Luton Peace Riots
On Peace Day, 19th July 1919, the Town Hall was burnt down during a riot by ex-servicemen unhappy with unemployment and other grievances. The riot started after members of the council arrived to read out the King’s proclamation and many in the crowd expressed their disapproval. Tension boiled over into violence and a number of protesters broke through the police line and forcibly entered the town hall. Shortly after a number of violent clashes took place, with the town hall being stormed by the crowd and eventually set on fire. [The full description of the event and more details of what occurred can be found on Wikipedia: Luton Town Hall and libcom.org: the-luton-riots]. To commemorate the 1919 Peace Riots, Cultural Histories CIC are already working with the partner organisations identified in the side panel, individuals and local community groups in Luton to develop a range of projects that promote awareness and interest in the 1919 Peace Days riots via a programme of learning and the performing arts.
Projects / activities/ events currently planned for the 1919 Peace Day Riots commemoration include:
Reprint of “Where they Burnt The Town Hall Down”
In collaboration with The Beds & Luton Community Foundation, London Luton Airport Community Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund Cultural Histories CIC have arranged for an updated version of Dave Cradock’s definative book “Where They Burnt the Town Hall Down – Luton, the First World War and the Peace Day riots of July 1919” originally published in 1999 by The Book Castle, to be reprinted as part of the 2019 centenary commemorations of the Luton Peace Day Riots.
Copies of the book can be purchased via this website.
Collecting Family Stories
Family stories about the Luton Peace Day Riots. Throughout March and April 2019, a small team of volunteers collected stories about the Luton 1919 Peace Day Riots. Trained volunteers collected family stories / memories about the riots. They were interested in as many stories as possible, no matter how small; they wanted to hear what people did on the day but also what they did during the war and after the riot. It didn’t matter how small the story was – the important part was that it was a story and it contributed to the archive of the events of July 1919 that could be stored for future generations to enjoy and research.
Interviews took place in Luton Town Hall or, if people were unable to travel, in their own homes. The interviews were recorded and are stored in an audio history archive at the University of Hertfordshire for future generations.
The results of those interviews can be seen and heard on Personal Histories section of this website.
Personal Histories Pamphlet
Working with the University of Bedfordshire Cultural History CIC have produced a pamphlet – shown below – that summarises some of the stories. Free copies of the pamphlet were available at the many centenary events taking place in Luton over the summer.
Musical performances by up to 1200 Luton school students on each Friday in June at Stopsley Baptist church performing music especially composed to commemorate the Luton riots and also a medley of World War 1 songs.
This movie was created by the ©Cultural History CIC all rights reserved
Richard Sisson created the words for the song ‘We’re A Lot of Jolly Fellow’ which tells the story of the 1919 Peace Riots, the above movie features Richard reading the words of his song, to the photographs that appeared in the book, “Where They Burnt Down the Town’. The movie also includes the chorus to the song, sung by Luton School Children. The movie acknowledges the support from our partners and funders and the permission to display the photographs ©Luton Culture and the Luton News.
The local composer Richard Sissons has produced a fantastic medley of World War 1 songs and also an original composition about the Luton riots. He worked with the Luton Music Service and the school choirs which culminated in four performances throughout June involving up to 1200 school children.
The Choir rehearsing
The new song and the medley will be performed during the main commemorations that will be taking place in the Town Centre over the weekend of the 19th, 20th and 21st July.
Below is a recording of the performance of a specially commissioned song, telling the story of the 1919 Luton Peace Day Riots. The composer is the nationally renowned musician and composer Richard Sisson and the song is being performed by a choir totalling 1000 children from 10 Luton primary schools at the Baptist Church in Stopsley. The performance is part of the annual musical extravaganza, establishing school choirs across Luton that is organised by the Luton Music Service supported by the Arts Council.
…and the medley of World War 1 songs.
Explaining to the children the background to this summer’s events and the 1919 Luton Peace Day riots.
Led by the University of Bedfordshire’s Art and Design School, local school students will be able to take part in workshops around the theme of protest. Their work will culminate in a parade through Luton on the afternoon of Friday July 19th and their work will subsequently be displayed in various sites across the town.
Hedley Roberts and Noel Douglas from the University of Bedfordshire are renown artists in their own right; we are working with a number of Luton schools whose involvement is being co-ordinated by Gemma Kiff Head of Art at Bushmead Primary School. The workshops will run through the summer term and be based on the theme of protest. Ideas from movements such as Black Lives Matter will be used to help students design their own protest materials.
Unfortunately, due to a number of factors, not least of which was the weather conditions on the 19th July, the parade did not take place. However, the completed installation was publicly displayed in the cultural quarter, the town square and at the University Campus on the 17th and 18th January, 2020. The installation incorporated the earlier work of creating the masks and caps and the helium cloud. More details can be found on The Art Project page of this website
Creating Learning Material for Key Stage 2 School Children
The Chiltern Learning Trust have produced material for use in schools around the concept of citizenship. They will be using information about the Luton 1919 Peace Day Riots to think about the concept of citizenship today and the lessons to be learnt from previous generations of Lutonians. The materials is now available to schools to download through this website; registration is required to be able to download the material.
