Skip Navigation

Welcome to Bedford Borough Council

Home > Community Histories > Luton > LutonIntroduction > William Ephraim Gore

William Ephraim Gore

William Gore in 1898 [X550/1/108/10]
William Gore in 1898 [X550/1/108/10]

Nigel Lutt has carried out research on one of the men rioting on the night of 19th July 1919. His work appeared in the Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service Newsletter and is given below:

Military history and medals have been among my interests since my teenage years, and since the mid-1980s I have helped numerous people who have contacted us here at Bedford, usually in search of ancestors who served in the Bedfordshire Regiment.

This, though, is one of my own pieces of research, and the story begins in 1997 when I obtained the war medals named to a W Gore. At first sight it was not clear if I was researching one man or two - because the South African War medals were named to a W Gore, Bedford Regiment while those for the First World War were on a separate mount and impressed to a W E Gore, R.E. [Royal Engineers]. The medals could have been awarded to a father and son. However, there was no way of confirming this as there were apparently no pre-1914 service papers in the National Archives, and the surviving First World War papers were not yet available.

My lucky break came in 1999 with the publication of Dave Craddock's book on the Luton Peace Day riots Where They Burnt the Town Hall Down [the book is available on the searchroom shelves]which looks at the events of the night of 19th and 20th July1919 when the Mayor Henry Impey was forced to flee his own town hall disguised as a special constable. The book, which also considers the causes and aftermath of the riot, includes a valuable appendix containing biographical details of the rioters, many of whom were ex-servicemen. Among them was an Ephraim Gore. The name was different, but the mention of service with the 2nd Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment (1891-1904) and with the Royal Engineers (1915-16) tallied with the war medals. This Ephraim Gore had a formidable criminal record; he had more previous convictions - 41 - than any other rioter.

I then turned to the newspaper accounts of the riots, looking for clues. Gore, then an 'iron erector' aged 45, was sentenced to nine months for riot for pulling down electric illuminations and flags on Luton Town Hall and setting fire to them. Significantly, Gore's fellow rioters called him 'Billy' - William - and at this point the remaining research fell swiftly into place.

William or Ephraim Gore - the names seem to have been used interchangeably throughout his life - was born at Park Place, Luton on 7th April 1874, the son of William and Mary Ann [Ref: birth certificate, Luton Register Office]. He appears on the 1881 census as William Gore, scholar, aged seven years. Both his parents were in the straw hat trade.  However, it was not long before young William was in trouble with the law. In September 1883 he was caught stealing money, and in February the following year he was sent to Carlton Reformatory for four years for stealing money and a shirt.

The records of Carlton Reformatory, established in 1857 with the aim of reforming offenders so they could join the army, are illuminating. The admission register [X521/5/2] records that Gore was 3ft 10ins in height, with a pale complexion, grey eyes and light sandy hair. He was unable to read or write, despite having attended QueenSquareBoardSchool, Luton. A very little boy! Allowed a wide margin, someone wrote in the 'conduct and remarks' column in December 1884, following up with Not fond of school! (March 1885), Very good little worker (June 1885), and Disobedient & bad temper - impertinence (December 1885).

Gore was discharged in 1888, but he continued to be monitored by the reformatory staff. Three further convictions were noted in 1889-1891 and the final entry, in 1897, notes that Ephraim was visited at Luton and found to have enlisted in the Bedfordshire Regiment [X521/6/1].

It was time to try and find out more about Gore's military career. I had previously drawn a blank in the regular army discharge papers in the National Archives, so I turned to the militia papers in the hope that he had joined the local battalion of part-timers before transferring. After some effort papers were found: he had enlisted as William Gore, labourer, in the Bedfordshire Militia in February 1892 and transferred to the regular battalion in June 1893.  His hair colour was unusual, noted as 'golden'  (in the reformatory records it is 'pale sandy') and this detail became important when I turned to the archives of the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment.

We hold some of the records of the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment here (Bedfordshire Regiment prior to August 1919), but there is comparatively little information on individual soldiers and no service papers of any kind [X550] However, I was lucky. I found a photograph of the 2nd Bedfords, winners of the 105 stone tug-of-war team at the All Ireland Military Athletic Meeting, 1898 [X550/1/108/10). The team includes a Private Gore, and his blonde hair is evident even in the tones of a black and white photograph.

