Shock for Sunday rioters at Police Station

Police reinforcements

  • Police reinforcements being catered for at the Ceylon Baptist Hall in Wellington Street.

[From Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph: July 22nd, 1919]

Sunday evening [July 20th] saw a fresh attempt to start a destructive disturbance, but when the Police Station in Dunstable Place was fixed upon as the scene the ringleaders made a decision which they soon had reason to regret, for, after bragging very loudly about what they were going to do, they quickly found themselves chivvied from street to street, and many broken heads resulted in the course of a series of baton charges made to clear the centre of the town.

The streets around the ruins of the Town Hall were fairly crowded all day, despite the pouring rain, and in the evening, when it was not quite so wet, the press in George Street grew still more dense. But in the early hours of the evening, at any rate, the crowd was composed entirely of people who were either paying their visit to see the results of Saturday night's conflagration, or people waiting about in a morbid hope that they might witness further disturbances. Some of them had cause to regret this curiosity before the night was out.

Shortly after nine o'clock it was obvious to anyone carefully watching the crowd that a series of baton charges to clear a new element, and a much noisier one, had arrived, and it was noticeable that it came from the Corn Exchange end.

There were threats to burn down the Corn Exchange, and someone smashed a window of one of the public lavatories adjoining this building. Then the intentions of the rowdy element seem to have swerved to a different direction on it being stated that the place belonged to Lady Wernher, and a raid of the Police Station was suggested.

Additional excitement was created when it was stated that a Marine was in custody at Dunstable Place, and there was an avowed intention of rescuing him. An excited crowd accordingly went to the Police Station and gathered outside the gates, where violent speeches were made.

Then the crowd, of which a small gang of youths seemed to be the ringleaders, received a violent shock. Refusing to comply with a police request to go away quietly, they found themselves attacked by a very strong force of police, who charged down Dunstable Place and along Stuart Street with batons drawn, and caused a number of casualties in routing the crowd.

Unknown to the agitators, the Borough police had been strongly reinforced during the day by detachments from neighbouring towns, and, in addition to the numbers in the streets, there was a strong reserve at the Police Station quite sufficient to tackle trouble in its early stages. Their show of strength was quite sufficient, at any rate, to prevent a repetition of anything approaching Saturday night's scenes.

Chief Constable Griffin himself made an appeal for order and good conduct. “Do go home, my lads,” he said. “Please do not make further trouble. Our men do not wish to hurt or interfere with you in any way. Do let me beg of you to go away quietly and in an orderly manner, so there may be no further collision.”

A few were disposed to listen, but the majority acted in a provocative manner, and the policemen, who were ready for a charge, fidgeted to get at the ringleaders. Still the Chief persisted: “Have you not already done enough? Why should you want to come here at all?”

“We want the sailor boy,” cried several in the crowd. “Bring him out.”

“I have not got a sailor boy here,” replied the Chief. - “Yes you have,” was the reply.

The Chief replied that he had not got the sailor in custody, but that he had returned to his depot.

“Let us come in and see,” yelled the crowd, but the Chief firmly declined, and as a more menacing attitude was adopted, he again warned them that they were asking for trouble.

“You know my Force is very much reduced,” he said, “but I do beg of you to go away quietly and quickly, or you will suffer.”

Just then someone began to throw, and that was the signal for the gates to be opened and the reinforced police came out at the double, and the chase began.

Although they refused to respond to the request to go away quietly, the mob went helter skelter as as soon as the police were ordered to make a baton charge. They soon evidenced a desire to be elsewhere. Women were swept off their feet in the rush, and many of the crowd who did not move with sufficient speed got some taps with the baton.

In Stuart Street there was a prospect of an ugly encounter, for a section of the mob tore down some iron railings and seemed prepared to offer armed resistance, but they thought better of it.

From these streets the baton charges were carried into Wellington Street and Upper George Street, and then a general clearance of George Street was begun. Even then people were not sensible enough to go home.

Chased out of one street, they reassembled in another, and some stones were thrown, one street under repair being regarded as an ammunition dump. The rowdy element in particular remained in force in the neighbourhood of the Plait Hall, and ultimately the police decided on a thorough clearance of all the streets between George Street and the railway, and people were chased across the footbridge and up to High Town, away out of the streets beyond the Corn Exchange and down the Dunstable Road direction.

This kind of thing lasted till nearly midnight, by which time it was not quite safe for respectable citizens to be in the streets, even though walking home quite peacefully.

As the result of these encounters, one constable and one civilian had to receive attention by Dr Archibald for somewhat serious injuries. These were the only casualties of which there was any official note, but it is understood that some of the medical practitioners had a busy time yesterday morning in patching up broken heads.


[The rioters may have expected to face only a handful of fit officers at the Police Station, seemingly unaware that Chief Constable Griffin had secretly imported around 200 others from the St Albans City, Northampton Borough, Bedford Borough, Cambridge Borough, Bedford County and Herts County forces. It was later revealed that the total resulting bill faced by Luton ratepayers was £2,164 1s 1d, including £50 for a horse used by the police that was stabbed during the riots and had to be put down.]