'Hands off Wardown' 5: Hint of a Climbdown?

Wardown headline 11-2-1919

Under the above headline, the Tuesday Telegraph on February 11th, 1919, wrote that it was with pardonable pride that it referred to the subject of Wardown House. The news that day was good. The Maternity Committee was busying itself looking about for an alternative scheme – in other words, Councillor Primett and his colleagues were climbing down. The report went on:

We hope they will do it quickly. And, if the alternative has presented itself, get to business and not miss it. But if they fail with one they must look out for another.

The Saturday Telegraph and Tuesday Telegraph first voiced protests against the Luton Town Council's proposition to convert the Mansion into a Lying-in Home and a Home for Neglected Children. Our readers are acquainted with the manner in which the Town Council arrived at the decision, culminating on Saturday in the Telegraph's challenge to the champion of the project, Councillor Primett, to call a public meeting and ask for endorsement.

The Saturday Telegraph article, without being offensive, was straight and to the point, and included the names of members for and against the proposal, for, although there was not an opposition vote, there were dissentient expressions both in committee and at the Council meeting.

From all parts of the town men and women of every shade of opinion, habitues of Wardown and others who have ample recreation space at home, have congratulated us on the stand we have made. Some are urging for a town's meeting, and promise active support in the event of that being necessary.

Our objection to the scheme as adopted by the Council is that it has been hastily conceived and prematurely thrust forward without adequate consideration; that the proposal threatened to deprive a considerable section of the town of an asset in order to grant a boon to a few.

Well, what has happened? We are in a position to state that the responsible Corporation Committee have now before them two offers, one of which, at any rate, looks like enabling them to revise their decision that Wardown Mansion is the only available place, and to rescind their decision to take it from the townspeople.

One of these offers, we are informed, concerns a place which, it is stated, can be made far more suitable than Wardown House – both from the point of view of the ratepayers and possible patients. This establishment is is in what may almost be described as the heart of the town. It is one of those establishments which are a link with comparatively early Luton; an old-fashioned house, built on generous plans, with about 13 rooms and a spacious garden. Indeed, this garden, now somewhat reduced in size, was once reputed to be one of he finest old-world retreats of its kind in Luton and district.

The building and land comprise an area of about 50 poles. It is a double-fronted house with a gateway entrance and extensive buildings at the rear. The rooms are of very generous dimensions, and, if one big ward is necessary, one part of the building is adaptable for easy conversion in to a ward capable of accommodating the nine or ten beds necessary for a lying-in hospital. The length of the ward would be about 75ft, and vary in width from 17½ ft to over 12 ft.

In the Wardown scheme, six beds for children were estimated, and accommodation for these could be found in the main building, which will provide ample accommodation for the professional and domestic staff.

The ground floor at the rear includes a very large kitchen or scullery, and a long range of buildings beyond. There is ample domestic accommodation, with possibilities of extension if necessary.

We understand that this alternative building was inspected by the Acting Medical Officer of Health (Dr W. J. Cox) during last week, and that he was impressed by its possibilities is evident from the fact that he again visited it in company with the Chairman of the Committee (Councillor Primett), and then a further visit was paid by the Medical Officer and the Borough Surveyor (Mr J. W. Tomlinson).

We have not official authority for quoting it, but we believe we are correct in stating that they are favourably impressed with the place, and practically agreed that with a little alteration it could be made quite suitable. Indeed, it is said there is the additional recommendation that sufficient accommodation is also available for a children's clinic to be established.

We are assured that had not the Telegraph made a stand there would have been a public indignation meeting – and there will be still if the Council does not find and alternative.

We shall, if necessary, support that meeting, for we believe the promoters would be in the right absolutely, but now, we believe, there will be no need, for the opposition on the Corporation and outside will surely compel reconsideration of the matter, and Wardown will not be relinquished without a fight.

With conscience clear, we may say that if we have hit hard, we have tried to hit fairly and honestly, not for personal interest but for public right. Having done so, we harbour neither ill-will nor malice, and shall continue to exercise such influence as possess only for the public weal, seeking not praise but trying to deserve it.