Alternatives to Wardown maternity home

Wardown VAD Hospital patients

  • Wardown House use as a V.A.D. Hospital extended to May 1919.

The future use of the mansion at Wardown was again discussed at the meeting of Luton Town Council on Tuesday evening. The Maternity and Child Welfare Committee have alternative schemes under consideration, reported The Luton News (March 20th, 1919), and although some members of the committee consider they are not suitable alternatives, a lady inspector of the Local Government Board who was to visit Luton today and tomorrow to inspect Wardown and to interview the Medical Officer and Town Clerk in reference to the Council's original scheme, has been asked to defer her visit till the alternative schemes have been considered further. Also, the [V.A.D.] hospital authorities have had their tenure of the mansion extended till the middle of May.

In the report of the Maternity and Child Welfare Committee of March 11th, it was stated that the Council had received information of three properties which were available for the purpose of a maternity home.

The owner of Norton Works, at the corner of Havelock Road and North Street, was stated to have given the Council the option of purchasing the freehold of that property, subject to the purchase being approved by the Local Government Board. That option expires if approval is not received by June 24th.

Messrs J Cumberland & Sons, on behalf of the owners of St Dominic's School, Rothesay Road, forwarded plans and terms on which the property might be acquired.

And the County Business Transfer Agency informed the Council that Mondella, a house in Park Street, was for sale by private treaty.

The committee, having considered these offers, decided to meet last Thursday to inspect St Dominic's School and the Norton Works.

The inspection was actually made, however, on Saturday, and only four members of the committee – the Chairman (Councillor Primett), Alderman H. O. Williams and Councillors Barford and Bone. As the result of that visit, the following report was submitted, and was the subject of considerable protest.

The committee inspected St Dominic's School, Rothesay Road. Resolved: that Messrs J. Cumberland & Sons be informed that the committee are unable to arrive at any decision in regard to their offer of the premises until a definite date is stated on which vacant possession will be given if the Council decides to purchase; and that the committee consider the price asked is too high.

Norton Works. Resolved: That this committee are unable to recommend the offer of Norton Works at the corner of Havelock Road and North Street, as they are of opinion the premises are unsuitable for a maternity home etc.

Before these reports were dealt with, the Town Clerk read a letter from Lieut-Col Stevens, County Director of the British Red Cross Society, stating that the hospital was still urgently required for the sick from troops stationed at Luton. Col Stevens thanked the Council for an extension which had been arranged by telephone, and for all the help the Council had given since the hospital was first opened.

Councillor W. J. Primett moved that the V.A.D. Be permitted to retain the use of Wardown Mansion till May 14th, which would give them an extra six weeks, and that this extension should be final. Alderman E. Oakley seconded.

The Deputy Mayor (Councillor C. Dillingham) moved an amendment that the V.A.D. Should not be disturbed un til such time as they no longer require the mansion. Councillor M. Barford seconded, and said it would be a great mistake to close the hospital until the sick troops in the town were otherwise provided for. Councillor A. B. Attwood supported.

It was then questioned by Councillor Primett whether the amendment was in order. The Mayor (Councillor Henry Impey) said it was not, and added that Col Stevens only asked for an extension till May 14th, and if they granted this a further extension could be applied for if necessary.

After Councillor Attwood said that Councillor Primett had definitely stated the extension was to be final, Councillor Primett explained that it had been urged that Wardown was inconvenient to soldiers who had to go down there for special treatment. In another week they would received treatment in the centre of the town, the War Pensions Committee having arranged this. At present they had to pay tram fares or walk when the trams were not running, and it had meant an expenditure of time and money for them to go to Wardown.

Councillor Barford asked how the amendment was out of order and the proposition was not. The Mayor said there was a resolution on the books limiting that place as a hospital. They asked for a certain extension, and the proposition was that this should be granted. The Town Clerk advised that the amendment was out of order.

The Deputy Mayor: If my amendment is out of order, and Councillor Primett is in order fixing a time in May, I will alter mine and suggest they be given nine months from the date of application.

A further explanation of why the amendment was out of order was wanted by Councillor Briggs.

The Town Clerk said it was not proper for him to enter into an argument with a member of the Council as to whether a resolution or amendment was in order. On this occasion, however, he would depart from principle and say that Councillor Primett was right in proposing that an extension should be granted because it was for a limited time, and because under present conditions the place would not be required by the Council until the second week in May.

Councillor Dillingham's amendment was in effect a revocation of a decision of the Council, and could not be put to the meeting unless that previous decision was first revoked. If Councillor Dillingham moved that a time be fixed at some future date which was not likely to interfere with the Council's existing resolution, the position would altogether be different.

Alderman Oakley said that in seconding Councillor Primett's motion he did not want to turn the V.A.D. Out on May 14th if they wanted to continue longer. He thought that when that time arrived a further application for extension was made the Council would be willing to grant it.

After Councillor Primett agreed to withdraw a date and the 'final' part of his resolution, the Deputy Mayor said he did not think that was good enough and moved the time given be six months.

Councillor G. Warren: “We all sympathise with their work and our sympathies are strong enough to accede to a further request for extension if it is made. I think the resolution will meet the case.”

Alderman J. H. Staddon supported the May date, saying: “There are some of us who by the middle of May want Wardown for the public and we want the V.A.D. out of the hospital if possible, so that it can revert to its original use, a refreshment and recreation place. That is what some of us are out for. I hope the resolution will be carried and that by May 14th the mansion and park will be available for the general public.”

