Luton, a municipal borough, market-town, and parish, and head of a union, petty sessional division, and county court district in Bedfordshire. The town stauds on the river Lea, here only a brook, and is pleasantly situated in a valley surrounded by hills, 21 miles SE from Icknield Street, 19 SE from Bedford, and 31 from London. It is a bustling busy place, very clean, well-paved and lighted, and furnished with a good supply of water. The M.R. have a station here on their main line from St Pancras, and there is also a station on the Hatfield and Dunstable branch of the G.N.R. The origin of its name is uncertain; it was called by the Saxons Lygetune, and is referred to in Domesday as Loitoine. The ground on which it stands was giren by Offa, king of Mercia, in the 8th century to the abbey of St Albans; belonged at Domesday to the Crown; went in 1216 to Fulke de Brent, who built a castle on it; and passed to the Wenlocks. The town acquired importance in the time of James I. by being made the seat of a straw-hat manufacture which Mary, Queen of Scots, had introduced from France; it suffered a check to its prosperity by the transference of that manufacture, in a considerable degree and for some time, to Dunstable; it eventually recovered its status as the largest seat of that manufacture in Great Britain; and it so throve upon it that in 1876 it was incorporated as a municipal borough by charter. It is now governed by a corporation consisting of a mayor, 6 aldermen, and 18 common councillors, who also act as the urban sanitary authority. The borough has a commission of the peace and its own police force. Most of the town is new and of no particular interest. It consists chiefly of streets diverging from a central market-place, and has of late years been greatly extended. The principal public buildings are the Town-hall, the Corn Exchange, the Plait Hall, and the Court-house. The Town-hall stands at the junction of the Bedford and Dunstable roads, was erected in 1847, and is a plain building in the Italian style. The Corn Exchange stands on Market hill, occupies the site of the old market-house, was erected in 1869, and is a building of red brick in the Venetian-Gothic style. The Plait Halls stand in Cheapside and Waller Street, and were built in 1869 at a cost of about £12,000. The Court-house was built by the county, stands in Stuart Street, is used for county court and petty session business, and contains some prison cells. There are also a public library, a public park, recreation grounds, good swimming and private baths, an hospital, a children's home, and almshouses for twenty-four poor widows. The workhouse, which stands in Dunstable Road, was erected in 1836 at a cost of £4500, and is a building of brick with accommodation for 400 inmates, There are two cemeteries one on the W side of the town, having an area of 8 acres; and a small one on the E side, with an area of about 2½ acres. As already mentioned, the chief industry is the making up of straw plait into hats and bonnets. The plait at one time was made in the surrounding villages, but now is imported chiefly from China, Japan, Italy, and Germany. Efforts have been made by the technical committee of the county council to revive the local industry on a more artistic base, but at present with only partial success. The manufacture of hats and bonnets from straw, chip, and felt is now carried on in a number of small factories attached to dwelling-houses and a few of the larger buildings. The articles made are exported to all parts of the world. Iron and brass founding is also carried on. There is a weekly market for cattle, corn, and strawplait on Monday, a weekly one for provisions on Saturday, and fairs for cattle on the third Monday of April and the third Monday of Oct. There was formerly a hiring fair on the Friday after the third Monday of Sept., but this has been abolished. The town has a head post office, two banks, some good inns, and publishes three weekly newspapers. The living of the mother parish of St Mary is a vicarage in the diocese of Ely; net value, £386 with residence, in