Riot case: Robert Marshall

Robert Marshall record

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

Robert Marshall, aged 18, Diamond Foundry moulder, of 12 Butlin Road, Luton, was charged that: “On the 20th July 1919, together with divers other persons to the number of one thousand or more unlawfully and riotously did assemble to disturb the public peace, and then did make a great riot and disturbance to the terror and alarm of His Majesty’s subjects there being and against the peace of our Sovereign Lord the King, his Crown and Dignity.”



Appearing before magistrates on July 31st, 1919, it was said that while the Town Hall was well alight Marshall and other rioters had to be driven back by Chief Officer Andrew, assisted by Pc David Riches. The prisoner was in the front of the crowd near Messrs Dillingham's warehouse. Marshall was throwing bricks, stones and bottles at firemen, and particularly at the Chief Officer and witness.

Marshall was driven back again and again, and each time returned with more missiles. The hose was the only means of defence.

In answer to Mr H. W. Lathom (defending), Pc Riches said he was absolutely certain the prisoner was involved. Mr Lathom: “He instructs me he was recommended for recompense for helping the firemen.” Witness said prisoner did not help the firemen. He had not seen prisoner before, but saw enough of him that night.

Sgt Fred Janes corroborated, and said he was in Upper George Street until 5am. Prisoner threw missiles absolutely at the firemen, and did not help them. Witness knew the prisoner by sight before that night.

Cross-examined, Sgt Janes said police and firemen were given Bovril and tea at a house in Gordon Street, but he could not say whether prisoner was taken there by the firemen. Prisoner was nowhere near the hydrant used in Upper George Street.

Chief Office Andrew said Marshall had his coat off, and was urging the crowd to rush the firemen.

Town Clerk: “Was he excited?” Chief Officer Andrew: “Absolutely mad.”

Prisoner did not handle hose to put water on the fire, but he was seen by witness in possession of a length of hose which had been taken by the crowd from the firemen at the Manchester Street end of Gordon Street.

Prisoner threw a bottle which whizzed by witness and struck Fireman W. J. Burgess, who was immediately behind witness. After the crowd had been dispersed by the military, Marshall went to Chief Officer Andrew and said he had been assisting the firemen, and was wet through.

“I was very busy at the time, but I recognised him as one of the persons who had been throwing at us,” said witness, “and I told him to come to the fire station on Monday, as I knew I should want his name and address.”

On the Monday prisoner was asked to called again on Thursday, and then he said he helped the firemen right in front of the Town Hall at one o'clock. After some hesitation, he gave his name and address.

“On the Sunday morning,” added the Chief Office, “there was no hose being used in front of the Town Hall at one o'clock or subsequently until after the crowd had been dispersed by the Military.”

Witness was absolutely certain prisoner threw missiles, as men's faces during the height of the fire were as clearly seen as in the day. He had no knowledge of prisoner rendering any assistance to the Brigade, and no member of the Brigade had reported to that effect, although they had reported the names of other people as assisting.

Cross-examined, the Chief Officer said he had not heard that prisoner was taken to the house in Gordon Street for refreshment as one of the Brigade's helpers. It was possible one of the firemen might have taken him, but not probable.

The Clerk: “You don't seem to have told him you recognised him as one of those throwing missiles?” Witness: “No, I though he would have 'bunked' immediately. That was why I held out hope of a reward.”

Fireman Arthur Day, of 43 Hazelbury Crescent, said he was working a hose outside the Food Office in Manchester Street. The mob captured one line of hose, and Marshall shouted: “Come on, boys, hurry up, we'll have the ------ yet.” They were intending to turn the hose on to the firemen, and prisoner was excited, waving his arms and inciting he crowd. Witness had not the slightest doubt prisoner was the man.

Seeing what the crowd were going to do, witness uncoupled the hose and tries to pull it back from the ground. That made them angry, and “Go for him. Lay the ------ out,” was shouted by Marshall. Prisoner kicked witness just over the right knee, and another person struck him over the head with something heavy.

Witness said he had not the slightest doubt about prisoner, and would have returned this attack if he had been in possession of his axe. He was alone and had only the hosepipe.

