Parting words for Henry Impey

[Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph: November 11th, 1919]

Councillor Stewart Hubbard moved a resolution of thanks to absent outgoing Mayor Henry Impey, at the Mayor-making Council meeting on Monday, November 10th, 1919. He also reflected on Mr Impey's turbulent year of office.

Congratulating new Mayor Councillor Arthur Attwood on his appointment, Councillor Hubbard moved the following resolution: “That the thanks of this Council be accorded to Councillor Henry Impey for his services as Mayor of the Borough during the municipal year which has ended today, and that the Common Seal be affixed to a transcript of this resolution, engrossed on vellum, and presented to Councillor Impey.”

Henry ImpeyCouncillor Hubbard said he very much regretted that he was unable to be present at the election of Councillor Impey as Mayor last year, and he did not have the privilege of hearing the able speech of Councillor Yarrow when moving the resolution which the Council heartily and unanimously carried.

Through the kindness of the Luton News he had been reading that speech. It would take too long to quote it in full, but he heartily endorsed it, as he was sure everyone did who listened to it.

It was a record of a man who had served the town of Luton, and the Council in particular, for nearly 20 years, a record of which any man could be justly proud – 12½ years faithful service as a servant of the Corporation and a certificate of meritorious service at the end of it, and 18 years service upon the Council; hardly ever absent from his duties on the several committees on which he was deputed to serve; and Chairman of the committee which enabled 1,800 people to secure allotments amounting to 250 acres, for which he received special thanks from the Minister of Agriculture.

His advice on all matters concerning the Surveyor's department was always sound, said Councillor Hubbard, and in matters relating to highways or housing his services were always sought and always readily forthcoming.

During his term of office as Mayor his whole time was at the disposal of the Council and the business of the town. In matters concerning negotiations with the Government he carried out his duties with credit to the town, and the town was greatly his debtor for those services.

Councillor Impey ruled the Council as a man of business in a most able and efficient manner, with perfect fairness to everyone and with dispatch. As Chief Magistrate he discharged his duties with a strict sense of responsibility coupled with discretion and consideration.

No Mayor in the history of the Borough, said Councillor Hubbard, was ever elected under such seemingly happy auspices of joy and better things to come, yet had at the same time such a load of heavy responsibility placed on his shoulders.

On the day of his election the war had reached its final stages and peace seemed almost certain. We had been passing through the very dark days; how dark very few of the general public knew or how very near to breaking point some of our services had become. For example, every able man up to 51 had been called up; our shipping position was nearly intolerable, and many other public services were in like state.

On that day, November 9th last year, he himself [Councillor Hubbard] was unable to be present, having to attend a most important conference in London with the HQ Staff over the question of civilian horses, and the utter impossibility of going on much longer unless the Army relinquished some of its stocks of fodder. On that memorable day the decision was deferred until Monday on the understanding that if the Armistice was not signed, they would not. That automatically would have signed the death warrant of 100,000 horses which were not engaged upon essential employment, and all procedure was ready for such an eventuality. All these things were now happily past, yet we were apt to forget.

Remembering all the horrors of the terrible war, could they wonder at the joy of the Mayor when he had the pleasure and honour of reading the Proclamation of Armistice from the Town Hall steps? Such a day would never be effaced from their memories.

How glibly they all talked of immediate reconstruction, and many though we should in a few months reconstruct the nation upon a basis of equality to all. How greatly we had been disillusioned! Demobilisation was not yet even complete, housing schemes had hardly begun, there was very much unemployment of certain classes, much discontent and suspicion, real and imaginary, in many places, dear living, and high prices.

Was it to be wondered at that whilst this unrest was going on all over the country Luton should not be exempt from it? Luton was included in it, and a combination of most unfortunate circumstances culminated in that lamentable affair on Peace Day, July 19th.

Whoever was to blame for it was not his province to determine. The Mayor, as the responsible head of the town, has to accept all the blame for what has occurred; but taking that blame had shattered his health, and, what was almost worse, taken away that which all men cherish most, his good name.

Mistakes were made, and Councillor Impey would be first to admit it. He made mistakes, as all make mistakes, but whatever may have been his shortcomings, the penalty he had to suffer was out of all proportion to whatever he may or may not have done.

In saying that, Councillor Impey was no more to blame than any other member of the Council. Councillor Hubbard said he attended most of the committees about that period, but never heard a single individual amendment to what was proposed to be done. Therefore, if the Mayor was to blame, then all the councillors were equally to blame.

Councillor Impey had completely broken down in health as a result of this painful episode, and it was the duty of every member of the Council to extend their sympathy and every measure of support to a colleague who had to bear an indignity out of all proportion to his shortcomings.

In moving the resolution, therefore, he assumed it was the Council's wish that it be added that their sympathy be extended to Councillor Impey in his retirement and that he might be speedily restored to health.

Councillor J. H. Hawkes, having also tendered his congratulations to the new Mayor, seconded the resolution proposed by Councillor Hubbard. No gentleman, said Mr Hawkes, ever started to occupy the position of Mayor of Luton with a greater desire to do his duty and served the town well than did Mr Impey.

Unfortunately for him the year just ended was no ordinary year. The years preceding were very difficult years, as Councillor Primett, Alderman Staddon and Councillor Dillingham would know. But during their terms of office trade was good, and labour at a high premium. With the end of the war these things altered, and while they were all glad to see men return from the war, the results of their return and of the closing of munition factories was a considerable shortage of work, and with it unemployment.

Consequently, not only in Luton, but throughout the country, there was great unrest. Councillor Impey, however, endeavoured to take his part in the government of the town in an impartial manner, and was most attentive to all the duties involved by his office. He place his service at the disposal of all, and gave his time ungrudgingly. He was always ready to lend a helping hand, and many a poor person benefited by his help and advice, and found in him of the Mayoress true friends.

Councillor Hawkes said he hoped the resolution would be carried unanimously, so that in the time of his affliction Councillor Impey might know he had the appreciation of those with whom he had worked for so long.

The resolution was agreed to, and the illuminated copy was sealed.


In its editorial the following Thursday, the Luton News said: “We share to the fullest extent the regret expressed at Mr Impey's ill-health, but as we have said before, in our opinion, he failed badly at a critical time, and it seems hardly worth while handing out bouquets now it is all over.

“We agree that the responsibility was not his alone; indeed, had the Council individually and collectively been working in close co-operation with him, the probability is that the proceedings on the 19th of July might have taken quite a different turn. Lip-service on ceremonial occasions doe now compensate for aloofness at other times.”