Even taking the absence of service papers into account it seems likely that Gore's time with the 2nd Bedfords between 1893 and 1903 was one of the most trouble-free periods of his life. The Battalion was on home service until 1899 and according to the historical register [X550/3/61] the only significant events were in August 1893 when the unit was sent to South Wales to provide support to the local police during the coal strike, and in 1898-9 when they formed part of the garrison at Dublin. There is evidence that Gore was a successful soldier, for when the Boer War broke out he served in the Mounted Infantry (MI) Company of the Regiment - and only men of superior intelligence and horsemanship were chosen. The MI were formed to counter the mobile Boer commandos who would otherwise easily out-manoeuvre the slow moving British infantry. The MI fought at Paardeberg in February 1900 when the Bower General Cronje was surrounded and forced to surrender. They also took part in the capture of Pretoria and in the Battle of Diamond Hill (June 1900) and in 1901 spent much time clearing Boers from the Orange River Colony. Captain Hugh I Nicholl, who commanded the MI Company of the Regiment for part of 1900 left behind an interesting printed journal of his experiences in which Gore is briefly mentioned [X550/3/54].

Gore left the army in 1903 and married May Underwood at Luton St Mary's Church on 30th July 1904. Little is known about him over the next few years, but as he is recorded as having 41 convictions by 1919 it is probable that he was frequently in trouble. We know that in May 1913 he was sentenced to nine months in prison for stealing straw plait. In July1914 he was in trouble again - this time on the receiving end - when he was stabbed with a hat pin by an Ethel Smith during a street fight.

Another trawl through the National Archives revealed his service papers for the First World War. Gore may have been a successful soldier in South Africa, but this time the experience was disastrous. The Luton News for 13th August 1914 reported: "At the Luton Borough Sessions on Saturday, Ephraim Gore, of Waller Street, was summoned for having used obscene language in New Town Street on August 4th [the day Britain declared war on Germany]. He did not appear, and it was stated that he had enlisted. The Chairman said he thought the Army was the best place for him and the case was adjourned sine die".

He enlisted in one of the Labour Battalions of the Royal Engineers in London and was soon after promoted to Acting-Corporal and embarked for France. However, by December 1915, he was reduced to the rank of Pioneer for 'inefficiency'. Things then went from bad to worse; in April 1916 he returned to England and in May he was awarded 168 days dentition for insolence and violence to his superior officer. In June he was discharged as no longer physically fit for war service, but remained in a military prison until the end of sentence in November 1916.

It is perhaps not surprising that Gore's experiences during the War rankled with him. Inspector Janes of the Luton Borough Police commented in his evidence at the trial that Gore had aired his grievance about his pension to the crowd in front of the Town Hall as trouble was developing. He had also struck a match and set fire to a flag suspended from the building. Gore was sentenced to nine months for riot at Bedford Assizes in October 1919.

The reasons for the Luton Riot of 1919 are complex and are examined in detail in Dave Craddock's book. Certainly the contrast between the high hopes of Lutonians in 1914 and the realities of war casualties (1,285 local dead) and the post-war economic slump were important factors. So too, was the apparent insensitivity of the Luton Councillors when arranging the peace celebrations, and the rivalries of the various service organisations. It is also obvious that known trouble-makers - Gore included - took advantage of nightfall and the hostile crowd to cause mayhem.

We know virtually nothing of the last thirty-odd years of Gore's life, and it will need a detailed search of the (un-indexed) court and prison records to see if I can find out more. Gore died at St Mary's Hospital Luton on 13 March 1956 of pneumonia and bronchitis, aged 81 years. His home was 35, Windsor Street, Luton, the same address at the time of the riot 37 years previously.  His wife May died less than a fortnight later, aged 76. There were apparently no children – or at any rate surviving children - for a niece was the informant on Ephraim Gore's death certificate.  There is a death notice for him in the Luton News (my thanks to Mark Stubbs of Luton Library for looking this up), but unsurprisingly, no obituary.

Wardown Park Museum has a permanent display on the Peace Day riots in its Luton Life galleries

The burning Town Hall [Z1306/75]
The burning Town Hall [Z1306/75]