E18 Physical Thing

Pictorial Record Luton 1914


Shortly before the outbreak of World War 1 a London publication called the Pictorial Record devoted a whole edition to the story of Luton and its businesses and industry. It also included pictures of the town of 1914 and shortly before. Click on the download  link to the left to see a selection of views of Luton that appeared in the Pictorial Record. In sequence they are -

Town Hall from George Street

Corn Exchange

Market Hill

Carnegie Library

Cheapside Post Office

Waller Street Baths

Waller Street Wesleyan Church

Soldier's Pay Book

This book belonged to Private George Marlow of the 2nd Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment.

As part of their official documents, all soldiers serving in the Great War were issued with a Pay Book.

This was a valuable document which was proof of identification both as a battlefield casualty and when receiving pay.

The pay book was to be carried at all times in the top right tunic pocket & to be produced on request for examination by an Officer or a Regimental Policeman.

The book was to be filled out by the soldier giving the following information:

Postcard to Father.

Private George Marlow of the 2nd Batallion Bedfordshire Regiment sent this postcard from France to his father Frederick.

 Postcards were becoming increasingly popular with soldiers as a way of sending a message to loved ones, letting them know 'all is well' without revealing exactly what they were experiencing.

After the massive recruitment drive of nearly a million men volunteering in the first 2 years of war, by 1917 conscription had been introduced.

Christmas Greetings from France.

Private George Marlow of the 2nd Batallion Bedfordshire Regiment sent Christmas greetings from France to his younger brother Horace .

The greeting card is made of embroidered silk mounted onto a postcard. These were created by French and Belgian women to sell as souvenirs to soldiers posted on the Western Front.

The postcards were extrememly popular with British & American soldiers who bought the cards as momentos to send home to loved ones, without revealing the true horrors of war.

It is estimated that some 10 million silk embroidered postcards were made. 

Commer Cars, Biscot Road


With the outbreak of World War One the whole of the output of the Commer Cars Ltd factory in Biscot Road, Luton - opened in July 1906 - was commandeered by the War Department.

Production was largely centred on the 'RC' four-ton lorry, of which around 3,000 were supplied to the War Office. Peak production was reached in 1916 when the payroll topped 1,000 for the first time.

The above picture by Luton photographer W. H. Cox gives a composite panoramic view of the main shop, possibly just before the war.

The Diamond Foundry


Many men of the Diamond Foundry in Dallow Road enlisted at the outbreak of war, and a significant number were to lay down their lives for their country. Like other large Luton firms, it concentrated on Government work during the duration of the war, and offered help in other ways too.

In November 1914, managing director Mr H. Newsome Davis, backed by employees, offered to adapt their social club, the Davis Institute, for use as a 20-bed Red Cross hospital. Lady Alice Wernher offered to meet the expense of medical equipment and furnishings.

George Kent's munition works


George Kent Ltd, based in Biscot Road, Luton, was one of several firms in the town to gear its production to the war effort between 1914 and 1919.

The firm had been founded in London in 1838 by farmer's son George Kent (born 1806). A move to Luton came in 1908, when the George Kent factory in Biscot Road was opened in June of that year (picture above).

Waller Street Baths


The new Waller Street baths proved a popular attraction with troops billeted in Luton, particularly in the early months of the war. Thousands took advantage of the facilities both for recreational swimming and half-price use of the slipper baths for hygiene.

Palace Theatre: Bedfords on film


Luton's cinema scene was still in its infancy when the Great War broke out. The town's first purpose-built cinema, the Anglo American Electric Picture Palace, had opened in Gordon Street in October 1909, followed by the Picturedrome in Park Street in April 1911, the Wellington in Wellington Street in May 1912, the High Town Electric Picture Theatre in August 1912 and the Palace, Mill Street, in December 1912.

Cheapside Post Office


The Post Office in Cheapside became the first focal point of activity at the outbreak of the Great War. Opened on September 29th, 1881, it was already proving inadequate for its job but, in addition to its usual workload, in August 1914 it had to handle all the local telegrams, mobilisation letters and urgent messages involved in the preparations for war.

Luton Plait Halls


Like the Corn Exchange, the Plait Halls were to play an important role in World War 1 Luton, first as a requisitioned storage point and then, from March 1915 in the case of the Waller Street hall, as a YMCA recreation centre for soldiers billeted in the town.

The Waller Street hall became a well-used venue offering concerts and, even more popular, friendly sparring with gloves among the troops, all purely for the sport.


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