'Hands off Wardown' campaign, part 4

Following a robust attack in the Tuesday Telegraph on Luton Town Council's decision to use Wardown Mansion as a maternity hospital, the Saturday Telegraph followed up four days later (September 8th, 1919) with a perhaps more bitter condemnation of the scheme and the men behind it. Said the Telegraph:

We have no sympathy with those who would take away the rights of the public, and the resolution to commandeer Wardown Mansion for three years as a lying-in hospital we regard as an attempt – and because persisted in, a deliberate attempt – to restrict the healthy pleasures of the people and deprive them of very valuable rights.

Haven't we had enough of restrictions? Let us get back to work, and let us get back to play, and as we get back to play let our pleasures be as unrestricted as in pre-war days.

No, Mr Primett, you are on the wrong tack, and it won't do! Sixteen years ago the people were of divided opinion on the advisability of acquiring Wardown. The man who would dare to say that was a mistake and that the advantages of possession have not be realised would be ridiculed. Deservedly so, too.

The mansion is the one appurtenance perhaps that has not been fully utilised. Nevertheless it has fulfilled a purpose which justifies its retention as a pleasant place of shelter, of rest and of refreshment. Yet the Council would withdraw from the general public the freedom of the mansion.

A few months ago a new committee was formed at the direction of the Local Government Board, in the interests of maternity and child welfare. Obsessed by the importance of the mission they have accepted, this committee have decided to do something and, with Councillor Primett at their head – after very little, if any, attempt to find anything else – they bethought themselves of Wardown Mansion. The public, the easy-going public, had done without it during the war and having managed for four years, there was no reason why they should desire to regain possession.

So Councillor Primett came to the Town Coun cil with the proposition that the mansion should be commandeered for the purposes of a Maternity Home and Infants' Hospital. It was carried at one meeting of the Town Council before the idea had been mooted in any way to the public.

The MAJORITY of the Council found it a bitter dose to swallow, but that dreadful apparition, the Local Government Board, was invoked by Councillor Primett, and he pleaded that this State Department (which he has revelled in flouting many a time in the past) was now so formidable that the Council must do something. And the members gulped down the dose with little thought of what they were really doing.

But the dose is very difficult of digestion by some of the members of the Council, and after out protest last week it began to make its presence felt. The Saturday Telegraph article acted as an emetic, and several felt very uncomfortable because they, too, had not more effectively protested when they had the opportunity.

A second opportunity came in the shape of a letter from Mr S. J. Worsley, a ratepayer, who not only addressed a protest to the Council, but has also written to the Local Government Board.

Immediately the letter was read, Councillor Primett rose and defended the action of the committee. He declared he had not come across half-a-dozen people opposed to the scheme, and he had converted some who were in doubt. To suggest they were robbing the public was stupid. The house had been a white elephant, and now they could put it to good use.

Councillor Primett then went on to refer to the article appearing in the Saturday Telegraph. Let us give what the Telegraph said and the construction Councillor Primett put on it at the Council meeting. Our readers will then be able to judge between out “confounded cheek” and the unblushing chicanery of Councillor Primett.

Saturday Telegraph: The suggestion we have to make is not our own idea, but which has more than once been whispered to us. It is that not more suitable memorial of the great war and of the peace which we are looking forward to celebrate could be devised in Luton than, with the generous concurrence of the Sworder family, the acquisition of Holly Lodge and its beautiful grounds, extending from Castle Street to Chapel Street, as another 'lung' for the town.

Councillor Primett: To suggest they were robbing the public was 'stupid'...his attention had been called to an article which he considered 'confounded cheek' by somebody who tried to cut in an suggest they should ask for Holly Lodge to be given to them. He would like to see Holly Lodge and grounds belonging to the Council when the time came, but it was nothing to compare with Wardown for this purpose.

A more unfair caricature or misrepresentation of the Saturday Telegraph's statement can hardly be imagined. There is no trace of a suggestion that the Sworder family should be asked to GIVE their residence, and Councillor Primett had either not read the article fairly, and knew nothing about it, or he would have appeared to have arrived at that stage when some public men seem to have a desire to be masters rather than servants of the people who elect them. We prefer to think he gave as little consideration to our suggestions in the paragraph quoted as he did to this question of a suitable place for a lying-in hospital.

