, now that the war is over and some of out brave comrades will never return, they refuse to allow the use of the Park for a memorial service.

Had the Park been applied for by a party of conscientious objectors, we wonder if their request would have been readily granted. Maybe the Council would have let them have a tram or two to take them to it!

If the Council could only have been in France instead of nicely snuggled up in officialdom, perhaps their stony hearts would have been softened.


A copy of a letter sent to the Town Clerk by A. M. Philpott, Secretary of the Bury Park Brotherhood: At the meeting of the Bury Park Brotherhood held on Sunday afternoon, July 13th, it was agreed that no meeting should be held on Sunday, July 20th, but that the members should join in the public Drumhead Memorial Service as a token of their respect for the brave men of Luton who have laid down their lives in our defence.

At the same meeting it was agreed that a letter be sent to the Town Council informing them that we heartily disagree with their action in refusing the use of Wardown Park for the Memorial Service. We shall, therefore, be pleased if you will place this letter before the Council at their next meeting.


From "Contempt": In reference to the Peace Celebrations, it is possible that the heroes of the Celebration Committee who won the war may be interested in the following list of bodies who helped them in smaller ways to win the war or keep the home fires burning.

Discharged soldiers, discharged sailors, prisoners of war (the thousands not invited).

Munition workers (those who went to work, although not within the Military Service Act).

Widows and orphans of deceased soldiers and sailors.

Widows and orphans of deceased munition workers.

Old age pensioners who returned to work.

Women who undertook street cleaning.

Girls who gave up straw hat work for munitions.

Girls and women who worked at Chaul End Shell Filling Works.

The Boy Scouts.

The Girl Guides.

Special police, volunteers rank and file not admitted.

The Fire Brigade.

The bell ringers.

Waste Paper Committee, Prisoners of War Committee (members not invited).

Various factory and voluntary organisations who worked for charity.

The Town Crier.

The Tribunal, the Food Committee (including Labour members).

The Kaiser, Crown Prince and others who made the war possible.


From S. H. Wheewall, 71 Cowper Street, Luton: Would you grant me space to protest against the action of the Mayor and Town Council in refusing permission to the DS&S to use Wardown Park for their Drumhead Memorial Service on July 20th to those heroes who have fallen during the last five years of bloodshed and strife?

My thoughts carry me to the Thanksgiving Service at the Wesleyan Chapel on July 6th, and I wonder if it was really a service of thanksgiving and did our Council attend with that thanksgiving spirit in them? If so, I must say they have a poor way of showing it, or gratitude to the fallen; also, how soon they must have forgotten that splendid little poem entitled "Poppies Grow on Flanders Fields".

They shield behind an old bye-law; if that is so, why did they let Wardown to the Volunteers for their inspection by General Lord French? That, I suppose, is a different thing. They can bow and scrape with the high nobility, but this is only a memorial to those fine fellows who gave up home, wife and children to fight and never return, for good old England, that we might live in peace and plenty. So the City Fathers tell us we cannot have the Park, and will not come and pay homage to the dead!


From Ted Childs, 95 Church Street, Luton: As one of the many who consider the Town Council and other responsible public bodies of the town have not done their duty by the men who won the war and the dependants of those men, I should like to make a little offer in the hope that the general public will follow suit.

In almost every town and village in the country the men who have returned, and the dependants of the fallen men, have been entertained officially. Luton stands conspicuous by its failure. As one who wants to see that the kiddies of men who lost their lives are not forgotten, and as a working man, I will gladly give £5 towards a tea for these children, and do my level best to help in any other way possible with any who care to co-operate.


And on a slightly different tack, "One of the disgusted firemen", wrote: I should like to know from the Luton Peace Committee what the ever-willing firemen have done to be not wanted in the grand final of Peace Day. Have they not done as much or more than some of those who will be there? What about air raids - out every time, three or four times a week? What about Wardown last year, and the ever-ready calls for church on Sunday morning for the good of the cause?

"But I don't think it will come off again unless something happens, as it was a near thing about church on July 6th (Civic Thanksgiving Service). We shall forget next time. Of course, it was said that the Fire Brigade could stand by the the Station on Peace Day, but I don't think that will wash after the treatment we have had this time.

[The Luton News, July 17th, 1919]


Injured police leave hospital

[The Luton Reporter: Tuesday, August 5st, 1919]

Insp Herbert Hunt and Pc Sear and Pc Silvester, three of the four members of Luton Borough Police Force so badly mauled by the mob in the peace rioting outside the Town Hall that they had to be treated for their injuries in the Bute Hospital, were discharged from the hospital on Monday evening [July 28th].

A Reporter representative chanced to be at the police office when they reported themselves to the Chief Constable and could not help but admiring the cheery spirit displayed by all the officers after their terrible experiences.

Insp Hunt reported himself quite fit except for an injury on the inside of the leg which gave him some trouble, and Pc Sear had “no complaints”.

Pc Silvester in hospitalPc Silvester (pictured, right, in hospital) was not so happily circumstanced. Like Insp Hunt he was feeling no ill effects of his abdominal injuries, but his back was still so badly bruised as the result of being kicked while lying on the ground that he was nearly doubled. It gave him such evident pain to walk that the Chief Constable considerately had a cab brought to take him home.

The three officers were seen by the police surgeon next morning, and Insp Hunt and Pc Sear were reported fit for duty, but Pc Silvester was placed on sick leave.

Pc Taylor, who also sustained abdominal injuries, left his bed on the same day as his comrades in hospital, but had such a bad relapse that he had to return to bed and was very poorly at the time the other officers left.

Special Constable Carter was able to go home the previous Friday, but since getting home also has been in a poor condition , suffering very much from the injuries to his head.

The three injured constables are all recruits who have served in the war and they are not likely to forget their first police experience, for the riot was the first time they had worn blue uniform. Pc Sears served in Gallipoli and Palestine and was thrice wounded; Pc Silvester had four-and-a-ahalf years war service with the King's Royal Rifles and came through without a scratch; Pc Taylor saw service in Salonika.

Lady Wernher for Mayor?

Lady Alice Wernher's generosity in making Luton Hoo Park available for a drumhead memorial service and then a sports day and tea for ex-servicemen resulted in her being suggested as the next Mayor of Luton.

In a letter in the Luton News (August 21st, 1919), “A Lutonian” wrote: Mistakes may be made even by civic rulers, but gratitude is an elementary virtue. The least out local authorities can now do is to express our gratitude to Lady Wernher for doing so well what they failed to do.

“If we could not see our way to grant the use of Wardown and to put our hands into out pockets and prove our gratitude to the men who have fought so nobly for us, sure we van not thank our wise and generous Lady of the Manor for all she has done on out behalf. I suggest, therefore, that the first business of the next Town Council meeting be a vote of thanks to her Ladyship.

“Of course, the best way of showing our gratitude would be to ask Lady Wernher to become Mayor of Luton. I have not the slightest doubt about her qualifications for the position; and if it were put to the votes of the people generally she would receive our unanimous support.

“Since actions speak louder than words, perhaps might second proposal would be the better was of showing our appreciation of her conduct.”


Lady Alice Wernher 1919Solicitor Mr H. W. Lathom put his feelings into verse with this poem which was also published in the Luton News (August 21st, 1919):


Was Luton sane when on that day, when being tired of war,

She held her peace rejoicings in a way we all deplore.

And maddened crowds got out of hand,

For reasons some don't understand,

And made the hall a bonfire grand,

And razed it to the floor.


Crowds don't get mad without a cause, and someone is to blame,

Not only those misguided ones who brought the town to shame,

And brought themselves within the law,

By deeds that now they're sorry for.

There must, we fear, be many more

Who helped to fan the flame.


It is not what they did perhaps, but what they did not do,

Or might have done; the town for weeks was seething in a stew.

The whole things shows a want of tact,

A want of someone strong to act,

A friendly feeling, peaceful pact,

That appertains to few.


Our Lady of the Manor has that tact to a degree,

That sets a grand example unto all who care to see,

Her cordial kindness has no bound,

No tumult happened on her ground,

No better Mayoress could be found,

May I be there to see!



In its editorial column on August 23rd, the Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph said no one could, of course, say if Lady Wernher would be disposed to accept the position. But it went on:

“Not only has Lady Wernher succeeded recently where the town's own representatives have lamentably failed, but in all matters in which she has come before the public there has been evinced a capacity and businesslike attitude sufficient to guarantee that she would not be found wanting if installed in the Mayoral chair.

“Be that as it may, the present Mayor and his colleagues will be making a great mistake if they think they can revert to the position as it was before that fateful day, nineteenth of July. For his own sake, his Worship had to flee the town at a moment when wise and courageous leadership was urgently necessary, and for the sake of the town he would do well to relinquish, as graciously as possible, an office for which, during a time of stress, he was found to be, temporarily or otherwise, unfitted.

“If the members of the Corporation imagine that the situation has been cleared up with the bringing to justice of people who took part in the riots, it can only be said that they are sadly out of touch with public opinion.

“Nothing but strong leadership will suffice to restore confidence, inasmuch as the interests of the town have been, and are still likely to be, jeopardised by personal and factious elements.”

Lady Wernher saves the day

Hoo service July 20

The decision made by some Parks Committee members on July 7th, 1919, to refuse the Discharged Sailors and Soldiers Federation permission to use Wardown Park for a drumhead memorial service was not made public until the Saturday Telegraph hit the streets five days later.

The result was general public condemnation of the decision, as indicated in the letters column in following Thursday's Luton News. But in the meantime Lady Wernher at Luton Hoo had instructed her Steward, Mr James Baker, to contact the DS&S to offer her grounds for the occasion.

The DS&S were able to politely tell the Council on July 15th that, thanks to the Lady of the Manor, their co-operation was no longer needed. They held a meeting with Mr Baker on July 17th to discuss their requirements for the following Sunday (as advertised above), complete with a parade to the Hoo Park.

But following the weekend riots, the Hoo service was postponed for a week until Sunday, July 27th, with a more constrained programme. However, Lady Wernher, who had said she would not be available to attend on the 20th, was present on the 27th.

The July 27th service was advertised as below, with an emphasis that there would be no procession, at the request of the Chief Constable. Other adverts called on those attending at the Hoo to behave, or, as it was put, “to refrain from any action which may tend to result in damage to trees, railing etc at the Luton Hoo Park...We are confident that this appeal will not be issued in vain.”

And so a time often seen as one of class division saw the upper class (represented by Lady Wernher) and the working class (represented by the DS&S) co-operating and the middle class (represented by the Mayor and Town Clerk) left out.

Hoo service July 27

Last-ditch bids to heal divisions

Peace Day stop pressWith the Saturday Telegraph published on Friday, July 18th, 1919, its stop press provided the last pre-Peace Day news and revealed last-ditch attempts to heal divisions within the town.


Stop press 1: “LADY WERNHER'S GREAT OFFER. TREAT FOR THE SOLDIERS. HOPE FOR THE CHILDREN. This afternoon we are informed that Lady Wernher has made a great and generous offer to the local Peace Celebration Committee. Her ladyship, it is stated, has announced her willingness to give a large sum, this amount to be applied in giving a dinner to discharged and demobilised men and serving soldiers. Her ladyship had already expressed a desire to see the schoolchildren entertained.

“This intimation will be received with the greatest possible pleasure in the town, and will ensure that this section of the community which we have always contended have a prior claim in a celebration of the Peace fixed for tomorrow will be admirably cared for.”


Stop press 2: “TOWN HALL OVERTURES. DISCHARGED MEN'S REPLY. We understand that efforts have been made at the Town Hall today to get the Discharged Men's Association to take official part in the procession tomorrow, but the overtures in that direction of failed. There have also been suggestions that the Mayor should take part in the memorial service, but the DS&S do not feel disposed to alter their arrangements, although anyone will be heartily welcome. An expression of regret has been tendered to the representatives of the DS&S that there should have been any trouble.

“With reference to the treat offered by Lady Wernher, the DS&S representatives have expressed their appreciation of this further proof of her generosity, but they are willing to conceded first place to the children.”

Leagrave and Limbury Peace celebrations

Leagrave and Limbury Peace souvenir

Despite the unfavourable weather and other drawbacks, the parishes of Leagrave and Limbury co-operated in their Peace celebrations on Saturday, and a most successful day was spent, reported The Luton News (Thursday, July 24th, 1919).

No pains were spared by the many helpers to ensure the smooth working of the very complete programme, and a gratifying result was seen in many affirmations of the large concourse of people who gathered in the Commer Cars Field (Blackwell Estate) that the proceedings had been most enjoyable.

The chief features of the rejoicings were the procession, sports (arrange in the afternoon by Messrs Hewlett & Blondeau, of Omnia Works and in the evening by the Celebrations Committee), scholars' concert and the dancing, whilst a happy spirit was infused into the various events by the excellent service rendered by Mr S. D. Bell's band of 15 instrumentalists. They headed the procession, accompanied by some of the items in the concert, and also supplied the music for dancing.

An elaborate programme and souvenir was prepared for the occasion, features of which were the list of of the parishes, numbering 320, who had served with the Forces during the war, those who made the supreme sacrifice, a brief history of the war, important dates and information concerning the war and the peace, photographs of our leaders, and all particulars of the day's doings.

With reference to the returned soldiers, it may be mentioned that it has been proposed, if the necessary funds can be raised, to entertain all the ex-servicemen to a dinner and smoking concert in the neat future.

Mr E. W. Way was sports secretary, Mr A. D. Cleaver, general treasurer, and the marshals of the children were the Misses E. Nears, C. Kingham, B. Allen and Mr P. E. Mitchell. Dr Rollings was to have performed the duties of starter at the races but, he being unable to attend, Mr Mitchell undertook this important part of the work.

The judges were: Mr and Mrs FitBiggs, Mr and Mrs Smyth, Mr Harvey and Mr Los, and the following were stewards etc: Misses Deuxberry, Hinds, Hulbert, Barkway, Lingham, Potter, D. Smith, W. Smith, E. Taylor, Mrs Hyde, Mrs Richardson, Mrs Harvey, Mrs Los, Mrs Mitchell, Mr and Mrs Brooker, Mr and Mrs Field, Mr and Mrs Freeman, Mr and Mrs Graham, Mr and Mrs Healey, Mr and Mrs Hull, Mr and Mrs Lovett, Mr and Mrs Maidment, Mr and Mrs Major, Mr and Mrs Smith, Mr and Mrs Way, Rev S. H. Collins, Messrs Andrews, Boyles,Blundell, Brown, Cain, Cooper, Dean, Faulkner, Fensome, George, Glenister, Horsler, E. Maidment, Panter, W. Panter, Pattison, Plater, Robinson,Sale, Ward, Watkin and Wingrave.

The proceedings commenced with the assembly at Norton Road Schools, whence the procession, including 600 scholars, marched to the Blackwell Field.

Prizes were given in connection with the various competitions arranged with the procession, as follows:

Leagrave Peace DayDecorated vehicles (any variety) – 1 Winnie Harvey (aeroplane), 2 Mrs Hyde (ambulance car), 3 Mr Major (decorated perambulator – 'Victory' and 'Peace'. Highly commended: Leonard Reeves (billy goat and chaise).

Decorated bicycle – Cyril Tuck.

Equestrian – 1 Miss D. Scott. Highly commended: Jack Harmer.

Best banner – 'Peace', Norton Road School.

Fancy costumes – 1 Norman Brown ('Victory'), 2 William Codling ('Charlie Chaplin'), 3 Mrs Randall ('Not Wanted'), 4 H. Newbery ('Bricklayer'), 5 Francis Graham ('Clown'), 6 Howard Barnes ('Indian'), 7 Dorothy Los ('Alsatian Girl'), 8 Vera Brooker ('Cupid').

Various kinds of races were held at the field, the method of running making an impressive sight. The young competitors were graded into five classes, according to age, and a selection from each class ran simultaneously down five parallel courses, each roped off from the others. Among the races were an amusing version of musical chairs played with flags, a funny Charlie Chaplin race in which the humorist displayed his many famous antics, and a tug-of-war in which Walter Woodham's team of four boys and four girls beat Reggie Hudson's side. During the sports Mr Codling (still as Charlie Chaplin) and Mr F. Graham, the clown, amused the crowd with their performances.

At four o'clock the children marched to the Omnia Works, where a splendid tea was provided. The Norton Road banner, with 'Peace' lettered in yellow and surrounded by laurel, headed the march to the Works. Mr Povey and the Omnia staff catered in excellent fashion, and all were delighted with the repast. Nearly a hundred children sat down the first time, and about 250 afterwards.

After tea, the Norton Road scholars sand, in French, the 'Marseillaise' for Mr Blondeau, and the 'Floral Dance'. Mr Bondeau congratulated the children upon their pronunciation, and thanked them for this pleasing little interlude.

On behalf of the teachers and scholars, Mr Mitchell proposed a vote of thanks to the employees of the Works, especially mentioning the good work rendered in connection with the sports and tea by Messrs Field, Harvey and Way. Mr Blondeau suitably replied, and three ringing cheers were given for the Omnia Works.

After this the happy party adjourned again to the field, where the scholars gave a concert. The hymn 'All People that on Earth Do Dwell,' and the Doxology, and also the National Anthem were joined in by the audience, the band accompanying. Other items were: Norton Road scholars – 'The Star-Spangled Banner' (America), 'La Marseillaise' (France); recitations – 'The Recessional.' ' Land of Our Birth' and ' Children of the Empire'; songs – 'The Empire Flag' and 'Land of Hope and Glory' by Miss B. Allen; song and dance – 'The Floral Dance; dances – 'We Won't Go Home Til Morning,' 'Hudson House,' 'Mountain March' and 'Cochin Chinn'; singing game – 'Cock-a-Doodle-Do'; pianoforte duet – 'La Mousme' by Mollie Lovett and Gladys Bates. 'The Floral Dance' was very effective, this having been arranged by the Norton Road scholars to suit the well-known music.

After further sports Mr Wingrave gave a short speech in which he thanked the authorities of the Omnia Works and Commer Cars for their kindness, and appealed to the residents for subscriptions towards the Peace Celebration Fund.

Mr Blondeau presented prizes to the successful competitors, and after this there was dancing until 10 o'clock, at which hour the day's festivities ended.

The winners in the juvenile races were – Percy Dibb, Nellie Taylor, H. Fensome, Elsie Buckingham, R. Littington, D. Hyde, Reggie Lane, Elsie Skinner, H. Smith, Dorothy Los.

The musical chairs winners included: Roderick Tew, Freddy Taylor, Kathleen Gunn, H. Scott, Albert Harradence, Wilfred Hawkins, Gladys Buckingham and W. Ward.

Winners of the skipping competition: Althea Goodwin, Annie Harradence, Doris Hyde, Teddy Little,, B. Broadley and Reggie Lane.

Tug-of-war (boys and girls): W. Woodham, C. Tuck, H. Newbery, J. Harmer, G. Fordham, R. Woods, M. Reed and G. Buckingham.

In the windmill race, Herbert Fensome, Doris Harmer, Teddy Ward and Nellie Taylor were the successful competitors.

Boys (over 14) race – A. Newbery, 2 J. Day, 3 J. Buckingham.

'Charlie Chaplin' race – Charlie Reed, Robert Crawford, Elsie Buckingham, Alan Smith.

'Capturing the Kaiser' – 1 L. Bowen (aged 10), 2 J. Golby (discharged soldier), 3 H. Pattison (16).

100 Yards Handicap for ex-servicemen and women: 1. A. E. Davis, 2 T. Hyde, 3 F. Bird.

The tug-of-war, Leagrave v Limbury and Biscot, was won by Leagrave – Messrs Hyde, Day, Dimmock, Osborne, Peck, Stokes, Chapman and Hull.

Winner of 'Distinguished Service' prize – Charlie Chaplin.

Other events were cancelled owing to the rain.

Leagrave Peace pages

  • Pages from the Leagrave and Limbury Peace Souvenir, including a roll of honour that does not tally with the names now on the war memorial in Marsh Road.

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.

Mayor Impey returns to Luton

The Mayor's statement headg

On July 26th, 1919, the Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph published a statement given by Mayor Henry Impey when, two days earlier, he had made his first trip back to Luton following the riots.

The statement had previously been published in a special edition of The Luton News on July 24th, following the afternoon visit by Henry Impey. The statement, volunteered by the Mayor to two representatives of The Luton News, said:

“I only went away for my wife's sake, and at the express desire of the Town Clerk and the Chief Constable. We got away on Sunday morning. My wife was stuck in the Town Hall until nearly 10 o'clock.

“I have been in touch with them by telephone all the time since then, and from the Town Clerk I have received a letter in which it was stated: 'The Council unanimously direct me to to convey to the Mayoress and yourself their sincere sympathy and great regret at the whole occurrence, and their fervent hope that you will soon recover from the shock and trouble that has fallen upon you'.

“I have telegrams from the Mayors of Bedford, Dunstable, Folkestone, Newcastle and other places, and letters from residents of the borough and no-residents, all expressing their sympathy.”

After mentioning that one letter contained a statement that people wrongly maligned in connection with the happenings in Luton would live through it as other wrongly maligned people had done at other times, the Mayor added that he was not staying in the town at present, He was returning immediately, in fact, as his wife would not consent to his coming down to Luton unless he promised to return.

Continuing his statement, Henry Impey said: “I wanted to speak to the crowd on Saturday afternoon. This was after the first riot, but the advice of my colleagues was against my going out to speak. They thought the crowd was not in a state to listen, and I thought perhaps there was some reason in that advice. But I was willing.

“I wrote on Sunday to say I should be back on Monday morning, if the Town Clerk and Chief Constable thought it advisable, but they thought I had better stop away a few more days, and I really was not fit to come.

“I do feel bad. After all one has done for one's town all one's life, and then for this to happen! My wife was in the Town Hall until just before it started burning, and naturally was in such a state that I had to get away with her. Some of my colleagues stuck by us like Britons.

“In a few days I may make a statement about other matters.”

With reference to his future movements, and in reply to a direct question as to where he proposed to stay in the immediate future, the Mayor said his movements in the next few days would depend on the health of the Mayoress, and that this was seriously affected by the happenings of the weekend.

It might be necessary for him to take the Mayoress away somewhere before he could give full attention to matters arising out of the rioting.

The Mayor also gave his story to The Luton Reporter while in Luton on Thursday, July 24th.

Mayor Impey's absence explained

[The Luton News: Thursday, July 31st, 1919]

Several matters of considerable public interest arose at a special meeting of the Luton Town Council on Tuesday evening, when the Mayor was again absent, and the Deputy Mayor was voted to the chair - “having regard to the nature of some of the business which was to be transacted”. An important statement relative to his Worship's departure and continued absence was made by the Town Clerk, who intimated for the first time in public that Councillor Impey left Luton on the morning of July 20th, on the advice of himself and the Chief Constable.

Another demonstration of Lady Wernher's generous interest in the borough was afforded by the announcement that her ladyship had intimated – in a letter which arrived at the Town Hall on the day before the Peace Celebration, and was with other papers destroyed by fire – that in order to celebrate peace she would present to the borough, free of charge, about 11 acres of land to be used as a permanent public recreation ground.

Further progress was made with the borough's housing scheme; and there was also a series of statements relative to matters arising from the recent riots, including that of the demolition of the Town Hall ruins.

A reassuring announcement, especially in view of present circumstances, was that of the intention of the Osram-Robertson Lamp Company Ltd to carry out their intention of erecting new factories in the district, provided a comparatively minor matter in regard to a new road proposed under the Council's housing and town planning scheme could be adjusted.



“I regret to say,” stated the Town Clerk, “that I have had this morning two letters from the Mayor. I do not think it is necessary to read them, but he is utterly incapable, owing to the state of his health, of coming here tonight, as he had intended, and as I had advised. He has sent me two doctors' certificates, and I do not think it is necessary to read those.

“I want to say here, for the first time in public, that the Mayor was strongly advised by myself – and I am sorry to put myself first, but I must in this case – by myself and the Chief Constable to leave Luton early on the Sunday morning; not for his own sake, but in order to avoid if possible any further disturbance of the public peace. I do not think it is generally known, but it will be known tomorrow, that I was at the Town Hall with the Chief Constable as long as it was possible to remain.

“We then went to the Police Station, where we remained until long after five o'clock in the morning. We saw all that was going on, we knew a great deal more than the wiseacres in the street, and therefore it was necessary for somebody to accept the grave responsibility of advising the Chief Magistrate of this borough. That responsibility we undertook.

“In addition we considered it was advisable, still in the interests of the public, to request the Mayor to remain away a few days longer. That accounts for the whole position, and I think it is desirable in everybody's interest that statement should be made at a proper time; and I consider the proper time is this evening. The Mayor, of course, received the letter of sympathy which I sent to him on your behalf, and it has given him some gratification and consolation.”



Pointing out that the Borough Seal had been partly destroyed by the fire, the Town Clerk said he could not quite understand what had happened. The top die was missing, and it would not burn. He had had considerable trouble getting part of the seal out of the ruins, and after some search it was discovered in debris which had been removed to the Highways Depot. The screw, which was also missing, would have been a very useful weapon for the rioters, but he did not know whether they found it or not.

The Corporation seal, said the Town Clerk, was the only visible sign of the Corporation's activities. A hand seal of a c rude pattern had escaped destruction and, although this would be inconvenient as it would be necessary to use wax, he asked te Council to authorise its use, for the time being, so that the expense of adding a new seal might not be incurred until further search had failed to discover the missing part of the original seal.

It was agreed that this course should be authorised.



At the two private meetings of the Council, said the Town Clerk, questions were asked as to legal proceedings being taken against the rioters, and a good deal of anxiety was expressed by members of the Council that every offender should be pursued with the utmost rigour, and made to feel the penalty of his actions. At that time he was afraid he was a little short in his answers, in order that the ends of justice should not be defeated.

“I am happy to tell you,” he said, “that tomorrow morning I propose to appear in this court, as representing the Crown, to take proceedings against 34 people who will have a good deal of trouble in explaining their actions on that occasion.

“That is not the end of the list. There may be more, and I presume it is the wish of the Council that I shall act on behalf of the police in conducting those prosecutions with al the force and power that I may be able to exert on that occasion. Personally I am determined to do the best I can.”



“At two o'clock on Sunday morning,” said the Town Clerk in a later statement, “as we were not getting on very fast with the military authorities, the suggestion was made to me that perhaps Mr Harmsworth [local MP] could help. I communicated with him by telephone, got him out of bed, and he went to the War Office and did everything he possibly could to assist us, I am not quite sure if he did not go a second time.

“We had the military forces by about 4.30. we don't quite know how they came, or by whose efforts, but I thought it was desirable on your behalf, when expressing your thanks to the Chief Constable, the Chief Officer of the Fire Brigade, and their men, that I should also acknowledge Mr Harmsworth's services, believing you wished me to do so.”

Mr Harmsworth's reply was then read. In this he said: “I am obliged to you for your letter of July 24th. I beg you will take an early opportunity to convey to the Council my high appreciation of the kind message they have sent to me through you.

“It is not necessary for me to assure the Council that I am at all times glad to be of service to them, and especially at such a dangerous crisis as this. I would ask them to accept my warm sympathy with them in their present difficulties and in the wholly unmerited discredit that has fallen on the town whose affairs they so devotedly administer.

“Permit me to take this opportunity to congratulate you and the Chief Constable on the energy, courage and resource that both of you displayed during the anxious and critical hours of Sunday.”



Alderman Wilkinson wanted the Council to express their disagreement with the estimate which the newspapers had published as to the amount of the damage done during the rioting. So far as he was awae the only figure which had been mentioned was £250,000, and in his judgment such a statement would have a bad effect on the financial stability of the town.

Those who were in a good position to judge would agree that was a very exaggerated figure indeed. It should be authoritatively denied, and another figure given. Leaving out of consideration the replacement value, he thought £60,000 would be a liberal estimate of the damage.

He knew that to replace the Town Hall with a building such as they had been imagining for years would mean a much bigger sum than he had stated, but he was speaking of the relative value if the buildings were replaced exactly as they were on the morning of the 19th.



Alderman Wilkinson also thought the Tolls Committee should take into consideration such steps as were necessary to pull down the ruins and erect a hoarding round the site.

Councillor Bone: “Alderman Wilkinson is amazed at the figure given - £250,000 damage. What will he say when I tell him a gentleman of some official standing showed me a newspaper cutting received from Scotland the other day in which they sympathised with Luton on riotous destruction to the extent of £2,500,000?”

Alderman Arnold considered Alderman Wilkinson's reference to this matter most opportune. The report which had gone abroad was likely to have a bad financial influence on the town, and he personally through the damage was much nearer £20,000 than even the estimate of £60,000.

