Oct 1914 Luton Helps Belgian Refugees
Luton was responding to the plight of Belgian refugees displaced as their homes became swallowed up and often destroyed by the German advance.
- "These are the times when you find out the folk who have hearts in the right place," said Luton Mayoress Mrs Primett in The Luton News of October 22nd, 1914. And more and more Lutonians were opening up their hearts and their homes to the refugees.
- Acting medical officer of health Dr Sworder offered a furnished house in Park Street West rent free;
- Mr Frank Moody offered a six-roomed house in Chapel Street rent free and accepted whole responsibility of the inmates for at least three months; wheelwright Mr Sanders offered the use of a bungalow at Limbury; butcher Mr A. E. Fisher offered 50 lb or 60 lb of meat weekly; and Mrs Oakley, of Lawrence End, Mrs Crawley (Stockwood) and Mrs Brigg (Woodside) each offered a cottage on their respective estates while also accepting full responsibility for the homeless people committed to their charge.
- The Luton News said relief fund money was also coming in pretty steadily, and another direction in which the Mayoress was receiving support was from Belgian ladies resident in Luton, who may be expected to serve a very useful part on the arrival of the guests.
- Thirteen Belgian refugees had arrived in Luton on the Tuesday and were being accommodated in a house which was the property of King Street Congregational Church and for some years had been used for classrooms and committee meetings.
- "This house has been put into a habitable state and suitably furnished for their accommodation by members of the church and congregation, who will also subscribe the cost of their maintenance for a period of six months," said the newspaper. "So the refugees will be provided with a comfortable retreat in Luton, and in a manner which, thanks to the charitable enterprise of the King Street people, will involved no charge on any relief fund whatever."
- Mr A. Bavister, of Park Street, undertook the cleaning, sanitary and decorative work free of charge; Messrs T. and E. Neville, of Castle Street, gave a full size bath and fitted up the bathroom; Mrs H. Arnold and Co, of New Bedford Road, supplied for nothing the timber required to put certain floors in a proper state; the Davis Gas Stove Co Ltd provided a geyser; electric lighting was attended by Messrs Shoolbred and Connell, and some bricklaying and plastering was done by Mr J. George, and Mr Frank Neville saw to the carpentering.
- Furnishing of the building was done entirely by members of the congregation who supplied all the things necessary to fit up the house accommodation for about 15 people. Messrs Blundell Bros offered the loan of a furniture van to collect the goods. Six bedsteads were quickly forthcoming, with all the necessary bedding. Other gifts included various kinds of chairs and tables, cutlery and glass for the tables, all the utensils for the kitchen, a sewing machine to help the women make their own clothes, and all the things, large and small, which go to make a house comfortable.
- The refugees were not expected until today (October 22nd) and, consequently, when a message was received from the Central Executive in London that they were to come on Tuesday the work fitting up the house had to be hurried along with great haste in order that it might be ready for occupation by night.
- The house being there, and all the furniture required being available without the necessity to purchase anything, one other important matter had to be settled. This was the cost of the food supply, estimated to amount to about £6 a week.
- A scheme was formulated by the Rev E. B. Mahon and referred to at both morning and evening services. That involved members of the church and congregation subscribing one shilling per week for a period of six months, if it should be necessary, to maintain the home for that time. Within a very few minutes the 120 subscribers required had come forward.
- Thirteen refugees had been sent, composed of three related families, and it was stipulated that they should be able to speak French rather than Flemish so that it might be easy for members of the committee to act as interpreters.
- In addition to the 13 refugees at King Street, there were six at 31 Chapel Street, where Mr Moody had placed his house at their disposal; four had been taken by Mrs Walker, of Windmill Street, High Town; two by Mr Facer, of Hart Hill until they go to King Street; and three were with Mrs Crawley's chauffeur at Farley Cottage.
- Four or five more refugees were expected to arrive that day, and the Belgian Refugees Committee still required the use of one or more houses, either rent free or at a nominal amount.
- A smoking concert and a boxing tournament (arranged by Mr French) were held in the Castle Street Hall in aid of the local Belgian Refugee Fund yesterday (Trafalgar Day). Contributing to an enjoyable musical programme were Corpl Conquest (of the Black Watch, who was wounded in the Battle of Mons), Miss Nellie and Master Bert French, Miss Dolly Clark, Paddy French and Messrs Donovan, Ern Allen, Harold Fairey, W. Albone and B. Foothorape.
- Results of the boxing were: Three rounds (10 stone 6 lbs) Will Jones (Luton) beat Pte Ford, R.A.M.C.; three rounds (11 stone) Driver Brown, A.S.C. beat Pte Barton, 5th Beds, knock-out (the finest bouts of the evening); four rounds, J. Clifton (Luton) v Stan Philpott (winner of the Grand Theatre Challenge Cup) - declared a draw; three rounds (9 stone) Corpl Dixon, 5th Lincs, beat Corpl McClive, 5th Lincs. An exhibition contest was given by Sapper Pettingell, R.E., and Sergt McKay, 5th Lincs. Judge and referee, W. Ralley and C. Poole.
- A concert was given on Monday evening at St Mary's Hall, Luton, to raise money for the refugee fund. Although the hall was not filled to overflowing, there was influential support for the event, and it was the cheaper seats that were empty.