Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Boys at Leighton Buzzard Munitions Works Strike

Gas works at Grovebury Rd, Leighton Buzzard c.1930 [Z50/72/172]

Wednesday 19th January 1916: A scuffle which took place on 31st December landed a group of Leighton Buzzard boys in court yesterday. William George Lake, Archibald Palmer, Fred Gotzheirm and Harry Tearle, all aged between 15 and 17, pleaded not guilty to obstructing 15 year old Charles Weeks of Canal Bridge, Linslade. All the boys were employees at the wire works of Messrs. Bullivant and Company in Grovebury Road, a “controlled establishment” under the Minister of Munitions. It appears that the boys, with Weeks as one of the ringleaders, had demanded a 50 percent rise in their wages; when this demand was refused they had all gone on strike except Weeks and one other. As Weeks returned to work after his dinner break he was obstructed and molested by the defendants, causing him to arrive fifteen minutes late. He had first met thirty boys at the gate to the Recreation Ground near the Church, who asked if he intended to return at the old rate of pay; he said that he did. They had let him pass, as had three other boys he met nearer the works. When he met Lake and Palmer, Lake pushed him into the hedge and struck him.

The Company had previously experience similar cases of intimidation and as a result had notified the police who kept watch on the boys. Police Sergeant Dennis stated that he had seen five boys make a rush for Weeks after one called out “Here comes Weeks”, with Lake hitting him and knocking him into the hedge. Weeks had then called out and Police Constable Cheshire ran after the other boys. To prevent any further incidents Lake and Palmer were arrested and detained overnight. The boys all pleaded not guilty. Lake claimed he had not struck Weeks; Palmer and Tearle denied touching him; and Gotzheim said they had only stopped to ask Weeks if he intended going to work.

While the Company did not wish to press charges the military authorities had instructed the action to be taken to ensure there was no repetition of this behaviour. The boys had since returned to work and the firm was of the view that the publicity given to the case would be sufficient deterrent. The boys were told that interfering with the work of producing munitions was a very serious thing and that the maximum penalty for this offence was £100 fine or six months imprisonment. As it was a first offence they were fined only ten shillings, but were warned that if they came before the magistrates again they would be very seriously dealt with.

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer, 25th January 1916

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