The actual cost of the conglomeration of buildings which formed the Town Hall premises was nothing like £20,000.

To restore it today to its condition before it was interfered with by the rioters would cost considerably more than £20,000, he agreed, but he thought his figure of £20,000 was near the mark in assessing the actual damage which had been sustained.

Councillor Briggs also thought £60,000 was an outside estimate, and that half that amount would be well within the mark.

The Deputy Mayor [Councillor Charles Dillingham] said the cost of building a new Town Hall was no doubt considered when the amount was stated as £250,000, but as for the property destroyed £50,000 would more than cover it.

With reference to the suggestion that the ruins should be demolished, Councillor Chapman said there were a lot of valuable bricks in the ruins, and as there were men unemployed he thought they might be employed in cleaning them for sale.

Councillor Barford suggested that if this was done the Housing Committee should have the first offer.

It was agreed that the Tolls Committee should be empowered to pull down such portions as they considered advisable, and store the bricks. Also, that when a hoarding was put round the site no advertisements should be placed on it other than official announcements.



Two reports having reference to the rioting were presented by the Watch Committee. The first stated that at their meeting on July 20th the Town Clerk reported fully as to the riot on the 19th and 20th, and as to the requisitioning of the military and officers from other police forces.

The committee then resolved unanimously: (a) That the steps taken by the Town Clerk and Chief Constable be approved and confirmed, and that they take such further precautions as may, in their opinion, be necessary for the maintenance of the peace; (b) That the police from other forces be retained until further order; (c) The this Committee express to the Chief Constable, the members of the Police Force and the special constables, their high appreciation of the bravery which they displayed in performing their duty under dangerous and trying circumstances, and fighting against the overwhelming number of rioters, and their deep sympathy with the men who were injured in their efforts to quell the riot and maintain the King's Peace; (d) That this Committee also express their hearty thanks to the Medical Officer of Health for the prompt medical services which he rendered for a long number of hours in attending to the injured men, and also to Dr Seymour Lloyd, who came to his aid early on Sunday morning.”

After the meeting two days later the Chief Constable reported as to the number of police requisitioned from other districts, and the arrangements made for the accommodation and catering of all officers then under his control. The Committee approved the arrangements made, and authorised their continuance until further order.

Alderman Oakley, in moving the adoption of these reports, complimented the police on their conduct during the riot. Their conduct, he said, showed that they were fully alive to the danger surrounding them, but they did not sink from their duty.

All law-abiding citizens who saw their display on the Saturday and Sunday were very high in their praise of everyone concerned – not only the ordinary police force, but also the special co0nstables. The coolness and tact with which they went about their work when so overwhelmed by numbers of the roughest elements of the town did them credit.

The Medical Officer (Dr Archibald) and Dr Lloyd also worked for hours attending the injured in a manner which entitled them to the highest commendation.

The reports were adopted.



Alderman Arnold, Alderman Wilkinson and the Deputy Mayor were appointed as a special committee to make provision for the temporary accommodation of municipal departments previously housed at the Town Hall, and submitted a report as to the the arrangements which had been made.

They also reported that Mr W. G. Holyoak had been retained as valuer and assessor on behalf of the Council in connection with the claims made by Messrs S. Farmer & Co and Mr W. S. Clark for damage caused to their premises in the riot.

Some of the accommodation obtained is of a purely temporary character, and the three members of the Council mentioned, with the addition of Councillor Attwood, are to consider what further provision can be made. In this connection it was suggested by Councillor Attwood, who had examined the place with the Borough Surveyor, that it would be possible to put the Education Offices at the Town Hall in a condition fit for use at a moderate expense, if the work was done before weather damage resulted. This will be taken into consideration.

Mayor's mysterious leaving of Luton

Luton Union House 1906

  • Union House (pictured in 1906) - Henry Impey's overnight refuge before leaving Luton.

[The Luton Reporter: Tuesday, August 12th, 1919]

The whereabouts of the Mayor during his sojourn away from Luton under medical advice are being kept a close secret, but little by little there is leaking our another secret – the story of his mysterious departure from the town. It is not exactly what would be described as an illuminating story of heroics, but it is one that is bound to come out sooner or later, and we cannot conceive why it should be necessary to surround it with such an air of mystery.

That the story should have taken on something of the character of a serial is not our fault. We happen to have been on the right scent from the start, but it required something of the tactics of a Sherlock Holmes to establish without any possibility of contradiction that the Mayor and Mayoress found what little rest and sleep that memorable night of July 19th in some part of the Union House premises, and even then it was only by the merest chance that we gained a clue to the manner of their departure for their next haven of refuge.

A motor at the Union House somewhere about five or six o'clock in the morning – it would be just about the time the armed soldiers arrived from Bedford to take over from the police and the voluntary helpers in khaki from the Beech Hill Remount Depot temporary charge of the town – was enough to excite suspicion. It was raining torrents at the time, so it was clearly not intended for the purpose of a joy ride, and a lynx-eyes observer proves to have been correct in his surmise that it was for the Mayor and Mayoress.

Not that the motor was the Mayor's private car. It was quite the reverse of the type of vehicle one might have expected the civic head of an important borough to use, either for pleasure or for the steadying of shattered nerves.

The popular rumour that it was the police motor ambulance is altogether incorrect; on the contrary it was what one might, for the want of a better definition, describe as being in the nature of a motor van. And a strange sort of Mayoral party the accounts made up.

The Mayor had apparently recovered the use of the clothes he temporarily discarded before leaving the Town Hall as a special, but he had to borrow a hat. And it was not a silk 'topper,' but rather had the appearance of being something similar to what inmates of the house are sometimes seen wearing.

The Mayor and Mayoress were not alone but whether they were accompanied by friends or an escort in not quite clear, neither is the extent of their journey in the motor van. Everyone knows that Harringay was their destination, and there are varying stories of a greater or less part of the journey being made by either train or tram. We have an idea which is the correct version, but as we cannot definitely establish it we prefer to make no conjectures.

[In 1929, by then Chief Constable of Brighton and about to be elected President of the Chief Constables Association, Charles Griffin gave his story of how Henry Impey left Luton. Click here.]

Northants view of 'stupid' Luton

[Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph: August 2nd, 1919]

In a leading article on 'Peace and after,' the Northampton Independent says: “The peace celebrations passed off at Northampton with a subdued spirit that showed the futility of attempting to reproduce the exuberant relief of armistice day. A few gangs of irresponsible youths made it the excuse for rowdy revelry, but happily we were spared such outbreaks as have marred the fair fame of Luton, Coventry and Bilston, where rioting of an alarming character broke out.

“The sub-stratum of sanity among the people of Northampton is too strong to lead them to wanton acts of destruction, and we have cause to be thankful that local leaders of labour and of the discharged soldiers' organisations have a greater sense of responsibility for the welfare of the general public than the hotheads in other places where the outbreaks have occurred.

“The lesson of Luton is that we must realise that a new spirit is coming over England. Luton has lost her Town Hall because she was too stupid to see this, and she now bears the scarred emblem of her refusal to allow soldiers to hold a memorial service in the sacrosanct park simply because one had not been held there before.

“Let Luton's example be an omen for the rest of the country that the people are in no mood to allow precedents to stand in the way of common sense.”

Opening day of riot trials

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

List of riot defendants 30-7-1919The first act in the riot drama which has made Luton notorious at home and abroad, was played on 19th July and following nights. The second was begun at the Borough Court yesterday morning [July 30th] when 39 prisoners appeared before the justices – Mr R. S. Tomson (in the chair), Messrs C. H. Osborne, G. Ordish, F. Beecroft, W. J. Mair, F. J. Brown and W. Janes – to answer serious charges preferred against them in connection with the disturbances. Almost the whole of those men and women concerned were on remand in custody, and were brought to the police station under escort.

Some time before the proceedings were timed to commence, a large crowd of spectators assembled in Stuart Street and Dunstable Place, and there was a queue to gain admittance when the doors were opened. By this time, however, not a great deal of space was available, for the batch of prisoners occupied four rows of floor space, three sitting and one standing, whilst police officers were stationed at different points of the building in force.

The Town Clerk (Mr William Smith) conducted the case for the prosecution, and Messrs H. W. Lathom and C. Barber represented some of the persons involved. During the morning proceedings, it was intimated that 51 witnesses are to be called.

The charges were in the following terms in regard to the persons charged with rioting and assault on police and firemen: “At the Borough of Luton on 19th and 20th July, 1919, together with divers other evil disposed persons to the number of 1,000 and more, whose names are unknown, unlawfully and riotously did assemble and gather together to disturb the public peace and then unlawfully, riotously, routously and tumultuously did make a great noise, riot, tumult and disturbance, to the great terror and disturbance of His Majesty's subjects there being and residing, passing and re-passing; and, in respect of those charged with assault, and then and there unlawfully, riotously, routously and tumultuously assault, beat, wound and ill-treat one -----, against the peace, etc.”

The terms of the charge preferred for rioting and demolition of buildings were phrased as follows: “At the Borough of Luton on 19th and 20th July, 1919, together with divers other evil disposed persons to the number of 1,000 and more, whose names are unknown, then and there being riotously and tumultuously assembled together, to the disturbance of the public peace, feloniously did unlawfully and with force destroy a certain building there situate, to wit the Town Hall, belonging to the Borough of Luton, contrary to the Statute, etc.”

“At the Borough of Luton on 19th and 20th July, 1919, together with divers other evil disposed persons to the number of 1,000 and more, whose names are unknown, then and there being riotously and tumultuously assembled together, to the disturbance of the public peace, feloniously did unlawfully and with force damage a certain warehouse there situate of Chas Dillingham; shop there situate of S. Farmer & Co; shop there situate of Walter S. Clark; shop there situate of Chas Caspers; shop there situate of James N. Brown & Co Ltd (as the case may be).

[The list of defendants (right) shows the charges initially made against them. Many of the charges were later amended or elements of them dropped.]

Overlooked soldiers who helped quell riot

[The Luton Reporter: Tuesday, July 12th, 1919]

Both police and firemen have been paid a meed of official and public recognition which everyone agrees they richly deserve for their gallant and heroic conduct against overwhelming odds in connection with Luton's notorious peace rioting, but the soldiers have been entirely left out of it all, and many who noticed the salutary effect of the soldiers' intervention consider they have cause to feel aggrieved at what can only have been an unintentional oversight.

So far from being publicly given the credit which is their due for their part they voluntarily played, when afforded the opportunity of rendering assistance, in dispersing the crowd and thus enabling the fire brigade after hours of futile effort to divert their attention from the hostile mob to the burning Town Hall, some of the soldiers stationed in the town have had to put up with the odium of being branded in current gossip as being among the rioters who did the damage and actively resisted the forces of law and order.

That there may have been in the crowd men in khaki who individually took sides with the hooligan element and actively participated in one or other aspect of the rioting cannot be doubted frokm the stories of eye-witnesses, but it is due to the men of the Beech Hill Remount Depot, as a body, that such a stigma should be removed from them by the publication of a story we have gathered from absolutely reliable sources and had officially confirmed in many of its essential features.

It seems that just when things were beginning to assume a threatening aspect outside the Town Hall there arrived on the scene an officer in uniform, the son of a well-known townsman, who during the war rose from the ranks of the Artists' Rifles to become a lieutenant in the Royal Artillery. Taking in the situation at a glance, he straightway made for the Town Hall front and offered his services to the police defending the steps.

His presence was at first viewed with some suspicion by the men in blue, but noting he was an officer they accepted his bona fides, and he justified their confidence, not only by standing shoulder to shoulder with them in their battle against the mob, but also by recruiting to their aid two other men in khaki. These men, both from Biscot Camp, are claimed to have been the only two soldiers in the front of the crowd at that time, and both responded to the officer's call, and were sandwiched between police officers in the front line range up outside the Town Hall. When word was given for a charge they are stated to have played their part valiantly and well, although, like the officer, they had no truncheons and had to rely solely upon the resources provided by mother nature.

The story of the uneven struggle that was waged is common knowledge and can be skimmed over. When the Town Hall was well alight and the police were rendered practically powerless, the officer, having suffered the common lot of his comrades in the fight of sustaining injury, went along to the police station to secure protection of a truncheon, and this chance circumstance enabled him to be of further service. At this time the Chief Constable was still endeavouring to get outside assistance, and the difficulties experiences in this direction led to a suggestion that Biscot Camp should be tried.

The officer at once offered to act as a personal messenger, and this course being sanctioned, he sped off. Unfamiliarity with the local camps resulted in his arrival at Beech Hill Remount Depot instead of Biscot, but nevertheless the quest proved successful. The request for help had the practical sympathy of those in charge at the depot, the men were turned out and had the position explained to them and to a man they answered a call for volunteers.

They knew neither what they were in for or how long they would be required for duty, they were unarmed – not even a rifle was there among the lot – but the spirit of adventure was enough and merrily they swung off down Dunstable Road, lustily singing.

Going down Upper Goerge Street they opened out into formations of eights and attracted attention with a resonant chorus of “Are we downhearted?” and an even lustier “No”. The firemen at first suspected fresh trouble, and made ready to use the hose on them, but the presence of officers at the head assured them that the new arrivals were all right, and their progress was unhampered.

Quietly, and with perfect order they swung right across the front of the Town Hall and faced the crowd in a crescent formation, and immediately a change came over the whole scene. The number of the reinforcements was sufficient to command respect, and the crowd almost involuntarily began to press back, and the throwing of missiles ceased as suddenly as it had begun.

Within half an hour the mob ceased to be a source of difficulty, the crowd appreciably diminished, the fire brigade – as Chief Officer Andrew has said over and over again – were given their first chance, and there was not the slightest sign of any further trouble on through the night, the soldiers remaining at their post until the arrival of the armed Royal Engineers from Bedford.

Peace Day 1919 memorabilia

Communities across Britain celebrated Peace Day on July 19th, 1919. Here are three examples from the Wardown House Museum collection of programmes create to commemorate the day – from Luton, Leagrave/Limbury and Dunstable.

The various programmes are accessible in pdf format in the panel (top left). Also available are various scenes from Peace Day and its aftermath, and the August 23rd, 1919, report from the DS&S Journal of the ex-servicemen's sports day at Luton Hoo Park on August 16th..

Object Location: 

Luton Peace Day programme cover



Current Location: 

Wardown House Museum
Wardown Park
United Kingdom

Connects to: 

Most Relevant Date: 

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Peace Day at Dunstable

Dunstab le Peace programme

[Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph: July 22nd, 1919]

A wonderful spirit of camaraderie and happiness prevailed at Dunstable on Saturday, and not even the drizzling rain which set in during the afternoon could affect the cheeriness of the townspeople. They set out with a determination to make the peace celebrations a day of real enjoyment, and with pleasing unanimity of effort a harmonious programme, not marred with a single dissentient voice, was the result. Everybody had a really fine time, and there were no onlookers, for all participated in the day's proceedings in some form or other.

It has been said, one must admit, that Dunstable is rather inclined to be a quiet, sleepy town, and many jokes have been cracked in the county at the expense of the apparently unpretentious and go-as-you-please borough. Saturday, however, proved once again the wisdom of that time-old saying, referring to the unknown depth of still waters.

The town indeed underwent a startling and complete metamorphosis, and it ought to be placed on record that no gayer butterfly has ever emerged from what many have regarded as a sombre caterpillar. The broad High Street was beflagged and festooned with bunting and streamers; practically every house and shop was transformed into a brilliant patchwork of colours, uninteresting lamp posts were prettily camouflaged, and choicer decorations would have been hard to find.

Early morning saw the commencement of events, and half-past six brought with it a rousing reveille, blown all over the town with praiseworthy vigour by representatives from the Boy Scouts and Grammar School Cadets. A little later joy peals were rung from the Priory Church.

Very few were absent from the divine service on The Square which took place at 10am. No crowd in Dunstable has yet exceeded the size of that at the service, and there was no trace of that lack of religious atmosphere which, unfortunately, is so often noticeable in open-air gatherings.

Canon W. W. C. Baker, who conducted the service, said he thought everybody would agree that it was the right and proper thing to hold a divine service of thanksgiving. Following the service, a massed choir numbering between 200 and 300 gave a choral concert, accompanied by an orchestra.

A praiseworthy feature was the punctuality and grouping of the procession, which started at noon from Great Northern Road. It passed along by the Town Hall and then lined up outside the sports ground.

A luncheon for demobilised and serving soldiers was given at 1pm, and about 600 men sat down to an excellent spread. At the invitation of the men, the Mayor (Mr F. T. Garrett) and Canon W. W. WC. Baker (Priory Church), were present.

The Mayor said that he hoped they would look upon this feast as a token of the esteem in which they were held by the townspeople. Everybody was proud of what the men had done and they considered Peace Day was the most suitable time to show their gratitude.

He felt honoured to be their guest and proud of the record of the town. In Peace was well as in war Dunstable had given the county a lead. It had been a nation's fight and now they desired a nation's peace. If they were to progress there must be the same unity amongst them as that displayed in overcoming the military enemy. The commercial war which was falling on them must not be lost by antagonism between classes, or men would have fallen in vain for the country's ideals.

Mr T. Tilcock proposed a hearty vote of thanks to the Mayor, Corporation and the residents for the excellent way in which they had welcomed the returning soldiers. The servicemen had done their bit and nothing could give them greater pleasure than to know that their efforts had been appreciated.

In the afternoon an athletic sports meeting was held on Messrs Waterlow's sports ground, when an excellent and interesting series of events was submitted.

During an interval in the sports programme, the schoolchildren of Dunstable, numbering nearly 1,500, were given a splendid tea in marquees adjoining the sports ground, and the youngsters evidently had a most enjoyable time.

The rain fell rather heavily, but in spite of this there were a good number of dancers, and this went on merrily until the late evening. Then an informal procession, headed by the Dunstable Excelsior Band, went to the Downs and saw an excellent firework display.

A torchlight and lantern procession returned to the Town Hall, and the day's proceedings closed at midnight with tableaux and limelight effects on the balcony.


[Unlike in Luton, the Discharged Soldiers and Sailors Federation did take part in the Dunstable Peace Day procession, with their float “The Better 'Ole”. The Comrades of the Great War also took part, along with a detachment of the Beds Yeomanry. A captured German Howitzer and carriage were included in the parade too.]

Peace Day at Stopsley

Despite occasional drizzling showers in Stopsley during the day, the Committee of Management, among whom were Messrs F. K. Cain, W. Morsley, George Cain, A. Ward, J. Titchmarsh, A. T. Hucklesby and the Vicar [the Rev G. H. C. Shorting], are to be congratulated on the success of Saturday's Peace Celebrations, especially as one and all had worked very hard for several weeks to earn a happy day.

The Luton News (July 24th, 1919) reported that at noon quite a long procession, with flags flying, formed up near The Green and, as was only proper, the ex-servicemen, under the command of Sgt-Major Fred Peters, lately home from Palestine, took the post of honour as leaders to Mr Hugh Shaw's spacious meadow.

Mr Shaw deserves the thanks of the whole community, as he gave carte blanche in all arrangements necessary for the meals, and his large barn never saw a happier gathering than the youngsters formed for both tea and supper, for provisioning was plentiful. The soldiers and relatives of the fallen men were regaled with a hearty knife and fork tea.

A thanks offering service began the day, when the Vicar spoke to the large assemblage with great feeling, and especially telling were the references to the brave boys who never again will come home.

Sports were numerous, with over 200 entries. The single men were beaten by the married men at cricket.

Peace Day programme finalised

Peace Day programme 1919

The programme of peace celebrations for the Borough of Luton was submitted by the committee responsible at Tuesday's meeting of the Town Council, and approved subject to the reservation of one or two matters for further consideration, reported The Luton News (June 5th, 1919).

One of these was the possibility of having a special children's day at some time other than one of the official peace celebration days. It was agreed that it would be impossible to attempt to entertain them to tea except on a special day apart from the other celebrations, and, while the cost of such an entertainment will be considerable, the committee are to further consider whether it is practicable on another occasion, and how the necessary funds could best be raised.

One specially interesting statement was that, in order that the commemoration medal to be presented to the children should be worthy of the occasion and not a charge on the rates, Alderman Staddon and his co-directors of Messrs Vyse, Sons & Co have decided to be responsible for the cost and to spent £250 on this matter, instead of the £150 which the committee proposed to allocate for the purpose.


The Peace Celebration Committee submitted for approval the programme they have drawn up, and in doing so pointed out that in preparing the programme they were largely influenced by the limited sum at their disposal and also by the need for national and local economy. Their recommendations were:

Church service. The Council accepted an invitation to attend, in State, a Thanksgiving Service at the Wesleyan Church, Chapel Street, in the morning of Peace Day. The clergy are unable to take part in a combined service, as they intend to hold a service at each of their churches on the day.

Decorations and illuminations. The Town Hall and the space in front to be decorated; flags to be displayed at the Corn Exchange, Public Library and Wardown House; the Electricity and Tramways Committee to be desired to arrange, at the expense of the Electricity Undertaking, for the illumination of the of the front of the Town Hall, in addition to the special electric lamp which was used at the Armistice celebration; Luton Gas Company to be invited to illuminate the exterior of the Corn Exchange at their own expense; a powerful electric lamp to be hung over the suspension bridge at Wardown.

Procession. A procession to assemble at Luton Hoo Park (Lady Wernher having kindly given permission) and proceed, about 2pm, via Park Street, George Street, Manchester Street and New Bedford Road to Wardown Park, and there disperse. Scholars to assemble at the East Ward Recreation Ground and to form up in Park Street so as to join the procession on its arrival there.

The Council to contribute £30 towards the cost of the official car 'Peace Enthroned' which, at the Committee's request, Messrs R. H. Marks, B. Deacon, S. Horn, A. Staddon, A. Strange and F. Webdale have undertaken to provide and decorate at much greater expense.

The girl scholars in the procession to wear white dresses, sashes for the girls and hat-bands for the boys to be provided by the Council, at an estimated cost of £40.

Bands. The following bands to be engaged to play in the procession, and to perform in appointed places during the afternoon and evening – Red Cross (£30), Salvation Army Temple (£20), Salvation Army No II (£20), Central Mission (£10), Comrades of the Great War (£10), total £90. The band of the Volunteer Force has been disbanded and is therefore no available.

Medals. Each scholar attending the elementary schools (approximately 9,000) to be given a commemoration medal, the design to incorporate the borough arms and the following inscription: 'Borough of Luton. Celebration of Peace on conclusion of Great War, 1914-1919. Henry Impey, Mayor.” Estimated cost £150.

Sports. Sports to be held at Wardown during the afternoon and evening; the Council to pay £50 for the provision of prizes; Luton Town Cricket Club, Luton and District Cricket League and Luton United Harriers and Cycling Club have been asked to undertake the whole of the work in connection with the sports.

Entertainments etc. Arrangements to be made for the provision at Wardown Park of concerts, entertainments and dancing; and for a gymnastic display by scholars from the Modern School if the celebration is held before the close of the school session. The gravel field to be let for fairground amusements.

Fireworks. A £100 firework display at the north-west side of Pope's Meadow. The fireworks have been ordered, and the Mayor is inviting subscriptions to defray the cost. 'Flares' to be displayed at Hart Hill, London Road, the Downs and the People's Park.

Decorations by inhabitants. The Mayor to invite inhabitants to display flags and otherwise decorate their premises, especially on the procession route.

Banquet. A subscription banquet on the day after Peace Day. The Mayor intends to invite the Council, Chief Officers and others to be his guests, the remainder of the tickets to be sold.

Choral Society. A performance by the Luton Choral Society in the Parish Church in the evening of the day following Peace Day. This is a doubtful item if the celebrations take play in August week.



Decorated cars emblematic of war industry to be an important feature of the procession, and the following firms have already promised to provide cars – Hewlett & Blondeau Ltd, Frickers Metal Co Ltd, Skefko Ball Bearing Co Ltd, Commercial Cars Ltd, Vauxhall Motors Ltd, Thermo Electric Ore Reduction Corporation Ltd, T. Balmforth & Co Ltd, G. Kent Ltd, and Hayward Tyler & Co Ltd.

Other emblematic cars are: 'Peace Enthroned,' the official car, Messrs R. H. Marks, B. Deacon, S. Horn, A. Staddon, A. Strange and F. C. Webdale undertaking to provide it for the Corporation; 'The Dominions,' which the political clubs have agreed to provide; 'The Allies' (not yet arranged); 'Reconstruction,' under which title the Master Builders' Association have been asked to arrange a car dealing with housing; 'Child Welfare,' by the Child Welfare Workers; 'Commerce and Staple Industry,' by the Chamber of Commerce; 'Allotments,' by the Allotment Holders' Federation; and a car by the Tradesmen's Association.

Included in the procession, which will be marshalled by the Chief Constable, will be the bands and detachments of the Navy (48), Army (200), Air Force (48), YMCA (two parties of eight, one wearing some distinctive dress), special constables (20), WAAC (20), WRNVR (20), land girls (20), Boy Scouts (24), St John Ambulance; at the rear 600 schoolchildren, 24 boys and 24 girls attending from the Modern School and from each of the 14 elementary schools.



On February 18th, the Council voted a halfpenny rate (£545) for celebration purposes, and certain other sums will be receivable. The expenditure proposed in this programme was – official car £30, sashes and hat bands for scholars £40, bands £90, medals £150, prizes for sports £50, flares £4 5s. Total £364 5s.



The Luton and District Discharged Sailors' and Soldiers' Association, it was stated, had suggested that the celebration should be spread over two days, and that the second day's programme should be – special drumhead memorial service by combined clergy and ministers, and with massed choirs; assembly at 1.30pm on the Moor of all discharged, disabled and demobilised men and men still serving; procession and march-past to Luton Hoo; the several dormant funds held by the authorities to be utilised for the provision of a good substantial tea for the men, also entertainments; sports to be arranged and provision made for suitable after refreshments; firework display and torchlight procession.

As the funds for the local celebrations were limited, the committee regretted that they were unable to recommend the acceptance of this scheme, which would involve the expenditure of a considerable sum. For the same reason they were unable to recommend provision of a tea for the schoolchildren.



The Mayor moved that these arrangements should be approved and carried into effect on the days to be fixed by the Government for the celebration of peace. Councillor Barford seconded.

Councillor Briggs: “I notice that the Tradesmen's Association have been asked to provide a decorated car, and I should like to know whether the Co-operative Society have been approached to provide a similar car.” The Mayor: “Not that I am aware of.”

The Deputy Mayor (Councillor Dillingham) asked a question about the medal for schoolchildren. Alderman Staddon said that matter took longer to discuss than any other item in the programme.

In view of the fact that a medal was selected which was considered hardly worthy of the occasion – so much so that Alderman Arnold said at once he would rather spend £50 more and have a decent one – the matter was left over until this meeting.

Alderman Staddon said his own feeling was that a gift of this sort to the children would ill come to them as an expense out of the rates. These medals would go into the homes of thousands of people. A large proportion of the men of those homes had laid down their lives in the war.

He felt that this was a direction in which a commemorative gift should be provided gratuitously, and felt it so strongly that he consulted his co-directors of Messrs Vyse, Son & Co [hat manufacturers] on Monday morning. Very readily, and without a moment's hesitation, they had greed to provide the medals for all the children, and to contribute £100 more than was estimated would be required by the committee, making it £200 or thereabouts (applause).

He thought they were all anxious that if a medal was given it should be one which the children would be tempted to retain, and not discard and forget in a month or two. Therefore he would be very pleased on behalf of his directors to offer them to the Council, and he hoped on Thursday to procure something that would be appreciated by the children.

The Mayor said he thought the Council ought to accept this offer with very great thanks. The sub-committee dealing with the matter had selected the medal which best fitted the amount of money they expected to be able to spend, although they felt a better medal should be given, and there was no doubt the Council would have taken this latter course if no other provision had been made.

The Mayor moved that Messrs Vyse's offer should be accepted, and that the thanks of the Council should be tendered to them for this gift. Councillor Barford seconded, and said Messrs Vyse, through Alderman Staddon, had helped the committee out of a considerable difficulty.

The question of financing had been facing the committee constantly in preparing a suitable programme, and the generous offer which had been made for the greatest item of expenditure was one the Council would appreciate to the full. The motion was approved.

The Deputy Mayor then said he would move an amendment to the report, making the inscription on the medal: “Presented to the schoolchildren by Messrs Vyse, Sons & Co Ltd, of Luton and London.”

Alderman Staddon: “With the greatest respect and appreciation for Councillor Dillingham, we are not out for advertisement in this matter, and the only thing I suggest for the medal is the borough arms on one side, and what is suggested in the report for the other. It is purely a local matter, and not one to which we could in any way have our name attached.”



