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Gove would not approve of the way Luton celebrated the end of WWI
January 18, 2014 2:23 AM   Subscribe

"During the fierce fighting that followed the police found themselves heavily outnumbered as soldiers, many in uniform, joined in against them. A chemist's shop was raided and medicine bottles were used as missiles. A man was hit so hard by a fireman's jet that he was hurled through a music shop window. The crowd that went in to rescue him emerged with three pianos. These were dragged into the roadway and used as accompaniments. The crowd sang 'Keep the Home Fires Burning' before the biggest bonfire that Luton had ever seen. The burning down of the Town Hall provided the perfect culmination to what had started as a very wet day." -- In 1919 the mayor of Luton planned a "peace celebration" as a nice way for him and his friends to gorge themselves. Thousands of discharged, unemployed service men thought otherwise and the 1919 Luton riots were the result.
posted by MartinWisse (37 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
Luton is in the UK. I guess we're supposed to know that by osmosis, or something.
posted by Goofyy at 2:48 AM on January 18


Luton orobably should have been more places, all things considered.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:55 AM on January 18 [3 favorites]


They were simply over-jubilant about the victory of liberal democracy.

Otherwise, thanks for the interesting article. England after WWI was not a happy place.
posted by Thing at 3:01 AM on January 18


So does the article never mention the mayor's name, or did I just miss it?
posted by KChasm at 3:02 AM on January 18


I'm neither British nor American, but I suppose it's a reflection of English-language Internet and global pop culture that I'm supposed to know where Denver is, for example, as opposed to Luton.

(and I know full well where Luton is)
posted by cendawanita at 3:11 AM on January 18 [35 favorites]


Denver's in Norfolk. Take the A10 from King's Lynn.
posted by Leon at 3:16 AM on January 18 [50 favorites]


The name of the mayor is not mentioned, but it was Henry Impey.
posted by Thing at 3:18 AM on January 18


♬ People inside me are asking me to blow up city hall ♬
posted by Jpfed at 3:43 AM on January 18 [1 favorite]


I didn't know where Luton is, but inferred from the language in the post that it's in the UK. Reading TFA confirmed it.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:58 AM on January 18 [6 favorites]


[Okay, we've firmly established where Luton is. Let's let it drop now, please.]
posted by taz at 4:06 AM on January 18 [6 favorites]


The 'restoration of law and order' led to several arrests. Because the authorities were fearful of further repercussions the judge handed out surprisingly light sentences. He even said there had been 'some provocation'.

Heh. Rock on, you 1919 rabblerousers, you done good.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:25 AM on January 18 [2 favorites]


The Kinmel Camp Riots of 1919 are also indicative of the grimness of post WW1 Britain and the morale of the Commonwealth's ex servicemen.
posted by brilliantmistake at 4:31 AM on January 18 [4 favorites]


Trumpton Riots
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 5:17 AM on January 18


Man, this just further confirms my suspicion that the Brits got into WWI just so wealthy men could fuck over the working class some more.
posted by planetesimal at 5:25 AM on January 18 [3 favorites]


VIDEO: Luton Town Hall burnt down during Peace Day riots, July 19, 1919
posted by knapah at 5:40 AM on January 18 [2 favorites]


it's interesting that men who had spent the last couple of years running straight at machine guns were stopped by a couple hundred cops and the riot act...
posted by ennui.bz at 6:09 AM on January 18 [1 favorite]


it sort of contradicts the standard anarchist dogma that state power is ultimately built on violence.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:41 AM on January 18


I love the idea of looters taking pianos.
posted by srboisvert at 6:47 AM on January 18 [4 favorites]


The recent BBC historical crime drama Peaky Blinders touched on some of the convulsions that were going through British society at the time, especially the working classes, and the fears/reactions of the ruling classes.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:50 AM on January 18


I think any group of people with lots in common will assume that stuff like place names and other cultural references are also held in common. This isn't true, of course, and annoys those who don't get the references and thus feel excluded.

The anglophone Internet is quite good for this (Timezones, people! And there is more than Birmingham. Please be precise). But as more is actually held in common, the problem diminishes. Meanwhile, us minorities out here get it in the neck more than do Americans, so forgive the mild schadenfreude when boot goes otherfootwards.

(I like the fossil relics of this in place names: in the UK, lots of rivers have basically the same name - Thames, Tamar, Tame, etc, or the various Ouses - from ancient words meaning "The river" or similar. Because, of course, there was only one in your world.)
posted by Devonian at 6:53 AM on January 18


it sort of contradicts the standard anarchist dogma that state power is ultimately derived from violence.

I don't follow. History (in the UK, the US, and elsewhere) is replete with examples of protests/riots being met and suppressed with similarly slightly escalated force. People very, very rarely continue to escalate the violence. For example, remember those big protests in Seattle a few years back where the police used inappropriate force against the antiglobalization protestors? The US is one of the most armed societies in the world. Probably half of the protestors had guns at home, and there are unsecured gun stores everywhere including at that time every walmart. And yet no one responded to the often illegal police violence by genuinely escalating in that way.

The state's monopoly on violence runs very deep and is challenged only in extremely unusual situations. Anarchist thinking on this is a lot more nuanced and sophisticated than is generally noted, and of course considers the ways in which people consent to state power and violence as well as are coerced. (Nor, of course, were the WWI rioters mostly anarchists, so this is all totally tangential.)
posted by Dip Flash at 6:53 AM on January 18 [5 favorites]


To put this into some kind of social and economic perspective for you, Luton is the location of the UK head office of General Motors. Profit margins in the automotive industry are paper thin.