the gift of the Peache Trustees. The church of St Mary, which is one of the largest parish churches in England, is an ancient and interesting cruciform building of the Decorated and Perpendicular styles, with some traces of Early English; comprises nave, aisles, transepts, and choir; has an embattled tower of flint and other stones in chequerwork 90 feet high, surmounted at the corners by hexagonal turrets; includes, in the S transept, a uniqne lofty stone baptistry, with groined roof and pinnacles, standing over a famous baptismal font supported by five pillars, and said to have been presented by Queen Anne Boleyn; includes also, on the N side of the chancel, an elegant chapel, built prior to 1461 by Sir John Wenlock; and contains four richly ornamented sedilia, several royal armorial bearings, several arched altar-tombs, some very ancient brasses, and a number of handsome modern monnments and cenotaphs. The ecclesiastical parish of Christchurch was formed in 1861. The living is a vicarage of the net value of £174 with residence, in the gift of the Bishop of Ely. The church, built in 1856, and enlarged in 1864 and 1882, is a building of red brick with dressings of stone. The ecclesiastical parish of St Matthew, Hightown, was formed in 1875. The living is a vicarage of the net value of £210 with residence, in the gift of the Church Patronage Society. The vicarage of St Saviour was formed in 1892 out of the parish of Christchurch, The living is a vicarage of the net value of £150, in the gift of the Bishop of Ely. The church is only temporary. The vicarage of St Andrew, Woodside, is a new parish, formed out of Caddington and some of the neigbbouring hamlets. There are also four Baptist chapels, a Congregational chapel, a Friends' meeting-house, two Primitive Methodist chapels, a Roman Catholic church, a Union chapel, four Wesleyan chapels, and a Christian mission-hall. Nearly opposite the old church in Church Street stands an old chapel erected in 1778 and presented to John Wesley, who preached here on the occasion of his last visit to Luton in 1785. The area of the borough is 2613 acres; population, 30,006; area of the civil parish, 15,375 acres of land and 60 of water; population, 32,401; of the ecclesiastical parish of St Mary, 10,807; of Christchurch, 11,857; of St Matthew, 7432.
Luton Parliamentary Division, or Southern Bedfordshire, was formed under the Redistribution of Seats Act of 1885, and returns one member to the House of Commons. Population, 68,224. The division includes the following:- Ampthill (part of) - Flitton, Flitwick, Gravenhurst (Upper), Gravenhurst (Lower), Higham Gobion, Pulloxhill, Shitlington, Silsoe, Steppingley, Westoning; Leighton Buzzard - Billington, Eaton Bray, Egginton, Heath and Reach, Leighton Buzzard, Stanbridge; Luton - Barton, Caddington, Dunstable, Houghton Regis, Humbershoe, Luton, Streatley, Studham, Sundon, Tottenhoe, Whipsnade; Woburn - Aspley Guise, Battlesden, Chalgrave, Eversholt, Harlington, Hockliffe, Holcut, Husborne Crawley, Milton Bryant, Potsgrove, Ridgmont, Salford, Tilsworth, Tingrith, Toddington, Woburn; Dunstable, municipal borough; Luton, municipal borough.
The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.
|Ecclesiastical parish||Luton St. Mary|
Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.
The parish register of St. Mary's dates from the year 1603. The register of Christ Church dates from the year 1856, of St. Matthew's from 1876, of St. Saviour's (baptismal only) from 1893, and of St. Paul's from the 1895.
Church of England
Christ Church, built in 1856 at a cost of £3,600, raised by voluntary contributions, is an edifice of red brick with stone dressings, consisting of chancel, aisles, and a low tower, containing 3 bells: the south aisle was added in 1864, at a cost of £1,200; and a new chancel in 1882, at a further expenditure of £2,280; in 1887, the choir stalls and an organ were added at a cost of £800: in 1904 the north aisle was rebuilt at a cost of £2,452, and a side chapel was added in 1908: there are sittings for 750 persons, of which 425 are free.