Councillor Hawkes was disappointed that the committee could not see their way to provide a tea for the children, and thought that now Alderman Staddon had made such a generous offer on behalf of his firm the Corporation should consider the possibility of a tea to mark an occasion which was never likely to occur again.

The Mayor: “I understand a tea would cost about £700. There are 9,000 or 10,000 children to provide for.”

Alderman Staddon said the children and the discharged sailors and soldiers were the two sections of the public which should have first consideration. The expenses of entertaining then had been carefully considered, and would amount to a very big sum, but if Luton Hoo Park could be secured on some other day near the Peace Celebrations for an entertainment for the children and the distribution of the medals, he felt sure the money would b forthcoming voluntarily, and without going on the rates at all.

It could not be done during the actual celebrations, because these celebrations would be going on everywhere, and it would be impossible to get caterers or entertainers from outside. They would have to rely purely on the capacity of local services to meet their requirements, and therefore could not undertake such an effort during the three peace days.

Alderman Arnold pointed out that the celebration was likely to take place during the school holidays, when the teachers would be away, and if catering was possible it would still be practically impossible to have such an entertainment at that time. He agreed, however, the committee should consider the possibility of having a separate entertainment for the children on some other day.

The Mayor, in putting the report, said some of them had recollections of a previous tea, and the great disappointment that was caused to hundreds of children in the huge gathering on that occasion. Now the gathering would be very much bigger still, and catering for 9,000 children would be a very big task. Perhaps in divided gatherings and with public subscriptions it might be possible later.

The report was adopted, subject to the reservation that the committee should further consider the question of a tea for the children, and to the omission of the provision of a sum for medals, and the substitution of a record that these were to be given by Messrs Vyse.

Alderman Oakley moved that Alderman Staddon should be thanked for his initiative in arranging this. Councillor Warren seconded, and it was agreed to.

Peace Day riots bits and pieces

Events in Luton on the afternoon of Peace day – prior to the evening violence - took a very similar form to what had happened at Doncaster, Yorks, on the previous Thursday night. The Saturday Telegraph (published a day early on July 18th) reported that, as a protest against the abandonment of a part of the Peace celebration programme there, a crowd of roughs had assembled in front of Doncaster Mansion House, where a charity ball was in progress, and broke a number of windows. The police charged the crowds, using their batons, and dispersed them. A police sergeant was struck with a stone and injured. A part of the crowd afterwards visited the Mayor's residence and broke several windows.


  • The Mace Bearer (Mr Rignall) was happy because of the fact that the town mace had been recovered from the debris at the Town Hall practically intact, though naturally somewhat scorched.


  • One of the Town Hall safes had been removed and opened, in the hope that the contents would be found intact. The heat of the conflagration, however, was so great as to destroy everything in the safe. Until the workmen have succeeded in getting the debris away from other safes, it was impossible to say whether their contents were in any better condition than those of the one already opened.


  • In the lower department of the Education Offices some furniture was undamaged, but this was practically all that remained of the building.


  • The first picture salvaged from the Town Hall fire was a photograph of the opening of Wardown, which hung in the small committee room next to the Mayor's Parlour.


  • Very few people in the town knew that in the basement of the Town Hall there was maintained a considerable store of tinned meat, held for the benefit of the town in the event of serious emergency. This store of meat had been destroyed by the heat. Some of it already examined was found to be badly charred.


  • Among articles unearthed from the safe in the Education Office at the Town Hall was a pocket Brownie camera, which Medical Officer of Health Dr Archibald had missed since he left on military service in September 1914, and it was unharmed by the fire.


  • Mr T. G. Hobbs had consulted various friends concerned in the photographic competition he inaugurated to form a peace souvenir. He decided to hand over the whole of the prize money, amounting to £20, to the Luton police who behaved so heroically.


  • To signalise appreciation of the gallantry and tact displayed by the Borough Police in the rioting, a collection among the townspeople and traders has been carried out by Messrs R. H. Marks and A. Staddon. The fund was closed yesterday [July 30th, 1919] and the promoters (who met with not a single refusal from anyone approached) have raised over £250.


  • “I think Luton has reason to be proud of Chief Fire Officer Andrew and the Fire Brigade,” was the opinion repeatedly expressed by the Deputy Mayor (Councillor C. Dillingham). As a mark of his appreciation for the efforts of the Brigade he announced his intention of giving the Brigade the sum of £100 for division among the members.


  • Mr Cecil Harmsworth MP motored into the town from London on the Sunday morning following the worst night of riots, and made sympathetic inquiries as to the police and other persons injured in the disturbance.


  • Dr William Archibald, Medical Officer of Health and police surgeon, who attended the injured between 11pm on Peace Day and 5.30 the follow (Sunday) morning said a total number of 84 people had been listed as injured. They included 43 Luton police officers, two Herts police officers, 10 special constables, 15 firemen and 14 civilians.


  • Among the records destroyed in the Town Hall fire were irreplaceable details of between 8,000 and 9,000 Lutonians who served in the Army, Navy and Air Force during the war. The records were to be compiled into a hopefully complete town Roll of Honour of WW1 ex-servicemen.


  • Destruction of the Town Hall included the loss of the clock erected on the frontage of the building in August 1856 to commemorate peace at the end of the Crimean War. Some numerals from the clock face are now on display at Wardown House Museum.


  • The key to the front door of the Town Hall disappeared following the riots. It was finally returned in 1975 and is now kept at Wardown House Museum.


  • Hairdresser Carl Caspers, of 4 Bute Street, said more than 100 umbrellas had been lost from his shop during the riots. John Dunning Reid, manager of Brown's shoe shop at 9 Manchester Street, revealed that boots valued at £128 9s 9d were taken during the riots on Saturday and Sunday.


  • One of the sequels to the burning down of Luton's Town Hall was great congestion at Bedford Prison, said the Bedford Recorder newspaper. The county gaol had great difficulty in finding accommodation for all the men against whom charges arising out of the peace day riots at Luton had been preferred.


  • The Hitchin and District branch of the Soldiers' Federation has issued a manifesto, signed by Mr A. W. Day (Chairman), contradicting a persistent rumour in the district to the effect that the branch intended to follow the example of the rough element at Luton and set fire to Hitchin Town Hall. On behalf of the Executive, the Chairman says he will be glad to receive information that would bring the instigators of the lying rumour to book.


  • Macdonald Odell, a Luton youth, was fined 30 shillings at Bedford Petty Sessions on August 7th, 1919, for being drunk and disorderly and using obscene language on the Midland Railway station at Bedford. When cautioned by a police officer he said: "You go away. We burnt the ----- Town Hall down in Luton."


  • Although the most dangerous parts of the destroyed Town Hall were demolished within days of the riots, it was not until 1934 that large parts of the ruins were removed and the site cleared to allow work to start early in 1935 on the building of the present Town Hall, opened by the Duke of Kent on October 28th, 1936.


  • There was perhaps some irony in the titles of films being shown in Luton at the time of riots, notably at the Gordon Street cinema which was showing 'Ashes of Hope'. The Wellington Street cinema was showing Charlie Chaplin's 'The Divine Sacrifice' and the Park Street cinema was showing 'The Bully Who Paid'.


  • In a list published in The Times of the most serious fires in the United Kingdon during the month of July 1919, Luton's Town Hall outbreak was placed second in the amount of damage sustained - £100,000. The Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph (August 9th, 1919) said that estimate presumably took no account of valuable documents that had been lost.


Peace Day riots cases, part 1

Prosecutions list 2-8-1919

Estimates put the crowds in George Street and surrounding roads at up to 10,000 during the Peace Day celebrations in Luton and their fiery aftermath. Of those, just 39 were destined to appear in court for offences related to the disturbances.

And of those 39, 11 (seven women and four men) were considered to have not contributed to the worst elements of the riots by being involved in most cases in less violent offences of looting and receiving stolen goods. These were sentenced by Luton magistrates in cases heard between between July 30th and August 2nd, 1919. The remainder were required to be sent for trial at Beds Assizes for their cases to be heard by a Judge and jury the following October, most of those being remanded in custody.

Reproduced above is the official court sheet (now held at Wardown House Museum) of the results of the magistrates' hearings.

Meanwhile, the Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph of August 2nd, 1919, devoted three of its eight pages to the magistrates court hearing. These are reproduced below.

Saturday Telegraph riots1

Saturday Telegraph riots2

Saturday Telegraph riots3

Peace Day trial: Ada Andrews

Ada Andrews, aged 23, wife of a Portsmouth gun wharf engineer but whose mother lived at 45 Cobden Street, Luton, first appeared before magistrates on Friday, July 25th, 1919, and was remanded in custody until the following Wednesday, charged with rioting stealing toilet requisites, value 32s 6d, the property of chemist Mr Walter S. Clark.

Her case was finally dealt with by magistrates on Friday, August 1st, when Town Clerk William Smith said that, having regard to the suspense and mental strain suffered by two of the women who were charged with rioting and larceny, he had decided to take the responsibility of dropping the rioting allegations, so that the prisoners might be dealt with summarily.

Ada Andrews, who pleaded guilty to having stolen toilet requisites valued at 32s 6d from the shop of Mr Clark, was fined 40 shillings, or 14 days. The Bench said the decision arrived at had taken into consideration the number of days she had already spent in prison.

Det-Sgt Arthur Bacon, said he found the articles in an attache case in the front room of the house where she was staying. When asked to account for their possession, she said: “I was standing in a chemist's shop doorway at the bottom of Wellington Street when a man brought these things to me out of the shop. I don't know who he was.”

Mr H. W. Lathom, defending, said Andrews had come to Luton from Portsmouth, where her husband was living, to attend to her mother in illness. She happened to be out in the town on the fateful night.

Her husband had travelled to Luton for his wife's trial.

Peace Day trial: Amos Gooch

Amos Gooch, aged 38, straw hat blocker, of 22 St Ann's Road, Luton, first appeared before magistrates on Wednesday, July 23rd, 1919, when he was remanded in custody for a week charged with rioting and stealing a quantity of toilet requisites, value 4s 3d, the property of Carl Caspers [hairdresser, 4 Bute Street].

Luton magistrates on August 1st, 1919, were told that Mr Caspers was a German by birth whose application for naturalisation was held up owing to the war. He came to England in 1884, and commenced business in Luton as a hairdresser in 1892. He married an English woman and had five daughters and one son. The son had fought for England in the war, and one of his daughters had lost a husband, an officer, in the war. He now carried on business as a hairdresser and umbrella manufacturer in Bute Street.

On Saturday and Sunday [July 19th and 20th] he was absent from Luton. In the windows of his shop on Friday night there were umbrellas, sticks, bottles of perfume and other toilet requisites, and similar goods were also in the back part of the shop behind the counter. The value of the stock in the shop on Friday night was £160.

All the glass windows in the front of his premises were smashed when he returned to Luton on Monday – the plate glass windows, the door and a glass showcase in the door, and the whole of the stock had disappeared.

The hairdressing room at the back was not smashed, but all the articles used in the business (razors, scissors etc) were stolen. It had been estimated that it would cost £40 to replace the glass alone. He identified certain articles produced as those taken from his shop.

In conclusion, he stated that, although he was a German, he had always conducted himself loyally towards the British throne, and had never been guilty of anything which might have caused animus against him.

At this stage it was intimated that the charge of rioting would be withdrawn against Gooch, and Mr Barber, who appeared for the defendant, said that in the circumstances he would plead guilty to the larceny charge, accepting the evidence given by Det-Sgt Bacon in the case against Ellen Gilbert, and the statements made by her to the police officer.

The Town Clerk pointed out that although he did not allege any specific action against Gooch in taking an active part in the rioting, he was proved, and had acknowledged himself, to be in possession of articles from the demolished premises. He submitted the magistrates could not deal with this case in anything like the manner in which they had dealt with the women.

The man [Gooch] was well known to the police, and his history, so far as concerned the Courts, commenced in 1900, and offences for which he had been punished included cases of drunk and disorderly, obscene language, obstructing the highway etc.

The reason he [the Town Clerk] had taken the course he had was that since 1914 (when he was last before the Court), Gooch had either behaved himself, or the police had been lax. He was always anxious to give a man an opportunity of continuing his reformation.

Mr Barber said that after all that had been said of the good work of the police, there was no question of their having been lax. The man Gooch had legitimately striven to reform, and had succeeded.

In 1914, like every decent man, Gooch had repeatedly volunteered for service with the Forces, but was rejected. It was not until late in the war that he was accepted for service, and when discharged he had been given a very good character by his superior officers.

He asked the Bench to deal with Gooch mercifully in view of his reformation. The magistrates retired, but were not long absent, the Chairman announcing on their return that, in view of his attempts to lead a new life, Gooch would be fined £5 or one month, and he would also be bound over to keep the peace for 12 months.

Peace Day trial: Bertha Field

Bertha Field, aged 47, a machinist, of 39 Duke Street, Luton, first appeared before magistrates on Friday, July 25th, 1919, and was remanded in custody until the following Wednesday, charged with stealing face wax, Mellin's Food and a book, total value 13 shillings, the property of chemist Mr Walter S. Clark, 81 George Street.

Her case was finally dealt with by magistrates on Friday, August 1st, when Town Clerk William Smith said that, having regard to the suspense and mental strain suffered by two of the women who were charged with rioting and larceny, he had decided to take the responsibility of dropping the rioting allegations, so that the prisoners might be dealt with summarily.

Bertha Field pleaded guilty and was fined 40 shillings, or 14 days. The Bench said the decision arrived at had taken into consideration the number of days the defendant had already spent in prison.

Two civilian witnesses – young women – gave evidence of having been given articles by Bertha Field on the Sunday morning. One was given a bottle of Mellin's Food for her baby, and the other was given a box of face wax.

The Clerk (to the witness who had received the face wax): “Can you suggest why she should make you a present like that?” - “No, sir.”

The Clerk: “Well, she's hardly the kind of woman in a position to make you a present of face wax. You ought to have thought how she came by it.”

Pc Horace Frost said shen he first saw Betha Field she said: “I have nothing in my house not belonging to me,” but when questioned concerning the face wax, she said: “I was at the bottom of Wellington Street when someone gave me two boxes of face wax, a bottle of Mellin's Food and a book out of the chemist's shop. I took then and gave them away.”

Bail was opposed by the Chief Constable at the July 25th hearing, but later he stated that after consulting other police officers he would withdraw his opposition. Prisoner's husband was bound over to being her up the following Wednesday, and the woman had left the court in a semi-collapsed state.

Peace Day trial: Ellen Gilbert

Ellen Gilbert, aged 37, married, hat machinist, of 11 New Street, Luton, first appeared before magistrates on Wednesday, July 23rd, 1919, and was remanded in custody for a week charged with receiving toilet requisites valued at 4s 3d, the property of Carl Caspers [Bute Street], from Amos Gooch, who had been charged with stealing them.

Her case was finally dealt with by magistrates on Friday, August 1st, when Town Clerk William Smith said that, having regard to the suspense and mental strain suffered by two of the women who were charged with rioting and larceny, he had decided to take the responsibility of dropping the rioting allegations, so that the prisoners might be dealt with summarily.

Ellen Gilbert was fined £3, or 21 days. The Bench said the decision arrived at had taken into consideration the number of days the defendant had already spent in prison.

Det-Sgt Arthur Bacon said that when he first approached Ellen Gilbert with regard to the stolen articles, she denied she had any. He then said: “What about the perfume you have got?” and she replied: “Well, I have got one bottle.” Witness eventually recovered the bottles.

The defendant also made a statement about the prisoner Gooch, and said: “He must have fetched them from one of the shops.” When Det-Sgt Bacon saw Gooch in the presence of Ellen Gilbert at the police station, Gooch said: “I found them in Bute Street outside Caspers' shop, when they were smashing the windows.”

[Ellen Gilbert was the mother of another defendant, Emily Gilbert.]


Peace Day trial: Emily Tilcock

Emily Tilcock, aged 49, a straw worker,of 3 New Street, Luton, first appeared before magistrates on Wednesday, July 23rd, 1919, and was remanded in custody for a week charged with stealing three odd slippers, value 7s 6d, between 19th and 20th July, the property of James Neve Brown [J. N. Brown & Co, boot and shoe merchant, 9 Manchester Street].

Her case was finally dealt with by magistrates on Friday, August 1st, when Town Clerk William Smith said that, having regard to the suspense and mental strain suffered by two of the women who were charged with rioting and larceny, he had decided to take the responsibility of dropping the rioting allegations, so that the prisoners might be dealt with summarily.

The manager of the shoe shop told magistrates on August 1st that three out of the four windows of the shop were smashed, and the majority of the articles – boots, shoes and slippers etc were missing. The articles produced in court (one large and two small slippers) belonged to Messrs Brown, and were valued at 7s 6d.

Det-Sgt Arthur Bacon, who saw the prisoner at her home and told her he had a warrant to search the house, said she denied that she had anything there that did not belong to her. The large slipper he subsequently discovered in a cupboard in the kitchen, and the woman said she did not know how it came there. She also said she knew nothing about the other slippers which were found in the front room.

She subsequently said, however, that she found them in the streets “when it was pouring with rain,” and when witness remarked that they did not show any signs of having been in the wet, she stated that a man threw them at her in Manchester Street, adding: “We were not rioting; we were having some fun.”

Mr Lathom, on behalf of the prisoner, pleaded guilty. He said he would ask the magistrates to deal with Tilcock under the Probationers' Act. She had already suffered ten days' imprisonment, and that alone was very heavy punishment for a woman of hitherto unblemished character.

The magistrates fined Emily Tilcock 30 shillings, with an alternative of 14 days in prison. The Bench said the decision arrived at had taken into consideration the number of days the defendant had already spent in prison.

Peace Day trial: George Saunders

George Saunders, aged 30, Laporte dye works labourer, of 23 York Street, Luton, was charged that: “On the 19th July 1919, together with divers other persons to the number of one thousand or more unlawfully and riotously did assemble to disturb the public peace, and then did make a riot and disturbance to the terror and alarm of His Majesty’s subjects there being, and against the Peace of Our Sovereign Lord and King, his Crown and Dignity.”

Appearing before magistrates in Luton on August 2nd, 1919, George Saunders was said by Sgt John Matsell to have shouted: “Let's fetch 'em out,” and joined hands with a number of other men and tries to rush the Town Hall. Sgt Matsell pushed him back.

Prisoner: “When he pushed me back I was off home.” The Clerk (William Austin): “You had enough of it?” Witness: “Yes.”

The Town Clerk (William Smith): “Up to the present we have had no difficulty, but in this case I withdraw the charge.”

Chairman of the Bench to prisoner: “Fortunately for you the Town Clerk has withdrawn the charge. The reason is that you went away when told. You will, however, be bound over to keep the peace for 12 months. The bond will be £10.”


Peace Day trial: Husband and wife fined

Ellen Louisa Goodridge, aged 34, a cleaner, and her husband Edgar Cecil Goodridge, aged 39, an electrician, of 63 Collingdon Street, Luton, appeared before magistrates on July 25th, 1919, jointly charged with stealing a gramophone, value £8 8s, the property of S. Farmer & Co, between 19th and 20th July. They were bailed jointly in the sum of £20 to appear again the following Wednesday.

At a hearing on August 1st, 1919, evidence that Mrssrs Farmer's shop was broken into on the night of the riot was given by an employee, who said the gramophone in the case was one of several missed from the shop. It was valued at eight guineas.

Det-Sgt Arthur Bacon said that when he asked Mrs Goodridge where the gramophone was, she replied: “In the front room,” adding, “I found it in Manchester Street last Saturday night.” She stated that she saw a man carrying it in Manchester Street, and he threw it down, saying: “I am not going to carry it any further.”

In consequence of a further statement Det-Sgt Bacon took both the husband and wife into custody, and whilst they were together at the police station, witness said to the husband: “Your wife says that on 19th July you both went into Farmer's shop and saw a gramophone on the floor. She also says: 'I picked it up, and we both took it home'.

“The husband in his reply admitted that they both went into the shop together, and were separated, and that he later saw his wife in the crowd and said: 'What have you got?' She answered: 'Something for the boy'. The wife then said to the husband: 'You were with me when I picked it up'.”

The prisoners were then charged. The husband at first pleaded not guilty, but on the advice of Mr Lathom withdrew this for one of guilty. The wife also pleaded guilty.

In court, Mr Lathom said it was a first offence for both. The wife had acted very foolishly, and the husband had covered her action afterwards It was not for him to adjudge the blame as between husband and wife.

They would have to suffer for what they had done, but he asked the magistrates to deal with their case mercifully.

They were each fined £5, or face a month in prison.

Peace Day trial: Rose Winifred Bacon

Rose Winifred Bacon, aged 21, of 28 New Street, Luton, and an employee at Hubbard's dye works, first appeared before magistrates on Wednesday, July 23rd, 1919, and was remanded in custody for a week charged with larceny of scent and books, value 10s 6d, the property of Walter Clark [chemist, 83 George Street] and perfume, value 12s 6d, the property of Carl Caspers [hairdresser, 4 Bute Street].

Her case was finally dealt with by magistrates on Friday, August 1st, when Town Clerk William Smith said that, having regard to the suspense and mental strain suffered by two of the women who were charged with rioting and larceny, he had decided to take the responsibility of dropping the rioting allegations, so that the prisoners might be dealt with summarily.

Rose Winifred Bacon was fined 25 shillings in each case, or 10 days. The Bench said the decision arrived at had taken into consideration the number of days the defendant had already spent in prison.

Det-Sgt Arthur Bacon said Rose Winifred Bacon denied having anything until she was questioned about a bottle of scent. Then she said her mother had broken it, and that there was nothing else in the house which was stolen. There were two books on the table, and when asked “What about those books?” she said they were given to her by a soldier.

On searching the house witness found the bottle of scent upstairs after prisoner had tried to conceal it by her coat.

Prisoner: “They were given to me at the bottom of Wellington Street on Saturday night.”

The Town Clerk: “There were a good many generous people about that night”. Witness: “Yes, sir!”


Peace Day trial: Walter Wells

Walter Wells, aged 52, a labourer, of 15 Mill Street, Luton, first appeared before magistrates on Tuesday, July 29th, 1919, charged with riot, damaged to a boot shop and stealing two pairs of boots from the Manchester Street shop of James Neve Brown. He was remanded in custody.

In court on August 1, the riot and damage charges had been dropped. Det-Sgt Arthur Bacon said that, in consequence of certain information, he obtained a warrant to search prisoner's home. Later he saw prisoner at a local dye works and asked him where the boots that he took from Brown's shop in the night of the fire were.

After denying the allegation, accused admitted that he took two boots and found one was brown and the other black. He took them back and took another pair, size seven. He put them under the copper at home and burned them next morning.

Mr H. W. Lathom, for the defence, said his client had never had anything against him. His wife was very ill through worry.

Anybody might have been led away in the excitement. If Wells had given the boots back he might have been let off. He was very sorry for his folly.

Wells was fined £5 and ordered to pay £1 8s 6d for the boots and 15 shillings court costs.

Peace Day trouble renewed

Town Hall burning

  • Illustration by Hope Harris from the James Dyer/John Dony/Frank Stygall book, The Story of Luton (White Crescent Press).

[From the Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph: July 22nd, 1919]

During the late afternoon and early evening of Saturday, July 19th, 1919, a revival of the trouble being feared, efforts were made by the local authorities to enlist police aid from London, but without avail.

The Mayor and members of the Corporation, with the officials, collected some of the most important documents at the Town Hall, and these were locked in the safes as a precautionary measure. A large body of police, regular and special, were also on duty inside the building.

The crowd had never actually dispersed, and towards nine o'clock was being added to in great measure almost every minute, though a huge concourse had assembled at pope's Meadow to witness the firework display.

Somewhere between 10 and 11 pm a large and determined mob arrived, armed with bricks, hammers and other weapons. Though there was a good deal of noise, no real attempt at damage appears to have been made until the lighting of the giant Dover flares at each end of the town – People's Park, Hart Hill, London Road and the back of the Downs – lit the whole district as though it were day.

Immediately, as though by a pre-arranged signal, a fusilade of bricks and other missiles was rained upon the Town Hall, and the windows were smashed with great rapidity. Rushes were made for the building, but the entrance was barred by the police, who contented themselves at this point with merely keeping intruders outside.

Efforts were made on several occasions to fire the Town Hall, but as and when they occurred they were dealt with by the police inside the building. The doors and windows of the Food Office, on the Manchester Street corner, were completely wrecked, but Insp Janes and his comrades repeatedly ejected from the room men who had gained entry and were endeavouring to fire the place.

A grim silhouette effect seen hereabouts was that of a man in the corner of the Town Clerk's department, piling up papers and books with which to start a blaze. Eventually one was started on the Manchester Street corner, but prior to this the police – unable any longer to deal with the situation by the method of least resistance – drew their batons and charged the crowd, who then retreated some distance.

The Fire Brigade arrived on the scene via Guildford Street, but were immediately surrounded by the hostile elements and were prevented from attacking the flames owing to the fact that their hose-pipes were severed in all directions.

The shop of [pharmaceutical chemist] Mr W. S. Clark, at the corner of Wellington Street, had by this time been smashed in and part of its contents looted; but mainly the ringleaders contented themselves with taking the owner's stock of glass bottles in order to strengthen their supply of 'ammunition'.

In addition, the Herts Motors garage was burst open and tins of petrol were seized to feed the fires. Weakened by their long and continuous effort to maintain the property intact, and by the loss of many of their number who had been put out of action by close contact and also the rain of missiles, the police and firemen were practically powerless, and a short time after midnight – the tolling of which had been vigorously acclaimed by the crowd – the fire got really started in the Town Clerk's department and in the Food Office.

Men could be seen hurling into the room all sorts of inflammable material – pieces of broken window frames, doors, etc – which they could obtain. The outbreak once having actually been started, was fed by fireworks and petrol until it had obtained a complete hold on that corner.

Great tongues of spirit – bluish and almost wicked in appearance – shot from the upper and lower windows. Chief Officer Andrew and his men again got a stream of water on to the front of the building, but this quickly ceased owing to the hose again being cut.

The Chief Officer had, by this time, lost several of his men, owing to the attentions of the crowd, and he deceived the wild elements by withdrawing his motor from the scene. A rush was made to wreck the machine by damaging the radiator, and the Chief received a heavy blow, but his helmet saved him from injury.

Having reinforced his fire crew by volunteer help, Mr Andrew loaded up the fresh supplies of hose and returned to the vicinity of the Town Hall by a devious route. He got a length of hose fixed from a hydrant in Dunstable Place, but when, with the aid of special constables and civilians (among whom, we understand, were members of the Comrades of the Great War), the nozzle was run down to near the blazing building, a rush was made to collar the hose.

The attention of the crowd being concentrated on this matter, the Brigade were able to get a second line of hose going, the connection being made in a few seconds.

It was then the rescuers commenced to get the upper hand, for with very powerful crossed jets of water, at high pressure, the firemen swept the entrance to Upper George Street in machine gun fashion, kept back the men who tried to rush the path (several being knocked clean off their feet), and attacked the flames in earnest.

It was apparent that the main structure was doomed, and principal attention was devoted to the adjoining property. In their efforts in this direction they met with considerable success, for at one time it seemed highly probable that the whole of the block of buildings back to Gordon Street might be involved. This danger was happily averted, and the flames were prevented from spreading beyond the principal set of buildings.

The Food Office was completely gutted, and the situation there was such that on Monday morning it was necessary to demolish the outer walls at the corner in the interests of public safety. At one time on Saturday night, before the fire had gained firm hold, there was a big shower of coupons and other literature thrown out from the window.

From this point onwards the crowd was somewhat less bellicose in its attitude towards the firefighters and police, but the grim carnival was carried to extreme limits.

Messrs Far & Co's piano warehouse was broken into and the instruments dragged into the street. To the tune of 'Keep the Home Fires Burning' the wilder element of the huge gathering danced and sang, some even mounting a grand piano for he purpose.

All this time the Brigade maintained its attack on the blaze, the hydrants and hose being guarded by special constables, though the force was sadly depleted owing to the number of men who had been injured and removed to the police station and to the Bute Hospital. Mrs Griffin [the Chief Constable's wife] and others rendered yeoman service in this direction, and the motor ambulance was kept regularly employed.

At three o'clock, permission having been gained for the assistance of troops to be called in, a body of the Royal Field Artillery from Biscot Camp, marching eight abreast, swung down Upper George Street, singing gaily as they came.

At the sight of khaki the crowd seemed to fade away, and with a cordon of troops drawn round the Town Hall, Chief Officer Andrew was able to get down to the task of obtaining control of the outbreak.

