Early history
The earliest settlements in the Luton area were at Round Green and Mixes Hill, where Paleolithic encampments (about 250,000 years old) have been found. Settlements re-appeared after the ice had retreated in the Mesolithic around 8000 BC. Traces of these settlements have been found in the Leagrave area of the modern town. Remains from the Neolithic (4500-2500 BC in this area) are much more common. A particular concentration of Neolithic burials has been found at Galley Hill. The most prominent Neolithic structure is Waulud's Bank - a henge dating from around 3000 BC. From the Neolithic onwards, the area seems to have been fairly thickly populated, but without any single large settlement.
The first urban settlement nearby was the small Roman town of Durocobrivis at Dunstable, but Roman remains in Luton itself consist only of scattered farmsteads.
The foundation of Luton is usually dated to the 6th century when a Saxon outpost was founded on the River Lea, Lea tun.
Luton is recorded in the Domesday Book as Loitone and also as Lintone. Agriculture dominated the local economy and the town's population was around 700-800.
In 1121 Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester started work on St Mary's Church in the centre of the town. The work was completed by 1137. A motte and bailey type castle which gives its name to the modern Castle Street was built in 1139. The castle was demolished in 1154 and the site is now home to a Matalan store. During the Middle Ages Luton is recorded as being home to six watermills. Mill Street, in the town centre, takes its name from one of them.
King John (1166-1216) had hired a mercenary soldier, Falkes de Breauté, to act on his behalf. (Breauté is a small town near Le Havre in France.) When he married, Falkes de Breauté acquired his wife's house which came to be known as "Fawkes Hall", subsequently corrupted over the years to "Foxhall", then "Vauxhall". In return for his services, King John granted Falkes the manor of Luton. He was also granted the right to bear his own coat of arms and chose the mythical griffin as his heraldic emblem. The griffin thus became associated with both Vauxhall and Luton in the early 13th century.
By 1240 the town is recorded as Leueton. The town had an annual market for surrounding villages in August each year, and with the growth of the town a second fair was granted each October from 1338.
In 1336, much of Luton was destroyed by a great fire, however the town was soon rebuilt.
The agriculture base of the town changed in the 16th century with a brick making industry developing around Luton, many of the older wooden houses were rebuilt in brick.
 17th century
During the English Civil War of the 17th century , in 1645, royalists entered the town and demanded money and goods. Parliamentary forces arrived and during the fighting four royalist soldiers were killed and a further twenty-two were captured. A second skirmish occurred three years later in 1648 when a royalist army passed through Luton. A number of royalists were attacked by parliamentary soldiers at an inn on the corner of the current Bridge Street. Most of the royalists escaped but nine were killed.
 18th century
The hat making industry began in the 17th century and became synonymous with the town. By the 18th century the industry dominated the town. Hats are still produced in the town on a much smaller scale.
Luton Hoo, a nearby large country house was built in 1767 and substantially rebuilt after a fire in 1843. It is now a luxury hotel.
 19th century
The town grew strongly in the 19th century. In 1801 the population was 3,095. By 1850 it was over 10,000 and by 1901 it was almost 39,000. Such rapid growth demanded a railway connection but the town had to wait a long time for one. The London and Birmingham Railway (L&BR) had been built through Tring in 1838, and the Great Northern Railway was built through Hitchin in 1852, both bypassing Luton, the largest town in the area. A branch line connecting with the L&BR at Leighton Buzzard was proposed, but because of objections to release of land, construction terminated at Dunstable in 1848. It was another ten years before the branch was extended to Bute Street Station, and the first train to Dunstable ran on 3rd May, 1858. The line was later extended to Welwyn and from 1860 direct trains to King's Cross ran. The Midland Railway was extended from Bedford to St Pancras through Leagrave and Midland Road station and opened on 9 September 1867.
Luton received a gas supply in 1834. Gas street lights were erected and the first town hall was opened in 1847.
