[The Luton News: Thursday, July 31st, 1919]
Several matters of considerable public interest arose at a special meeting of the Luton Town Council on Tuesday evening, when the Mayor was again absent, and the Deputy Mayor was voted to the chair - “having regard to the nature of some of the business which was to be transacted”. An important statement relative to his Worship's departure and continued absence was made by the Town Clerk, who intimated for the first time in public that Councillor Impey left Luton on the morning of July 20th, on the advice of himself and the Chief Constable.
Another demonstration of Lady Wernher's generous interest in the borough was afforded by the announcement that her ladyship had intimated – in a letter which arrived at the Town Hall on the day before the Peace Celebration, and was with other papers destroyed by fire – that in order to celebrate peace she would present to the borough, free of charge, about 11 acres of land to be used as a permanent public recreation ground.
Further progress was made with the borough's housing scheme; and there was also a series of statements relative to matters arising from the recent riots, including that of the demolition of the Town Hall ruins.
A reassuring announcement, especially in view of present circumstances, was that of the intention of the Osram-Robertson Lamp Company Ltd to carry out their intention of erecting new factories in the district, provided a comparatively minor matter in regard to a new road proposed under the Council's housing and town planning scheme could be adjusted.
THE MAYOR'S ABSENCE
“I regret to say,” stated the Town Clerk, “that I have had this morning two letters from the Mayor. I do not think it is necessary to read them, but he is utterly incapable, owing to the state of his health, of coming here tonight, as he had intended, and as I had advised. He has sent me two doctors' certificates, and I do not think it is necessary to read those.
“I want to say here, for the first time in public, that the Mayor was strongly advised by myself – and I am sorry to put myself first, but I must in this case – by myself and the Chief Constable to leave Luton early on the Sunday morning; not for his own sake, but in order to avoid if possible any further disturbance of the public peace. I do not think it is generally known, but it will be known tomorrow, that I was at the Town Hall with the Chief Constable as long as it was possible to remain.
“We then went to the Police Station, where we remained until long after five o'clock in the morning. We saw all that was going on, we knew a great deal more than the wiseacres in the street, and therefore it was necessary for somebody to accept the grave responsibility of advising the Chief Magistrate of this borough. That responsibility we undertook.
“In addition we considered it was advisable, still in the interests of the public, to request the Mayor to remain away a few days longer. That accounts for the whole position, and I think it is desirable in everybody's interest that statement should be made at a proper time; and I consider the proper time is this evening. The Mayor, of course, received the letter of sympathy which I sent to him on your behalf, and it has given him some gratification and consolation.”
A LOST SEAL
Pointing out that the Borough Seal had been partly destroyed by the fire, the Town Clerk said he could not quite understand what had happened. The top die was missing, and it would not burn. He had had considerable trouble getting part of the seal out of the ruins, and after some search it was discovered in debris which had been removed to the Highways Depot. The screw, which was also missing, would have been a very useful weapon for the rioters, but he did not know whether they found it or not.
The Corporation seal, said the Town Clerk, was the only visible sign of the Corporation's activities. A hand seal of a c rude pattern had escaped destruction and, although this would be inconvenient as it would be necessary to use wax, he asked te Council to authorise its use, for the time being, so that the expense of adding a new seal might not be incurred until further search had failed to discover the missing part of the original seal.
It was agreed that this course should be authorised.
At the two private meetings of the Council, said the Town Clerk, questions were asked as to legal proceedings being taken against the rioters, and a good deal of anxiety was expressed by members of the Council that every offender should be pursued with the utmost rigour, and made to feel the penalty of his actions. At that time he was afraid he was a little short in his answers, in order that the ends of justice should not be defeated.
“I am happy to tell you,” he said, “that tomorrow morning I propose to appear in this court, as representing the Crown, to take proceedings against 34 people who will have a good deal of trouble in explaining their actions on that occasion.
“That is not the end of the list. There may be more, and I presume it is the wish of the Council that I shall act on behalf of the police in conducting those prosecutions with al the force and power that I may be able to exert on that occasion. Personally I am determined to do the best I can.”
MR HARMSWORTH'S ASSISTANCE
“At two o'clock on Sunday morning,” said the Town Clerk in a later statement, “as we were not getting on very fast with the military authorities, the suggestion was made to me that perhaps Mr Harmsworth [local MP] could help. I communicated with him by telephone, got him out of bed, and he went to the War Office and did everything he possibly could to assist us, I am not quite sure if he did not go a second time.
“We had the military forces by about 4.30. we don't quite know how they came, or by whose efforts, but I thought it was desirable on your behalf, when expressing your thanks to the Chief Constable, the Chief Officer of the Fire Brigade, and their men, that I should also acknowledge Mr Harmsworth's services, believing you wished me to do so.”
Mr Harmsworth's reply was then read. In this he said: “I am obliged to you for your letter of July 24th. I beg you will take an early opportunity to convey to the Council my high appreciation of the kind message they have sent to me through you.
“It is not necessary for me to assure the Council that I am at all times glad to be of service to them, and especially at such a dangerous crisis as this. I would ask them to accept my warm sympathy with them in their present difficulties and in the wholly unmerited discredit that has fallen on the town whose affairs they so devotedly administer.