The arrival of the R.F.A. was too late to prevent the damage and looting of the premises of confectioner Mr G. Payne and boot and shoe dealer Messrs Brown in Manchester Street. By the light of the burning pile, chocolate and sweets were distributed broadcast among the people by those who had entered the former shop [No 5 Manchester Street], whilst at the Messrs J. N. Brown & Co [9 Manchester Street] establishment many took advantage of the opportunity to secure a new pair of boots without payment.

Finally a section of the crowd visited the shop of Mr Caspers, hairdresser in Bute Street and, having smashed the windows, looted the umbrellas which formed a portion of his stock; whilst a brick was also thrown through a window at the shop of straw hat materials merchant Mr H. Stern, on the opposite side of the road.

It was five o'clock before the special constables were able to be released, and the regular police still fit for service remained at their posts until they could be replaced by officers drawn from outside areas.

Early on Sunday morning, a very large body of troops were marched in from Bedford and took charge of the centre of the town. They were wearing full active service kits, including steel helmets; and although there was a very large crowd near the spot all day – despite the heavy rain which fell – the cordon was more than strong enough to secure that the firemen continued their work on the smouldering embers without the least of interference.

Peace Day: First signs of trouble

Riot rescue

[From the Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph: July 22nd, 1919]

The first sign that there was the likelihood of trouble was when the procession reached the Town Hall. A detachment representing the Comrades of the Great War was heading the column, and a halt was called in front of the Town Hall.

The Mayor, wearing his robes and chain of office, came to the edge of the pavement and proceeded to read the King's Peace Proclamation and briefly to address the discharged men. He was accompanied by several members of the Corporation, and his appearance was the signal for a hostile demonstration on the past of the crowd, cheering being turned into jeering.

This was repeated a little later when the Red Cross detachment of the column reached the Town Hall. His Worship again read the Proclamation and was hooted by an element of the spectators while doing so.

The procession moved off finally, and after the units had gone past on the way to Wardown, the civic party returned to the Town Hall. The attitude of the crowd had by this time assumed a distinctly ugly character, and as a precautionary measure Police Sgt Matsell and three constables took up a position on the steps.

There were loud cries for the Mayor, and a section of the spectators advanced and demanded that his Worship and the Town Clerk should come to the front and give explanations of the Corporation's decision in regard to Wardown. The request was not acceded to, and a move was made in the direction of the doors.

Pc Sear was on the opposite side of the road, near the Free Library, and he made an effort to get to the assistance of his colleagues. He was collared by the crowd, who bore him in the direction of Guildford Street. Sgt Matsell them left his post to go to the aid of the constable, and on reaching him found that his helmet had been knocked off with a blow from a stick and that the young officer was in considerable danger.

Relating this experience later in the day, Sgt Matsell said: “I asked them what they meant by treating in such fashion a man who had served with Luton men in the 1/5th Bedfords and had just come back after doing his bit in Gallipoli and elsewhere. This had an immediate effect, and the crowd released him.”

The pair then made their way back again to the Town Hall, but the temporary absence of the sergeant had weakened the police resistance, and at length – overpowered by sheer weight of numbers – the police were rushed and the doors forced open.

The object of the crowd which streamed into the building seemed to be the Assembly Room, in which Monday night's banquet was to be held. They swarmed upstairs and found a table or two set out for tea, presumably for the civic party.

Immediately they commended to wreck the furniture, and the suggestion was made that the whole of the tables and chairs should be thrown through the windows into the street. “We'll give 'em banquet,” was the chorus.

A few chairs were pitched on to the pavement below, some windows being broken in the process, whilst a missile of some kind was hurled through one of the windows in the Town Clerk's office.

At this point Sgt Matsell again rendered highly valuable service, exhorting the men to remember that innocent women and children were in the crowd below, who stood a serious risk of injury if the furniture were thrown out. This appeal was endorsed by some of the men, and the wrecking was afterwards confined to the room itself.

Some of the intruders then got on to the balcony and proceeded to tear down all the bunting and decorations, as well as the framework of the electrical illumination scheme erected the previous day. The flags were quickly seized by he crowd, and torn into small pieces, whilst the wooden framing was similarly smashed.

An urgent message had been sent to Wardown for police reinforcements, and the arrival of the Chief Constable [Mr Charles Griffin] and other mounted men, and Insp F. Janes and a party in a motor car, was the first intimation to many people in New Bedford Road and Manchester Street that anything untoward was occurring.

A Royal Marine climbed the tram-pole standard in front of the Town Hall and, amid noisy excitement, cut away the streamers of flags attached to the top.

Reinforced by their comrades, the police eventually cleared the Town Hall and, after the wreckage of chairs and bunting etc, had been carried inside, the doors were again barred.

Several members of the crowd, including a crippled ex-soldier, then mounted the Town Hall steps and delivered impassioned speeches; and though, in the wild uproar, it was impossible to fully hear what was being said, it was possible by fleeting sentences to ascertain that grievances in regard to pensions and other matters affecting discharged men were being ventilated.

With the exception of the actual rush, the conduct of the crowd at this stage of the proceedings was generally good-humoured, and this was materially due to the tact and discretion shown by the Chief Constable and his men in dealing with the situation.

Excitement gradually simmered down, and apparently not knowing if the Mayor had left the Town Hall, a large crowd marched to his private residence in London Road. They were asked by the police to nominate a leader, and did so, but on enquiry found that his Worship had not returned home, and accordingly they took the advice of the police and dispersed.

The gathering at the Town Hall was still a very large one, but the rain which fell smartly had a useful effect in hurrying the departure of many. In the remainder of the afternoon and early evening there was no renewal of the demonstration, and at nine o'clock things were such a peaceful appearance that hopes were expressed that the situation had been surmounted without really serious troubles being encountered.

These hopeful anticipations were destined to be very rudely shattered.

Peace day trial: Emily Gilbert

Emily Gilbert, aged 19, hat machinist, of 11 New Street, Luton, first appeared before magistrates on Wednesday, July 23rd, 1919, and was released on her own recognisance of £5, charged with stealing an umbrella, value 10s 6d, the property of Carl Caspers [hairdresser, 4 Bute Street].

Her case was finally dealt with by magistrates on Friday, August 1st, when Town Clerk William Smith said that, having regard to the suspense and mental strain suffered by two of the women who were charged with rioting and larceny, he had decided to take the responsibility of dropping the rioting allegations, so that the prisoners might be dealt with summarily.

When questioned by the Det-Sgt Arthur Bacon, Emily Gilbert said the umbrella was given to her by a soldier. When told the police officer had reason to believe it came from Mr Caspers' shop, she replied: “Yes, that's the one.”

Prisoner: “I had it given to me. I was going to send it back. I have never used it. I had two of my own.”

At the August 1st hearing, Town Clerk William Smith said that after giving very grave consideration to the matter, especially bearing in mind that some of them were women, he was taking it upon himself to withdraw charges of rioting against those charged with larceny or receiving stolen goods.

As a result, those cases were tried by magistrates in Luton, rather than being sent to Assizes, and Emily Gilbert was fined 40 shillings with an alternative of 14 days in prison.

[Emily Gilbert's mother, Ellen, was also among the defendants.]

Peace treaty greeted with cheers and fireworks

Peace declaration in Luton

Luton had the news of the signing of the Versailles Peace Treaty on Saturday, June 28th, 1919, sooner than most provincial towns.

Peace stop pressA stop press item in that day's Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph read: Peace signed at 3.12. At 3.40 this afternoon the Press Association phoned to us the following: "Official. Peace signed at 3.12. By arrangement with the Town Clerk we at once telephoned the message to the Town Hall and to the Mayor of Dunstable. The good news was also immediately posted outside the News office, and people flocked round the windows. 'Peace signed' was on everyone's lips and a crowd quickly gathered outside the Town Hall."

The Saturday Telegraph then reported that enthusiastic scenes were witnessed outside the Town Hall that afternoon when, at 3.45, the Mayor (Councillor Henry Impey), accompanied by the Mayoress and other ladies and the Town Clerk on the balcony, announced; "Men, women, boys and girls of Luton, a message has just come through from Versailles to say that the Germans signed the Peace Treaty at 12 minutes past three (loud and prolonged cheers). That message has been handed to me through the courtesy of the Saturday Telegraph. I feel this to be one of the greatest moments of my life. I am glad to be able to give this wonderful news. We shall have to bend our energies in the future to peaceful living."

Three cheers were given for the World's Peace, the King and (upon the suggestion of the Mayoress) "the boys who won it". The cheering in the last instance was indeed great.

But the day was far from trouble free, a portent perhaps of things to come. On the following Thursday, The Luton News reported that on the Saturday evening there was a regrettable display of hooliganism.

"It was hardly safe, owing to youths letting off fireworks, to walk through the streets, and several accidents were caused. The Red Cross Band gave its services to mark the occasion of the peace signing, but its performance was brought to a premature close by the indiscriminate use of firework bombs and crackers."

[Saturday Telegraph/Luton News, June 28th and July 4th, 1919]


Peaceful elements of Peace Day

Peace Day procession

While columns of newsprint were devoted to the riots of Peace Day 1919, The Tuesday Telegraph on July 22nd also recorded the planned elements of the day that had passed off peacefully.

Headed by the Chief Marshal (Chief Constable Charles Griffin) on horseback and other mounted police, the procession moved off from Luton Hoo Park soon after the advertised time. The ground had been staked out and numbered off, and each section of the column, on arrival, was directed to its allotted place by the police on duty, under Insp Fred Janes.

Though they had signified their intention of withdrawing from the official celebration as a protest against the decision of the Council in relation to Wardown, the Comrades of the Great War changed their attitude at the eleventh hour, and their banner and brass band was the first of the units. The men's marching showed they have not yet lost their military precision, and they were under the command of Mr J. L. Lambert.

The first of the emblematic cars was that provided by the Luton political clubs – the Liberal Club and the Market Hill and Beech Hill Conservative Clubs – representing the dominions. Its design was that of Britannia (Miss Elsie Kent) with personification of the Colonies as follows:

New Zealand (Miss Gertie Kent), Newfoundland (Miss Audrey Bailey), India (Mr Harry Parsons), Canada (Mr W. Parsons), South Africa (Mr S. R. Bailey) and Australia (Mr A. C. Cato). The outrider, Mr C. A. Bishop was a stalwart John Bull; and the car was drawn by six horses from the Remount Depot, Luton, lent by Col Part and in charge of Sgt Baxter.

Its design and structural arrangements were the work of Messrs E. Geeves and F. May. The base was purple, with white and gold reliefs, and shields showing the heraldry of the dominions (especially painted by Mr H. Brown) were accompanied by flags of the Colonies. Britannia's pedestal was in helio, white and gold, with tablets representing ancient combats. The whole effect was admirable in conception, a credit to the organisers and an ornament to the procession.

Next came a contingent from the local Friendly Societies, with Mr G. Wistow Walker a prominent figure; and a detachment of the 2nd Volunteer Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment was commanded by Lieut G. E. M. Walker and 2nd Lieut A. E. H. Gates.

Skefko Peace Day floatThe Y.M.C.A. car was a representation of one of the well-known and highly appreciated canteens, and was followed by a party of eight members of the Y.M.C.A. in costume.

The Skefko Company exhibit (pictured right) was a splendid conception. It was an elaboration of the famous ball bearings, with a frontispiece on the motor-car of an enlarged wheel with wings attached, symptomatic of the fact that the Company's productions were very largely used in aeroplanes; and Miss Aldsworth surmounted the car, a dainty figure of Peace in white robes. Like all the other cars, this was daintily and effectively decorated with the flags of the Allies – the red, white and blue of the Mother Country figuring prominently in the colour scheme.

A detachment of the Special Constabulary, in charge of Inspector C. Robinson, preceded the Commercial Cars exhibit, which took the form of one of their lorries decorated with bunting and evergreen.

The Jack Cornwell VC tableau elicited much admiration. It was arranged and provided by Mr C. H. Strapps, and represented the gallant young bluejacket standing by his gun and shield, though wounded, with telephone pads to the ears, waiting orders, and two companions of the gun crew at his feet. A modern Casabianca, in very truth. The central figure, Wildsmith, is a naval lad and was on HMS Vindictive on the occasion of the brilliant exploit at Zeebrugge. Mr Strapps served throughout the war, being recalled as a Naval Reservist, and has 35 years service to his credit. The car was drawn by a team of bluejackets in uniform, all of whom have served or are now in the Navy, and flew proudly the White Ensign. The tableau was heartily cheered en route.

The Vauxhall car also created much interest. Mounted on one of the Company's standard vehicles, the body was a representation of the firm's principal war product, Fuze No 106, enlarged to 37 times the size of the actual article. An interesting addition was the war-scarred flag carried through the South-West African Campaign on a Vauxhall car by Gen. Louis Botha.

Thermo-Electric Ltd sent a car showing the manufacture of ferro-tungsten – an industry which was before the war almost exclusively in German hands – in actual process. The occupants of the car proudly showed a board reading 'Sidelines of Hell' – reminiscent of a recent Town Council debate.

The Boys Scouts contingent, under District Commissioner Rev E. Scott and District Scoutmaster W. H. Lee was representing every group and every rank in Luton; and the Girl Guides were of the 1st Luton Company, under Capt Miss Seager; with Brownies from St Mary's, with Miss Chapman in charge.

Davis Peace Day floatThe Davis Gas Stove Company's car (pictured right) was typical of the forgings, mouldings and hand grenades made during the war, with an array of samples, and gave in tabulated form the number of munition parts turned out at the Dallow Road premises.

Messrs Hayward Tyler & Co Ltd sent an exhibition of similar character. It showed actual oil pumps supplied to the Admiralty for oil-driven ships, including submarines, and also feed pumps used on hospital ships, as well as miniatures. Two natty little Jack Tars occupied a post of honour on the front; and there were also howitzer and 18 inch gun parts and mechanism used for deep sea mines.

Messrs G. Kent Ltd sent another fine construction. It showed a centre-board of photographs of the shops, with girls working at lathes on either side – fuze drilling and milling, filling and detonating. The lathes were driven from the motor of the vehicle, and the output of the firm on war work was shown in striking pictorial manner. On each corner of the lorry was a deadly-looking 12 inch shell, its vicious nose pointing skyward. The effective colour scheme was dark mauve and heliotrope. 'Peace Follows Victory' was the slogan carried all over.

The Red Cross Society contingent comprised a body of nurses from Wardown V.A.D., with the Commandants (Mrs J. W. Green and Mrs R. H. Durler) at the head. Dressed in nursing costume, the ladies made a brave show, and to no unit was more cordial applause bestowed by the crowd.

The W.R.A.F.'s sent a smart section from Henlow, and the Biscot R.F.A. Detachment was under the command of Lieut Holbrook.

The official car was entitled “Peace Enthroned”. The goddess was charmingly portrayed by Miss Hilda Kerridge, who sat on her throne beneath a silver dome within four supposed marble columns, carrying a sceptre of lilies and with a dove and olive branch swinging above her head. Angelic heralds were at each corner, and two music maidens (Misses Irene Goodwin and Freda South) sat at the feet of Peace. The base was in the form of rising steps, carrying the names pf the principal Allied nations – Great Britain, France, America, Belgium and Italy.

Carried out on simple, almost austere lines, its charm lay in its simplicity and its distinctive contrast with the gaily decorated emblematic cars among which it held a place of honour.

It was designed, provided and constructed by Messrs R. H. Marks, H. Deacon, S. Horn, A. Staddon, A. Strange, F. Webdale, G. Bavister and W. B. Tydeman.

The Tradesmen's Association car was a novel one. It was in the form of a huge glob, representing the world, and urged “Britain's Opportunity – Trade Throughout the World”. John Bull (driving) was portrayed by Mr Parrish; Africa, by C. M. Hunt; Uncle Sam by Sgt Cocking; Italy by S. M. Vicker; and the Mandarin by Sgt Day. The globe was the work of Mr H. J. Barnell. Mr C. Mares and his co-adjudicators of the Association had laboured energetically and with good result.

The “Child Welfare” exhibit was designed as a travelling clinic, completely equipped with consulting room, weighing machines, cot, staff, books – and babies (wax ones), which assisted to create the necessary illusion). Mrs M. Barford was in charge, with her being Misses S. and M. Jackson and Miss Nuttall. The car was the contribution of the ladies of the local Voluntary Welfare and Maternity Centre Committee.

Dotted about the column were bands – Comrades of the Great War, Salvation Army (Temple and No. 11), the Red Cross Silver Prizes Band and the Central Mission Band - and police brought up the rear.

When the leaders reached the Town Hall the procession halted, and another stoppage was called when the nurses reached the building. On both occasions the Mayor read the King's Peace Proclamation and briefly addressed the units.

Finally, the column reached Wardown, where the various units dispersed.



From early afternoon till late at night the [Wardown] Park was crowded with visitors, and this despite the very unfavourable weather. Large crowds had assembled to witness the entry of the procession, and, when the many spectators who had assembled to see the procession en route began to arrive, the grounds were comfortably full.

A very good programme had been arranged – one that appealed to many and varied tastes. Many were attracted to the bowling tournament, whilst others, interested in tennis, witnessed some very clever games. Unfortunately, the weather rather interfered with the full tennis tournament.

The concerts of the Besto Party, a very popular local troupe whose services were in such demand that their evening concert was given after having entertained the aged people in the Luton Institution, were a very pleasing feature. This programme was a very interesting one, consisting of comic and sentimental songs, rendered in a manner which earned repeated expressions of appreciation from the audience. Those contributing to the programme were the Misses C. Rolt and N. Neil, and Messrs W. Harrison, J. Johnson, A. Schofield, J. Tiller, H. Rolt and S. Pepper.

In another position in the Park – near the quoit ground – the programmes of Mr E. B. Gilbert's Party, which consisted of specially engaged London artistes, was thoroughly enjoyed by large audiences. The 'star' turn was that of Mr Bill Mensley. At the afternoon and also the evening performance, the programme presented was thoroughly entertaining and pleasing.

The youngsters – and many adults, too – were greatly amused by the Punch and Judy show. Four performances were given, each of 45 minutes duration.

The four local bands each played selections at intervals, and many (whether in the cricket ground or around the bandstand in the centre of the Park) found delight in the excellent assortment of music presented.

In the meadow adjoining the grounds of this house, various forms of amusement were provided – roundabouts, swings, toboganning and numerous side shows, each of which was exceptionally well patronised by the gigantic pleasure-bent crowds.

Immediately inside the Park, detachments of the Luton St John's Ambulance Brigade were in attendance in case of emergency, but very few, if any, incidents occurred.

All those engaged in the bodily needs of the visitors were kept exceptionally busy, particularly at the house itself, where refreshments were provided.

Shortly before dusk, thousands wended their way to Pope's Meadow and the surrounding points of vantage to witness the pyrotechnic display which was provided by Messrs Paine, the well-known firm of firework manufacturers.

The whole display, which was particularly artistic and impressive, was greatly admired. Some hundreds of rockets and star shells were fired, but the most attractive features were the set pieces – 'silver fountains,' mottos etc.


For the sports, which were held on the cricket ground during the afternoon and evening, the prizes were to have been distributed by the Mayoress, but in he absence this was done from the cricket pavilion by Capt Hart MC, R.F.A., of Biscot Camp.

The sports were arranged on behalf of the Peace Celebration Committee by a joint body representing the various athletic clubs of the town, and they arranged a four-hour programme, all of the events of which were open to people residing within a radius of three miles of the Town Hall.

Heavy rain during the afternoon modified the enthusiasm of the spectators, but there was still a pretty large crowd at the start.


100 Yards Flat Handicap: 1 W. T. Panter (scratch) 10.45 secs; 2 E. M. Jordan; 3 W. E. Fisher.

100 Yards Boys' Handicap (under 10 years): 1 R. A. Heley (30 yds); 2 G. S. Butt (scratch); 3 L. Stern (10 yds).

Half-mile cycle (scratch): 1 A. Beck; 2 B. Dimmock; 3 E. Hughes. Time, 1min 2.35 secs.

Girls' Egg and Spoon Race (under 15 years): 1 Miss Hewitt; 2 Miss Stronell; 3 Miss Simmonds.

220 Yards Flat Handicap: 1 W. E. Fisher (9 yds); 2 F. Hibbitt (19 yds); 3 W. T. Panter (scratch).

100 Yards Veterans' Handicap – 1 S. Batty (1 yard), 2 W. H. Holmes (2 yds), 3 T. J. Phelps (6 yds).

Mile Cycle Race (Scratch) – 1. E. Hughes, 2 A. Warner, 3 A. Peck.

Ladies' and Gentlemen's Cigarette Race (gentlemen to run 50 yards to ladies and be provided with lighted cigarette; partners then to return to starting point together, with cigarettes to be alight on passing the winning post – 1 Miss Elliss and Mr Cooper, 2 Miss Bray and Mr Parsons.

220 Flat Handicap (boys under 16) – 1 G. Hacking (5 yards), 2 A. L. Thrussell (22 yds), 3 E. J. Toogood (32 yds).

Musical Chairs (girls under 15) – 1 Kathleen Lucas, 2 Elsie Hewett, 3 Edna Gale.

Ladies' potato Race – 1 Miss Bray, 2 Miss Parker, 3 Miss Pugh.

440 Yards Flat Handicap – 1 G. J. Webber (26 yds), 2 G. Walker (18 yds), 3 F. Hibbitt (35 yds).

Skipping Race (girls under 15) – 1 Miss Longhurst, 2 Miss Hewett, 3 Miss Clarke.

Mile Flat Handicap – 1 G. J. Webber (65 yds), 2 A. J. Rogers (65 yds), 3 H. Sharp (scratch); time 5 min 1.5 secs.

Sack Race – 1 Mr Coleman, 2 Mr Heley, 3 Mr Darby.

Ladies' Egg and Spoon Race – 1 Miss Lawrence, 2 Mrs French, 3 Miss Hayward.

880 Yards Flat Handicap – 1 W. G. Ireland (35 yds), 2 R. Piggott (35 yds), 3 P. Clarke (25 yds).

Three-legged Race for Boys – 1 F. Horn and L. Burgess, 2 D. Grice and A. Freeman.

220 Yards Ladies' Handicap – 1 Miss Bray, 2 Miss Draycott, 3 Miss Whitehead.

Tilting the bucket had to be dropped out of the programme, as it was not found possible to fit up the necessary apparatus, so the three-legged race and the 200 yards race for ladies which concluded the programme were put in as extras.

The official responsible for organising and carrying out the programme were:

Handicappers: Messrs A. E. Heley, W. M. Thring and S. Batty (Luton United Harriers) and Mr E. A. Abbott (Vauxhall Motors A.C.).

Starter: S. Batty; Clerk of the Course, E. Brown; Judges: W. M. Thring (L.U.H. And C.C.), J. E. Wright (Cambridge A.C.); Referee: A. Tearle (L.U.H); Timekeeper: A. H. Heley (L.U.H.); Competitors' Steward, P. Brightman (L.U.H.); Telegraph Board Steward: F. Ball (Luton Town CC); Prizes Steward: F. S. Edwards (Hon Sec, Vauxhall Motors A.C.).

Sewards: Messrs E. A. Abbott, Dr Archibald, F. Ball, A. W. Butt, E. Browning, F. Chapman, A. F. Durrant, G. Errington, J. E. Kay, C. Hutchins, W. Lawson, A. J. Mander, H. S. Parsons, G. Reynolds, A. Snoxell, J. L. Tansley, W. G. Tearle, W. Weatherhead, J. Eaton-Smith.

General Hon Secretaries: M. Hunt (Hon Sec, Luton United Harriers and C.C.), Albert E. Ansell (Hon Sec, Luton and District Cricket League).

Peace Day parade

Pedalling news of peace to villages


Thanks to The Luton News via the Press Association, Mayor Henry Impey was able to announce the signing of the Versailles Peace Treaty from the Town Hall balcony on June 28th, 1919, within minutes of the event.

But it took rather longer for the news to reach more remote country villages. A correspondent of the Saturday Telegraph, a sister paper of The Luton News, decided to cycle through Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire villages in expectation of news of the peace treaty being declared. With no radio, TV and no daily newspapers, how would the news get through?

W. J., as the correspondent signed himself, wrote that it was a wondering and expectant Luton that he left behind after two o'clock on Saturday afternoon - a town pacing, as it were, up and down, its thoughts dwelling wonderingly on that big question, "Would they sign?"

Though many professed to a feeling of indifference, there was unquestionably a high tension abroad, as the clocks ticked out those last remaining hours, the hours which would answer that big question, and thus decide whether it should be peace - or more war.

Such was the state of the town when I, with my companion, spun away on our cycles in a westerly direction, on business bent. The clocks struck three as we passed through Dunstable, but, of course, at that time no one knew for certain what was transpiring across in France.

Our course lay out in some of the remote parts of Buckinghamshire, through districts to which, I have heard it remarked, it takes three weeks for current items of news to penetrate. We pursued our journey without incident of any kind, until we had reached a spot right in the heart of the country, miles from anywhere. We struck the London and North Western Railway main line and were passing over a bridge, when something caught the eye of my companion.

He directed my attention to a signal box just down the line. I looked. The signalman was fixing something in the window of the box, facing down the line. It was a card. Eagerly we dismounted and, stretching over the parapet of the bridge, read the inscription, "Peace signed 3.12 pm".

It was queer to think that we, alone in the wide stretches of the rural district, should so soon receive the good news from France. It had presumably been flashed down the railway wires from the Metropolis, and was displayed here for the benefit of the drivers and passengers of passing trains.

Village well, Heath and ReachFrom this time, however, the real "business" of the afternoon commenced, and I can safely say that we were the means of bringing the glad tiding of peace into many a little wayside cottage, and to sundry villages also. It was interesting to note the manner in which the news was received by the various people we met. In many instances, in spite of the fact that the event had been hourly expected, folk hardly credited our information at first.

"Peace is signed!" - "Yah! Might be in six months time."

"No, it is really. It is posted up in the signal box on the line." - "Is it though? Then it must be right. Well, I hope it is - it's about time the job was finished."

Others had more faith, and ran into their little cottages to impart the news to their families. We entered a roadside hamlet. An old man was drawing water at the well, his granddaughter standing by. Had they heard? No. We told them the news at the well.

The old man sets down his pail, straightens his back. Then, in that slow, rolling Buckinghamshire vernacular, drawls, "Signed is it? I should think so too, the time they've been about it (pause). Ah well, there's many a man as'll be glad to hear it."

Meanwhile, the girl, her face suddenly lit up by a light of gladness, darts away, and tells the news - it gets to the other end of the village before we do - to all in the family, and to next door, and so on, until the phrase "Peace is signed" is on everybody's lips. Truly, it doesn't take that proverbial three weeks for some news to get round these villages!

In this manner we progressed. No one here seemed to have heard the news before our arrival, and we began to feel like a couple of horsemen of old, speeding through the country and proclaiming the fortunes of the English on the field of battle, or perhaps the conclusion of some long-drawn-out campaign, on the way.

In turn we brought the news to a labourer, plodding on his homeward way from the farm fields, a soldier on leave, tramping along with his pack, a woman tending a grave in a little churchyard, the man at the well and his village, and to many other chance wayfarers. It was a curious experience, indeed, but not unpleasant.

On our return journey, towards eventide, we passed through Leighton Buzzard, where the bells were pealing merrily, tumbling down the scale in a jumble of delirious confusion. Here flags were flying from many a house-top, and every token of the joy of the people was evinced. A similar state of affairs at Dunstable, and, as everyone here knows, at Luton.

We arrived home feeling that our afternoon, apart from the real object of the journey, had not been wasted, and with joy in our hearts at the thought that we had brought the first news of peace, and with it so much joy, to the lonely dwellers of the countryside.

[Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph, July 5th, 1919]

[Picture: A village well at Heath and Reach in June 1934]


Planning for Peace Day 1919


Plans for Peace Day celebrations in Luton were first considered in February 1919, three months after the end of hostilities, when the Town Council voted a halfpenny rate (£545) towards meeting the cost, with the hope that there would be other financial contributions from within the community.

At that point £30 was allocated for the official float (Peace Enthroned), £40 for schoolchildren's sashes and headbands, £90 for musical bands, £150 for commemorative medals for children, £50 for sports prizes and £4 5s. for flares - a total of £364 5s, leaving nearly £200 for other purposes.

Peace celebrations advertisementBy June 3rd, 1919, with still no official Government decision on when Peace Day would be held, the Council pressed on with its plans. The feeling was that the celebration would be in August, possible August Bank Holiday which would also be the fifth anniversary of the Britain's entry into the war. But an August date would present problems organising the children during school holidays.