Newspaper printing arrived in the town in 1854. The year the first public cemetery was opened in the same year. Following a cholera epidemic in 1848 Luton formed a water company and had a complete water and sewerage system by the late 1860s. The first covered market was built (the Plait Halls - now demolished) in 1869. Luton was made a borough in 1876. A professional football club - the first in the south of England - was founded in 1885 following a resolution at the Town Hall that a 'Luton Town Club be formed' .
In 1876 the town was granted its own coat of arms (see illustration above). The wheat sheaf was used on the crest to represent agriculture and the supply of wheat straw used in the local hatting industry (the straw-plaiting industry was brought to Luton by a group of Scots under the protection of Sir John Napier of Luton Hoo) (It should be noted that the town has historically been home to many Scots (those born in Scotland and their descendents) although that population is now in decline). The bee is traditionally the emblem of industry and the hive represents the straw-plaiting industry for which Luton was famous. The rose is from the arms of the Napier family, whereas the thistle is a symbol for Scotland.
The crest also includes a hand holding a bunch of wheat, either taken as a symbol of the straw-plaiting industry, or from the arms of John Whethamsteade, Abbott of St Albans, who rebuilt the chancel of St Mary's Church in the 15th century.
 20th century
In the 20th century, the hat trade severely declined and was replaced by other industries. In 1905, Vauxhall Motors opened the largest car plant in the United Kingdom in Luton. Electrolux built a household appliances plant which was followed by other light engineering businesses.
In 1904 councillors Asher Hucklesby and Edwin Oakley purchased the estate at Wardown Park and donated it to the people of Luton. Hucklesby went on to become Mayor of Luton. The main house in the park became Luton Museum & Art Gallery.
The town had a tram system from 1908 until 1932 and the first cinema was opened in 1909. By 1914 the population had reached 50,000.
The original town hall was destroyed in 1919 during Peace Day celebrations at the end of World War I. Local people including many ex-servicemen were unhappy with unemployment and had been refused the use of a local park to hold celebratory events. They stormed the town hall setting it alight (see Luton Town Hall). A replacement building was completed in 1936. London Luton Airport opened in 1938, owned and operated by the council.
In World War II, the Vauxhall Factory built Churchill tanks as part of the war effort. Despite heavy camouflage, the factory made Luton a target for the Luftwaffe and the town suffered a number of air raids. Although only 107 people died there was extensive damage to the town and over 1,500 homes were damaged or destroyed. Other industry in the town, such as SKF which produced ball bearings, made a vital contribution to the war effort. Although a bomb landed at the SKF Factory no major damage was inflicted.
Luton Town Centre still has many of the old hat factories, many of which have been converted into apartments or office space
Post-war, the slum clearance continued and a number of substantial estates of council housing were built, notably at Farley Hill, Stopsley, Limbury, Marsh Farm and Leagrave (Hockwell Ring). The M1 motorway passed just to the west of the town in 1959. In 1962 a new library (to replace the cramped Carnegie Library) was opened by the Queen in the corner of St George's Square.
In the late 1960s a large part of the town centre was cleared to build a large covered shopping centre, the Arndale Centre, which was opened in 1972., becoming the first shopping mall in Europe. It was refurbished and given a glass roof in the 1990s.
In 2000, Vauxhall announced the end of car production in Luton; the plant closed in March 2002. At its peak it had employed in excess of 30,000 people.
 21st century
A major regeneration programme for the town centre is underway, which will include upgrades to the town's bus and train stations as well as general improvements to the town's urban environment. St George's Square has been rebuilt and reopened in 2007. The new design won a Gold Standard Award for the Town Centre Environment from the annual British Council of Shopping Centres awards.
Work is beginning on an extension to the Mall shopping centre facing St Georges Square, The Mall has already let the largest of the new units to TK Maxx. Planning applications for a much larger extension to The Mall Arndale shopping centre (In the Northern gateway area - Bute Stret, Silver Street and Guildford Street)and also for a new centre in Power Court (close to St Marys Church) have been submitted. On the edge of Luton at Putteridge Bury a new high-technology office park, Butterfield Green, is under construction. The former Vauxhall site is also to be re-developed as a mixed use site called Napier Park. It will feature housing, retail and entertainment use, including a new casino.
