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Luton (St. Mary)

LUTON (St. Mary), a market-town and parish, and the head of a union, in the hundred of Flitt, county of Bedford; containing, with the hamlets of Hyde, Leegrave, Limbury with Biscott, and Stopsley, 7748 inhabitants, of whom 5827 are in the town, 20 miles (S. by E.) from Bedford, and 31 (N. W. by N.) from London. The name of this place is a corruption either of Lea-Town, derived from the river Lea, which takes its rise in the neighbourhood; or of Low-Town, descriptive of the position of the town relatively to the gentle eminences by which it is surrounded. At the Conquest it was held in royal demesne; and in 1216 came into the possession of Baron Fulk de Brent, who built a strong castle here. In the reign of Henry VI., the manor belonged to John, Lord Wenlock, a celebrated partisan in the contest between the houses of York and Lancaster, who erected a handsome sepulchral chapel on the north side of the church, and commenced building a stately mansion, the portico belonging to which is still standing in the park of Luton Hoo. Luton Loo House, late a seat of the Marquess of Bute's, now belongs, with the manorial rights, and 3555 acres of land, to John Shaw Leigh, Esq., of Childwall Hall, Lancashire: in the private chapel is some fine carved screen-work in the later English style, which originally formed the interior decoration of a chapel erected at Tittenhanger, by Sir Thomas Pope, Knt., about the middle of the sixteenth century.

The town is situated between two hills, and on the Lea: from the market-house, which stands in the centre, three streets diverge obliquely. The inhabitants are well supplied with water from the river. The manufacture of straw-plat is carried on to a very great extent, and the town is said to produce a greater portion of that article than any other place in the county: the proprietor of one of the establishments obtained a patent for making Tuscan grass-plat, which is here wrought into hats and bonnets. There are two good maltinghouses. The market, which is plentifully supplied with corn and with straw-plat, is on Monday; fairs are held on April 18th and Oct. 18th, for cattle, and there is a statute-fair in September. A court leet is held annually under the lord of the manor, at which a high and two day constables are appointed. The powers of the county debt-court of Luton, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Luton.

The parish comprises 15,194a. 3r. 27p., of which 11,317 acres are arable, 2220 pasture, 831 wood, and 99 waste or common. The living is a vicarage, valued in the king's books at £35. 12. 1.; net income, £830; patron, John King, Esq., of Southampton. The church exhibits some fine specimens of the decorated and later English styles; it has at the west end a handsome embattled tower of flint and freestone in chequers, with an hexagonal turret at each angle, and a doorway, the mouldings of which are peculiarly beautiful. There are some curious monuments; a monumental chapel; and a baptistry chapel of decorated character, with pointed arches that terminate in elegant tabernacle work, and containing a stone font supported on five pillars. A church was erected in 1840 at East Hyde; and there are places of worship in the parish for Baptists, the Society of Friends, and Wesleyans. Benefactions for instruction, amounting annually to the sum of £36, are applied towards the support of a national school; and a Lancasterian school is maintained by subscription. At the principal entrance to the town are twelve almshouses, erected in 1808, for twenty-four widows. The union of Luton comprises 15 parishes or places, 12 of which are in the county of Bedford, and 3 in that of Herts; with a population of 19,010. The Rev. John Pomfret, author of The Choice and other poems, was born here in 1668.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.