Riot case: William Battams

Battams record

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

William Battams, aged 48, labourer, of 51 Hartley Road, Luton, was charge that: “On the 19th of 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 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 in Luton on August 1st, 1919, Battams was said by Pc Horace Frost to have been standing outside the Town Hall on the Peace Day afternoon, and there was a tremendous crowd.

Battams, the constable alleged, said: “Now, lads. You must do it now. You must have the Mayor out of the Town Hall, and when we do start you must let them have it.” The crowd got very excited.

Inspector Herbert Hunt corroborated and said he stood behind prisoner, who said: “I will make a collection for the soldiers' children.”

The Town Clerk: “He didn't say which soldiers' children. He probably spent some in the pub that night.” Mr H. W. Lathom (defending) protested against that statement.

The Inspector added that the prisoner collected the money in his hat, gave a few coppers away, and the remainder he put in his trousers pocket.

Mr Lathom: “Did you give anything?” Witness: “No, but he asked me to take the money out of his hat afterwards.”

Mr Lathom: “Well that looked like bona fide, didn't it? It looks wonderfully trusting to let the police take it. Never mind, you needn't answer that question.”

The Inspector added that he did not know the prisoner had nine children. He knew nothing previously against him.”

The accused denied the charge, and bail was not opposed. He was committed to Assizes on bailed allowed of £10 and a surety of £10.



Pc Horace Frost told the jury at the Assizes in October that Battams shouted: “Now, lads, we must have the Mayor out of the Town Hall, and when we do we will let him have it.”

Mr Drysdale Woodcock (defending); “I suggest he said nothing of the sort, and that what he said was, 'Is it right men of our age should go to the war, and a lot of the young men be left at home. Me and my two sons had to go, and a good many more fit and able had to go as well'.”

Witness said he heard nothing about prisoner's sons, but he heard prisoner talking of his own case. Witness also did not know prisoner was a tenant of the Mayor. He had known prisoner a long time and said he had been a hard working, peaceable, law-abiding citizen. Prisoner was talking on the Town Hall steps about 20 minutes.

Mr Woodcock: “A ten minute sermon may seem like 20 minutes. I put it that he was only talking five minutes.” Witness: “It was longer than that.” It was at 6.10 that this prisoner spoke, although other people spoke from the steps.

Inspector Herbert Hunt said he was surprised to hear prisoner making such statements [as related by Pc Frost], and thought he would not have done so had he not been under the influence of drink. Mr Woodcock: “If he had been sober you don't think he would have said these things?” Witness: “No. He has always been a law-abiding citizen.”

Witness said the prisoner spoke about the entertainment of children, and about the older men going to the war, when he first got on the steps. The other statement was made later by prisoner.

Mr Hollis Walker (prosecuting) said Inspector Hunt was taken to hospital the same night or early next morning and did not see Pc Frost or have any communication with him.



At the Beds Assizes, Battams told Judge Greer that he got to the Town Hall at about 5.50 and made a speech, but said nothing about fetching out he Mayor. Asked by the Judge why he spoke, prisoner said people called out: “There's old Wiggy. He will give us a speech” (laughter).

Prisoner said he had been a tenant of the Mayor's for 15 years. Mr Impey had been a gentleman, and he had no grievance against the Mayor. The Judge: “A landlord is a bad man to have a grievance against.”

In response to a prosecution question, Battams said he did not know there had been any trouble until he got there, and did not hear anybody else make a speech.

The Judge: “Ever made a speech before?” Witness: “No.” The Judge: “Then you don't know that a man sometimes says more than he intends when he gets on his feet.”

Prisoner agreed he was a bit excited, and did not remember being asked by Inspector Hunt to go away quietly; otherwise he would have gone because Inspector Hunt was a gentleman.

Battams was found not guilty. The Judge: “You may be discharged. Don't make so many speeches in future.”


William Joseph Battams was born in Luton on September 13th, 1871 (according to his entry in the 1939 voters' register, but in September 1872 on an RAF document). He married Agnes Bessie Lawrence in Luton April 3rd, 1893, and the couple had five sons and two daughters at the time of the 1911 Census. William served in the Royal Flying Corps/RAF and died in Luton in 1952 at the age of 81.