 Places within Luton
Luton's expansion has resulted in the merging of several of its neighbouring villages and hamlets. Several new estates have also been constructed.
Former villages and hamlets: Biscot, Crawley Green, Leagrave, Limbury, Round Green, Stopsley
Early expansion of Luton: Bury Park, High Town, New Town
New estates: Bramingham, Bushmead, Farley Hill, Hockwell Ring, Lewsey, Marsh Farm, Sundon Park, Warden Hills, Wigmore
Luton is represented by two Members of Parliament. The constituency of Luton North has been held by Kelvin Hopkins (Labour) since 1997. Luton South has been held by Margaret Moran (Labour) also since 1997. Luton is within the East of England (European Parliament constituency).
Historically Luton was part of the county of Bedfordshire, but since 1997 the town has been an administratively independent unitary authority. The town remains part of Bedfordshire for ceremonial purposes.
The local authority is Luton Borough Council. The town is split into 19 wards, represented by 48 councillors. Elections are held for all seats every four years, with the most recent local elections held in May 2007 and the next due in May 2011.
The United Kingdom Census 2001 showed that Luton had a population of 184,371, a 5.8% increase from the last census. Of this, 43,324 were under 15, 131,660 were between 16 and 74 and 9387 were over 74. The Office for National Statistics mid-year estimate of the 2006 population is 186,800. However, the Luton Borough Council Research and Intelligence Team criticise this figure as understating the recent immigration from Eastern Europe, and they estimate the true figure to be "in the region of 202,500".
Local inhabitants are known as Lutonians.
68% of the inhabitants in Luton are White (61.3% White British, 3.9% White Irish, 2.8% Other White). 19.3% of Luton's population claim to be of South Asian descent (9.8% Pakistani, 4.3% Bangladeshi, 4.2% Indian and 0.9% Other South Asian). In total, 7.9% claim to be Black (of which 4.2% are Black Caribbean, 3.3% Black African and 0.5% Other Black). 2.8% of Luton's population are of two or more races, 1.4% of people are of Chinese descent, and around 0.6% belong to another ethnic group (including other Orientals, Arabs and Latin Americans).
According to the United Kingdom Census 2001, 59% of the inhabitants in Luton are Christian, 21% have no religion and 15% are Muslim.
 Economic activity
Of the town's working population (classified 16-74 years of age by the Office for National Statistics), 63% are employed. This figure includes students, the self-employed and those who are in part-time employment. 11% are retired, 8% look after the family or take care of the home and 5% are unemployed.
Luton's economy has focused on several different areas of industry including Car Manufacture and millinery. However, today, Luton is moving towards a service based economy mainly in the retail and the airport sectors, although there is still a focus on light industry in the town.
Notable firms with offices in Luton include:
The main shopping area in Luton is centred around The Mall Arndale. Originally built in the 1960s/70's and opened as an Arndale Centre, construction of the shopping centre led to the demolition of a number of the older buildings in the town centre including the Plait Halls (a Victorian covered market building with an iron and glass roof). Shops and businesses in the remaining streets, particularly in the roads around Cheapside and in High Town, have been in decline ever since. George Street, on the south side of the Arndale, was pedestrianised in the 1990s.
Another major shopping area is Bury Park where there are shops catering to Luton's ethnic minorities.
 Food and drink
Luton has a diverse selection of restaurants - English, Italian, Chinese, Indian, Caribbean, Thai and Malaysian to name a few. No area of the town is specifically restaurant-orientated, but in some areas (such as Bury Park) there is a concentration of Asian restaurants.
There are pubs and clubs in the town centre. A number of these cater for the town's student population; however, there are still a number of traditional pubs in the town.
University of Bedfordshire - Luton
Luton is home to the University of Bedfordshire. The main campus of the University is in Luton town centre with a further campus based on the edge of town in Putteridge Bury, an old Victorian manor house. The University also owns several buildings in Bedford.
The town is home to Luton Sixth Form College and Barnfield College. Both have been awarded Learning & Skills Beacon Status by the Department for Children, Schools and Families.