“Permit me to take this opportunity to congratulate you and the Chief Constable on the energy, courage and resource that both of you displayed during the anxious and critical hours of Sunday.”
Alderman Wilkinson wanted the Council to express their disagreement with the estimate which the newspapers had published as to the amount of the damage done during the rioting. So far as he was awae the only figure which had been mentioned was £250,000, and in his judgment such a statement would have a bad effect on the financial stability of the town.
Those who were in a good position to judge would agree that was a very exaggerated figure indeed. It should be authoritatively denied, and another figure given. Leaving out of consideration the replacement value, he thought £60,000 would be a liberal estimate of the damage.
He knew that to replace the Town Hall with a building such as they had been imagining for years would mean a much bigger sum than he had stated, but he was speaking of the relative value if the buildings were replaced exactly as they were on the morning of the 19th.
PULLING DOWN THE RUINS
Alderman Wilkinson also thought the Tolls Committee should take into consideration such steps as were necessary to pull down the ruins and erect a hoarding round the site.
Councillor Bone: “Alderman Wilkinson is amazed at the figure given - £250,000 damage. What will he say when I tell him a gentleman of some official standing showed me a newspaper cutting received from Scotland the other day in which they sympathised with Luton on riotous destruction to the extent of £2,500,000?”
Alderman Arnold considered Alderman Wilkinson's reference to this matter most opportune. The report which had gone abroad was likely to have a bad financial influence on the town, and he personally through the damage was much nearer £20,000 than even the estimate of £60,000.
The actual cost of the conglomeration of buildings which formed the Town Hall premises was nothing like £20,000.
To restore it today to its condition before it was interfered with by the rioters would cost considerably more than £20,000, he agreed, but he thought his figure of £20,000 was near the mark in assessing the actual damage which had been sustained.
Councillor Briggs also thought £60,000 was an outside estimate, and that half that amount would be well within the mark.
The Deputy Mayor [Councillor Charles Dillingham] said the cost of building a new Town Hall was no doubt considered when the amount was stated as £250,000, but as for the property destroyed £50,000 would more than cover it.
With reference to the suggestion that the ruins should be demolished, Councillor Chapman said there were a lot of valuable bricks in the ruins, and as there were men unemployed he thought they might be employed in cleaning them for sale.
Councillor Barford suggested that if this was done the Housing Committee should have the first offer.
It was agreed that the Tolls Committee should be empowered to pull down such portions as they considered advisable, and store the bricks. Also, that when a hoarding was put round the site no advertisements should be placed on it other than official announcements.
Two reports having reference to the rioting were presented by the Watch Committee. The first stated that at their meeting on July 20th the Town Clerk reported fully as to the riot on the 19th and 20th, and as to the requisitioning of the military and officers from other police forces.
The committee then resolved unanimously: (a) That the steps taken by the Town Clerk and Chief Constable be approved and confirmed, and that they take such further precautions as may, in their opinion, be necessary for the maintenance of the peace; (b) That the police from other forces be retained until further order; (c) The this Committee express to the Chief Constable, the members of the Police Force and the special constables, their high appreciation of the bravery which they displayed in performing their duty under dangerous and trying circumstances, and fighting against the overwhelming number of rioters, and their deep sympathy with the men who were injured in their efforts to quell the riot and maintain the King's Peace; (d) That this Committee also express their hearty thanks to the Medical Officer of Health for the prompt medical services which he rendered for a long number of hours in attending to the injured men, and also to Dr Seymour Lloyd, who came to his aid early on Sunday morning.”
After the meeting two days later the Chief Constable reported as to the number of police requisitioned from other districts, and the arrangements made for the accommodation and catering of all officers then under his control. The Committee approved the arrangements made, and authorised their continuance until further order.
Alderman Oakley, in moving the adoption of these reports, complimented the police on their conduct during the riot. Their conduct, he said, showed that they were fully alive to the danger surrounding them, but they did not sink from their duty.
All law-abiding citizens who saw their display on the Saturday and Sunday were very high in their praise of everyone concerned – not only the ordinary police force, but also the special co0nstables. The coolness and tact with which they went about their work when so overwhelmed by numbers of the roughest elements of the town did them credit.
The Medical Officer (Dr Archibald) and Dr Lloyd also worked for hours attending the injured in a manner which entitled them to the highest commendation.
The reports were adopted.
Alderman Arnold, Alderman Wilkinson and the Deputy Mayor were appointed as a special committee to make provision for the temporary accommodation of municipal departments previously housed at the Town Hall, and submitted a report as to the the arrangements which had been made.
They also reported that Mr W. G. Holyoak had been retained as valuer and assessor on behalf of the Council in connection with the claims made by Messrs S. Farmer & Co and Mr W. S. Clark for damage caused to their premises in the riot.
Some of the accommodation obtained is of a purely temporary character, and the three members of the Council mentioned, with the addition of Councillor Attwood, are to consider what further provision can be made. In this connection it was suggested by Councillor Attwood, who had examined the place with the Borough Surveyor, that it would be possible to put the Education Offices at the Town Hall in a condition fit for use at a moderate expense, if the work was done before weather damage resulted. This will be taken into consideration.