St. Andrew's Mission Church, New Bedford Road
St. Mary (parish church)
The parish church of St. Mary is a cruciform building in the Decorated and Perpendicular styles, with some traces of Early English, and consists of chancel with chapel and vestry, north and south transepts, the latter having an eastern aisle or chapel, clerestoried nave of five bays, north and south porches and a massive western embattled tower of flint and other stones in chequer work, 90 feet in height, with hexagonal turrets at the angles, and a low pyramidal roof with vane, and is supported by bold double buttresses of seven stages, enriched in the lower part with canopied niches; in the tower is a clock and a peal of a bells, recast in 1775 and 1761: the chancel was rebuilt in the time of Edward IV. by John Wheathamstead, 23rd abbot of St. Albans. Robert, abbot of St. Albans, procured this place for his convent from Robert Waudari, to whom Luton had been given upon the Earl of Gloucester's rebellion: one of the most striking features of the interior is the celebrated and unique "baptisterium" inclosing the font; this consists of a lofty hexagonal canopy of the Decorated period, each side exhibiting a richly crocketed gable filled with tracery and terminating in a finial: between the gables are slender buttresses rising into crocketed pinnacles, and the roof is groined and enriched with allegorical carvings; the lower portion, save the entrance, is surrounded with a gabled arcade; within, there is room for eight persons to stand round the font, which is also arcaded and stands on a clustered shaft; the total height of the structure is about 20 feet, and the diameter 9 1/2 feet; it was formerly painted and gilded, and by tradition is said to have been presented to the church by Queen Anne Boleyn: on the south side of the chancel are four sediliae, or stone seats, richly carved, with cinquefoil ogre arches, separated by pinnacles, and surmounted by a floriated cornice: in the spandrels are the arms of Edward the Confessor, the kingdom of Mercia, the Abbey of St. Albans, King Offa, and Abbot Wheathamstead; above is the abbot's motto, "Valles abundabunt valles:" on the north side of the chancel, separated from it by a lofty Gothic double arch divided into two by a slight pier, with clustered columns, and open mullions in the spandrels, is the Wenlock Chapel, which appears, from an inscription now in the British Museum, to have been built by Sir John Wenlock previous to the year 1461; the chapel retains some ancient stained glass, and is divided from the transept by two arches and a finely carved screen of wood: in the chapel is an embattled altar tomb with the recumbent coloured effigy of a priest, representing William de Wenlock, prebendary of St. Paul's, London, and rector of St. Andrew's, Holborn, 1392, with inscription and shields; under the south arch is an altar tomb, with the effigy in brass of a lady, under a canopy, said to commemorate Queen Anne Boleyn, but more probably representing Elizabeth, Lady Wenlock; in the church are fragments of a brass to John Hay, ob. 1455, his wives, Anne and Isabel, and three children; all that now remains is the headless effigy of Isabel and an inscription in 12 Latin verses; this brass is palimpsest, and the reverse exhibits portions of unfinished canopy work: on the north side of the chapel, beneath arches, are two altar tombs, now despoiled of their brasses: the Hoo chapel, on the east side of the south transept, was renovated about 1870 by the late Shaw Leigh esq. of Luton Hoo, and is now separated from the transept by a richly carved oak screen, in which portions of the old rood screen are incorporated; on the south side of the chancel is an arched recess, groined, and on the top of the pediment are figures, carved in stone, of bears and an angel holding an urn or pyx; in the north transept, formerly in the Wenlock Chapel, is a stone, with shields of arms and inscription to Thomas Crawley, of Crawley, 1629; Sir Francis Crawley, knt. judge of the Common Pleas, ob. 13 Feb. 1649; and Francis Crawley, his 2nd son, cursitor baron of the Exchequer, ob. 1682: there are brasses, chiefly retaining their effigies, to John Barber, 1415, and Agnes his wife; Hugh at Spetyll and Alice his wife, c. 1425; John Penthelyn LL.B. vicar, 1443; Edward Shiffield LL.D. canon of Lincoln and vicar here, 1502; John Ackworth esq. 1512, and Alice and Amy his wives; John Lamar, 1512, and Elynor his wife, 1505; John Sylam, 1513, and Elizabeth and Joan his wives; Robert Colshill and Anne his wife, 1524; Roland Staper, 1558, and Dorothy his wife, 1565; William Herne, vicar, 1574; George Rotherham, 1593, and Elizabeth and Anna, his wives: Lady Penelope Napier, 1658, and some others undated; besides an altar tomb to Thomas Gilbert, 1566; one bearing the rude stone effigy of a priest, conjectured to represent an abbot of St. Albans; an inscribed slab to Michael Knight, gent. 1697; and memorials to the Hon. William Stuart D.D. archbishop of Armagh, and vicar of Luton, 1779-96, and his wife, Sophia, last surviving grand-daughter of William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania; and to Rev. William McDouall, vicar, 1849; the complete restoration of this church, one of the largest parish churches in England, was begun in 1865, under the direction of the late George Edmund Street esq, R.A. and cost up to 1885 about £9,000; the refitting of the interior included the erection of a fine pulpit of alabaster and marble, with mosaic and canopied panels: the whole surface of the east end wall is also now covered with designs in mosaic: and there is a reredos of the same material, with a representation of the "Last Supper" by Salviati, inclosed in a framework of alabaster: the east window and all the windows of the transepts and aisles are stained: in 1893 all the clerestory windows were filled with stained glass, in memory of Kitt Tomson esq. by his son, Walter Bolton Tomson M.D. and in 1891 a memorial window was erected to the Rev. James O'Neill, vicar, 1862-97: the entire length of the building is 174 feet: width, 57 feet: transept, 100 feet: there are sittings for 2,500 persons.