Undeterred by the uncertainty, the Council decided to be prepared for the celebration - largely influenced by the limited sum at their disposal. First, they planned to accept an invitation to attend a Combined Thanksgiving Service at the Wesleyan Church, Chapel Street, on the morning of Peace Day, but most of Luton's clergy indicated they would be unable to attend as they would be holding services at their own churches that morning.

Decorations and illuminations: The Town Hall and the space in front was to be decorated, flags were to displayed on the Corn Exchange, the Public Library and at Wardown House; the Electricity and Tramways Committee was to be asked to arrange, at the expense of the Electricity Undertaking, for the illumination of the front of the Town Hall; the Gas Company to be invited to illuminate the exterior of the Corn Exchange at their own expense; and a powerful electric lamp to be hung over the suspension bridge at Wardown. Inhabitants would be invited to display flags and to otherwise decorate their premises, especially on the procession route.

Procession: This was to assemble at Luton Hoo Park, by permission of Lady Wernher, and proceed at about 2 pm to Wardown Park via Park Street, George Street, Manchester Street and New Bedford Road where it would disperse, Schoolchildren would assemble at East Ward Recreation Ground and join the procession on its arrival there.

Bands: Bands to be engaged to play in the procession and perform during the afternoon and evening were the Red Cross (£30), Salvation Army Temple (£20), Central Mission (£10), Comrades of the Great War (£10).

Medals: Each scholar attending the town's elementary schools (approximately 9,000) to be given a commemorative medal bearing the borough coat of arms and the inscription "Borough of Luton, Celebration of Peace on conclusion of Great War, 1914-1919. Henry Impey, Mayor."

Sports: These to be held at Wardown during the afternoon and evening, organised by Luton Town Cricket Club, Luton and District Cricket League and Luton United Harriers and Cycling Club.

Entertainments: Arrangements to be made at Wardown Park for concerts, entertainments and dancing, and for a gymnastics display by scholars from the Modern School, if the celebration was held before the end of the school session. The gravel field was to be let for fairground amusements.

Fireworks: A £100 fireworks display at the north-west side of Pope's Meadow, with the Mayor inviting subscriptions to defray the cost. Flares to be displayed at Hart Hill, London Road, the Downs and at People's Park.

Banquet: A subscription banquet at the Plait Hall on the day after Peace Day. The Mayor intended to invite the Council, chief officers and others to be his guests, the remainder of the tickets to be sold (15 shillings).

Choral Society: A performance by the Luton Choral Society in the Parish Church on the evening following Peace Day - but this would be doubtful if the celebrations took place in August week.

Floats: Decorated cars emblematic of war industry were to be an important feature of the procession. The firms of Hewlett & Blondeau Ltd, Frickers Metals Co Ltd, Skefko Ball Bearing Co Ltd, Commercial Cars Ltd, Vauxhall Motors Ltd, Thermo Electric Ore Reduction Corporation Ltd, T. Balmforth & Co Ltd, G. Kent Ltd, Brown & Green Ltd, and Hayward Tyler & Co Ltd had promised to provide floats. Messrs R. H. Marks, B. Deacon, S. Horn, A Staddon, A. Strange amd F. C. Webdale had undertaken to provide the Corporation float, Peace Enthroned. Political and business organisations would also take part.

Bands and detachments of the Navy, Army and Air Force plus representatives of prisoners of war, the Volunteer Force, Friendly Societies, YMCA, special constables, WAAC, WRNVR, Land Girls, Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, St John Ambulance and 600 schoolchildren were also to be included in the procession.

After the Government had fixed Peace Day as July 19th, Luton's Peace Celebration Committee on July 3rd kept to the basic format already decided, with an additional £20 to be spent on a balloon demonstration at Wardown in the afternoon. The finalised programme for the day as advertised in The Luton News of July 17th, 1919, is illustrated above. However, the town's disgruntled firemen later complained of not being represented in the procession, and the town's largest ex-servicemen's organisation, the DS&S, did not take part.

While 600 children would join the Peace Day procession, it was agreed a two-day festival for scholars should be held later, with an appeal for public subscriptions to help defray the cost.

But comparing Luton's 1919 peace celebrations with those to mark previous victories, the Luton Reporter arrived at the conclusion "that our forebears seemed to know how to do things better in Luton in the old days".

At the peace celebrations of 1814 [when Napoleon was exiled to Elba, before escaping to fight at Waterloo], two bullocks and eleven fat sheep were given to the poor, and a grand dinner was provided in the Market House for the tradesmen and principal inhabitants.

At the close of the Crimean War in May 1856, a sheep was roasted whole in a field that then existed opposite opposite the Crown and Anchor pub [New Bedford Road/Bridge Street].

The close of the South African [Boer] War in 1901 was marked by the conferring of the freedom of the borough upon Major Alfred L. Green, the non-commissioned officers and privates of the Luton Volunteers who had left in February 1900 to fight. They were also suitably honoured in other ways at the Town Hall.

[Sources: The Luton News, The Luton Reporter]


Police memories of Peace Day riots

Peace Day riot police

  • The Peace Day riot picture that evoked memories 42 years later.

Sear, Higham, Matsell in Peace Day crowd

  • Pc Sear, Pc Higham and Sgt Matsell among the crowd.

Some 42 years after the infamous day when rioters burned down Luton Town Hall during Peace Day celebrations on July 19th, 1919, The Luton News interviewed two of the then young police officers who had been on duty for their recollections. Here is their story as published in 1961.

On that momentous afternoon two young policemen, one aged 23 and the other 21, pushed their way through a packed crowd in the direction of some shouting. With them a moustached police sergeant struggled through the mass of people. A steady drumming of shouting, laughing and talking filled George Street and Williamson Street as a photographer sighted the scene and pressed the bulb of his camera.

The picture he took, now yellow with age, was published in The Luton News last week under the title, Mystery of the Boater Age. But for many Lutonians it was no mystery, rather a thing best forgotten - it was July 19th, 1919.

On that day and the next this quiet Bedfordshire town went mad. Hundreds rioted in the streets, troops were called in, the Town Hall was gutted by fire and the hospital and jail were full. Many remember that tension-charged afternoon as the riot started, two constables in particular.

Thomas Higham in 1961Thomas Higham (pictured right, top), of 35 Bosmore Road, had been in the Luton Borough Police Force since March of that year. He was aged 21. Like him, Albert Sear, of 70 Beechwood Road, Luton had fought in the Great War in the dusty heat of the Middle East. For Mr Sear, then 23, it was his first day in uniform. Both were on patrol with Sgt Jack Matsell when the trouble flared.

Recalling the day, Mr Higham, at 65, a commissionaire with a Luton hat manufacturer, said: "George Street was full. The crowd filled Bedford Road right down to Wardown Park and all round the vicinity of the town centre. They were all waiting to see what would happen. Everyone knew there was going to be something.

"I was new to Luton and didn't know half the people. When the photograph was taken I was talking to an agitator. I asked him to behave."

Mr Higham and Albert Sear were both injured in the rioting that came later in the evening.

"I didn't worry too much about the crowd at that time," he said. "I was too busy to think about what was happening. I got knocked out later."

At Luton Hoo, where Mr Sear is now chief security officer, the retired police superintendent looked at the photograph and said: "Yes, I remember, but I'm very surprised you dug it up. I should have thought you'd want to let it lie.

"When the picture was taken I had become a little bit isolated, and I think they (Pc Higham and P Sgt Matsell) were trying to get through to me. Later in the afternoon I was among the chaps who cleared the Town Hall."

Albert Sear in 1961Mr Sear (pictured right, below) said part of the trouble that day was the impossibility of getting any police support from neighbouring areas. Peace Day celebrations were being held throughout the country.

Like the other policemen, he too was wearing the light-weight, if easily collapsible, straw helmet of the age. During the night his head was battered and an ear cut.

A confused series of events led up to the disturbances on Saturday night. Involved was the question of where to hold a memorial service and the Council's refusal of Wardown Park. Also there was general unrest among veterans combined with the excitement of the national Peace Day celebrations.

Cuttings from The Luton News after the riot tell the grim story.

The time is early afternoon July 19th, 1919. The place is George Street, Luton.

"A procession led by a detachment representing the Comrades of the Great War headed the column. A halt was called in front of the Town Hall.

"The Mayor [Councillor Henry Impey], wearing his robes and chain of office came to the edge of the pavement and proceeded to read the King's Peace Proclamation, and briefly to address the discharged men. His appearance was the signal for a hostile demonstration on the part of the crowd, cheering being turned into jeering.

"The attitude of the crowd a little later assumed a distinctly ugly character, and as a precautionary measure Sgt Matsell and three constables took up a position on the steps. There were loud cries for the Mayor, and a section of the spectators advanced and demanded that his Worship and the Town Clerk should come to the front and give explanations of the Corporation's decision in regard to Wardown. The request was not acceded to, and a move was made in the direction of the doors.

"For quite a time Sgt Matsell and his police colleagues, though hustled considerably, held their ground. Finally, overpowered by sheer weight of numbers, the police were rushed and the doors forced open.

"The object of the crowd which screamed into the building seemed to be the assembly room in which Monday night's banquet was to be held. Immediately they commenced to wreck the furniture, and a suggestion was made that the whole of the tables and chairs should be thrown through the windows into the street. Chairs were pitched on to the pavement below, some windows being broken in the process, while a missile of some kind was hurled through the Town Clerk's office.

"At this point the police exhorted the men to remember the innocent women and children in the crowd below who stood in danger of serious injury from falling furniture.

"Intruders then got on to the balcony and proceeded to tear down all the bunting and decorations as well as the framework of the electrical illuminations scheme erected the previous day. With reinforcements the police eventually cleared the hall."

It was after these incidents that the photograph showing the police in the crowd was taken. Mr Higham has placed the time at somewhere between 3pm and 4pm.

After cooling off during the late afternoon, the excitement grew later in the evening. Then the pubs closed.

The Luton News takes up the story thus: "Between 10pm and 11pm a large and determined mob arrived to swell the already congested Town Hall approaches, armed with bricks, hammers and other weapons. There was a good deal of noise but no real attempt at damage appears to have been made until the light of the Dover flares at each end of the town - People's Park, Hart Hill, London Road and the back of the Downs - lit the whole district as though by day.

"Immediately, as though by a pre-arranged signal, a fusilade of bricks and other missiles was rained upon the Town Hall, and the windows smashed with great rapidity.

"By this time a full-scale riot was in progress. Windows were smashed and the Town Hall set alight with petrol from a nearby shop. Pitched fights broke out with the police. Shops were looted and the horses of mounted officers attacked with knives. Hoses of firemen trying to control the blaze were cut and the men mauled. Fantastic scenes of bedlam followed as chopped hoses were turned on the crowd, sweeping people off their feet.

"Flames leapt high in the shy. By three o'clock troops with steel helmets and fixed bayonets patrolled the street.

"The major part of the riot was over. But for a lot of Lutonians the memory of that awful night remains fixed in their minds. They remember the afternoon the picture in The Luton News was taken - the afternoon of the night a town went mad."

[Pc Albert Joseph Sear served from May 5th, 1919, to March 31st, 1947, in the Luton Borough Force, rising to Deputy Chief Constable, and then to February 18th, 1949, in the Beds County Force as a Superintendent. Thomas Higham served as a constable in the Borough force from March 24th, 1919, to June 4th, 1946. Sgt John Matsell served in the Luton Borough Force from May 15th, 1900, to September 2nd, 1927. Source: The Men Who Wore Straw Helmets by T. J. Madigan.]

[The Luton News: September 21st, 1961]

Post-riots holiday atmosphere for police

[The Luton Reporter: Tuesday, August 5th, 1919]

The vigorous action taken by the authorities to quell disorder in Luton has proved so effective that since the first two nights following the burning of the Town Hall there have been no signs of conflict between the public and the police, and the time spent by the outside police in Luton has been for them something of a holiday. Not a few of them have had their wives here to share it.

Their duties have been light, and the arrangements made to make their enforced stay anything but irksome very thorough, and if time has hung a bit heavy on their hands they have not complained.

Splendid comradeship has been in evidence among the members of the various forces represented, and this was especially noticeable on Monday [July 28th], when the borough Chief Constable thoughtfully provided a sports meeting for their enjoyment. The Town FC placed the football ground at the disposal of the policemen for the festival – various local firms, tradesmen and other prominent townspeople subscribed a fine lot of prizes, and a capital programme was got together under the secretarial direction of Warrant Sgt Speight.

The Luton force were completely out of it in the individual events, but they came into their own in the inter-police tug-of-war, going through without losing a pull. The winning team was captained by Insp Janes, and consisted of Sgts Janes, Matsell and Parsons, and Pcs Byron, Causebrook, Cooper, Odell and Rushmer.

Prior to the sports there was decided at the police station the final of a billiard tournament for a cue in case, given by Chief Constable Griffin, and a second prize presented by Dr Sworder.

Ratepayers want council to resign en bloc

Ratepayers headline TT 2-9-1919

[Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph: September 2nd, 1919]

Last night's meeting of ratepayers at the Plait Hall to discuss “the past policy of the Town Council” attracted a gathering which comfortably filled the hall and which in round figures was put at a thousand people. These included a fair number of ladies.

In the notices calling the meeting there was indication who the responsible organisers were, and possibly by arousing curiosity this had some effect in getting together a large audience. In addition to that, such a topic as the past policy of the Town Council offered promise of a field for very vigorous speech-making, having regard particularly to recent happenings in the town, and certainly some very vigorous criticism of the Town Council was forthcoming.

Eventually a resolution was put demanding that not six members, but the whole of the Town Council should retire at the next November election, and this the chairman, Mr James Neil, declared to be carried unanimously. [No Government order had been made about councillors retiring, despite having served throughout the war years.]

The object of the meeting was to consider the past policy of the Town Council, said Mr Neil. It was the duty of every ratepayer to take some interest in his own affairs, and the time was coming when the working-man would be freed to do so.

They had too long allowed certain parties to do so, and the things which had happened during the last five years had awakened them to the fact that it was their duty to take some interest in the affairs of the town.

Mr Freeman was the first man to take advantage of the opportunity provided to attack the Town Council. He announced himself as the author of certain letters which had appeared in the Press signed “A Ratepayer”. He said he considered it time, having regard to the recent actions of the Council, that the ratepayers made a change.

The transactions of the Council for the past 12 months had been a disgrace to Luton, he said. As ratepayers they would have to pay for the unintelligent, uneducated representatives who had held positions on the Town Council for the past five years. They wanted on the Council ladies and gentlemen with brains and intelligence, and not men with brains which moved in a narrow groove that they could not develop.

There was not a Town Council in Europe that was more disgraced today than the Luton Town Council (applause). Did the Mayor and Council appeal to the public to provide entertainment of the men who had fought for them? The public would have given and would have seen they were all entertained. But what did they turn round and say? They said “No, we have nothing for the bottom dogs. We are going to have a banquet on our own.” (laughter).

What was the consequence? They never had a banquet. They all deplored what happened on July 19th, and which would take 20 years to wipe out; and as ratepayers they would have to pay for the damage done by a few hooligans because of the unintelligent and uneducated authorities that ruled on the Town Council.

Looking back over the last five years, what did they find in connection with the Tribunal? Men of business, when they appealed before the Tribunal, were laughed at and scorned, yet some of the friends and relations of Town Councillors were hiding in munition work to keep out of the Army (applause).

It was not only a new Town Council that was wanted, but also a new body of officials who would conduct the business of the town in a proper and business-like manner.

Then they were told that only one-third of the Council were coming out. What would one-third of new members do against two-thirds, even if the ratepayers had all new members? He invited the meeting, therefore, to pass a resolution calling on the whole Council to come out (applause). If the councillors thought they had the confidence of the public, let them still come out fight.

“But God help Luton if the Labour Party gets in and gets a majority on the Town Council,” he added. “We are going to spend millions and millions on housing, a new Town Hall, sewerage etc, and if your get those spendthrifts in, your rates will be 10 shillings, 11s or 12s in the £, as they are in some other towns.”

Another speaker said the Council had proved by their actions that they were a most reactionary party. They all knew the cleverest rogue was the man who could go 99 parts of the law and evade the 100th. Many rogues walked about dressed respectably, but being actually disreputable, and many tramps walked the country lanes, living on charity, who were more honourable men than some of the people he could mention in this town, and who were supposed to be respectable.

When these people got into public positions, whose interests did they study? In nine case out of ten, not the interests of the people who elected them, but the interests of the clique to which they belonged.

He respected old age, but they had fallen into a state of decay. They must leave the affairs of today to the youth of today. He did not say that because he was a younger man, for when he became their age he would hope to leave the work of the town to the young men of that day.

They had a great controversy when the new Mayor was to be elected – to get the best man elected? No, to put the man these whose turn it was (laughter). Now the ratepayers had to pay for the insensibility of that method of deciding who should be the first citizen of a town that should be without blemish.

Mr W. J. Mabley, emphasising that he was speaking as a ratepayer and not as a member of any particular party, said a lot of the blame rested with the people who gave the Council an extra lease of life during the war and said there need be no election. He was convinced that if some of the members of the Council had come before the electors during the war they would not have been returned.

He had heard an attack on the Town Clerk, and so would state what he thought. The Town Clerk was the servant of the Council, and the Council were the servants of the ratepayers. Some had argued that the Town Clerk dictated the policy of the Council. If he did, it showed how incapable that body of men were to allow it. If he did not dictate their policy, their actions still showed them to be absolutely incapable.

They had a public building which was now a disgrace not only to the town but to the country and the British Empire – a disgrace which was published not only in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, but also on the Continent, because these people had not the brains of a pre-war shilling rabbit or the soul of a bum-bailiff [debt collector].

They were the men who went on the recruiting platform in 1915 and asked other men to go and fight to defend the dear old country, and then absolutely ignored their request when they asked for the use of a public park (applause).

They went further, and said they could not take part in any such demonstration, or words to that effect. Surely if it was good enough for anyone to go on a platform and ask men to go out and fight, it was good enough to honour those who died fighting for their country (applause).

The Council failed to recognise the fact that the whole of the townspeople were at the back of the movement to hold a memorial service for the men who died for the country. They refused the soldiers the Park, and they went further and refused to be contaminated by those fellows. That was what it meant.

Those men had fought for and defended their country, and were then ignored. He hoped that if the country ever again got into such a fix, those responsible for asking the men to go out and fight would at least recognise then when they came back (applause).

Mr Mabley was refused permission to read a list of names of those he regarded as responsible for the recent happenings.

Mr Devey, a discharged soldier, said he wanted to dissociate all discharged soldiers of any association from the happenings of July 19th. He thought the huge majority of discharged men were not in favour of what was done on that night and took no part in it.

But with a capable Mayor and the far-seeing Council that the times required, it would have been seen there was trouble in the air because of the fact that the men who had been out to fight were being left out of the proceedings to celebrate the victory and peace they had fought for.

If the Council could do that, they were no longer representative of the people they went there to represent. It was not the only short-sightedness they had exhibited, and it was time they were shifted.

He was not there to say the whole of the Council were no use, for there were some men on the Council who were doing their best to represent the town (hear hear).



Talking of the housing question, Mr Devey said some of the suffered were the returned soldiers. Many of them wanted to get married and become active citizens but could not do so because they could not get a house in which to start their married life.

The policy of the Town Council in regard to housing was a slow one, because they had not made a start yet except with plans, and they were destroyed in the fire, so Luton was just as far forward with housing as when the war was on.

There was a certain amount of personal interest with most of them. There were some exceptions, but most of them were houseowners, and rent-raisers when the time came. The people who held the rents in their hands were not going to hurry on with a policy that would to some extent keep rents at their present level.

The November elections were drawing near, and six councillors would retire out of the whole body, whereas any man who had a ghost of decency in him would have refused to stay in longer than a week after the Town Hall was burned down. They had no intention of retiring, however, for the simple reason that they knew they would never be sent back again.

It was the general wish of the town that the Council should come out en bloc. They would not get back en bloc. One or two of the old clique might get back, but they would be in a vast minority.

Mr Brewer said they would have to suffer in the future for the actions of the Town Council. He had no sympathy with those who burned the Town Hall down, but he did maintain that when those people appeared in the dock at Bedford they should have with them some people who were the cause of the effect, and who were more responsible than the mob.

“Take the case of Wardown. The men who were refused the use of that Park had more right to it than those who wanted to use it for a maternity home. They wanted to use the Park for that, but could not allow fighting men to have it for the glorious cause of paying honour to their brothers who had fallen in the fight.

“People tell you the wealth of the nation is the children of the nation. What did they do for the youngsters? That wants watching very closely. They took the children to Luton Hoo, marched them through the streets to Wardown, and then sent them home. They made an excuse that it was too big a job to entertain them, and they could not get the money. If they had appealed for the money they could have got it.

As soon as the damage was done to the Town Hall one certain Alderman put his hand down and gave £100 to the firemen. That could have been done in the first place and been given towards providing a treat for the discharged men and the children. It's no good locking the door after the horse has gone.”

The present Council, concluded the speaker, was no longer wanted, and was not fit to govern a town containing such heroes. There were men who had fought who were far more capable of managing the town's affairs, and when the election came they should send the right men back to do this.

Mr J. Summerbee, while inclined to agree the Town Council had failed, said they must be fair and just. Assuming they had failed, what steps were they going to take to remedy the matter? Many thought the Town Council should come out as a body. He thought so too (applause).

Some members of the Council had shown themselves to be good men worthy to represent Luton (applause). They had seen that during the past few years. One or two could be named, and he thought their names would be generally approved, and that if they placed themselves in the hands of the electors they would have nothing to fear. At the same time there were others who would certainly lose their seats.

Who were to be their successors/ Not men chosen because of party, but men selected in the first place because of absolute confidence in their integrity, and in the second place because of their ability to fill such a position.

If the man at the head of affairs failed in time of difficulty, said the speaker, he was not fit for the position at all. If the whole Council resigned and were all considered unworthy to return there might be a little lack of continuity in the work of administration, but he did not think that was likely to occur. Those worthy to represent the people would be returned, and the others would be replaced by better men who could be trusted.

The Chairman then claimed the right to speak as an ordinary ratepayer, and said that when he came to Luton he was surprised to find that instead of the Town Council running the town, it was largely being run by private companies.

The gas undertaking, which should be run for the benefit of the ratepayers, was being run for the select few to make their money out of other people. The same applied to the water supply. Water was an absolute necessity, and should be under the control of the citizens.

He also found, and this he thought was a very serious thing, that people made a profit out of other people dying. It was a scandal that a town of 65,000 people should not have a burial ground of its own, and a decent one.

As a community they should work for each other's gains and happiness, and they should have under their own control the things which were absolute necessities.

After some discussion and some minor amendments, the following resolution was moved by Mr Folks: “That this meeting of ratepayers of Luton expresses its emphatic disapproval of the policy pursued of late by the Town Council as at present constituted, and consider the whole of the members of the Council should come before the burgesses of the borough at the next November election for the purpose of ascertaining whether they do retain the confidence of the burgesses.”

This was seconded from various parts of the hall, and on being put to the meeting was declared carried unanimously.

It was suggested that from this meeting the nucleus of a ratepayers' association should be established, and this met with considerable approval, but it was eventually moved that this question, and also the question of putting forward candidates for the election, did not come within the scope of the objects for which the meeting was called.


The following evening at a meeting of around 700 members of the local branch of the Discharged Sailors and Soldiers held at the Plait Hall a resolution was passed: “That this Federation endorse the sentiments of the ratepayers' meeting that was held here last night.” The proposition was carried with applause, reported The Luton News (Thursday, September 4th).

Reaction to DS&S regrettable decision

[The Luton Reporter: Tuesday, July 8th, 1919]

General regret will be occasioned by the news of the decision of the local branch of the Discharged Sailors and Soldiers Association not to take part in the official peace celebrations until all discharged and demobilised men have been found employment.

This decision is apparently intended as a demonstration of dissatisfaction with the slow rate of progress in industrial reconstruction, but it is rather a big order and, whatever one's sympathies, there is room for considerable doubt as to whether such a step will achieve any useful purpose.

Apart from this, it may well be asked whether the DS&S are quite consistent in this matter. Not so long ago they themselves suggested a second day's programme specially for ex-soldiers and serving men, and we gather that even now their objection is limited only to the first day's celebration on the official Peace Joy day. It does not exactly commend itself as a sound or well considered course of action.

Discharged, disabled and demobilised men unquestionably have grievances which they are justified in ventilating, and in connection with the peace celebrations one is that a committee have ruled out a day for service men past and present. Alderman Staddon said the right thing when he described the men who have fought and the children as two sections of the public most entitled to consideration on such an occasion, and we have never been able to see why this should not have practical recognition.

The town can hardly be accused of squandering on the programme sanction by the Council a month ago. The large part of the expenditure it involves has been taken from the town's shoulders by the generous offer of Messrs Vyse, Son & Co to provide commemoration medals for the schoolchildren. This leaves a substantial balance accruing from the halfpenny rate levied for the celebration and we are sanguine no difficulty will be experienced in raising by subscription the money necessary to do the thing right well.

If we may be permitted to make the suggestion to the discharged men's organisations and to the Peace Celebrations Committee, an ideal arrangement would be to follow up the official rejoicings on the 19th with the memorial service which the DS&S are organising with the co-operation of the clergy and ministers and local bands on the Sunday, and then set apart Monday as a day for fighting men – and if considered possible – the children as well. Of course, it would follow that the adoption of such a plan would demand that the discharged and demobilised men should display a spirit of give and take and waive any idea of marring the public rejoicings by refusing to associate with Saturday's celebrations.

Reminders of Peace Day Riots 1919

Reminders from the Wardown House Museum collection of fateful July 19th, 1919, and the Peace Day riots that resulted in the burning down of the 1847 Town Hall.

Pictured is one of the charred numerals from the face of the clock that had been installed on the Town Hall in August 1856 to commemorate peace at the end of the Crimean War but that came crashing down from the blazing building around 12.30am on July 20th, 1919. Below it is the key to the main door of the ill-fated Town Hall.

Two other pictures in the slideshow (below) include Peace Day exhibits on display at Wardown.


Newspaper reports following the fire said some furniture had remained undamaged in the lower department of the Education Office, but this was practically all that remained of the contents of the building. The mace had been found, in a badly damaged condition, and efforts were being made to discover the Corporation seal.

Very few people in the town knew that in the basement of the Town Hall there was maintained a considerable store of tinned meat, for the benefit of the town in the event of a serious emergency. This was obtained on the initiative of the Town Clerk early in the year, but it was completely destroyed.


Object Location: 

Old Town Hall clock numeral and key
Wardown Peace Day exhibits
Wardown Peace Day exhibits


Current Location: 

Wardown House Museum
United Kingdom

Connects to: 

Most Relevant Date: 

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Riot accused freed on bail

Pursey bail letter

  • A police typed copy of Joseph Frederick Pursey's bail application.

[The Luton News: Thursday, August 28, 1919]

Yesterday morning the committing magistrates in the Luton rioting prosecutions attended specially at the Luton Borough Court to consider an appeal for bail contained in a letter received by the police from Joseph Frederick Pursey, 26, attendant, of Midland Road, one of the men committed for trial in custody on charges of rioting and demolition in connection with the Peace Day disturbances.

In the letter, which was read by the Town Clerk, Pursey wrote: “I appeal to you for bail for the sake of my wife and child, who have not got a halfpenny and nothing to keep them. My wife is not fit to work. She is only just getting over rheumatic fever for five months, and I have had to feed her with a spoon, so you can tell how she was. Also I am disabled. I have practically no use in my left arm.

“I know I made a fool of myself. I had a drink, and that did not suit the wound in my head. I admit I gave a speech, but as for doing any damage I never did one little bit. I left the Town Hall at six o'clock and did not see it again till Monday.

“You said I was a stranger to Luton. I came to Luton in 1914, put on khaki on August 2nd, 1914, and have been in it until March 1919, and done two years and 11 months in the trenches out of that. Then to be told I was a stranger, I think that was an insult.

“I wish you would take my case into consideration, because it is my first offence, and for the sake of my wife and child. I can get as many people to stand £100 bail as required if you will let me have it.

“If you will let me out I may be of service to you. I do not go about with my eyes shut and ears closed. I was of good service to one of Leicester's smartest detectives before the war, and I think I can be to Luton. One good turn deserves another. Cannot I be tried as a first offender?”

The Town Clerk said he did not want the Bench to think for one minute that the police or himself were affected in the slightest degree by an offer of assistance from this man, although of course they would welcome any information which would reveal other offenders who had not yet been captured but who might be at a later date.

