Wardown House and its future

Wardown House 1921

[The Luton News: Thursday, June 5th, 1919]

Considerable discussion ranged at Tuesday evening's meeting of Luton Town Council round a further proposal from the Park Committee “that the rooms on the ground floor in Wardown House be used for the sale of refreshments during the summer months, and that an advertisement be issued inviting tenders for the exclusive right to sell non-intoxicating refreshments up to the middle of October, for one, two or three seasons”.

Councillor Yarrow moved, and Councillor Chapman seconded, the adoption of the report.

Councillor Primett initiated the debate which followed. He regretted, he said, the ground floor of Wardown House was to revert to its former use, and suggested that the committee should take steps to see that the caterer, whoever he was, kept the place properly clean. It might be said that, if he were dissatisfied with the present proposals, he should be prepared with some alternative, but he was not. He had hoped, however, that the Parks Committee would have presented a scheme which ws more in keeping with the character of the house.

Councillor Escott took a similar view. Speaking as one of those who supported the use of the mansion as a maternity home, he regretted that the place was to be used for the sale of “a few bottles of ginger beer and a few buns” to the few people who used the place. The report, he pointed out, dealt with the use of the house for only four and a half months of the year, and he hoped the committee would consider what use the place would be put to for the remaining period of the year.

The Councillor also desire to know if the scale of refreshment charges would be subject to control, in order that any possibility of profiteering should be eliminated.

Councillor Bone, advancing much the same opinion, deplored the use of the house for such a material purpose, with tears in his voice.

“If the wisdom of the committee, and the united wisdom and judgment of the Council could not conceived a better purpose for these noble rooms, it was time the members put their heads together to conceive an alternative,” he declared. The speaker also questioned the advisability of pledging the use of the house for three years for this purpose, and moved as an amendment that the period be confined to one year. They would then see “what Providence brings forth”.

Alderman Staddon seconded, expressing the opinion that the house as an entirety might be put to come better use. With the contention that better terms might be secured if a longer tenancy were given to a caterer, the speaker dryly observed: “I don't think refreshment contractors are losing much money just now. They seem to be doing as well out of the public as most people.”

The Mayor [Councillor Impey] pleaded that the committee should be given a fair chance, and said the hope was to raise the tone of the caterer and to secure a better class of refreshment, a policy which would not be assisted if the principle of the amendment were adopted.

Councillor Barford referred to the inconsistency of Councillor Bone, who earlier in the meeting had desired the extension of a lease from three to five years, and was now urging the restriction to one year only of a very similar contract.

The speaker, agreeing with Alderman Staddon that at some future period Wardown House might be utilised for the purpose of a gallery or similar function, argued that this must be a process of gradual growth and could not be brought about by a complete installation at once.

Councillor Briggs threw out a suggestion that, to ensure the house was kept clean and that the prices were satisfactory, the Parks Committee should run the venture themselves.

Councillor Bone dissented from the contention that he had shown inconsistency, and with the agreement of his seconder, altered his amendment so that only the third year should be eliminated from the proposal.

Councillor Yarrow, in a discursive reply for the committee, covered again almost the whole of the ground, causing Alderman Staddon to observe: “Let's get on; we're wasting time.” The Chairman, however, proceeded on his course, the one new point he made being that the Parks Committee could not, in fairness, be expected to formulate a new scheme in the course of the two or three days which elapsed after they took over the building from the V.A.D. He also pointed out that the proposal in the report, if adopted, did not definitely pledge the Council.

The amendment was put, and the voting was equal – ten for and ten against. The Mayor gave his casting vote in favour of the report, which was then adopted.