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.