He had looked at the depositions, in so far as they concerned this man, and there was nothing in them relating to this man after the time he stated. He was one of the noisy men in the afternoon, one of the men who demanded the Mayor should come out.

Mr C. H. Osborne: “And the Town Clerk?” The Town Clerk: “I leave myself out. I am not anxious to advertise myself in a matter of this description, or in any other. What they wanted the Mayor for I don't know, but he gave the Mayor three minutes to come out, and counted the minutes.

“He attempted to pull the top of a lamp post off, incited the crowd, and also went up to the Mayor's residence, so it was not one isolated act.

“But having regard to the fact that the man has now had a taste of imprisonment for a month, has a wife who is not well, and two children, also also having regard to the fact that he has been in the Army and served his country, I do not oppose him having bail on the same conditions as the other people – that he is bound over to be of good behaviour pending the trial, and enters into a recognisance to appear.

“I feel now I am taking a somewhat serious responsibility, having regard to what the man has said in his letter. He has been wounded in the head and he had drink. There is no actual guarantee that when he comes out of prison pending his trial he will not be tempted if he has more drink to commit a further breach of the peace. If he does, of course, the matter will be dealt with in the proper way.

“Therefore those people who were present to offer themselves as sureties had better exert all the influence they have over him to leave the drink alone until his head is capable of standing it.”

Mr F. J. Brown (Chairman of the Bench) said the committing magistrates had very carefully considered the application, and had decided to grant bail – prisoner in £10, and two other sureties of £5 each, subject to good behaviour.

Two sureties immediately offered themselves, and it was stated by the Clerk (Mr William Austin) that the man would probably be released the following day.


Pursey was the second of 28 prisoners previously remanded in jail who was released on bail. On August 13th, Maud Kitchener, the only woman charged with rioting, was granted bail at Luton Borough Court in her own surety of £5 and two others of £10 each. She was at the same time bound over to keep the peace.


Two further prisoners charged with rioting offences who applied to be freed on bail were unsuccessful with applications made to committing magistrates in Luton on September 13th. They were John Stanley Long, 40 labourer, of 17 Langley Place, Luton, and Sidney George Quince, 29, labourer, of 66 Hitchin Road, Luton. Mr R. S. Tomson, Chairman of the Bench, stated that the applications made on behalf of the two men had been considered very carefully by the committing magistrates who had come to the conclusion that the applications could not be granted.

Long bail application

  • ABOVE: The bail application letter from John Stanley Long. BELOW: The application from Sidney George Quince.


Quince bail application1

Quince bail application2

Riot defence lawyer condemns 'lack of tact'

Mr H. W. Lathom, representing some of the riot accused, said in court during the remand hearing on July 30th, 1919, that all were impressed with the great sense of degradation which had fallen over the town, and the great sorrow that “to live in Luton” should now be a byword in England, simply because they did not know how to conduct themselves on a day when everybody should have acted with sobriety and quietness.

The advocates must join with the Town Clerk in thanking the police and commiserating with them. They showed great tact in very difficult circumstances. The only sorrowful thing was that that did not apply to another public body in the three or four weeks before the trouble took place, when, as everybody knew, they were expecting trouble.

The town was palpably seething with trouble and there was such a thing as preventing it by tact. The police showed marvellous tact in the face of their being hurled down and subjected to bruises and assaults, and if that tact had been used by the Corporation there need have been none of this trouble.

He would not say why there were complaints in the town. They could keep the peace at Dunstable and be extolled from end to end of England while Luton was blamed. If the Corporation had used tact this would not have happened.

There was an old proverb: 'Those who excuse themselves accuse themselves,' and nothing could be more self-accusatory throughout than the publication of a manifesto after all the trouble. They made an explanation by way of excuse, which was an accusation against themselves. It was like the little boy who, after a fight, safe behind his mother's skirts, threatened what he would do if there was a recurrence. It was a much more pitiful sight today.

Referring specifically to defendant Barrett, Mr Lathom said that according to police evidence he had been a good citizen here for 20 years. He had been 18 years in the Corporation's service.

They all knew what Corporations were. They had 'neither a soul to save nor a body to kick,' but they knew when they got a man worth his wages, and they kept him.

The man was 58, and set an example by voluntarily offering his service to the country when 55 years old. He was told, and expected, he would not be sent into the firing line. That was not an act of cowardice.

Barrett had a bit to grumble about. He was pushed forward by the crush, and he made this little grumbling protest. Was that what they would send a man to the Assizes for, to be liable to penal servitude for life? After his grumble, Barrett went away and did nothing more.

Barrett was acquitted when he appeared at Beds Assizes in October 1919.

Riot prisoners in a 'chain gang'

During the four days of magistrates court hearings resulting from the riots, prisoners were transferred by train between Bedford jail, where they were being held on remand, and the Luton courthouse in a “chain gang” system.

The Luton Reporter (August 12th, 1919) said the fact that the magisterial hearing of the Luton rioting charges resulted in the number of male prisoners detained in custody until the Assizes being reduced to 15 has given great relief to the prison authorities at Bedford, as they were hard put to it to find accommodation at the county gaol for all the men originally under arrest.

“At Bedford, as at Luton, the daily arrival and departure of the prisoners caused a great deal of interest at the railway station during the four days over which the police court proceedings lasted and a fact which has given rise to a good deal of comment is that the prisoners were held together by chains.

“At first it seemed scarcely believable that the 'chain gang' system had been revived in the 20th Century, but there is quite a simple explanation. Instead of being handcuffed in the ordinary way the prisoners wore one handcuff attached by a slip ring to a light strong chain, and it is claimed that in dealing with a number of prisoners this method is far more convenient than ordinary handcuffs, and at the same time affords the individual prisoner far more freedom of movement.”

The Beds Record newspaper had also referred to the 'chain gang'. It wrote: “The conveyance to and from Luton of the riot prisoners who are housed in Bedford gaol has been a scene of interest at the railway station. The men are conveyed under a strong police guard and are chained together with a light, strong chain.

“The appearance of a 'chain gang' in public is at first rather shocking to the 20th Century mind, but the method is more convenient than handcuffs, and no more incommoding to the prisoners.”

Sally Army Citadel 'miraculous escape'

Salvation Army Citadel No 2

Salvation Army journal 'War Cry' described how the No 2 Citadel building (pictured in 1908) in Manchester Street, adjoining the burned down Town Hall, had had a miraculous escape during the “regrettable disturbances” on Peace Day in Luton.

The 'War Cry' article, reprinted in the Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph on August 2nd, 1919, said: “The building had a miraculous escape, as the charred windows and doors show. It was a striking tribute to the Army's work that the male members of the population, including demobilised soldiers, assisted Salvationists to save the property, and used the hose in the Hall to prevent the flames from spreading.

“Seats, band instruments, piano, organs were taken out of the building and found a resting place in various homes and yards during the danger period, and they have all been returned safely.

“On every side expressions were heard for kindnesses received in France and in other theatres of war, and because of this the men rallied to the work of rescue.”

Schoolmaster on riot charge

[Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph: July 29th, 1919]

This morning [July 29th, 1919] there were three more charges at the Borough Court arising out of the recent rioting. Councillor G. Warren and Alderman H. Arnold were on the Bench.

Wilfred Harry (Henry) Ovenell, 34, schoolmaster, of 73a Ashburnham Road, Luton, was charged with assembling with others on Sunday morning to make riot.

Inspector Janes stated that on Sunday he saw prisoner and told him there were very serious complaints that on the Sunday morning he was throwing missiles at the police and firemen in Upper George Street. He replied: “The rumour is all over town. It had worried me very much.”

He denied the truth of the rumour and then said: “I came in by the last train from town. When I reached George Street I found there was a very large crowd of people. I tried to get into Upper George Street to go home, when I was swilled with water. I sprang into a doorway, and two men assisted me. I stumbled and cut my finger on the broken window. I stood in the doorway until the water deflected, and then went back into the crowd, and found the friend with whom I had been in town. I stood by the chemist's shop and tried to prevent people walking in there.”

He was then asked if he was willing to go to the police station and be put up for identification. To this he replied: “What will it mean if I am identified?” Witness said that proceedings would be taken against him, and he then said: “I will come”.

At the police station the Chief Constable gave him the opportunity of standing where he chose among five other men. A young man was then called in, and without hesitation went up to him and said: “This is the man”. Later prisoner was arrested on a warrant.

He was very much upset, and asked: “What does this mean for me?” Witness replied: “It is up to you to disprove the allegations made against you. If you are guilty of throwing at the police and firemen you deserve punishment.” He replied: “I don't know whether I am guilty or not. I am all nerves through the war.”

Prisoner: “I don't know exactly what was happening on Saturday night. There is a perfect gap in my mind.”

Councillor Warren: “We have no other course but to remand you until tomorrow.”


George Heley, 22, sailor, whose home address was given as 25 Gloucester Road, Luton, was received in custody from the Chatham police. His head was extensively bandaged, and he received medical attention before he was brought into court.

He was charged with assembling with others to make a riot on the Saturday evening, and also with assaulting Pc Ellingham.

Pc Field said that when prisoner was handed over by the Chatham police, he said: “I was there on Saturday, and a 'civvy' hit me on the head with a bottle.”

Pc Ellingham stated stated that while the police were trying to keep the mob from forcing the entrance of the Town Hall on the Saturday night, he received two violent blows from the prisoner.

Prisoner: “I know nothing about that man at all. I didn't know I struck him.”

Later prisoner said he was a sick man, and had been brought straight from a sick bed. For this reason he asked to be let out till tomorrow.

Chief Constable Griffin: “The doctor is in attendance, and will see to him.”

Prisoner: “I was brought from a bed, not a bench.”

The Chief Constable: “The doctor has already treated him.”

Remanded in custody.


Walter Wells, 52, labourer, 15 Mill Street, Luton, was charged with stealing two pairs of boots from the shop of James Neve Brown.

Det-Sgt Bacon stated that in consequence of certain information he obtained a warrant to search prisoner's home. Later he saw prisoner at a local dye works, and asked him where the boots that he took from Brown's shop on the night of the fire were. At first he denied having had any boots, but later said: “I will tell you true. I went there when the Town Hall was on fire. I took a pair of boots from the window, put them in my pocket, and went down the Liberal Club yard.

“I took them out and found one was brown and one was black. I took them back, threw them in the window, and then took another pair of black ones from the doorway. I believe they were size seven. I took them home, put them in the copper, and next morning at 4.30 got up and burned them.”

Prisoner: “I had a little drink. It is the first time I have been up here in my life. If I hadn't had some drink I shouldn't have been there.”

Remanded in custody.

Seven more in court after riots

Luton Magistrates Court pre-1937

[Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph: July 26th, 1919]

Eleven charges were preferred at the Borough Court on Thursday [July 24th] against seven prisoners who were charged with being concerned in the actual rioting on Saturday night, as distinct from the looting of shops, which was the subject of charges against other persons on Wednesday.

Prosecuted for “assembling with others to the number of a thousand or more to disturb the public peace and make a riot on July 19th”, the prisoners were:

John Stanley Long, labourer, 19 Alma Street.

Harry Miles, 7 Gloucester Road.

Maud Kitchener, Gaitskill Row.

Charles Lambert, 63, blocker, 37 Stanley Street.

William Dixon, 43, boiler maker, 47 Hartley Road.

Ephraim Gore, 46, iron erector, 35 Windsor Street.

George Fowler, 21, carter, 6 Albert Terrace.

Dixon and Gore were further charged with assembling, with others, to unlawfully destroy the Town Hall, the property of the Mayor, Alderman and Burgesses of Luton.


Long was charged with assaulting Pc Higham, and Fowler with assaulting Pc Wood.

Insp Janes, who arrested Long on a warrant, said he took him into custody at Market Hill, and on arriving at the police station prisoner said: “I tried to get through to my uncle's to see if the place was all right.” This prisoner, said the witness, was at the Town Hall during the afternoon when the chairs and other things were being thrown out.

In reply to Mr Austin (Clerk), witness said the major portion of the crowd was undoubtedly hostile.

The Chief Constable: “I have taken these cases on the assumption that sufficient evidence was given on oath to justify the justices is issuing the warrants.”

Asked whether he had anything to say why he should not be remanded, prisoner replied: “I should like it settled now.”

The Clerk: “You cannot have it settled now.”

Prisoner: “Can I have bail?”

The Chief Constable: “I strongly oppose bail in any of these cases. They are most serious charges, and it will defeat the ends of justice if they are allowed bail.”

Prisoner was remanded in custody.


Miles was arrested by Police Sgt Matsell, who stated that on the way to the police station, prisoner said: “I have been expecting this.”

Prisoner said he had nothing to offer against being remanded, but he would very much like to have bail. It was the first time he had been in trouble, and responsible people would stand surety for him. He had a wife and seven children, and also wished to try to get evidence to defend himself. He would promise faithful to be at court next Wednesday.

Chief Constable Griffin strongly opposed bail, and described this prisoner, who is the holder of the Military Medal, as one of the principal and most violent leaders of the evening.

He was remanded in custody.


Maud Kitchener, who pleaded not guilty, was stated to have been about the streets on Saturday wearing a soldier's cap and tunic.

Police Sgt Clarke stated that when she was arrested she said: “I didn't do any such thing. I pleade not guilty. I didn't move away from the bottom of Wellington Street. I know I had a soldier's cap and tunic on.”

Prisoner did not object to being remanded, but wanted bail, saying she had two children at home and no one else to look after them.

The Chief Constable: “The man she lives with is in court and can make arrangements about the children.”

Remanded in custody.


Lambert also pleaded not guilty, although none of the prisoners was asked to plead. On being arrested by Police Sgt Parsons, he said: “You have made a mistake. I am the wrong man. I know I was down Wellington Street, but I did not do any damage.”

Prisoner: “I should very much like to say that when I got down Wellington Street and saw the crowd, I said: 'For God's sake don't come any further! Stop!' I shouted out loud and then went to the top of Gordon Street and helped the firemen lay the hose.

“A traveller who lives at Beech Hill saw m,e and said, 'Well done, Charlie'. I said 'Well, what do you think of it? A disgrace, isn't it?' He said, 'It is. They tell me they are going to fire the factories.' I said, 'For God's sake don't say that. I will walk round to our factory.' I had the key to the factory and went in.”

The Chief Constable: “In view of this man's statement I will submit evidence of the assault.”

Pc Riches then stated that on Saturday night he was on duty at the Town Hall, and took part in the police charge against the rioters. He saw the prisoner strike Pc Higham a violent blow on the head. He was afterwards knocked back into the crowd by another constable.”

Prisoner: “What time was this?”

Witness: “The police had no time to look at the time at that time.”

Prisoner: “I am 63 years old, and this is the first time I have had any complaint against me. The police know me quite well, and for the sake of my wife and family as well, I ask for bail.”

Remanded in custody.


Dixon was arrested by Police Sgt Clarke, and said: I did not assist in breaking any windows. I was mad drunk, and did not know what I was doing.”

As he was being brought by the ruins of the Town Hall, he said: “When they started to break windows I was mad drunk or I should not have helped.”

Prisoner: “I have my wife here. She will give evidence where I was at the time.”

Remanded in custody.


Gore, on being arrested by Sgt Bacon said: “All right. Thank you. What I said was about my pension. I only told the crowd to fetch the Mayor and Town Clerk out.”

Prisoner said that when they turned out of the public houses at 2.30 on Saturday he came to the Town Hall. After the procession came through he thought of going as far as Wardown, but there was a crowd at the Town Hall.

“A young fellow came up who could hardly stand. I took him up, and stood at the top and spoke about my pension. I have hundreds to prove it, and that I said, 'Don't damage public property, because we ratepayers have to pay for it. If you have any grievance, the Mayor and Clerk of the town will settle it.' As regards the night, I was never out of my house, and never near George Street until Monday dinner time.”

The Clerk: “Is there any evidence of his being there at night?”

Insp Janes stated that on Saturday afternoon he saw the prisoner on the Town Hall steps. He addressed the crowd and then went to set fire to the flags in front of the Town Hall.

Prisoner: “Didn't I advise the crowd not to touch public property, as we were ratepayers and it would fall on us in the end?”

Witness: “The statements you are making are absolutely false.”

Prisoner: “I was not there on Saturday night, and I can get 100 or 2,000 witnesses.”

Witness: “I have not said anything about Saturday night.”

Prisoner: “I admit being there on Saturday afternoon.”

The Clerk: “And that you set fire to one of the flags?”

Prisoner: “I could call 200 witnesses with regard to that. I took the Inspector's word for it that the Mayor was not at the Town Hall.”

The Chairman: “You will have an opportunity of getting witnesses before Wednesday. You will be remanded in custody until then.”

Prisoner: Thank you. Much obliged.”


Fowler, said Sgt Clarke, was arrested that morning at the Bute Hospital, where he had been detained for some days owing to injuries received on Saturday. When the warrant was read he said: “I am not guilty. I was knocked down by the fire engine.”

Prisoner: “I was coming through the streets and I was knocked down by the fire engine. I never did any damage or anything of that sort.”

Pc Wood, whose head was bandaged, giving evidence in support of the charge of assault, stated that at 10.40 on Saturday night prisoner and other men charged the police at the Town Hall. They were driven back, and some of them fell on the pavement.

Prisoner caught the leg of witness's trousers, pulled him to the ground and beat him while he was on the ground. “I was bruised all over,” said witness.

The prisoner was also remanded in custody.

Shock for Sunday rioters at Police Station

Police reinforcements

  • Police reinforcements being catered for at the Ceylon Baptist Hall in Wellington Street.

[From Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph: July 22nd, 1919]

Sunday evening [July 20th] saw a fresh attempt to start a destructive disturbance, but when the Police Station in Dunstable Place was fixed upon as the scene the ringleaders made a decision which they soon had reason to regret, for, after bragging very loudly about what they were going to do, they quickly found themselves chivvied from street to street, and many broken heads resulted in the course of a series of baton charges made to clear the centre of the town.

The streets around the ruins of the Town Hall were fairly crowded all day, despite the pouring rain, and in the evening, when it was not quite so wet, the press in George Street grew still more dense. But in the early hours of the evening, at any rate, the crowd was composed entirely of people who were either paying their visit to see the results of Saturday night's conflagration, or people waiting about in a morbid hope that they might witness further disturbances. Some of them had cause to regret this curiosity before the night was out.

Shortly after nine o'clock it was obvious to anyone carefully watching the crowd that a series of baton charges to clear a new element, and a much noisier one, had arrived, and it was noticeable that it came from the Corn Exchange end.

There were threats to burn down the Corn Exchange, and someone smashed a window of one of the public lavatories adjoining this building. Then the intentions of the rowdy element seem to have swerved to a different direction on it being stated that the place belonged to Lady Wernher, and a raid of the Police Station was suggested.

Additional excitement was created when it was stated that a Marine was in custody at Dunstable Place, and there was an avowed intention of rescuing him. An excited crowd accordingly went to the Police Station and gathered outside the gates, where violent speeches were made.

Then the crowd, of which a small gang of youths seemed to be the ringleaders, received a violent shock. Refusing to comply with a police request to go away quietly, they found themselves attacked by a very strong force of police, who charged down Dunstable Place and along Stuart Street with batons drawn, and caused a number of casualties in routing the crowd.

Unknown to the agitators, the Borough police had been strongly reinforced during the day by detachments from neighbouring towns, and, in addition to the numbers in the streets, there was a strong reserve at the Police Station quite sufficient to tackle trouble in its early stages. Their show of strength was quite sufficient, at any rate, to prevent a repetition of anything approaching Saturday night's scenes.

Chief Constable Griffin himself made an appeal for order and good conduct. “Do go home, my lads,” he said. “Please do not make further trouble. Our men do not wish to hurt or interfere with you in any way. Do let me beg of you to go away quietly and in an orderly manner, so there may be no further collision.”

A few were disposed to listen, but the majority acted in a provocative manner, and the policemen, who were ready for a charge, fidgeted to get at the ringleaders. Still the Chief persisted: “Have you not already done enough? Why should you want to come here at all?”

“We want the sailor boy,” cried several in the crowd. “Bring him out.”

“I have not got a sailor boy here,” replied the Chief. - “Yes you have,” was the reply.

The Chief replied that he had not got the sailor in custody, but that he had returned to his depot.

“Let us come in and see,” yelled the crowd, but the Chief firmly declined, and as a more menacing attitude was adopted, he again warned them that they were asking for trouble.

“You know my Force is very much reduced,” he said, “but I do beg of you to go away quietly and quickly, or you will suffer.”

Just then someone began to throw, and that was the signal for the gates to be opened and the reinforced police came out at the double, and the chase began.

Although they refused to respond to the request to go away quietly, the mob went helter skelter as as soon as the police were ordered to make a baton charge. They soon evidenced a desire to be elsewhere. Women were swept off their feet in the rush, and many of the crowd who did not move with sufficient speed got some taps with the baton.

In Stuart Street there was a prospect of an ugly encounter, for a section of the mob tore down some iron railings and seemed prepared to offer armed resistance, but they thought better of it.

From these streets the baton charges were carried into Wellington Street and Upper George Street, and then a general clearance of George Street was begun. Even then people were not sensible enough to go home.

Chased out of one street, they reassembled in another, and some stones were thrown, one street under repair being regarded as an ammunition dump. The rowdy element in particular remained in force in the neighbourhood of the Plait Hall, and ultimately the police decided on a thorough clearance of all the streets between George Street and the railway, and people were chased across the footbridge and up to High Town, away out of the streets beyond the Corn Exchange and down the Dunstable Road direction.

This kind of thing lasted till nearly midnight, by which time it was not quite safe for respectable citizens to be in the streets, even though walking home quite peacefully.

As the result of these encounters, one constable and one civilian had to receive attention by Dr Archibald for somewhat serious injuries. These were the only casualties of which there was any official note, but it is understood that some of the medical practitioners had a busy time yesterday morning in patching up broken heads.


[The rioters may have expected to face only a handful of fit officers at the Police Station, seemingly unaware that Chief Constable Griffin had secretly imported around 200 others from the St Albans City, Northampton Borough, Bedford Borough, Cambridge Borough, Bedford County and Herts County forces. It was later revealed that the total resulting bill faced by Luton ratepayers was £2,164 1s 1d, including £50 for a horse used by the police that was stabbed during the riots and had to be put down.]

Shop windows targeted in Monday troubles

[From The Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph: July 22nd, 1919]

The police were out in force last night [Monday, July 21st] in groups of three, and crowds lined the streets from the Town Hall to Park Street. For the good order of the town the inhabitants should restrain their curiosity and refrain from congregating in the centre.

There was some rowdyism in front of the Corn Exchange about 11 o'clock, and things began to assume a serious aspect. A quarter of an hour later a large body of police marched from the station and formed into extended order in front of the Town Hall.

Every warning was given to people in the streets to make for home at once, and it was clearly intimated that there would be no respecting of persons when the crowds were forcibly broken up. Many took advantage of this advice.

It was approaching 11.30 when the guardians of law and order decided to disperse those groups remaining, and an effective charge soon scattered them. There were one or two attempts at resistance, and bruises and cuts were sustained by both sides.

The police soon had matters well in hand and, after breaking up the principal gangs, continued their clearing up drive round the lesser streets in the affected area, and met with very little resistance.

The Luton News on the following Thursday added more to the Monday night incidents. It reported that angry mob, which included many women, pulled down a brick wall at the corner of New Street and Chapel Street and another posse of police met them higher up. In their mad rush, the rioters threw bricks and other missiles through shop windows and windows of private houses.

The large plate glass window of the Halford Cycle Company's shop in Chapel Street was smashed by a flying cocoa-nut, and the shelves on which articles were arranged, crashed. The cocoa-nut was found in the window.

Other windows smashed, apparently with bricks, included those of Mr Brandon [straw hat manufacturer in Chapel Street] and Mr Rose [physician and surgeon in George Street West], and the shop next to the Bethel Chapel in Chapel Street, whilst a large plate glass window of a private house (formerly a shop) was also smashed. To replace the window of the Halford Cycle Company's shop alone will cost over £30.

In one instance a woman was found walking about with a brick under her coat. She did not carry the brick far when found!

The affair happened about eleven o'clock, and the prompt and commendable action of the police was distinctly successful.

Shortcomings in Peace Celebrations

A letter, signed 'Man in the Street' and which was published in The Luton News (June 19th, 1919), drew attention to what he saw as the shortcomings in Luton's planned Peace Celebrations. He wrote:

“In considering our local scheme for the celebration of peace I must confess we seem to be a long way behind other towns.

“I note one town has issued the following public notice - 'During the forthcoming celebrations it is intended to provide entertainments for all widows and orphans and totally disabled ex-soldiers. There will be accommodation to witness the processions and ample refreshments will be provided.'

“Then I see our neighbouring town of Dunstable is providing cold luncheon to all discharged and serving soldiers.

“Then I turn to our own and see we are allowing 400 representatives of those who have served to take part in the procession only, and I am not surprised to hear of the dissatisfaction the scheme has caused.

“Then I note there is a peace banquet, and this is the Mayor's. I have been wondering what I should do if I had the honour to be mayor of a town like Luton in Peace Year. I should desire most of all that whatever I did would be to give credit to those to whom credit is due, and so I should certainly do as our Mayor is doing and give a banquet.

“But, instead of inviting those who can well provide themselves with a banquet, I should send them an invitation to assist me in providing the banquet and I should invite those who are the greatest sufferers from this war: the widows and orphans of those who have given the great sacrifices in helping us to have such a celebration, and those boys who, through serving their country well, have to spend the rest of their days crippled and impaired in health.

“But I am not Mayor and have not such great anticipation, and am only giving the feelings of one of many whom the Mayor represents.”


While local ex-servicemen's groups did not list the Mayor's banquet among their grievances against Luton Town Council, individuals expressed their opinion via newspaper letters columns. One, signed 'An officer's wife whose husband is still abroad' wrote in the Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph (July 12th, 1919):

“I trust all the gentlemen attending the Peace Banquet will be past or present members of His Majesty's Forces; men through whom we have been enabled to win this great victory that has brought us peace. I am hoping to hear that the town is presenting these men with the 15 shilling tickets necessary and 'if the accommodation is very limited' then the only fair way is for the tickets to be drawn.”

[The planned banquet was to have been held at the Plait Hall on Monday, July 21st, but failed to attract enough pubic support to go ahead there - the fact that women were to be barred from attending being the most widespread complaint. A small alternative event to be held at the Town Hall on the Monday obviously never took place due to the burning down of the building.]


It is unlikely that Luton members of the DS&S would have accepted even free tickets for the proposed mayoral banquet, since they had voted unanimously on June 30th, 1919, to adhere to a resolution passed by their national Federation to take no part in official civic peace celebrations - “no part whatsoever,” a subsequent advert in the local Press stated. That was a stance adopted by other neighbouring branches of the DS&S.

On July 12th, the Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph carried a report of a resolution passed by the St Albans branch: “That this Branch is of the opinion that the problems connected with the re-establishment of discharged and demobilised sailors and soldiers are in such a condition as to make it undesirable that member of the Federation should take part in the official peace celebrations; and they therefore suggest that the funds allocated to provide any entertainment for them should be placed to the War Memorial Funds.”

And the following edition of the Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph carried a report from Leighton Buzzard which said: “As a protest against inadequate pensions, nearly 500 ex-servicemen of Leighton Buzzard have declined to accept the local Peace Committee's invitation to a dinner next Saturday.”


A silly take on the ban on women at the proposed Luton banquet was taken by Andrew Playfair in the National News, as reported in the Tuesday Telegraph (July 15th). He wrote:

A great hubbub has been caused among the ladies of Luton because they have not been invited to the Peace Banquet. Mrs Attwood told the Mayor that while accommodation had been reserved for 500 men, there were not 500 men in the town who had done public work during the war, and when it came to a matter of enjoyment, she did not believe in husbands going alone. It was tantamount, she said, to putting at the bottom of the invitations “No women or dogs admitted”.

I think Mrs Attwood has displayed undue anger, but, on the other hand, the Mayor might have showed a little more tact. Had he invited women and announced that during the banquet white mice would perform on the floor he would have overcome all difficulties and the men would have dined alone.


Happily, returned ex-servicemen were entertained and dined by several churches, clubs and firms to which they belonged.

Six heroes receive their medals

Lady Wernher and medal winners

  • Lady Wernher and the six decorated heroes.

[Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph: August 19th, 1919]

One very interesting part of the sport day programme was the presentation by Lady Wernher of a number of decorations to six of her guests. This took place after tea and prior to the prize distribution. Major Harold Wernher announced the acts for which the decorations were awarded, and Lady Wernher pinned on the decorations, afterwards being photographed with the six valiant men. The decorations were:

Sgt-Major J. Day, 1/5th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment, of 6 Gaitskill Row, Luton: Distinguished Conduct Medal and Medal Militaire for conspicuous gallantry throughout the war.

