Church seeks to evict tenant family

The post-war housing crisis in Luton created a worrying time for sitting tenants, who could find themselves facing eviction for no fault on their part. Some people bought occupied houses in the hope of getting a court order to give them possession from a sitting tenant. Some were successful and some failed.

A more unusual example was reported in the Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph on September 6th, 1919. In a case heard that morning, a church hoped to evict a 46-year-old married man with three children so that his church-owned home could be occupied by a single curate. The Vicar offered to pay the man's rent in alternative, unacceptably sub-standard accommodation. Here is the report:

An application for an ejectment order was made at the Luton Borough Sessions this morning by Mr H. W. Lathom, on behalf of St Saviour's Church, Luton, against Albert J. Firmin, of 62 Salisbury Road, Luton. Mr Barber, instructed by the Luton Labour and Trades Council, defended.

Mr Lathom said that the house occupied by defendant was part of a legacy left to St Saviour's Church by the late Sir Julius Wernher, together with a building adjoining it. One of the conditions was that it should provide nursing accommodation for St Saviour's parish. The nurse was not living there at present, and one house was occupied by two school teachers and church workers of St Saviour's, and the other by defendant.

The latter [house] was now wanted by the Vicar for the residence of a new curate who had been living in the Vicarage since June. Another house had been offered to the Firmins but they refused to accept it, although the Vicar had offered to pay the rent.

The Rev B. H. Winterbotham bore out Mr Lathom's statements, and was then cross-examined by Mr Barber, who asked him if it would not have been more desirable to eject the parties living in the other house.

Witness said that the two teachers who were living there were friends of the late nurse, and were sub-tenants under her.

The Vicar said that it was important that the curate should get permanent quarters, and Mr Barbner asked why he had not been put into the house which had been offered to Mr Firmin. Witness said that under the legacy the church was bound to keep these houses available for nursing.

Mr Barber, in his speech for the defence, said that it seemed a very unfair state of things that a married man with a family, like the defendant was, should be turned out of the house to provide accommodation for a single curate. It would have been a more equitable arrangement if the people who were living in the other house had been given notice to quit. They were two single school teachers and could easily have found apartments.

The house which the Vicar had stated had been offered to Mr Firmin was not vacant. It had been offered before the notice was served, and was a damp and undesirable residence, so that naturally Mr Firmin had not accepted it. He was now quite unable to find another house, and he asked for the case to be adjourned until such time as other arrangements could be made.

He Bench decided to adjourn the case for a month, and Alderman Oakley said that he hoped the parties would be able to arrive at a satisfactory agreement.


On Saturday, October 4th, the adjourned case came back before the Luton Borough Bench, with Alderman Oakley presiding. A report in that day's Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph said Mr Firmin, a warehouseman, had tried to obtain an alternative house but had been unable to do so. The only way for him to get a house was to buy one, and he could not do that.

Mr Lathom, appearing for the church, called Mr Harrison, who said the house was wanted for the clergy at St Saviour's. They carried on a work amongst boys, and wanted somewhere to take them.

Mr W. J. Mair, from the Bench: “What is this work?”. Witness: “Teaching these boys morally and spiritually.”

Mr Mair: “Does that consist in turning other people out of the house to do that?” Witness: “Well, gentlemen, that is for you to consider.”

The Chairman said the Bench felt that if this man, with his wife and three children, was turned out of the house it would make the position even worse. They did not feel inclined to make the order, and it would be refused.