There are 98 educational institutes in Luton - seven Nurseries, 70 Primary schools (9 Voluntary-Aided, 2 Special Requirements), 13 Secondary Schools (1 Voluntary-Aided, 1 Special Requirements), four Further Educational Institutes and four other Educational Institutes.
 Culture and leisure
Luton is the home town of Luton Town Football Club who play in the Coca-Cola Football League One, the 3rd Flight of the English league structure. Their nickname, "The Hatters", dates back to when Luton had a substantial millinery industry.
Speedway racing was staged in Luton in the mid 1930s.
The town has three rugby clubs - Luton RFC play in National 3 South, Vauxhall Motors RFC play in London 3 NW and Stockwood Park play in Midlands 4 SE.
 Wardown Park
Wardown Park is situated on the River Lea in Luton and is an oasis of calm within walking distance of the town centre offering sporting facilities, a museum, gallery and formal gardens. The park houses the museum. Swans, ducks and geese live on the lake which is the centrepiece of the park.
 Stockwood Park
Stockwood Park is a large municipal park near Junction 10 of the M1. The park houses the craft museum, the Mossman Collection and the period formal gardens which are all free of charge for visitors. There is an athletics track, an 18-hole golf course, several rugby pitches and areas of open space.
The park was originally the estate and grounds to Stockwood house, which was demolished in 1964.
 Luton Carnival
Luton Carnival is the largest one-day carnival in Europe. It usually takes place on the late May Bank Holiday. With good weather, crowds usually top 150,000 on each occasion.
The procession starts at Wardown Park and makes its way down New Bedford Road, around the Town Centre via St George's Square, back down New Bedford Road and finishes back at Wardown Park. The procession is complemented by music stages and stalls around the town centre and at Wardown Park.
 Local attractions
East Midlands Mainline train approaching Luton Parkway station
Luton has excellent transport links and is situated less than 30 miles north of the centre of London, giving it good links with the City and other parts of the country via the motorway network and the National Rail system. Luton is also home to London Luton Airport, one of the major feeder airports for London and the southeast. Luton is also served by a bus service run by Arriva and a large taxi network. As a Unitary Authority, Luton Borough Council is responsible for the local highways and public transport in the Borough and licensing of Taxis.
The A5 road which passes through nearby Dunstable is laid on the route of the Watling Street, an ancient route of England.
Construction of the first section of the M1 in 1959 resulted in Luton being one of the first towns in the United Kingdom to benefit from the new motorway network.
Luton and Leagrave stations were built by the Midland Railway in 1868 on its extension to St. Pancras. The old Leagrave Midland station buildings still exist, having been carefully restored in the 1980s. For some years Luton station was known as Luton Midland Road to distinguish it from the earlier Luton Bute Street, built by the Luton, Dunstable and Welwyn Junction Railway Company in 1858, later part of the GNR. Bute Street was closed in 1965.
A council-owned airport was first opened on the current site as Luton Municipal Airport on 16 July 1938 by the Secretary of State for Air, Kingsley Wood. During the Second World War Luton Airport was a base for the Royal Air Force 264 Fighter Squadron.
London Luton Airport has expanded rapidly over the last few years. The airport is a hub for budget airlines offering cheap flights. Flights from the airport increased substantially from the 1960s as new charter airlines (e.g. Court Line) flew from there in preference to the London airports. Despite problems in the 1970s, a new terminal was opened in 1985 by the Prince of Wales. The airport was renamed London Luton Airport in 1990, just before Ryanair took its business to Stansted. The growth of new low-cost flights rejuvenated the airport and passenger numbers more than doubled from 1992 to 1998. In 1999, a new terminal was added and a new railway station, Luton Airport Parkway, opened. The airport is managed by a Spanish airport operator on behalf of the council.
The airport is infamous for its inclusion in a 1970s advert for Campari featuring Lorraine Chase. (When asked "Were you truly wafted here from paradise?" she replied "Nah, Luton Airport!")
Luton Airport is also a major base for private jets.
