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.”