In past times, Luton was an important center of hat manufacture, and technically still is, but all of the production work has been outsourced to China in recent years. The local football team is nicknamed the Hatters because of this association.

Luton is also the site of a major UK airport, called London Luton airport, even though it is north of London and takes about 35 minutes to get to on the train.

Luton is in Bedfordshire, which is an unusual county in that it doesn't have any cities. Bedfordshire slipped down the leaderboard economically during the Industrial Revolution because it has no sources of coal. It has never really recovered from that. Nor has Bedfordshire ever really been considered glamorous. When building the magnificent Wrest Park, an estate in Silsoe, Earl de Grey was reluctant to include the standard ballroom because he wasn't too keen on entertaining, but it was a social obligation. When he held his first party, it is written that guests had to look up at the ceiling to get some relief from the view of the unattractive shower of people that constituted Bedfordshire high society.

You can get a more contemporary glimpse of Luton life in the memoir Greetings From Bury Park by Sarfraz Manzoor.

The crumminess of Luton living standards post-WWI... can only be imagined. This kind of crass PR fuckup, while a little bit of a standout, is part of a grand tradition and can be seen as characteristic of the British treatment of war veterans, the British treatment of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie, and the ineptitude of the Luton local council. What is surprising is that the people actually managed to protest with impact, for a change.
posted by tel3path at 6:56 AM on January 18 [19 favorites]


it sort of contradicts the standard anarchist dogma that state power is ultimately derived from violence.

I don't follow. History (in the UK, the US, and elsewhere) is replete with examples of protests/riots being met and suppressed with similarly slightly escalated force.


but do you really think those rioting soldiers were intimidated in Luton?

the link is to libcom.org which is short for libertarian communist which is British for anarchist.
posted by ennui.bz at 7:13 AM on January 18


London Airport? Luton Airport, surely?
posted by marienbad at 7:15 AM on January 18 [1 favorite]


I should add that the Luton riots are not something widely known. In a small, and need I say council-run, Luton museum a few years ago, I was reading the exhibit captions which made passing reference to the bad, naughty actions of the disgraceful, naughty rioters but were otherwise rather unspecific about detail. An old man approached me and told me the story of the riots and it was the first I ever heard about it. He said his father had been one of the rioters, and explained why, in his view, the Town Hall had deserved to be burned down.
posted by tel3path at 7:18 AM on January 18 [13 favorites]


All of this makes a lot of sense if you've lived in Luton.
posted by Artw at 8:10 AM on January 18


Britain was an unhappy place post-WW1. Also, post-WW2. Also, the 70s, 80s, and 90s. And the 50s but I'm not sure about the 60s.
posted by bleep at 8:44 AM on January 18 [3 favorites]


The 1995 Luton riots ended with a rave.
posted by Artw at 8:48 AM on January 18 [2 favorites]


Luton is also the site of a major UK airport, called London Luton airport, even though it is north of London and takes about 35 minutes to get to on the train.

Everyone makes the point about Luton being so far out but this is pretty much the same distance from central London as Stansted and Gatwick.
posted by biffa at 9:12 AM on January 18


The thing with Luton is you have to take that bus up the hill from the station. There's always the one person that forgot to add the £1 or whatever it is bus fee to their ticket which holds the whole thing up. Also, while it's 35 minutes to the airport, it's probably another 20 to your gate.
posted by maledictory at 10:26 AM on January 18


It's hard to convey why the riots are so significant, but I'll try again: picture Luton as Dante's Limbo, set in the UK equivalent of East Elbow, New Jersey.

The fact that there was a riot over this issue indicates two things: one, that the veterans had no faith that they could influence events in any other way, but two, they *did* actually have hope that they could influence events.

By definition, hope isn't something that tends to spring eternal in Limbo. Finding out about this historic event which has been deliberately covered up and is not widely known or talked about, is unsurprising because of the first thing, and also surprising because of the second thing.
posted by tel3path at 11:02 AM on January 18 [2 favorites]


I instinctively want to draw connections between this riot and the Tulsa riots of 1921 by way of the enforcement of pre-war power structures on returning veterans, but that's hard to do without inappropriately discounting the effects of racism in the American context.
posted by immlass at 11:14 AM on January 18 [2 favorites]


The state's monopoly on violence runs very deep and is challenged only in extremely unusual situations.

Speaking as a lefty, the state monopoly on violence is a very, very good thing.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:29 AM on January 18 [1 favorite]


The riots were the most interesting thing that has happened in Luton since the Great Fire of 1336.
posted by monotreme at 11:34 AM on January 18


knapah's link is really worth a look. It isn't actually video from 1919, but is instead black and white photos in a video stream of Luton during and after the events discussed here, including one photo of the clueless mayor reading his declaration, and another of him being smuggled out of City Hall.

An interesting observation: everybody wore hats (Locally made?) at all times while outside, even in the middle of the riot.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:25 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]


People very, very rarely continue to escalate the violence. For example, remember those big protests in Seattle a few years back where the police used inappropriate force against the antiglobalization protestors? The US is one of the most armed societies in the world. Probably half of the protestors had guns at home...

For whatever it's worth, there's much, much, much less overlap between the set of Americans who own guns and the set of Americans who go to lefty antiglobalization protests than your statement would suggest.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:09 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]


Just the fact that there are not regularly armed insurrections in the US is testament to the fact that it takes more than firearms and a grievance to make it happen.
posted by Harald74 at 7:14 AM on January 19


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