Luton is served by three railway stations, Luton, Luton Airport Parkway and Leagrave. First Capital Connect's high frequency Thameslink route services run north to Bedford and south to Brighton via several central London stations. East Midlands Mainline 'intercity' services run north to Leicester, Nottingham, Lincoln, Sheffield, Leeds and other cities, and south to London St Pancras International on the Midland Main Line.
There are plans to introduce 24-hour rail services to Luton and Luton Airport Parkway. The Thameslink Programme will also provide further rail links to southwards to Guildford, East Grinstead, Ashford, Dartford and the South Coast.
 Bus and coach services
Bus services in Luton are provided in the main  by the national group Arriva, through their registered company Arriva The Shires Ltd, based in Luton. Other significant local operators include Centrebus , and Grant Palmer. Uno operate bus services to the Hatfield campus of the University of Hertfordshire. Stagecoach runs services to Bedford using its Stagecoach in Bedford subsidiary. Stagecoach also operates the Virgin Trains Express Coach service VT99 from Luton Airport and Luton station to Milton Keynes Central. Regional and commuter coach services from Luton are operated by National Express, Marshall's Coaches and Green Line Coaches.
 Guided bus link
As part of the Local Transport Plan, Luton Borough Council gained statutory powers in 2005 for construction of a guided bus link between Luton and Houghton Regis and Dunstable. Originally conceived as Translink the scheme is now known as the Luton to Dunstable Busway.
As the scheme is to use much of former permanent way of the disused Luton to Dunstable railway, which closed in 1989, it has met with considerable opposition from parties that would rather see the re-instatement of heavy rail services along the branch, or by extending the Thameslink railway line farther afield. Others put forward the view that light rail or trolleybus systems were more appropriate for running on the high speed link, and for linking to a major airport. Supporters pointed out that no funding could be gained for the proposed alternatives, which would leave the link unused; and the guided bus had the advantages of flexibility and accessibility from local areas. In 2000, council publicity material for the Translink proposal triggered a complaint to the Advertising Standards Agency alleging misleading statements. The complaint was partially upheld.
Luton is connected to the major arterial route, the M1 motorway, and the other major roads, the A6 and the A505.
The M1 connects with Luton at Junctions 10 and 11, to the south and west of the town. The M1 provides access to London and the North. The A6 starts in the town and travels north to Bedford and eventually the North West. The A6 previously extended south to St Albans, this section has since been re-numbered as the A1081. The A505 provides an east–west connection through Luton, to Hitchin and further east to the A1(M) or East Anglia; and to Dunstable and the A5 to the west. In Luton, the A505 takes a large diversion forming a southerly ring road around the town, with the A5228 providing a more direct northerly bypass with the A505.
In 2006 work started on widening the M1 past Luton and to the South, and work also started on upgrading the access from the M1 to the Airport, as part of the Local Transport Plan east Luton corridor improvement scheme..
 Twin towns
Luton participates in international town twinning; its partners are:
- Bergisch Gladbach, Germany, since 1956
- Bourgoin-Jallieu, France, since 1956
- Eskilstuna, Sweden, since 1949
- Berlin-Spandau, Germany, since 1959
- Wolfsburg, Germany, since 1950
 Famous Lutonians
People who are Luton-born or are strongly associated with the town.
- Mick Abrahams, guitarist
- David Arnold, composer
- John Badham, film director
- Stefan Bailey, footballer
- Clive Barker, sculptor and artist
- Jonathan Barnbrook, graphic designer, typographer
- Leon Barnett, footballer
- Kevin Blackwell, goalkeeper, Football Manager
- Charles Bronson, prisoner
- Danny Cannon, screenwriter, director and producer
- Ian Cashmore, actor
- Kerry Dixon, footballer
- Diana Dors, actor
- Kevin Foley, footballer
- Ian Dury, singer
- Sean Gallagher, actor
- Liam George, footballer
- John Gosling, musician
- Arthur Hailey, novelist
- John Hegley, poet
- Hilda Hewlett, UK's first female pilot
- Sir Alec Jeffreys, geneticist
- Eric Morecambe, entertainer
- Monty Panesar, cricketer
- John Payne, musician
- Phil Read, motorcycle racer
- David Renwick, scriptwriter
- Stu Riddle, footballer
- Lee Ross, actor
- Colin Salmon, actor
- Vaughan Savidge, announcer
- Billy Schwer, boxer
- Andy Selway, drummer
- Mark Titchner, artist
- Edward Tudor-Pole, singer and actor
- UK Decay, band
- Kenneth Williams, actor
- Jason Wood, Comedian
- Paul Young, singer
- Emma Rhodes, Artist and Illustrator
Two weekly newspapers are delivered free to all the houses in Luton. They are:
The Herald and Post has a sister paper which is not free.