Councillor Yarrow: “I think there is a large amount of uncertainty in the town as to what is our future intention in regard to Wardown. I know what is the general opinion in the town, and I should like a direct answer from the Chairman of the Maternity and Child Welfare Committee as to whether it is that committee's intention to pursue the course of using Wardown House for a maternity home.

“I see by the report that certain negotiations have fallen through, and I want to know if they are still pursuing negotiations in other quarters, or whether they are going to force another vote, because I feel certain members of the Council have altered their opinions a great deal.”

The Mayor ruled that this was going beyond the resolution and amendment and, after Alderman T. Cain had spoked, the Mayor intervened again to limit the scope of the discussion to the matter immediately before the meeting.

A vote was then taken, and only six were in favour of continuing the V.A.D. occupation of the mansion for a further six months, 12 voting against such an extension. The resolution to extend the period to May 14th was then agreed to.

Reviewing the alternative schemes, Councillor Primett said some of the members of the committee visited Norton Works, or Norton College as it was previously known, and also St Dominic's School. The only reason the latter was offered to the Council was that it was proposed to transfer the school to a larger and more up-to-date place when it could be obtained, as the school had outgrown its present accommodation.

The Park Street property was really no use, there was no certainty when St Dominic's would be obtained, and the Norton Works were unsuitable, as the house would hardly accommodate the hospital staff, and the accommodation for patients would not be suitable.

Alderman Cain was glad the Council were looking about for a suitable place other than Wardown. That was not his view, and he hoped the committee would not be driven to taking an unsuitable place because there was some opinion opposed to putting the mansion at Wardown to the next best possible use after its present use. He not believe anything like the real majority of people had any real objection to the proposal to use Wardown in this way.

Councillor Yarrow repeated his question as to the intentions of the committee, and said that if it was inconvenient for soldiers to get to Wardown for treatment he would like to known how it could be any more convenient for the patients they proposed to send there, and their friends who would want to visit them.

The Parks Committee only assented to the scheme because they were assured there was no alternative. Now it seemed there were alternatives, and it would allay a lot of apprehension in the town if people knew the committee proposed to go somewhere else.

The Mayor said it was wasting time to keep talking about this matter over and over again. If it was felt the Council had come to a wrong decision, it was open to members to move that the matter should go back for reconsideration.

Councillor R. F. Briggs said he could have accompanied the inspecting party on Thursday, but on Saturday it was impossible. Only four members, or less than half the committee, were present, and as there was another committee meeting on Thursday he thought Councillor Primett would be well advised to withdraw the recommendations and bring them before the committee on Thursday.

Councillor Bone remarked that people should rid themselves the apprehension that the committee were determined to have Wardown at all costs, for the committee were trying to find a batter place. They would not, however, ger a better place cheaper.

Councillor Barford moved that the Local Government Board Inspector be asked to defer her visit until the Council had an opportunity of considering the alternative schemes, for if she came and said: “Yes, go on with your work,” it would give partisans of Wardown an unfair advantage, and opponents would be placed at a disadvantage.

With reference to the inspection on Saturday, he did not know it was intended to be a formal meeting of the committee. They Mayor and Councillor Briggs were not present and, in his opinion, it was not intended to arrive at a definite decision on Saturday.

Alderman Staddon seconded the proposal to defer the Inspector's visit, saying that if the Inspector came the Wardown scheme would be pushed down their throats before they had time to say 'knife'.

Councillor Primett said he would accept this, providing a reasonable limit was put to the time it was deferred. They did not want to ram Wardown down anybody's throat, or for the Inspector to do this.

The Mayor said he thought that after the visit of inspection a report would be drawn up at the next meeting of the committee, and thought the Chairman would be well advised to withdraw that portion of the report, so that the matter could be fully discussed in committee.

He had since visited both places. His findings did not agree with the committee as set out in the report, and he would have protested on Saturday against a decision being then arrived at.

Councillor Briggs supported the amendment, and said that as Councillor Barford evidently did not agree with the last report, it was apparently the decision of only three out of nine members of the committee.

Councillor Yarrow questioned whether it was wise to launch out on such a complete scheme in the beginning, and thought they might start in a smaller way, and meanwhile look for suitable premises.

Councillor Primett protested against any suggestion that there was a backstairs effort to rush this thing forward, and said there seemed to be an effort in some quarters to smash the project if possible. He hoped the public outside would have something to say about it.

Councillor Barford said on Saturday he was opposed to taking Norton Works for the purpose. Now he wanted to run away from that decision. That was not playing fair.

Councillor Barford said he was only asked in an informal manner what he thought of the place, and no resolution was proposed or seconded. He was asked: “Do you agree?” and replied: “I agree to nothing”.

Alderman Williams suggested that all this was in direct antagonism to the Council's resolution that the home should be established at Wardown.

After some further discussion on the impending visit of the Inspector, the Town Clerk said there could be no objection to the lady coming and seeing Wardown, provided it was explained to her that the Council did not want her to be prejudiced in favour of that place, as other alternatives were being considered.

Councillor Barford, however, insisted that such a visit would place opponents of the Wardown scheme at a disadvantage. The Local Government Board were at present under the illusion that the Council were all in favour of that scheme, whereas they only passed it because they were told there was no alternative.

The amendment to defer the visit of the Inspector was carried by 11 votes to eight, and later the report of the committee was adopted with the exception of the paragraph referring to Norton Works.