Personal Histories

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Throughout the UK July 19th, 1919 was designated as Peace Day to celebrate the end of the First World War. In Luton the day ended in a riot with Mayor Impey fleeing disguised as a policemen and the Town Hall being burnt down.

The council had organised festivities – including a banquet that former servicemen could attend if they paid the fee of 15 shillings (equivalent to £0.75p in today’s money and equivalent, to those in work, to half a week’s salary), whilst councillors dined free at ratepayer’s expense. Former servicemen’s groups boycotted the events to protest against unemployment and high food prices – councillors were accused of profiteering. The mayor, Henry Impey, read a message from the King at the town hall but was jeered and booed. He retreated inside with council officers and fled through a back door disguised as a police special constable. Fuelled with drink from the numerous local hostelries rioters set fire to the Town Hall later that night and in additon prevented the fire brigade from reaching it and extinghuishing the fire.

As the Town Hall burnt people dragged pianos from a nearby music store into the street, singing, dancing and allegedly playing Keep The Home Fires Burning as the Town Hall blazed in the background. Stories of the riots, and the people involved, have lived on in families’ memories.

Throughout March and April, Cutltural Histories CIC supported a small team of volunteers who collected those family 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.

The following is a collection of those family stories with supporting photographs and audio files of the person relating the story. (click the plus sign to open and close each story)