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 -
World War One was to be a time of expansion and increasing profits for Vauxhall Motors Ltd, who arrived in the town in 1905 from London in need of larger premises and with the prospect of a ready and cheap power supply from Luton Electricity Works, opened in 1901.
Henry Brown and Sons, Luton's oldest major employer, spent the early days of World War One producing material for munition works, only to see its staff, machinery and premises commandeered by the Ministry of Munitions and temporarily ceasing to exist as an independent business.
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 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.