We do not attach any importance to the bluster about our 'stupidity' and our 'confounded cheek,' and it will not deter us from criticising and suggesting anything that may be for the public weal. We ask our readers to judge which is the greater offender - we, who suggest that the Council look ahead, and if the opportunity presents itself acquire it for the public good, or Councillor Primett, who wants to deprive the populace of one of its most used and best-appreciated assets, so that it may be utilised for the benefit of a few?

A GOOD MOTIVE IS NO EXCUSE FOR AN UNWISE ACTION, and however admirable their sentiments, however zealous Councillor Primett may be in the interests of the poor and the town generally, we say that this action is unequalled in the records of the Council for many years.

One of the hardest things is for public men to admit error, consequently one need not be surprised that the communication the Town Council received was treated with the scantest courtesy. But a few points from speeches will show how the minds of the members are working.

Alderman Oakley: The opposition to the scheme was sickly sentiment.

Alderman Wilkinson: Felt most strongly that Wardown Mansion was not a proper place for such an institution...appealed to the committee to further consider whether they were nor placing their centre in a wrong position...believed the committee had not exhausted the possibilities of find another place.

Councillor Barford: One hand at least was not held up for the resolution (in committee), and considerable objection was made, pretty much of the tenour of the objections that had been raised in the Press and elsewhere. He supported most cordially the suggestion of Alderman Wilkinson. In his opinion a case had been fully made for reconsideration of this important matter. He had heard many views of the reverse order to thos Councillor Primett had heard, and he hoped the matter might be suspended until the committee had full opportunity of going further into the matter.

Alderman Staddon: Supported the committee's scheme only on the ground that it was for three years and there was no alternative proposition. There was tremendous opposition to the Wardown scheme, and he was in thorough agreement with it (the opposition).

Councillor Briggs: Supported because there was no immediate alternative.

The Mayor (Councillor Impey): In my position as Mayor a number of people have come to me and spoken about the matter, and the general tone of their remarks has been: 'Mr Mayor, what are you going to do at Wardown? It is a great mistake to turn that place into a maternity home.' I have not had one approach me to commend the Council for its decision. I simply state that because the Chairman (Councillor Primett) says he has not heard any opposition.

But the subject is not closed, the general public will see to that. And what the public want to know now is where other members of the Council stand. It is for them to declare themselves. If they don't do it now they will have to face the music, it is certain, sooner or later.

Let us examine the list. The vote, we are now told, was not a unanimous one – that it was passed WITHOUT DISSENT.

And it now transpires that the following are opposed to the proposal - The Mayor, Alderman Wilkinson and Staddon; Councillors Barford and Dillingham.

Those who wish to take Wardown House away from the mothers and children who visit the park, from the cricketers and spectators, from the bowlers and the tennis players include: Councillor Primett, Alderman Williams, Alderman Oakley, Councillor Briggs, Councillor Bone.

Where are the others? It is for them to declare themselves. Here are the names: Alderman Cain and Arnold, Councillors Warren, Yarrow, Green, Unwin, Hawkes, Escott, Attwood, Merchant, Chapman, Rainbow and Hubbard. The public will await their answer and action in the matter with the utmost interest.

What is to be done? If Councillor Primett is so sure that the town is with him in this essay, let him call a public meeting and get the town's approval.

The Town Council advertised and received offers of land for sites for housing. What is wrong for a similar course for the rental or acquisition of a maternity home, which Councillor Primett tells us he has looked for?

It is sheer piffle to plead the urgency of the matter. The housing scheme is equally urgent, even more urgent, for if the people had proper houses the need for a maternity home would diminish. It required all the pressure the Town Clerk could command to make the Town Council get on with the housing scheme, and even then they failed to send the answer required within the stipulated time.

The great trouble at the moment is that members of the Council will not climb down. Is it undignified? There is no indignity (there may be much honour) in admitting mistakes, but there is folly in perpetuating them.

We have little doubt the electorate of Luton will force the hand of the Council if they persist, and establish once and for all the right of the unhampered use of Wardown. Let there be no mistake. If, as is generally expected, new Town Councils are elected in November, this will be one of the things to be acknowledged or repudiated.

The Telegraph's course is clear. We stand for progress, but not for a label, and we shall be on the side of the people who are desirous of preserving public rights and privileges, the rights the people have paid for and to which they are entitled.