Luton Town Hall
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Luton Town Hall is situated at the junction between Manchester Street, Upper George Street and George Street, Luton, England; the current building was completed in 1936 on the site of the older Town Hall which was burnt down 19 July 1919, following the Peace Day Riots.
First town hall: 1846—1919
The original Town Hall was built in the classical style with Dorian columns supporting a frieze designed by Luton architects John Williams and Sons in 1846 and was built for a total cost excluding the purchasing of the land for £2,200. It was built by the Town Hall Company to hold public meetings and entertainment in the town and was only bought by Luton town council in 1874.
In 1856 a small tower and clock was added in commemoration of the Crimean War. The prosperity of Bedfordshire in the early part of the 20th century led to the expansion of the original town hall, and a public house and other neighbouring buildings were converted to provide additional office and administration. Some discussions had taken place amongst the councillors about replacing the older parts of the complex, but with the onset of World War I in 1914 these plans were shelved.
Destruction in the Peace Day Riots
On Peace Day, 19 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. A number of valuable documents relating to local history were lost, including a Papal Bull, sent by Pope Adrian IV to the vicar of Shefford in the 12th century. During the riot people broke into Farmers Music Shop and dragged pianos into the streets for dancing and singing, including ironically "Keep the home fires burning", one of the players was John Henry Goode. The mayor at the time, Henry Impey was smuggled out of Luton never to return.
Order was eventually restored to the town by midnight on 19 July, but the fire brigade were unable to extinguish the fire and by the next morning the town hall was little more than ruins. The remains of the building were demolished in August 1919 and in 1922 the statue "Peace" (designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield) inscribed with the names of more than 280,000 dead servicemen from the Great War was unveiled. The war memorial still stands in front of the Town Hall.
It was decided that the original site still offered the best location in the town for a replacement, and in 1930 a competition was held for designs for the new town hall with cash prizes for the four best entries. There were 86 entries to the competition, with the £500 top prize going to Bradshaw Gass & Hope from Bolton. Building work started in May 1935 and was completed the following year. One key design feature was that this time the building was to be constructed from fireproof materials.
Second town hall: 1936 to date
Work finally started on a replacement town hall in 1930 and took until 1936 to complete. The new town hall is a steel-framed building clad in grey Portland Stone and used no fewer than seven million bricks. H.R.H. The Duke of Kent opened the town hall on 28 October 1936. The building has many typical Art Deco features, but is correctly described as neoclassical on account of the contrast between the classical and modern styles.
In contrast to the bold vertical lines of the exterior, the principal interior rooms and corridors are very ornate. Many of the interior's original furnishings survive to this day and again are Art Deco in style, including the windows, staircase rails, door panels and radiator screens. Many of the features recall images from the town's coat of arms, which is displayed above the main entrance: the bee, the wheatsheaf, the rose and the thistle.
The bell in the rebuilt town hall is the heaviest in the county weighing approximately two tonnes.
During the Second World War, the clock tower was camouflaged to protect it during air raids as the bright white stonework would have been extremely visible from the air. In 1998 Luton Town Hall was given special protection and was listed as a Grade II listed building "of special architectural or historical interest".
During the 1980s a modern extension was built on Manchester Street to provide additional office space. An extension was also added to the roof of the town hall, which is clearly visible in the photograph.
Years of grime and exposure to the weather meant that by 2003 the building needed some restoration and cleaning, restoring the building to its bright white former glory.
In 2005 a new side entrance was created in Upper George Street to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act. At the same time a new customer services centre was also built inside the Town Hall. The old main door at the front is only used for ceremonial occasions.
- J. G. Dony, "The 1919 Peace Riots in Luton", Bedfordshire Historical Record Society volume 57, 205–233, 1978.
- D. Craddock, Where They Burnt the Town Hall Down: Luton, the First World War and the Peace Day Riots of July 1919, Book Castle, 1999, ISBN 1-871199-86-7 (h/b), ISBN 1-871199-39-5 (p/b).