Part of the Key Stage 2 curriculum for school children aged 10 and 11 years old is to learn about citizenship. Many of the themes prevalent in 1919 are equally valid today; themes such as democracy, citizen participation and protest. These learning materials will help schools link the theme of citizenship with events around the 1919 Peace Day Riots in a positive and fun way. They will also help school students become more aware of the history of their town.
People Power Passion
In 1919, as the town hall burned, rioters danced in the street. In 2019, People Power Passion are returning to the very same spot. Six events. Five months. One extraordinary riot.
Luton Heritage Walks
The 90 minute talk and tour will undertake an abridged version of a recent event that took in an escorted version of the new town hall building.
The walking tour on Saturday 20th July will :
- Include a short talk and slide show about the disturbances in the council chamber
- Walk around the immediate streets of the town hall, noting the locations of key events in the riots
- Visit 3 locations associated with the Mayor at the time, Henry Impey :
- His grave at Rothesay Road cemetery,
- His house in London Road and
- His church in Castle street.
BBC Radio 4’s World at One
On 19th July 2019 Steven Goodman featured on BBC Radio 4’s World at One discussing the centenary of the 1919 Peace Day Riots; in case you missed it below is a recording of the interview
BBC Three Counties Radio
Luton’s Peace Day Riots and the centenary celebrations were featured in Roberto Perroni’s programme on Three Counties Radio on Friday 19th July – the day of the centenary.
BBC’s Look East
Luton’s Peace Day Riots 1919 and the centenary was featured in BBC’s “Look East” on Wednesday 17th July 2019 ahead of the comemorative programme of events planned for the coming weekend.
BBC’s The One Show
Luton’s Peace Day Riots 1919 and the centenary was featured in The BBC’s “The One Show” on Monday 10th July 2019 ahead of the start of the comemorative programme of events planned for the summer and autumn.
Invisible Folk Club
Invisible Folk Club’s Jon Bickley tells the story of the 1919 Luton Peace Day riots in words and music.
At the end of the First World War in November 1918 Prime Minister Lloyd George promised his government would “make Britain a fit country for heroes to live in”. Sadly this failed to materialise.
By Summer 1919 Luton ex-servicemen were unhappy with unemployment and other grievances, in particular the high handed attitude of Henry Impey the Mayor of Luton. A single incident lit the fuse and the disenfranchised men took matters into their own hands. In the ensuing riots Luton Town Hall was burned down in a fervour of protest.
The following productions are from an occasional series entitled ‘The Ballad of Bedfordshire’.
Ballad of Bedfordshire Episode 1 – – The Luton Peace Day Riots July 1919
Ballad of Bedfordshire Episode 2 – The Luton Peace Day Riots
Peace Day Riots by Jon Bickley and Diana Stone
Jon Bickley (from the Invisible Folk Club above) and Diana Stone have produced an album of songs about the Luton Peace Day riots. It is available to listen on Spotify and purchase on iTunes.
Keep the Home Fires Burning
Originally written by Teresa Burns in 2019 for Luton’s centenary of the 1919 Peace day riots the play has been specially adaptated for radio. Fantastic piece of theatre enjoy!
Keep the Home Fires Burning was originally performed in The Drawing Room of Wardown House in October 2019 to commerate the 100th anniversary of Luton’s Peace Day Riots.
Inspired by true events.
It’s 1919. Three rioters, tell their story in the wake of the Peace Day Riots, lamenting the horrors of their past and wrestling with an uncertain future.
Full of fight, fury, joy and pathos Keep The Home Fires Burning reflects on this famous night in Luton’s history and brings to life the unforgotten voices that rang out on George Street as the town hall burnt down.
The play is free to listen to and enjoy. However if you can and would like to, please consider a donation to the Trust – Thank you!
End of Project Presentation
As detailed in The Luton News’ article on the 20th November 2019 Cultural History CIC held an End of Project Presentation event on Thursday 25th November in the University of Bedforshire’s School of Art and Design in Park Street, Luton. The evening started with a Welcome and Introduction to the whole project by Steve Goodman and Mike McMahon, directors of the Cultural History CIC followed by a short talk by Eureka Henrich from the University of Hertfordshire about The Family History Project, which now has over 4 hours of recordings of family stories by relatives of people involved in the Peace Riots that are being preserved on this website and at the University of Hertfordshire’s audio archive for future genertaions. Keith Miles followed by talking passionately about his father, Henry Miles, who was arrested and charged for his involvement in the Peace Riots. Richard Sisson, who as reported elsewhere on this site and working with The Luton Music Service, composed a new song telling the story of the Peace Day read his poem telling the story of the Peace Riots. Adrian Rogers, Chief Executive of the Chiltern Learning Trust and Dusna Chauhan, spoke about the Key Stage 2 (KS2) learning material produced under the project using the theme of the Luton Peace Riots to promote British Values and social responsibility. Noel Douglas from the University of Bedfordshire’s School of Art and Design spoke about the University’s involvement in the re-design and republishing of the definative book on the subject by Dave Craddock: “Where They Burnt Down the Town Hall”.
Although the centenary celebrations and the Cultural History CIC involvment have come to a conclusion these web pages will remain active for the foreseable future as a reference to anybody interested in the 1919 Peace Day Riots and the Centenary celebrations. Meanwhile Cultural History CIC have identified some new exciting projects to explore and bring to the attention of local people. Watch this space…