‘A former Police Superintendent at Bishop’s Stortford, Mr Harry Wright, of ‘Oxhey’, Grange Road, died at Bishop’s Stortford Hospital yesterday (Thursday) aged 64.’
That was the first line as reported by the Hertfordshire Mercury in January 1947. So who was Harry Wright ?
Harry Wright was born 21 February 1882 in Tiptree, Essex. In 1898, at the age of 16, he joined the Army and served in Africa during the Boer War of 1899 – 1902. He was discharged from the Army on 13 March 1906.
On 31st July 1906 he was sworn in to the Hertford County Constabulary; he was 24 years and 6 months of age, 6 feet and ½ inches tall, had a fresh complexion with blue eyes and dark brown hair. He had a tattoo on his left forearm of a figure of a soldier. Harry was appointed to Watford Police Station, where he stayed until 20 June 1910.
During his time at Watford he met and married Emily Elizabeth Slough; they were married on 24 October 1908.
On 20 June 1910 he moved to Hoddesdon Police Station and on the 1911 census he is given as living at 10 Duke Street, Hoddesdon along with his wife Emily, who was originally from Sandridge, and their son Harry Eugene Wright, aged 1. Harry Eugene unfortunately died in 1913.
Harry and Emily had three further children: Stanley, who was born in the early part of 1912; Margery, in 1913; and Kathleen, in 1915.
Whilst at Hoddesdon, on 16 May 1914, Harry qualified as a Police Sergeant and on 27 July of that year he was moved to Hertfordshire Police Headquarters. On 13 January 1915 he moved to Libury Hall, near Little Munden.
Under a Conveyance and Declaration dated 25 February 1902, Libury Hall was set up to provide under Christian influence, temporary work, shelter, board and lodging for German speaking unemployed and destitute men. During the First World War it became a privileged internment camp, on condition that it took in and cared for some of the frail, elderly men who could not stand the conditions in the large internment camp of the Isle of Man.
The spacious building, which had been used for basket making, was converted into a hospital and the Three ‘Home’ cottages were fitted up for the Police Guard, consisting of twelve Police Constables and a Sergeant, Harry probably being the Sergeant.
Harry left Libury Hall on 4 February 1915, returning to headquarters until he joined Herts Yeomanry on 8 June 1915 as a private.
Harry served on the Western Front from 16 November 1917 to 11 January 1919 and he was demobilized on 11 January 1919 having achieved the rank of 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Garrison Artillery.
Harry returned to the police force after the war, being sent to Hitchin Police Station from 5 February 1919. He was stationed there until 1 April 1919 when he was transferred back to Watford. By now he was an Acting Inspector.
During his time at Watford he received a commendation from the Chief Constable at Luton for ‘the way in which he handled and controlled his men and carried out instructions – Riot Duty at Luton 19/20th July 1919.’
This intrigued me to find out more about the riots in Luton.
In June 1919 the peace treaty was signed and Luton Town Council planned a procession with brass bands, floats, entertainment for the children and a firework display, followed in the evening by a ‘Mayor’s banquet. The cost of the latter was to be paid from the civic funds.
Invitations were strictly limited to the Mayor, Councillors and close friends, none of whom had served in the armed forces, and no ex-servicemen were included in the preparations, which resulted in the Discharged Soldiers and Sailors Federation and the Comrades of the Great War Association withdrawing from the activities and planned alternative celebrations. However, the Mayor and his council refused them permission to use Wardown Park.
So, on Saturday 19 July 1919, the official procession set off from Park Street recreation ground. The route took the procession past the Federation’s Headquarters where the ex-servicemen had prepared their own contribution to the celebrations. Lining both sides of the street were maimed and disabled ex-servicemen and on one side was a banner which read ‘Don’t pity us, give us work’. The procession passed and the angry ex-servicemen joined in.
They eventually made it to the Town Hall where, in heavy rain, the Mayor read out the proclamation of peace. The ex-servicemen booed and hissed at his patronising speech and one of the Councillors trying to calm the situation, called for three cheers for the ex-servicemen, but this just made things worse.
The noise had become deafening and the Mayor and his party retreated to the confines of the Town Hall. The crowd followed, sweeping aside the constables on duty and tearing down the doors.
Once inside, the rioters tore down the decorations intended for the grand ball and contents of the building were hurled out the windows.
The Mayoral party had barricaded themselves inside the Mayor’s parlour, and the arrival of a small Police contingent stopped harm coming to them. The rioters engaged the Police in battle and the fighting spread to the street.
Instead of the advertised fireworks display, the gathered crowd found that the rioting and looting that were going on at the Town Hall was much more of an attraction. The crowd consisted of more than 20,000 people.
By 10 p.m. the Mayor and his party were still barricaded in the Mayor’s parlour. As the night wore on the rioting continued. The Food Office in Manchester Street was raided and several fires were started. The Fire Brigade tried to put out the fires but they met with resistance from the crowds and had to leave. The Mayor was eventually smuggled out of the Town Hall dressed as a special constable.
More fires were being lit, some of them inside the Town Hall, when the nearby garage of Hart’s Motors was raided and petrol was stolen, it was then added to the fires inside the Town Hall which became an inferno. Attempts were made by the Fire Brigade to put the fire out but rioters started to cut the hoses. Any hoses that were not trying to be used to fight fires were being used to protect the Police from the crowd.
One man was hit so hard by the jet from a fireman’s hose that it sent him through a music shop window. The people that went to his aid appeared from the shop with three pianos and accompanied the crowd as they sang ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’, before the biggest bonfire Luton had ever seen.
Reinforcements were sent from London and surrounding areas to support the police in Luton. At about midnight the Riot Act was read to a crowd that had now grown to several thousand, as the Town Hall clock struck one and, before it crashed to the ground, the Police began a savage assault on the crowd.
The next day passed without incident, until closing time when further out breaks of looting and rioting began. This pattern continued for a further three or four nights before the business came to an end.
It is likely that Harry was drafted in at the point when the Riot Act was read at the height of the assault on the Town Hall.
Harry stayed at Watford Police Station until 1 April 1922, during which time he became an Inspector, when he moved for a short period to St Albans.
On 1 October 1922 he was promoted again, this time to Acting Superintendent at which point he transferred to Hemel Hempstead. On 1 November 1923 he was promoted to Superintendent, and he remained at Hemel Hempstead until 3 March 1924; from that date until he retired in March 1933 he was stationed at Bishop’s Stortford.
The rest of the article from the Mercury reads:
‘In his retirement Mr Wright be came actively associated with the work of the Bishop’s Stortford branch of the British Legion, being branch vice-chairman of the Entertainments Committee, in which capacity he was mainly responsible for the organization of men’s social functions and the Poppy Day appeal. He was a Freemason.
Throughout his life ‘Dick’ Wright, as he was popularly known, was keenly interested in athletics, and during his police service was joint hon. secretary of the Herts Police Athletic Association. In later years, as judge or starter, he officiated at many local athletic meetings, especially those arranged annually by the Schools’ Sports Association. Up to the time of his death, Mr Wright was Honorary Secretary of the Herts Police Old Comrades’ Association.
He left a widow and two daughters, his son having been killed while serving with the R.A.F. during the war.’