- Luton News, published every Wednesday
The local council produces a monthly newspaper, LutonLine, usually delivered with the Luton on Sunday.
The local BBC station, BBC Three Counties Radio broadcasts from its office in Hastings Street, Luton to Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire.
Chiltern Radio is the local independent station and broadcasts from Chiltern Road in Dunstable.
The university's radio station, Luton FM, runs for 28 days during May. In addition, Ramadan FM broadcasts during the month of Ramadan. Diverse FM began broadcasts in April 2007 having been awarded a community radio license from Ofcom.
 Media references
In the TV series One Foot in the Grave there are often references to places within Luton. The script-writer David Renwick was brought up in the town.
The town was mentioned several times in the seminal sketch show Monty Python's Flying Circus. In one sketch a rather half-hearted hijacker demands that a plane headed for Cuba be diverted to Luton. Luton is one of the constituencies returning a "Silly Party" victory in the famous sketch Election Night Special.
- , Leadership=Mayor & Cabinet
- , Luton Borough Council estimate for 2006. See the Demographics section above for further information.
- , Local Transport Plan: The Luton, Dunstable and Houghton Regis Conurbation
- , Map of soil distribution in Beds
- , ISBN 1-871199-94-8
- , Dyer J, Stygall F, Dony J, The Story of Luton, Luton, 1964, p 20
- , Dyer ibid, p 23
- , Dyer ibid, p 31
- , Early history of Luton
- , Doomsday book record
- , History of St Mary's Church
- , Luton Castle only lasted 15 years
- , Vauxhall history
- , Population figures for 1801, 1901 and 1901
- , Dyer, ibid, p 141
- , Dyer, ibid, p 142
- , Luton was made a borough
- , Formation of Luton Town
- , Churchill Tanks at Vauxhall
- , Deaths during WWII
- , See book Luton at War volume II,compiled by The Luton News, 2001, ISBN 1-871199-49-2
- , tant-car-hire.co.uk/england/luton.html Arndale opened in 1972
- , Vauxhall closure
- , St Georges Square on Luton Council Site
- , Award won by St Georges Square
- , Website for the development of Power Court
- , 2001 Census
- , Luton Borough Council Research and Intelligence Team, Statistical Issues Relating to the ONS Population Estimates of Luton (PDF), page 32.
- , Ethnic groups % - 2005 estimates
- , National Stats Office Religion
- , Employment statistics
- , Barnfield Newsletter
- , Luton Sixth Form College
- , Luton Borough LEA School List
- , Luton Town homepage
- , Wardown Park museum
- , Luton Carnival Coverage on the BBC
- , Luton Airport Opening
- , a b c History Luton Airport
- , Luton Airport - fastest growing in the UK
- , Lorraine Chase advert
- , First Capital plans
- , Network Rail (2006-10-18). Map of expanded Thameslink route. Retrieved on 2006-11-28.
- , Department for Transport, Luton Dunstable Translink Decision Letter
- , Luton Council busway news release
- , Faber Maunsell environmental impact study of the Translink proposal
- , Department for Transport Luton Dunstable Translink Inspectors' Report Section 5
- , Department for Transport Luton Dunstable Translink Inspectors' Report Section 6.8.2
- , Widening of the M1
- , Town twinning
- , Herald and Post
- , Luton on Sunday
- , Luton News
- , Lutonline homepage
- , Three Counties Radio
- , Diverse FM
 External links
Coordinates: 51°54'N, 0°26'W