St. Matthew, High Town
St. Matthew's church, erected in 1876, at a cost of £5,000, from designs by Mr. G. Vialls, of London, and Mr. J. H. Brown, of Luton, is an edifice of brick in the Gothic style of the 13th century and consists of chancel, nave, aisles, transepts and a bell-cote at the west end containing 2 bells: there are 900 sittings.
St. Paul's church, formerly a chapel of ease to the parish church, was built in 1890, at a cost of £3,500, and is an edifice of red brick and stone in the Early English style, consisting of chancel, nave and aisles: there are 900 Sittings, 800 being free.
St. Peter, Dallow Road
St. Peter's church, Dallow Road, attached to Christ Church, was erected in 1913 by voluntary labour, from materials given by a parishioner, and has sittings for 250 persons.
St. Saviour, Russell Street
The church of St. Saviour, in Russell street, was commenced in 1897, and the north aisle completed in 1898, at a cost of £3,200: the nave, chancel and a part of the south aisle were added in 1905 at a cost of £4,200: there are 650 sittings. The former mission church is now used as a parish room.
Luton was in Luton Registration District from 1837 to 1974
Directories & Gazetteers
We have transcribed the entry for Luton from the following:
- Samuel Lewis' A Topographical Dictionary of England, 1848 (Luton (St. Mary))
Land and Property
The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Bedfordshire is available to browse.
Online maps of Luton are available from a number of sites:
- Bing (Current Ordnance Survey maps).
- Google Streetview.
- National Library of Scotland. (Old maps)
- old-maps.co.uk (Old Ordnance Survey maps to buy).
- Streetmap.co.uk (Current Ordnance Survey maps).
- A Vision of Britain through Time. (Old maps)
Newspapers and Periodicals
The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following Bedfordshire papers online:
- Bedfordshire Times and Independent
- Biggleswade Chronicle
- Luton Times and Advertiser
- Luton News and Bedfordshire Chronicle
Under the provisions of the "Local Government Act, 1894," the ancient civil parish of Luton was formed into two, Urban and Rural being respectively the parts inside and outside the municipal borough. By Local Government Board Order P. 1095, November 9th, 1895, part of the Rural parish was added to the Urban parish and the remainder formed into the civil parishes of Hyde, Leagrave, Limbury and Stopsley. These places will be found under separate headings.
The ecclesiastical parish of St. Matthew's, HIGH TOWN, was formed in 1877 from Luton civil parish.
The ecclesiastical parish of St. Saviour was formed in 1892 from that of Christ Church.
The ecclesiastical parish of St. Paul was formed in 1895 from the parish of Luton.
Luton was the head of a Poor Law Union, formed in 1835, which initially comprised the following parishes: Barton in the Clay, Caddington, Dunstable, Eaton Bray, Houghton Regis, Humbershoe, Kensworth (Herts), Luton, Streatley with Sharpenhoe, Studham, Sundon, Totternhoe, and Whipsnade. Hyde, Leagrave, Limbury, and Stopsley were all added to the Union at a later date, and Eaton Bray transferred to Leighton Buzzard.
For further detailed history of the Luton Union see Peter Higginbotham's excellent resource: Luton Poor Law Union and Workhouse.
Villages, Hamlets, &cEaton Green
A full transcript of the Visitations of Bedfordshire 1566, 1582, and 1634 is available online.