Fireman Burgess, who served in the Army over four and a half years, said there was quite a bombardment of stones and other things in Upper George Street. A missile struck witness on the right hand, another between the shoulders and some hit his helmet. The blow between his shoulders laid him out, and he was taken to the police station for a time.

Dr Archibald said the last witness was only partly conscious when brought to the police station. He had received a severe blow on the spine, and was under treatment for some time before he showed signs of revival.

Witness also attended Fireman Day for a severe contusion of the leg. Day was still unfit for duty.

Mr Lathom said he had a witness who would say prisoner received refreshments with the firemen, but if the magistrates considered there was a prima facie case he would not take up the time by calling the witness now.

A further charge of assaulting Fireman Day was then formally preferred against prisoner, who was committed for trial on four charges. He pleaded not guilty and bail was refused.



At Beds Assizes in October, Sir Ryland Adkins (representing Marshall) suggested that as witness Pc Riches was helping with the hose and dodging missiles he was oscillating too much to get a steady look at any man who was throwing missiles. But witness said he had several opportunities of seeing prisoner.

Other witnesses who positively identified Marshall included Chief Officer Andrew, who was asked whether Fireman Neil, of the Diamond Foundry, had represented that prisoner assisted him, and the reply was that no such report was made. It was mentioned that Neil, a private fireman who voluntarily assisted the town Brigade, was injured, but was able to resume work later.

In Marshall's defence, Sir Ryland Atkins said the case was one in which there was a sharp conflict of evidence.

Marshall, he said, only came from Scotland about a month before the riot, and on Peace Day was out all the afternoon and evening with another 'Scotland man' named Ferguson. He did not see the Town Hall until it was burning, although he heard the flags had been hauled down, and when he got there he did not take any part in missile throwing. After looking on for a time he went too help with the fire hose, and helped until 5am. He did not throw anything or interfere in any way with the police or firemen.

Prisoner said that after he got into he crowd he saw a friend and two other men with a hose which had no branch. The fireman ran off towards Gordon Street, and prisoner and others helped to put the branch on. There was no struggle for the hose, and he did not see firemen struggling to get a hose away from the crowd. He and other helped to put water on the buildings, but he did not have his coat off, and did not see a policeman until he went to a house to get some Bovril. Then he found the house full of firemen and policemen. (laughter)

He was working the hose for two hours, but nobody struck him, threw at him or interfered with him, and he did not see anyone hurt.

James Neil, foundry manager at the Diamond Foundry and one of the members of the private fire brigade at the foundry, said he assisted with the fire apparatus at the Town Hall, and at 2.30 prisoner assisted him to get the hose into the Education Department, and prisoner assisted him for quite half an hour. What prisoner did afterwards witness did not know.

Cross-examined, James Neil said he and others who were working were attacked by the crowd, and he was hit, but he could not say what hit him or where it came from. He said he was working on the Upper George Street side for two hours or so from 12.45, and after about two hours he called out for assistance. Prisoner came and helped him.

In answer to the Judge, the witness said he knew prisoner as a little boy and then did not see him again until a month before the riot.

Mrs Margaret Rumbles, who lived in Gordon Street, and prepared refreshments for for police, firemen and others, said prisoner was in their twice and nothing was said to suggest he had not been helping.

Mrs Rumbles, who hailed from Inverness, said she noticed prisoner particularly because of his Scotch talk.

William Ferguson, a Diamond Foundry moulder, said he was with prisoner on Peace Day and left him at the Town Hall at 12.30. He watched things for about half an hour, then he had had enough of it and went home.



Judge Greer, describing the Marshall case as the most extraordinary of the whole series, said the evidence of the prosecution as to his conduct made him one of the worst offenders

But it had to be borne in mind that Chief Officer Andrews had his hands full and it was possible for him to have made a mistake.

It was established prisoner only came to Luton from Scotland a month before the riots so that he would not be very well known to either the police or firemen. He could not help being impressed with the prisoner's demeanour in the witness box. He struck him as o0ne telling something that actually happened and not “inventing a story”.

The jury were only a minute in consultation before returning a verdict of not guilty.