Sgt J. Barford, 2nd Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment, of 50 Chobham Street: Distinguished Conduct Medal, awarded Sept 18th, 1918. Near Roussoy he captured single-handed one German officer and 47 other ranks, and a machine gun.

Sgt G. Matthews, R.A.M.C., of 10 Highbury Road: Distinguished Conduct Medal for distinguished conduct in the Field in France.

Cpl F. Gutteridge, 1st Battalion Hertfordshire Regiment, of 32 Harcourt Street: Military Medal for saving one R.A.M.C. Man who was shot in the throat, and for bringing his own company up through a gas cloud, in the face of great odds.

L-Cpl Grubb, 6th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment, of 9 Windmill Street: Military Medal, awarded November 11th, 1917, at Ypres, for devotion to duty and bravery in the Field.

Pte H. S. Smith, 1/5th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment, of 144 Park Street: Distinguished Conduct Medal and Croix de Guerre. The DCM was awarded March 25th, 1915, at Mount Kemmel for rescuing wounded man in the face of the enemy, and also for bringing in other wounded men from high ground after being himself severely wounded, his left shoulder being shot away. The Croix de Guerre was awarded on June 20th, 1918, for carrying important dispatches to battalion headquarters through a severe barrage.

Support for a return to law and order

Luton courtroom

[Luton Reporter: Tuesday, July 29th, 1919]

The Town Council found themselves in the rather quaint position last Tuesday evening [July 22nd] of meeting in the police court with the Aldermen on the Bench and the body of the court improvised to resemble the stage picture presented on Council nights in the now demolished Council Chamber.

Prior to this there had been three private meetings – one on Sunday and two on Monday – in the magistrates' room which, we are told, the air was cleared to some extent by some pretty free and frank discussion, and the outcome of the private sittings was to give approval to the steps taken by the Town Clerk and Chief Constable to quell the rioting and to the terms of a manifesto to be published broadcast in the town along with letters of support received from the Luton Local Labour Party and Trades Council, Luton and District Discharged Sailors and Soldiers Association and the Comrades of the Great War.

The Labour Party and Trades Council condemn the “brutal acts of violence and wanton destruction of property, both municipal and private,” and appeal to all citizens to do the utmost in their power to maintain order and to support those who have been placed in authority, adding: “Mob law is in direct opposition to the policy and principles advocated by the Trade Union and Labour movement.”

The DS&S most strongly support the Council's appeal to the public to preserve law and order and avoid any repetition of the riotous conduct of Saturday and Sunday last, emphatically repudiating any connection whatever with the terrible behaviour which has been followed by such disastrous results, and assure the Council that “anything we can possibly do to further such a cause will be an honour for us to do”.

“All Comrades condemn in the strongest possible manner the riotous behaviour and conduct of the mob,” says Capt Donald Simpson, hon chief organiser. “They do not consider any discharged soldier worthy of the name will approve of such behaviour, and unhesitatingly support your Council in their efforts to maintain public order.”

At the first of the series of private meetings of the Council the Deputy Mayor presided in the Mayor's absence, but subsequently Alderman Arnold was voted to the chair. This position he was also elected to at the public meeting on Tuesday evening by the votes of five Aldermen and seven Councillors, the others abstaining, and in this capacity he made a lengthy statement bearing on Saturday's deplorable and regrettable occurrences.

We understand it was agreed by the Council in committee the previous night that there should be no discussion after Alderman Arnold's statement, but he travelled so far outside the scope of the statement agreed upon in broad outline that Councillor Briggs felt constrained to make his position clear. He disassociated himself from the decision to refuse Wardown and bitterly resented such a decision being taken without his consent and being blamed for something he had n o part or parcel in.

“I deprecate the rash, abominable outrage on our town,” he said. “But there is some cause for it.”

The Council formally approved the calling in of the military and additional police to restore order, and it was reported that Sir Leonard Dunning, H.M. Inspector of Constabulary for the district, had entirely agreed with every step taken.

The heroic work of the police and firemen against heavy odds and the sterling leadership of of their respective chiefs came in for warm and deserved eulogies. Councillor Escott, Chairman of the Fire Brigade Committee, announced his intention of taking steps to secure public recognition of the firemen.

The Peace Day riots: part 5

Riot damaged shops

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

Many shops were also broken into and looted. One of these was Mr W. S. Clark's, the chemists, at the corner of Wellington Street, and bottles taken from his windows were freely used as missiles.

One fireman turned a hose on to a man who was throwing bricks at him, and the force of the water literally toppled the assailant over into the window of Messrs S. Farmer & Son's premises. This fact was promptly seized upon by the hooligan element to fetch out of the shop three pianos, and these they started playing in the street for impromptu dancing.

In Manchester Street, one of the windows of Messrs J. W. Brown & Co's shop was smashed in and absolutely emptied of boots and shoes, a number being found during Sunday in various back gardens in different parts of the town.

The sweet shop of Mr W. O. Payne nearby was also looted; while a raid of destruction was also carried out in the hairdressing saloon of Mr Caspers in Bute Street.

Matters got to such a pass after midnight that the reading of the Riot Act was seriously contemplated, and many assert this was actually done, but in official quarters reticence is observed on the subject, and we can only say that we have been unable to find anybody who says that they heard it read. If such were the case there can be no question that the circumstances justified such a procedure because the crowd seemed distraught and quite beyond any appeal to reason.

It was not until about three o'clock in he morning that the arrival of military from Biscot Camp had the effect of affording some protection for the police and firemen. It was a long time before things really quietened down, but the fire brigade were able to turn their whole attention to the fire. Within half an hour they had it well in hand and there was never any danger afterwards of the spread which had always been threatening earlier, but the whole of the Town Hall buildings were destroyed and slight damage was also done to the [adjoining] Salvation Army Barracks.

By four o'clock or half-past the fire was practically under, but a good deal of work remained to be done in turning over smouldering material, cooling down and bringing down tottering walls. Even with the help of Sunday's drenching, it was not until evening that the firemen were able to leave.

All that was saved from the Town Hal wreckage was the Mayor's chair and robe of office, and all yesterday the wreckage was viewed by large crowds.


About half-past nine in the morning a continent of Royal Engineers from Bedford arrived, and took control of the entire locality round the Town Hall, a cordon being placed round, while guards were also detailed outside each of the shop premises which have been smashed.

The contingent arriving in the town numbered something over 600, and it was said that altogether about 3,000, and five waggon-loads of ammunition are being drafted into the town. Each man on duty wears a steel helmet and is armed with 50 rounds.


While the riot was at its height the parade room at the police station is described as having been something like a slaughter house. Wounded firemen and policemen were being brought in almost every minute, and Dr Archibald and Dr Lloyd have never had to work harder.

Nearly 30 members of the police force are on the sick list, 25 being sent home after treatment, while four had to be taken to the Bute Hospital. Insp Hunt is suffering from shock, Pc Sears injuries to the head, Pc Taylor and Pc Sylvester kicks in the abdomen, and Special Constable Carter, Old Bedford Road, is also in hospital as the result of a kick in the abdomen and injury to the top of the head.

Twelve of the firemen were injured more or less severely, but several of them were able to return to duty after treatment. Chief Officer Andrew, although hit several times and looking very worn and done up on Sunday, was not hurt badly enough to have to give in, but Second Officer Jesse Plummer has had to keep to his bed as the result of concussion.

The Peace Day story: part 1

Comrades float on Peace Day

  • The earlier appearance of this Comrades of the Great War float outside the rival DS&S club in Park Street had produced the first Peace Day booing, according to the Luton Reporter.

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

Tragedy is the only word which will adequately describe Luton's Peace Celebrations – and what a tragedy too! Saturday was a day memorable enough in all conscience. In fact July 19th, 1919, is a date that will be talked of as long as the present generation lasts, and will never fade from the records of local history – but its memorable character was so utterly the reverse of the great day which will live in the memory of folks in other parts of the country that one would it were possible to put back the clock just 24 hours and draw a veil over the regrettable happenings that have had such a disastrous effect on the properties and amenities.

The atmosphere prevailing in the town was a veritable mockery of the word 'peace'. While the nation as a whole was giving itself up to rejoicings, we in Luton were troubled by fears and alarums, and, unhappily, what was rather airily viewed in some quarters as the creation of hyper-sensitive imaginations only too surely realised in a demonstration of ruthless destruction and vicious attacks on the forces of law and order that stand out unique in the district since the times of civil war.

The great bulk of the population had their peace rejoicings, it is true, and enjoyed them in spite of the depressing influences of wet weather, but, while they rejoiced, others harboured feelings of revenge and allowed violent passions to so excite and take possession of their whole being that the town has entered upon an era of peace with half its police force on the sick list, many firemen worn out and nursing serious injuries, and the military in control of a borough left with a ruthlessly ruined and gutted Town Hall as a peace monument that bears some sort of resemblance to the monuments left by the Germans as war relics on the field of France and Flanders.

It is terrible to reflect upon, and so from reflections we will pass on to facts, as far as it is possible to convey an idea of such sensational happenings in cold print.

The orgy of violence first came into evidence immediately after the really imposing and well-represented procession of peace and victory had passed the Town Hall on its way from Luton Hoo Park to Wardown Park. Up to the point of reaching the Town Hall the procession had evoked only one sentiment, that of appreciative admiration.

DS&S pre-riot disclaimerThe thickly-lined crowds lined on either side of the passage of route were models of orderliness and gave expression to unfeigned enthusiasm in the cheers with which they greeted the various units, the solitary exception being a hostile and rather ill-mannered shout, coupled with some little booing as the members of the Comrades of the Great War organisation passed the rival club [that of the Luton and District Discharged Sailors and Soldiers Association] in Park Street. This attitude towards the procession and those taking part in it was consistently maintained right along to Wardown Park, but at the Town Hall something happened to arouse other feelings among a section of the onlookers.

The Mayor and members of the Town Council were waiting in the vestibule of the Town Hall to receive the procession, and as it neared the space in front of the municipal headquarters it was steered round to the left, and turned so as to completely pass the Town Hall front before going into Manchester Street. After the first band and car in the peace procession had passed, the Mayor, in his robes and chain of office, accompanied by the Town Clerk in wig and gown, Mayor's sergeant with the mace, and members of the Council came out of the Town Hall to the edge of the pavement.

The naval contingent with their emblematic naval car depicting the heroic last stand of Jack Cornwell, the boy VC, and the Comrades of the Great War contingent were drawn up in front, and, although it was raining sharply, heads were bared as the Mayor read a Royal proclamation received from the King through the Lord Lieutenant which he announced he was desired to read in the presence of men of the Army and Navy.

The Royal message expressed His Majesty's admiration of the courage and endurance displayed by the sailors, soldiers and airmen of the county during the past five years of war, his gratitude to all the brave men and women of the county for their devoted and patriotic service, his sympathy and that of the Queen with the relatives of the gallant men who have given their lives in their country's cause, and their earnest hope that the sick and wounded may be restored to health.

"I rejoice with you today at the restoration of a peace which I trust will bring to us all unity, contentment and prosperity," concluded the Royal message, and this the Mayor supplemented with a personal word "to you men who have come into the procession today”.

"The procession," he said, "could not be complete without the representatives of the gallant men who have been fighting in the war, and therefore I desire most heartily to welcome you and trust that the outcome of our celebrations of peace will be that peace will be inside and outside of our country for many years to come."

Appeal for orderWhile the Mayor was speaking, someone on the Upper George Street side of the crowd was haranguing his neighbours in that quarter, and there were snatches of cheering and then a volume of booing. The Red Cross Band came to the rescue with the playing of the National Anthem and after this had been sung the Comrades gave cheers and one of the members of the Council called for three cheers for the disabled men. This had the effect of considerably augmenting the booing, and it continued as the procession passed, but nevertheless the Mayor and members of the Council remained on the pavement edge, and, when the Wardown V.A.D. nurses came along another halt was called and the Mayor also read the proclamation to them.

This time he had a chair brought to him and mounted it in order to be seen and heard. But a large section of the crowd had evidently made up its mind not to allow him to be heard, and he was howled down by a demonstration that was hostile in the extreme.

People in the crowd were saying that this was asking for trouble, and they were not unreliable prophets. As a matter of fact things became so threatening that before the procession had completely passed, the Mayor and his colleagues retreated to the Town Hall steps and then disappeared inside. They were either mental telepathists or their action was inspired by some who had heard something, for directly the last part of the procession had got clear the crowd made a rush for the Town Hall.

Demands were made for speech with the Mayor and Town Clerk but by this time the doors had been bolted and barred, and there was no response to their requests.

The Peace Day story: part 2

Peace Day evening crowd

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

Most of the police force had proceeded to Wardown Park unsuspecting trouble, and Sgts [Frederick] Smith and [John] Matsell and two constables were all there were left on guard. They endeavoured to humour the crowd and appealed to them not to upset matters on such a day, and in this way gained sufficient time to enable most of the Council to get clear out of the building by the back door.

But the men outside were very determined and, seeing their requests to meet the Mayor and Town Clerk were not to be complied with, they resorted to force. "We want the Mayor, and we mean to have him," they said, and gradually they forced the police back and lent their weight on the doors, with the result that they gave way, Sgt Smith being forcibly knocked through the door in the process and rather badly shaken up.

Just as the mob trooped in they caught sight of the Mayor's Sergeant [Frederick Rignall], and as he was in uniform they followed him upstairs in an instant. Mr Rignall, scenting trouble, was on his way to his office adjoining the assembly hall, where his wife and children were viewing the procession, with a view to getting them out of the building. But as he was in uniform the breakers-in concluded he was off to attend to the Mayor, and this conclusion was not easily dispelled. Having satisfied themselves the Mayor was not in the apartment to which Mr Rignall led them, they did not interfere with that office, but straight away set to work to smash everything they could lay their hands on in the assembly hall.

This building had been used for a dance the previous night, and there were chairs, forms, mirrors, crockery and decorative material lying about, and practically all met with the same ruthless treatment. Then the excited party smashed the front windows, tore down the decorations in and about the balcony, smashed the framework made for the electric illuminations, and finally started throw out chairs.

They would have done ditto with the the forms, but for appeals made to them for the safety of the women and children outside. As it was, it was purely by chance that no one was injured by the missiles literally send flying from the balcony, several people having narrow escapes.

When they had given full vent to their passion for smashing up the place, they proceeded downstairs and did some more smashing of the electric light globes, and so on, in the Council Chamber and then, when they came out, there suddenly occurred to one what had been missed in the first rush inside - the Mayor's parlour.

And little thought they knew it, the Mayor was there with the Mayoress, Aldermen Arnold, Cain and Oakley, Councillor Barford, Councillor and Mrs Escott, and the Town Clerk. Mr Rignall kept the secret well though he had to go through the hoop pretty smartly for his denial of their whereabouts.

When the location of the Mayor's Parlour was observed, some of the men tried the door, but extra precautions had been taken in the meantime. It was locked, of course, and besides steps had been taken to effectively barricade it. What would have happened if the men had persisted in trying to force their way into the room one dreads to think, but, happily, this eventuality did not arise.

Just as the Chief Constable was concluding arrangements for the orderly dispersal of the procession outside Wardown Park a message came along which caused him to proceed post haste to the Town Hall with his mounted constables, and other officers were summoned to follow in a motorcar. Their arrival was well timed, for with the accession of the strength it enabled the men in blue to better deal with the intruders, and, after some amount of discussion, they were got outside the Town Hall.

Still things continued to be pretty lively in the street. Missiles were flying about, and two went through the window of the Town Clerk's private office and another through one of the windows of the small committee room.

At intervals various of the party mounted the pillars by the side of the Town Hall steps, and poured out grievances in very pointed language which, it must be confessed, appeared to very much appeal to a considerable section of the crowd. They were cheered to the echo, and so were their sentiments, and when a marine climbed the tramway standard in the centre of the space in front and cut down the four lines of streamers from various points of the Town Hall front he was quite the hero of he moment.

With the mounted police on the scene the crowd got back a little from the Town Hall, and they became fairly orderly, although obviously excited. This was due in some part to the sudden retreat of some of the ringleaders in the trouble, and some indiscreet whispers gave the police a clue to the sudden lull before a storm and enabled them to ward off the danger.

Their destination was the residence of the Mayor [London Road], and from what was said it was clear they meant turning our the place until they found him. But by getting to hear of this and their knowledge of short cuts the police got on the scene first, stopped the men before reaching the house, and succeeded in dissuading them from carrying out the object of their errand.

The Town Hall continued for some hours to be the centre of interest for a tremendous crowd, many of whom seemed to regard what was happening as great fun. Among those who visited the scene was Mr W. B. Clay, chairman of the Luton and District branch of the Discharged Sailors and Soldiers Federation, who was introduced to the crowd by Mr W. J. Mair JP, and was given a splendid reception in response to an earnest appeal for order and fair play.

Speaking on behalf of the Federation, and in the names of "our noble dead," Mr Clay besought his hearers to refrain from drastic actions on such a day, pointing out that they were only destroying their own property and were imperilling the safety of women and children.

His speech appeared to have an excellent effect, and although a surprisingly large number of people found more interest than in the varied attractions provided in the official peace celebrations at Wardown Park, matters generally ruled very quiet as long as it was light.

Nevertheless there appeared to be general apprehensions of what would happen after ten o'clock.

The Peace Day story: part 3

[From The Luton Reporter: Tuesday, July 22th, 1919]

Folks tried to persuade themselves and their friends that common sense would rule, but it was impossible to avoid ominous illusions to another raid on the Town Hall, and there were one or two incidents in the town of decorations and illuminations being pulled down from private property which betokened that a spirit of wanton destruction was broad.

Twenty thousand or more people are reported to have been in and about Pope's Meadow for the fireworks, and these, with the relentless rain, were favourably looked upon as likely to save the situation. But towards ten o'clock the crowd in George Street and round the Town Hall increased tremendously.

Mayor Impey and Frederick RignallShedding his uniform and moving about the crowd, Mayor's Sergeant [Frederick Rignall] - pictured with the Mayor - learned enough to form the opinion that the Mayor and his bodyguard would be well advised to make good their escape while they were yet safe. It was a case of a wink being as good as a nod to a blind horse, when parties were heard to be singing to the air of a popular refrain something which brought in the Mayor's name and went on “We know where he is. We know he's at the old Town Hall."

For close on seven hours the Mayor Henry Impey and Mayoress [Agnes] were prisoners in the Mayor's Parlour, relieved by an occasional ramble into the Council Chamber when their intelligence department reported all safe. All they had in the way of refreshment was some tea which Chief Constable Charles Griffin managed to get smuggled in by the back way.

When the light began to fail they dare not go in for any tell-tale illumination, beyond the faintest glimmer so placed as not to be visible from outside, and it was a case of groping about in the dark when missiles began to crash through the windows of the Mayor's Parlour and other rooms in front of the building and indicate the necessity of a retreat to safe quarters.

The first task was to get the ladies safely away, and first Mrs Escott and then the Mayoress, who was very much upset and almost gave way under the trying experience, were escorted from the premises without exciting any attention. Aldermen Arnold and Oakley and Councillors Barford and Escott and the Town Clerk remained until the Mayor had got away, and this was not accomplished without some ingenuity being employed.

Various ideas were suggested, and rejected, and finally the one which took shape and was acted upon was the disguise of the Mayor in the uniform of a special constable. In this dress he came out of the back gate into Upper George Street and passed along the street quite unmolested. But as to his destination, perhaps the less said the better!

[The Luton Reporter, July 22nd, 1919]

The Peace Day story: part 4

Town Hall ablave 20-7-1919

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

According to all appearances the beginning of the night's trouble was with a gang of noisy young fellows who started pelting the Town Hall windows. Like all movements of this kind, it soon gathered force of numbers and prominent among the adherents were men in khaki and also women.

As in the afternoon a rush was made for the main doors, but these had been barricaded as well as securely fastened, and although the crowd reached them they could not break them open. Instead they set to work to smash all the windows and this they did one by one, not only in front but also the windows of the Food Office in Manchester Street. Here a fire was started and the fire brigade was called out.

Chief Officer Alexander Andrew turned out with one of the engines, driving through Williamson Street into Manchester Street, and got through the crowd all right, but as soon as he and his colleagues pulled up and started to work the crowd commenced to attack them. Firemen Garrett and Burgess, one of them a discharged soldier, were injured and, in consequence of the shortage of men, Chief Officer Andrew had no option but to give up the task and return to the station. Nevertheless, the Mayor's Sergeant and the Town Hall caretaker were able to get to work on the flames with buckets of water from inside the building, and valiantly they worked.

It is believed that they succeeded in quelling this outbreak, but no sooner had they met with this success than another and more serious fire broke out in the Town Clerk's general office. A party broke into the shop of Herts Motors Ltd [70 George Street] by smashing the panelled doors and also a side window, and fetched out a two-gallon tin of petrol. It is not clear if any part of this was used to ferment the first fire, but eye-witnesses aver definitely it was the cause of the second, and by the time the fire brigade got back to the scene practically the whole of the front of the building was well alight, the flames sweeping up the stairs from the general offices and being fanned by the draught from the smashed windows right through the main building.

Town Hall ablaze 1919It would have been a pretty stiff task for the brigade under any circumstances, but as it was they were rendered powerless by the action of the crowd. By taking a roundabout course and driving without lights, Chief Officer Andrew was able to get into Dunstable Place unobserved and connected up with two hydrants in Upper George Street, and afterwards from others in Gordon Street, Dunstable Place and Manchester Street, but for hours they were able to do little in the way of fire-fighting.

The crowd showed every determination to prevent them playing on the flames. Wherever they could get hold of the hose they cut it into ribbons and, not, content with this, they pelted the firemen with everything they could lay their hands on – pieces of iron, brick, broken bottles, glass and goodness knows what.

The firemen stuck to their posts like heroes, but the odds against them were too great. They were like so many cockshies to be aimed at and the only word which will describe the scene is slaughter. One after another the firemen went down like logs, either from kicks or blows from missiles.

As they went down the police and a number of civilians, including some discharged soldiers, took their places, and in self defence the firemen were compelled to adopt the policy of directing the hose on the crowd.

Altogether the firemen had seven jets going, but for something like three hours they were more engaged in turning them on the crowd than on the burning building. The police lined up and made one or two charges and some people in the crowd were hurt, but the police were so hopelessly outnumbered that they fared as badly as the firemen.

Some of the crowd fought as viciously as wild beasts, and bitterly do the police and firemen complain of a number of men in khaki. These men deliberately pelted them with all sorts of missiles at short range and there was a regular pitched battle at the lower end of Upper George Street.

When the firemen overpowered their assailants with the use of the hose, the latter went round the other way and attacked them from the rear.

The spectre of Bolshevism

Bolshevism film ads

When Town Clerk William Smith began the prosecution case against alleged Peace Day rioters at Luton Borough Court on July 30th, 1919, he said the magistrates would find the outbreak was nothing more than Bolshevism, anarchy, drunkenness and criminality, and the extreme penalty for riotous demolition of buildings was penal servitude for life.

No hard evidence was given at any related court hearing that the Luton riot was Bolshevik (or any other political group) inspired, but the fear of the Bolshevik uprisings in Russia that had spread from Scandinavia to the Balkans perhaps haunted reaction to the disturbances that broke out across Britain.

The Peace Day events in Luton even produced a letter from [Estelle] Sylvia Pankhurst, Communist daughter of famed Suffragist Emmeline. The letter was published in the International Socialism journal, The Workers' Dreadnought, on July 26th, 1919, and read:

“The serious riot in Luton, which resulted in the destruction of the Town Hall, appears to have been a spontaneous outburst of indignation on the part of the people who objected to the callous treatment of the soldiers who fought and suffered in the war, and the refusal of the Corporation to allow the discharged soldiers the use of the park for a memorial service to the men who fell.

“The spontaneous uprising of Luton people causes us to say: Communists make ready, the time of great popular unrest is drawing nearer, redouble your educational propaganda in order that the workers, at last fired by divine discontent, may realise that in Communism and the control of industry by the workers lies their only hope, and that from Capitalism all their troubles arise.

“Communists make ready for the moment when the workers can and must take control. - E. Sylvia Pankhurst.”

The DS&S in Luton must have considered there was a potential ongoing threat when in the September 20th edition of its Journal it advertised a film on the evils of Bolshevism that it was promoting for showing in Luton. It also produced an advertising leaflet for the film (illustrations above).

Having been turned down by the Palace Cinema following disturbances when the film was show in London, the Picturedrome, Park Street, agreed to show the six-reel film for three nights from October 20th, 1919. The advert, below, appeared in the Luton News of October 16th, 1919.

Picturedrome ad, Bolshevik

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.”

Thirteen more in court after riots

Thirteen prisoners appeared before Alderman T. Cain and Mr W. J. Mair at the Luton Borough Court yesterday morning [July 25th, 1919] when, for the third day in succession, charges arising from the riotous proceedings at the Town Hall on Saturday night and Sunday were preferred by the police.

The Chief Constable (Mr Griffin) said he proposed, as in the cases heard on the previous two days, to offer only sufficient evidence to justify remands.

At a later stage in the hearing, the Chief Constable stated that he had a civilian witness. The greatest possible difficulty had been experienced in securing this type of evidence, for reasons that were obvious, and he suggested that in such circumstances the names of any witnesses should not be mentioned in public.

Mr Griffins, while withdrawing his objection to bail in one or two cases, said the Bench would agree that the charges were of a most serious character, and the explanation that the “articles were given” to the people in who possession they were found by the police was the general one employed.

Among the prisoners were: a man wearing three wound stripes, a discharged soldier who said he had no pension, and an employee of the Corporation, who was stated to pay Income Tax. Another prisoner who was allowed bail and was said to have had £22 in his possession when arrests, observed smilingly, when the amount of the recognisance was being discussed, “The police have got it.”

July 25 chargesThe prisoners and charges against them were:

Ellen Louisa Goodridge, 31, cleaner, 63 Collingdon Street – stealing a gramophone value £9 8s, the property of S. Farmer, between 19th and 20th July.

Edgar Cecil Goodridge, 39, electrician, husband of the previous prisoner, with being concerned in the theft.

Bertha Field, 47, machinist, 39 Duke Street – stealing two boxes of face wax, one bottle of Mellin's Food and one book, valued at 13s, the property of Walter S. Clark.

Ada Andrews, 23, 45 Cobden Street – stealing a quantity of toilet requisites valued at £1 12s 6d, the property of William Clark.

Frederick William Couldridge, 38, watchman, Buxton Road – assembling with others to disturb the public peace and make a riot; and assaulting Chief Officer Andrew, of the Fire Brigade.

James Robinson, 3 New Street – rioting.

Arthur Barrett, 48 North Street – rioting.

Stanley Dolby, Adelaide Terrace – rioting and assault on the police.

George Buggs, 52 North Street – riotously assembling with others and beginning to demolish a shop, the property of S. Farmer, on 20th July.

Joseph Frederick Pursey, 14 Midland Road – rioting.

George Bodsworth, 12 Burr Street – rioting.

Sidney George Quince, 66 Hitchin Road – rioting.

Albert Smith, 35, labourer, Adelaide Terrace – rioting and unlawfully beginning to destroy a straw hat warehouse, the property of C. Dillingham.


The charges against Mr and Mrs Goodridge were heard together. Det-Sgt Bacon said Mr Farmer reported the loss of several gramophones, and, after making inquiries, saw Mrs Goodridge at her home. Asked where the gramophone was, she said it was in the front room and took witness there.

She was then asked: “What account do you give for having it in your possession?” Her reply was: “I found it in Manchester Street. I saw a man carrying it, and he threw it down and said he would not carry it any farther.”

Then she saw it in Farmer's doorway, and also made a statement which implicated her husband. She was taken to the police station, and later her husband was taken there also. He was told that his wife stated that they both went down the street to see the fire, and both went into Farmer's shop and there saw the gramophone on the floor; that the woman picked it up, and they both took it away.

To this he replied: “Yes, we both went to Farmer's shop, but I lost my wife. Later I saw her in the crowd. I asked what she had got and she said, 'Something for the boy'. She then showed me a gramophone and said she got it out of Farmer's shop. We took it home.”

Chief Constable Griffin stated that in this case he did not press for the prisoners to be kept in custody if they could give bail to the satisfaction of the magistrates.

Mrs Goodridge: “I have come to my senses this morning. I was in bed at one o'clock, and a neighbour woke me up. I am guilty. I told a lie, and did not know how to go to Mr Farmer's. My husband did not see me until I was carrying it home.”

