Riot case: Arthur Barrett

Barrett record

  • Assizes record courtesy of Mr John Gillespie, grandson of Insp Fred Janes.

Arthur Barrett, aged 58, a Luton Corporation labourer, of 48 North Street, Luton, first appeared before Luton magistrates on July 25th, 1919, and was bailed in the sum of £10 to appear the following Wednesday, charged with: “On the 19th July, 1919, together with divers other persons to the number of one thousand or more unlawfully and riotously did assemble to disturb peace, and then did make a great riot and disturbance to the terror of and alarm of His Majesty’s subjects there being and against the Peace of our Sovereign Lord the King, his Crown and Dignity.”



At a magistrates court hearing on July 30th, Sgt Smith said said Barrett got on the parapet by the side of the Town Hall steps and made a speech to the crowd on the Saturday afternoon, complaining that he had been badly treated after serving abroad for two years. He said he had worked for the Corporation and “they were a lot of ------ rotters”.

Witness arrested prisoner on a warrant, and he said: “I expected you to come, although I've done no harm.” Sgt Smith was of the opinion that the prisoner was one of those who led the disturbances, rather than followed.

Replying to Mr H. W. Lathom (representing Barrett), Sgt Smith said prisoner had, for 20 years past, been a law-abiding citizen.

Further evidence was given by Police Sgt John Matsell, Pc John Causebrook and a civilian [Frederick Hewitt], the constable stating that prisoner, in the course of his observations, said the “police were all right – they have their duty to do.”

Mr Lathom said that Barrett, according to the police evidence, had been a good citizen here for 20 years. He had been 18 years in the Corporation's service. They all knew what Corporations were. They had “neither a soul to save not a body to kick” but they knew when they got a man worth his wages, and they kept him. The Chief Constable even advised that Barrett be allowed bail when brought in. Sgt Smith knew him as a law-abiding citizen.

The man was 58, and set an example by voluntarily offering his service to the country when 55 years old. He was told, and expected, he would not be sent into the firing line. That was not an act of cowardice.

Barrett had a bit to grumble about. He was pushed forward by the crush, and he made this little grumbling protest. Was that what they would send a man to the Assizes for? After his grumble, Barrett went away and did nothing more.

When the Bench returned after a considerable period of absence, Barrett was formally charged and pleaded not guilty, and allowed bail in his own recognisance of £10 to appear at the Beds Assizes in October.

The Town Clerk said he should object unless prisoners were bound over to keep the peace in the meantime. Mr Lathom, though considering this was unnecessary, said he would agree.

The Clerk said the Bench had been much impressed by the good character borne by the prisoner hitherto.



After hearing that Barrett made a speech to the crowd in which he appeared to have a grievance over his treatment while in the Army, Mr Justice Greer suggested that it was not a case to be carried on. But after hearing that prisoner was persistent in his efforts to get into the Town Hall, the Judge said he thought a prima facie case had been made out.



Later, in evidence to the hearing, Arthur Barrett said someone shouted, “Now, Barrett, you've been in the Army. Let's hear what you think of it.” He got on the parapet and said: “They told me if I joined the Army as a volunteer I shouldn't get within ten miles of the firing line, on account of my age. They said they wanted such men as me at the Front, men used to road-making and that kind of work, and if I would go they would look after my wife and those left behind. With that I went. Instead of being 10 miles behind I got within 10 yards, and that was very disappointing.” (laughter)

His Lordship to Mr Hollis Walker KC (representing the Corporation): “Don't you think we have gone far enough with this case? We have very serious matters to deal with, and this seems to me to be but a good-natured grouse, only given on the wrong occasion.”

Mr Hollis Walker agreed to his Lordship's suggestion, and the jury then formally found Barrett not guilty, and he was discharged.


Arthur Barrett was born in Biscot on August 24th, 1861, and married Annie Louisa Woolford at Christ Church, Luton, on July 21st, 1886. He had enlisted in the Royal Engineers (117904) in August 1915 (giving his age as 47) and rose to the rank of corporal before being discharged in December 1916 as no longer fit for war service, suffering from rheumatism aggravated by active service. He had served in France for 13 months. He died in Luton in 1939 at the age of 78.