The husband said he did not see the gramophone taken, and did not know his wife had it until later.

Asked whether he could give satisfactory bail, he said he had no friends in Luton, as he was practically a stranger.

The Clerk: “Are you worth £5?”

The Chief Constable: “He had £22 in his possession.”

The prisoners were remanded on bail of £20, and it was arranged that the police should keep this out of the money found on the man, and that the balance should be handed over to him for immediate needs.

Bound over to appear on Wednesday, the man said: “I never break my word.”


Bertha Field was arrested by Pc Frost, who said she denied having stolen property in her possession, but later said: “On Saturday I stood at the bottom of Wellington Street, and someone gave me two boxes of face wax, a book and a bottle of Mellin's Food. I took it home, and I gave some of it away.”

Prisoner: “I never came out until half-past ten. I went to look for my husband, and a young man said, 'Take these,' and I took them home. My husband said, 'Don't have them; give them away'.”

Bail was opposed by the Chief Constable, but later he stated that after consulting other police officers he would withdraw his opposition.

Prisoner's husband was bound over to being her up next Wednesday, and the woman left the court in a semi-collapsed state.


Ada Andrews, when questioned by Det-Sgt Bacon, produced various articles from an attache case, and said: “On Saturday I stood against a chemist's shop at the bottom of Wellington Street when a man brought all the things to me and put them in my arms.” She later repated that someone gave them to her.

Prisoner wanted bail, saying she was married and lived at Portsmouth but had come to Luton to attend to her mother while she was ill.

The Clerk: “It is a pity you came her at this time.”

Prisoner: “It is a pity.”

Prisoner was remanded in custody.


Frederick William Couldridge, when arrested said: “Not guilty”.

Inspector Fred Janes stated that he was on duty at the Town Hall after ten o'clock on Saturday night, when prisoner made repeated attempts to gain access to the main entrance of the Town Hall,. He was pushed back time after time, but came again and again until beaten off with the truncheon. Witness heard him say: “Come on, come,” and he aggravated the crowd.

Prisoner had nothing to say against being remanded, except that he was not guilty. He was kept in custody.


James Robinson, said Sgt H. Parsons, was in front of the Town Hall on Saturday afternoon. He made speeches from the steps, and tried to incite the crowd to rush the Town Hall. Later he made another speech: “I will give the Mayor five minutes before he comes out”. He counted the minutes as the clock went round, and then said: “If he doesn't come out we will fetch him out.”

Remanded in custody.


Arthur Barrett is a Corporation employee, and when arrested the previous day by Sgt Smith said: “I expected you to come, although I did no harm.”

Witness stated that on Saturday prisoner mounted the parapet outside the Town Hall, and said: “This is what you get after you come home from service out there. I have woprked for the Borough for a number of years, and they are a ------- bad lot.” Prisoner was later induced to go away from the Town Hall.

Prisoner: “I don't think I am guilty of making any harm. I got up and made a speech, I admit, but I did not try to make a disturbance.”

Town Clerk: “He admits speaking very disrespectfully of the Town Council.”

Chief Constable Griffin said prisoner was a respectable man, and while bail would be opposed in most cases, as the charges were serious, he did not oppose in this case.

The Clerk: “Are you worth £10 after paying your debts?”

Inspector Janes: “He pays Income Tax.”

Prisoner was given bail in £10.


Stanley Dolby was alleged to have been concerned in the renewed disturbances on Sunday night, and said nothing when arrested.

Sgt Matsell stated that on Sunday night he was with other officers engaged in clearing George Street. Prisoner was at the corner of Adelaide Terrace with other people, and there the police received considerable opposition.

They succeeded in clearing the crowd, and prisoner broke away and went to the Market Hill. Opposite Barclay's Bank he threw a big stone and hit another police officer.

Prisoner said he was in New Bedford Road at 9.30 and, as he could not get home through the main street, he went round Bridge Street and got to Market Hill, and then the top of Cheapside. He met about 30 or 40 police, and some of them asked where he was going. He told them, and the prisoner alleged they said: “Set about him, boys!”

Later, as he was going into Adelaide Terrace, he was again questioned. “They told me to double,” said the prisoner, “and I doubled. I did not throw the stones.”

Witness, in reply to a question, said he knew prisoner well, and had not the slightest doubt about him being the man.

Remanded in custody.


“Yes, I was there,” said George Buggs when arrested by Sgt Clarke.

Prisoner: “I was coming down Wellington Street at 9.30. I went straight down Bute Street, and went straight home and don't know anything about this business.

Chief Constable Griffin said this was one case in which a civilian witness was available.

Alderman Cain: “Prisoner will be remanded in custody.”


Joseph Frederick Pursey was wearing three wound stripes, and when arrested said: “What is it for?”

Pc Causebrook arrested the prisoner and told him he was arrested for Saturday afternoon, and he then said: “I was there.” Witness said he was at the Town Hall on Saturday afternoon and saw prisoner on the steps.

He shouted: “Four minutes to go,three minutes to go, two minutes to go, one minute to go, and then we will have the ------- out.” When the last minsute had elapsed he shouted: “Over you go, boys. In you go! Fetch them out!”

Prisoner: “When I spoke about the minutes to go it was six o'clock. Then I left the Town Hall and did not see it again until Sunday morning.”

Remanded in custody.


George Bodsworth said he was not guilty. His statement to Sgt Parsons when arrested was: “Yes, I was there, but I didn't do any harm.”

Sgt Parsons said that on Saturday evening he took part in a charge by the police near the Town Hall. On one occasion witness was separated from the other police officers. Prisoner, who was in the foremost part of the crowd, rushed at him, and witness had to beat the people off with his staff.

Prisoner was carrying a large stick, and made several attempts to strike witness.

Remanded in custody.


Sidney George Quince was arrested in Hitchin Road by Sgt Parsons.

Sgt Smith said prisoner addressed the crowd at the Town Hall on Saturday afternoon and shouted: “Come on, let's out the ------ Mayor and all the ------ policemen. Come on, boys.” He came towards the steps, but witness pushed him back three or four times.

“Prisoner: “I was like a hundred and one other people. I was only a looker-on, and never interferred with the police in any shape or form.”

Alderman Cain: “You will be able to state that next Wednesday.”

Prisoner: “I had no grievance to make a speech about. I am a discharged soldier, but not a pensioner.”

Remanded in custody.


Albert Smith was only arrested yesterday morning at the Market Hill, but told Sgt Matsell: “I have been expecting you. I heard you were after me. I was knocked down near Dillingham's, and went into Dr Sworder's surgery.” At the police station he again said: “I was taken to the doctor's”

Sgt Matsell said that last Saturday he put prisoner out of the Town Hall and down the steps time after time.

The Clerk: “Did he attempt to rush the Town Hall?”. Witness: “Yes.”

It was stated that a constable who would give evidence against prisoner in connection with the second charge of attempting to destroy Messrs Dillingham's warehouse was still on the sick list.

Remanded in custody.

Town Council and the Wardown question

In a notice published in the Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph on July 15th, 1919, the local branch of the Discharged and Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers Federation pointed out that they would be adhering strictly to a nationally-agreed policy of refraining from taking any part whatsoever in Peace celebrations and, while they had a deep grievance against the Town Council for the refusal of the use of Wardown Park for a sacred purpose, they did not want to cause a feeling among the general public that would be detrimental to their interests.

In the following week's Tuesday Telegraph, and also in The Luton News of July 24th, the Town Council replied to the Wardown question with the notice shown above, with a transcription below:



The Town Council deeply deplore the events of Saturday afternoon and evening, and take the earliest possible opportunity of issuing a statement to the Public.

Allegations have been made that the riotous conduct of a large number of persons on that day was the result of the refusal to permit the use of Wardown Park for a Memorial Service in honour of the men who fell in the war.

The exact circumstances are as follows: -

The Discharged Sailors' and Soldiers' Association made application by a letter of 7th July, for permission to use Wardown Park for a Drumhead Memorial Service on Sunday, 20th July, and invited the Council to join their procession and attend the Service.

Public noticeAs there would not be a Council Meeting until 22nd July, and it was desired to give an early answer, the letter was submitted to a number of members of the Parks Committee (who were asked to remain after the meeting of another Committee) as owing to many other meetings it was not practicable to arrange for a prompt meeting of the Parks Committee. The members considered it was not desirable to use Wardown Park, as there was no statement that the Service was to be a combined service at the request of the majority of the discharged sailors and soldiers; and the Town Clerk was instructed to offer the use of Pope's Meadow, as being the more suitable place, or the Moor in New Bedford-road. This decision was mentioned also at a meeting of the Watch Committee the same evening, and no objection was made; and it was thought inadvisable for the Council to join in the Procession or attend the Service officially, as the Discharged Sailors' and Soldiers' Association represented only a portion of the discharged men. Had a combined application been made by the Association and the Comrades of the Great War there is no doubt the Council would have officially joined in the proceedings.

The offer was refused, and within a few days the Association accepted an invitation to use Luton Hoo Park, and the matter was thus concluded.

The Discharged Sailors' and Soldiers' Association inserted in the "Saturday Telegraph", published on Friday, the 18th inst., an advertisement urging all the members to conduct themselves peaceably on Peace Day; and a contingent of the Comrades of the Great War and their Band (by the decision of their Body) joined in the Procession organized by the Council.

The President of the Discharged Sailors' and Soldiers' Association saw the Town Clerk between 6 and 7 pm and disclaimed most strongly that the riotous conduct during the afternoon was by discharged sailors and soldiers, and he and Mr. W. J. Mair, JP (one of the Labour Leaders) addressed the large crowd and urged the people to disperse and cease any further damage or bad conduct.

The riot broke out shortly after 10 pm and continued for some hours after midnight.

The speeches made during the day in front of the Town Hall indicated that the Wardown Park question had little to do with the disorderly behaviour, and that other grievances mentioned were of a more serious importance, such as alleged unsatisfactory allowances to discharged soldiers and their dependants.

The Council have definitely approved the action taken to quell the most serious riot, and recorded their admiration of the splendid and restrained conduct of the Police and Fire Brigade, and their sympathy with the many men who have been injured.

They are determined to uphold the law and preserve the King's Peace, and to govern the town in conformity with their powers. Stern measures will be adopted to prevent, or overcome, any further symptoms of riot, and the inhabitants are advised and strongly urged not to congregate in the streets either during the day or night, and to proceed with their business quietly and peaceably. The Council have the utmost faith that this request will be readily complied with for the general benefit of the community.

By the unanimous Order of the Council. Luton, 21st July, 1919.

W. SMITH, Town Clerk.

Vote of thanks to Lady Wernher

Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph: August 19th, 1919]

Mr C. Barber (DS&S), in proposing a vote of thanks to Lady Wernher for the great kindness she had shown to all the ex-servicemen of Luton, said it was not the first time they had to thank her for honour bestowed on them as men who had fought. Those who were privileged to be at the Memorial Service not three weeks earlier saw what they would never forget.

When Lady Wernher gave them the use of her magnificent park on that occasion they knew they would have a great success, and only those who were present could realise to the smallest extent what that success was. It was the most reverent, most beautiful service that could possibly be imagined.

Now Lady Wernher, not satisfied with what she had already done, had invited them to tea, sports and other entertainments. He wanted all to show, therefore, exactly how they thought of her Ladyship, and when this resolution had been seconded he was going to call for three cheers to show her in some small measure what they thought of all she had done.

There had never been in Luton such a gathering as this one (cheers), and they thanked her very heartily indeed for all she had done for discharged men.

Hoo thanks advertsMr Colin C. Daniels (Comrades), in seconding, said “magnificent” was hardly the word for it. Everyone would agree that this was one of the finest days Luton had ever had. In this organisation of Federation, Comrades and unattached he could see a step towards what some of them were hoping to achieve – the amalgamation of all ex-servicemen into one strong body (cheers). This was a stepping-stone towards that end, and they would all agree that everything about this gathering had been absolutely top hole.

He hoped they would all go away with the very best impressions, and he thought in gathering together this great crowd Lady Wernher had helped towards the amalgamation of all ex-servicemen for the purpose of obtaining the one end they were all our for.

Mr S. E. Wilkinson (Unattached), in supporting, said that by her kindness and sympathy for discharged sailors and soldiers Lady Wernher had endeared herself to all, and no words of his could indicate the respect and admiration they felt for her.

Mr Willcox (Luton Hoo), on behalf of the Estate employees, their wives and children, also supported.

The passing of the resolution was signalised by vigorous cheering.

A handsome bouquet of malmaisons and clarkia was then presented to Lady Wernher on behalf of the guests by Mr Ellingham, of North Street, Luton, a Crimean Veteran who had a seat of honour through all the proceedings of the day.

Lady Wernher, Major Harold Wernher and other members of the Luton Hoo party had earlier in the afternoon been to him to chat about his experiences in the Crimea, India and China in the days of long ago and about the medals he so proudly displayed. As he was too feeble to to go to the platform to hand up the bouquet, Lady Wernher went over to his seat, and in return presented him with a walking-stick as a memento of the occasion.


Lady Wernher (pictured right), replying to the resolution of thanks, said; “I have to thank you for the vote of thanks you have so kindly proposed, and which has been so enthusiastically responded to and endorsed by all present. I am deeply touched by the sentiments expressed towards myself.

“More than all do I feel honoured in having being invited to pin on the medals so nobly won by Sgt-Major Day, St Matthews, Sgt Barford, Cpl Gutteridge, Cpl Grubb and Pte Smith. In all these cases the coveted awards were gained by deeds which must make us thrill with admiration and pride. Theirs is heroism, courage and valour, added to the qualities of endurance and fortitude such as have been dem,anded of all our men who fought in this war.

“What is meant by that endurance and fortitude can only be appreciated by those who have visited the British battle front in France, as I have done. To have wandered over those windswept, devastated places is indeed to realise the abomination of desolation. Over all those wide stretches of wasted lands there is nothing but an impression of universal upheaval, endless ruin, charred and mutilated tree stumps, and nothing else except pathetic little groups of crosses which show where our heroes rest in peace.

“These surroundings were not such as to produce heroic deeds were not heroism within our men themselves. You must remember that year in and year out our men not only have stood it uncomplainingly, but have risen to such brave deeds as have found their public recognition today. In congratulating Sgt-Major Day and his comrades for their splendid achievements I know I am voicing the sentiments of all present when I assure them how proud and pleased we are to have them among us today (cheers).

“It is only a short while ago that we met on this same ground to pay homage to the dead. Today we pay it to the living. I should like you all to know the gratification it was to me – a very special gratification – that the drumhead memorial service was held here.

“To me the Park has been sanctified in that a service of that kind was held within its precincts, and the fact that we gathered here together to mourn those dear ones who will never return has formed a bond between Luton Hoo and Luton that coming ages cannot destroy.


“Now, I have a personal word to say to you men. We all know how splendidly you did your bit. Your presence here today is a tangible proof of our appreciation. It is because of the way you carried on that I appeal to you to do yet further your bit in peace.

“We all deplore the recent happenings in Luton, and that a small – a very small – section of hooligans and rioters should have cast a stigma on the town that has made it a byeword all over England. As the Lady of the Manor of Luton, I appeal to you men to steel yourselves to wipe out that stigma. It can only be done one way – by unity of principle, unity of performance and unity of action. We have symbolically seen this afternoon pulling different ways in the tug-of-war. The weaker side went under and go away empty-handed. That is not what we want to see except in play.

“We want to see every man, weak or strong, gain the prizes that make life worth living – contentment, prosperity and happiness, and to achieve this we must all pull together and not different ways” - (cheers).

Later, hearty cheers were given for Major Harold Wernher, who said it was a very great pleasure for him to be among the old soldiers again, and to see some of the old faces he had known for many years. He hoped they would meet many times in the future.

From the Luton Hoo estate 102 men went out to the war. Out of those, nine failed to return. At the outbreak of war every single man on the place who was eligible volunteered. They were not all taken, because they were not all fit, but they all tried, and that was the spirit to get on.

Was the Riot Act read?

Was the Riot Act actually read during the Peace Day disturbances in Luton? The Luton Reporter newspaper questioned whether it had been, and no mention of a Riot Act reading was made in any court cases.

In its edition of July 22nd, 1919, the newspaper reported: “Matters got to such a pass after midnight that the reading of the Riot Act was seriously contemplated, and many assert this was actually done, but in official quarters reticence is observed on the subject.

“We can only say that we have been unable to find anybody who says that they heard it read. If such were the case there can be no question that the circumstances justified such a procedure because the crowd seemed distraught and quite beyond any appeal to reason.”

Chief Constable Charles Griffin finally answered the Riot Act question in evidence to Luton magistrates on July 30th. He said: "About five minutes to three [on July 20th] the military arrived in small numbers, which were subsequently increased, and the streets cleared. A magistrate was fetched out of bed at three o'clock or so, but the Riot Act was not read."

[The Riot Act was required to be read by a JP, who could include the Mayor as chief magistrate. Police enforced the Riot Act, but were not empowered to read it out. In a riot in Luton in 1895, the then Deputy Mayor Asher Hucklesby was recorded as having read the Riot Act.]

Women 'banned from Peace banquet'

Banquet ban headline

That was the pre-Peace Day 1919 headline in the Beds and Herts Saturday Telegraph, of July 12th, 1919. It was an article by a V. G. Lewis, not a snubbed ex-serviceman but a member of the Luton Board of Guardians.

Furthermore, it was written by a woman. After all the clamour and controversy surrounding the proposed Peace Celebrations in Luton, history and the history books tend to overlook that it was not only the veterans of the Great War who were slighted by the Town Council, so was an even bigger section of Luton's population - its womenfolk.Banquet advertisement

Despite up to 500 places being available at the Plait Hall for the proposed 15 shillings a ticket subscription banquet, an advertisement in the newspapers said "as the accommodation is very limited, it is regretted that the banquet must be restricted to gentlemen".

Mrs Violet Gwendoline Lewis (wife of Mr Colton Taylor Lewis, of 1 Union Street, Luton) was one of only five members of the Board of Guardians not to be invited to the feast - all of them women. She had  chaired meetings of the Luton Women's Suffrage Society and was presumably well-known locally, having been elected to the Board by the voters of Luton's East Ward.

It is interesting to note that she wrote her scathing attack in the Saturday Telegraph in her own name (rather than as Mrs Colton Lewis). Unusual for its day, too, Mrs Lewis was given space in the newspaper to speak her mind and blast the "mean, petty, discourteous, blundering" male establishment running the town (admittedly it was on a page seven heavily devoted to advertising). This is what she had to say.

The storm of disapproval and indignation that has been raised over the action of the Peace Celebrations Committee, who decided to ban the Women Guardians from attending the Peace Banquet, has doubtless been as disconcerting as it was unexpected, yet none the less deserved by the men who have so discourteously blundered.

It is amazing that anyone could imagine a mean and petty action of this kind should be allowed to pass unchallenged; on the contrary, when it happens, as on this occasion, so great a breach of good manners has been committed, then the correction inevitably must follow - and that in no uncertain voice.

It ought not to be necessary to admonish men who imagine themselves competent to arrange a matter of this kind with tact and sense of fitness of things - yet the very fact that this Committee calmly decided to banquet among themselves speaks more eloquently than words, making clear that evidently all they deemed necessary in order to rid them of their uneasy feeling of selfishness was to call out to the Women Guardians like the Hatter did to Alice at the Mad Tea party: "No room, no room".

When we were told on Monday [July 7th, 1919] that some 400 or 500 men were expected to assemble for this Peace Banquet, but no room could possibly be found for five Women Guardians - that would work out at one woman for every hundred men - we knew well enough, even as they know, their reason was not lack of room, but rather that they want to have the banquet all to themselves, but they have not the courage to say so.

This course of banning the Women Guardians from the Banquet is illegal, inasmuch as the rest of the Board will be eligible to attend as such, and by this time doubtless have all received their invitations.

What I want to know, in common with many others, is by what authority has this action been taken? In whom is invested the right to single out five persons from an elected body such as the Board of Guardians, and say to them: "You are regretfully (doubtless with their tongue in cheek) banned from the Banquet because there is no room. We can seat 500, but not five more.

I maintain with my women colleagues that we are duly elected upon the Board of Guardians by the ratepayers of Luton to do our duty by them and the poor alike. Therefore, if the Board is invited to attend the Peace Banquet as a corporate body, no one has any right to decide that we - the women serving on the Board - shall be banned.

Of course, there will be the usual paltry quibblings such as "No one yet has been invited" or "I am not going as a Guardian" or "I am in favour of including women, but I did not vote" etc, etc, etc. All of this only makes the whole thing more contemptible. The fact remains that those people who thus speciously equivocate are going - it matters not under which cloak - that they, at any rate, will have due recognition given them should they care to attend. The fact also remains that a direct insult has been offered the Women Guardians - an insult we do not intend to look over.

Men who can thus meanly decide to ask the help of women when there is plenty of work to be done, and then banquet by themselves when they know there will not be probably quite so much needed to call in their aid as in the past few anxious years - thinking to rudely dismiss that matter at that - are not large minded or public spirited enough to have in their charge the affairs of a town such as Luton.Mayor Impey and macebearer Frederick Ringall (Thurston)

One can only judge people by their actions, and anything like this unprecedented act of selfishness and blundering discourtesy only goes to prove their minds are archaic and their outlook and thoughts beclouded by ignorance of the signs of the times - a darkness more reminiscent of the Middle Ages than the Twentieth Century.

Why were we not banned from attending the State Service last Sunday? I believe we each received an invitation to be present, and those of us who were able to do so were in attendance. We did not hear there was no room for us at the Thanksgiving Service. I wonder why!

And now I come to the last hoary argument that this self-appointed committee cling on to with limpet-like tenacity, namely that if they invited the Women Guardians they would be bound to include all other representatives of women who worked so hard for their town during the war.

If there is not room in the existing accommodation, it is the business of those people who imagine they are competent to arrange these matters to devise a plan by means of which there would be sufficient room to contain a body of guests which should consist of representatives - men and women - of all those various organisations that have rendered signal service to their town and country in its grave crisis.

But splendid as has been the work of the women of Luton, and I am the first to realise it and pay humble tribute to them, their case is not quite on all fours with this singling out of the five members of an elected body - which is tantamount to the committee saying the Board as such shall be invited "but we will keep the women members out".

In conclusion, for the benefit of the committee that has so grievously blundered, I cannot do better than quote a paragraph from the London Evening News of Tuesday last: "The day has gone by when the nation could afford to treat the half of its population - the better half, in fact - as useless ornaments."

Luton, like the rest of Britain, can no longer keep woman outside on the doormat while man monopolises business and banquets.


At the Board of Guardians meeting referred to by Mrs Lewis, the women's spokeswoman, Mrs Haith, expressed their great indignation at not being invited to the banquet. It was not that she or the other ladies were particularly anxious to actually attend but they felt they ought to have the right of acceptance or refusal.Lady Guardians revolt

Mayor Henry Impey, who was presiding at the meeting, said the fact that the committee felt they wanted a representative gathering of the commercial men of the town caused them to decide to have gentlemen only. There was no reflection on the lady members of the Board, it was simply a matter of restricted accommodation.

The Mayor refused to be drawn on whether invites had been sent to the male members of the Board, and inflamed the situation further by ruling further discussion out of order. Mrs Lewis refused to be ruled out of order and said that as a Guardian she had a right to speak, and moved adjournment of the Board because no member should be cried down.

The Mayor continued to call for next business, and the ladies, with murmurs of disapproval, finally gave way.


Due to the large numbers expected to be involved, the proposed banquet was originally planned to be held at the Plait Hall on Monday, July 21st, 1919. The Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph of July 5th reported that Webdales, of Wellington Street, were to be asked to undertake the decorating of the hall, and a sub-committee comprising the Mayor (Councillor Henry Impey), Deputy Mayor (Councillor C. Dillingham), Alderman Staddon and Alderman Oakley had been appointed to oversee the event.

It seems that the "no women" restriction resulted in far fewer invitations than expected being accepted. For example, Mr Milner Gray, whose wife was also a member of the Board of Guardians, turned down the Mayor's invitation by quoting Scripture. He wrote: "Dear Mr Mayor, Thank you very much for your invitation but 'I have married a wife and cannot come'."

Another male writer said: "I heartily agree with the ladies (of the Board of Guardians), and it would indeed be a sad mistake if this took place without our noble army of women workers being represented. Has the Mayor so soon forgotten the splendid part taken by the women of the Empire during the late war? Are not the Peace celebrations to be participated in by all?

"We must never forget that the women - the magnificent women - made this glorious victory possible, and that without their help, both on the home and war fronts, we might have never had any victory celebrations."


By July 17th, The Luton News reported that the event was by then "an invitation Mayoral banquet to be held at the Town Hall" - an obviously much small feast in the much smaller Assembly Room.

And after the Town Hall was burned down it never happened at all.

[Picture: Mayor Henry Impey and macebearer Frederick Ringall (photo by Fredk Thurston)]



Women Guardians' banquet protest

Guardians's revolt heading

[From the Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph: July 8th, 1919]

Yesterday, at the meeting of Luton Board of Guardians, the lady members strongly protested against their exclusion from the town's peace banquet, to be held on the 21st inst. The Mayor presided.

Mrs Haith rose and said that she had been asked by the ladies on the Board to express to the Chairman (as Mayor) their great indignation that they had not been invited to the peace banquet on the 21st. The excuse was that owing to lack of room only gentlemen would be invited.

She reminded the Chairman that there were only five women elected to public bodies by the ratepayers, and they were members of that Board. She did not wish to deprecate in any way the work of the ladies of the War Pensions Committee, the clinics and kindred bodies, but she pointed out to him that they were not elected, and the lady Guardians who were elected had equal rights with the gentlemen on the Board, and ought to be given the opportunity of sharing the honours conferred by the Mayor of the town.

It was not that she or the other ladies were particularly anxious to actually attend at the banquet but they thought they ought to have the right of acceptance or refusal.

The Mayor said that if he made an explanation right away there might be no need for a discussion. He was prepared to invite members of the public bodies, but limited accommodation and the fact that the committee felt they wanted a representative gathering of the commercial men of the town caused them to decide to have gentlemen only. There could be no more than 400 or 500 present.

There was no reflection on the lady members of the Board. As far as he was concerned, he wanted to invite ladies, but it seemed to be simply a matter of restricted accommodation.

Mrs Haith: “But have you invited the other gentlemen Guardians?” The Mayor: “No one has had an invitation.”

Mrs Haith: “Are they going to have?” The Mayor: “I don't know.” Mrs Lewis: “Yes I know they are.”

Mrs Haith: “If they have an invitation we should have one also.”

The Mayor mentioned that the ladies would not be overlooked in another direction.

Mrs Attwood, speaking for a great number of ratepayers, said there was always work for women to do. She knew it always meant working if she got an invitation. If there was room for them to work, there was room for enjoyment, and she did not believe in being left out in the cold. She was not speaking for herself, but for the women of Luton.

They had taken a great interest in war affairs, and it was a slight on women in Luton in general. She did not want the Mayor or anybody to take it as a personal matter, but it was of public importance. If they did the work they should join in the pleasure, and if there were to be several hundred at the banquet, why not have legitimate workers? When it was a question of pleasure the women were left at the bottom of the bill. They ought to put a notice up: “No women or dogs admitted.”

Mrs Haith said they took exception to the advertisement in the Saturday Telegraph. She was about to proceed when the Mayor held that the discussion was out of order.

Mrs Lewis next rose to speak, and when the Mayor loudly ruled her out of order, she retorted: “I refuse to be ruled out of order. As a Guardian I have a right to speak.”

The Mayor (loudly): “I must ask the Board to stand by me.” Mrs Lewis: “Are you speaking as Mayor or as Chairman of the Board?” The Mayor: “I am speaking as Chairman of the Board. Next business, Mr Clerk.”

Mrs Lewis warmly said that she must move the adjournment of the Board because no member should be cried down when having a right to speak. Mrs Haith quickly seconded, but the Mayor ignored this, and said: “Get on with the next business.”

The Clerk: “What is the next business?” Mrs Lewis: “The Board is adjourned. Can we move the adjournment of the Board, Mr Clerk?”

The Mayor: “You can make any representation to the Town Council or any other body, but this Board doesn't decide this.”

The Rev F. C. Mahoney: “It is an extraneous matter altogether.”

The Clerk advised that the question was out of order at that Board. He sympathised with the ladies, but it was not a matter for the Board of Guardians.

Mrs Lewis: “It affects us as Guardians.” Rev Mahoney: “You must report to the Council and not the Guardians.”

The Mayor continued to call for the next business during the whole of this talk, and eventually the ladies, with murmurs of disapproval, gave way.