Luton in old picture postcards

Luton in old picture postcards

:   F. Hackett
:   Bedfordshire
:   United Kingdom
:   978-90-288-2132-3
:   144
:   EUR 16.95 Incl BTW *

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Fragmenten uit het boek 'Luton in old picture postcards'

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The period bet ween 1880 and 1930, when picture postcards enjoyed particular popularity, was one of continuous growth for the town of Luton despite the fact that the hat trade, on which the town 1argely depended, was declining. To rep1ace it, new industries were being attracted to the town and the depression which was to have such a drastic effect on many industria1 towns hard1y touched Luton.

Luton's growth was first triggered in the ear1y 1800's when the importation of straw hats from Ita1y was restricted because of the Napo1eonic Wars. Enterprising Luton businessmen, notable among whom was Thomas Waller, siezed the opportunity and set about encouraging the hat trade, setting up factories and buying straw p1ait from the surrounding villages. Such was the success of their efforts that Luton was rapid1y changed from a small market town with its main trade of malting and brewing into an expanding industrial centre with the vast majority of its workers engaged in the various aspects of making hats. This esca1ation of a hum ble country craft to a major industry makes it an almost unique examp1e in England's industrial history.

By setting up p1ait schools and training children from a very ear1y age, the surrounding villages of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire were ab1e to keep up the

necessary supplies of straw p1ait until the 1870's when the Education Acts as well as imports from Japan brought the practice to an end. A1though straw was the original raw material, the hat makers later adapted their methods to use felt and other materials. The use of straw has survived, ho wever, and Luton still pro duces straw hats using p1ait imported from the Far East.

During the ear1y years of this century the town was successful in attracting car-making and other engineering firms so that the growth of the town continued uninterrupted. This rapid expansion took p1ace with litt1e acknowledged need to preserve existing architecture. For examp1e when such buildings as the Library and the main Post Office became inadequate for the needs of the town they were demolished and rebuilt e1sewhere. The town centre has undergone two main periods of redevelopment, the first was in the 1860's and the second in the 1960's and 1970's.

Flexibility and the ability to adapt is, perhaps, the town's greatest asset. The hat trade, like any industry which is dependent on the whims of fashion, had to adapt quick1y to the needs of the customer and endure the inevitable slack periods when demand was low. The fact that Luton still retains a hat industry

whereas other towns such as St. Albans and Hitchin have lost theirs is, perhaps, significant.

The town has also been able to adapt to new industries and accommodate the thousands of people who have moved from less prosperous parts of the country. The penalty for that flexibility in terms of its architecture is that very few buildings of merit have survived from past times. The lay-out of the town has changed and in several cases whole streets have been cleared, for example Waller Street, Williamson Street and Melson Street are now only names on old maps.

Photographs such as the ones included in this book are often the only record of scenes which have now disappeared or are unrecognisable today, However it is clear from the number of nostalgie writings in the form of newspaper articles and books written by the older generation of Lutonians that the town had qualities which aroused tolerant affection for its close-knit community and for the many well-known characters which it produced.

Probably the main reason for this was the close juxtaposition of the hat workshops and houses in the town centre. It is a surprising fact that of the eight hundred workshop units which existed shortly before the First World War a large proportion of them employed less

than five people , A typical hat factory consisted of a briek-built workshop in the back garden of a terraeed house. Sewing would be done on the upper floor while the heavy blocking machines would be on the ground floor. The number of people working there would be very low in the slack season but, when orders from the London retailers came in, the pay roll increased and long hours were worked.

The engineering industries which came to the town provided a marked contrast to this. They drew workers from a wide area and, with improving road communications, there was no longer any need for workers to live in the town centre. Large council estates were built on the outskirts of the town to accommodate them. Modern developments have considerably changed the character of the town and, no doubt, will continue to do so in the future.

The photographs in this book have been selected from the collection of postcards in the local history archive of the Luton Museum. They are a valuable record as well as a nostalgie reminder of an age which, in spite of its defects, is fondly remembered by an older generation.

1. Apart from the Parish Church, few buildings can be recognised in this general view of Luton looking across the valley of the Lea from Hart Hili in about 1840. The railway had yet to be built across the meadow land in the foreground and the building seen just below the church is the old vicarage, which was demolished in the early years of this century to make way for the Electricity Station. Although the town was beginning to expand up the valley sides, for example in High Town, it still consisted of litt1e more than the few main streets leading off George Street.

2. The centre of Luton since medieval times was the high land in the area of Market Hill and Park Square from which Church Street ran down towards the river. This drawing shows the view from George Street as it was in 1835. The building in the centre was the old Corn Market House with its bell tower, stored here was the fire hook used to pull straw thatch from houses threatened by fire. The main industry of the town befare the development of the hat trade was the brewing of beer and there was an active trade in barley.

3. This postcard shows essentially the same view as the previous one some seventy years later. The Old Market House had been replaced by the Corn Exchange with its high pointed spire in 1869. In front of it stood the Ames Memorial, an ornate drinking fountain generally known to Lutonians as the 'Pepperbox' . It was erected to the memory of Colonel Lionel Ames, who was a popular figure in the town and whose family had lived at the Hyde for a number of generations.

..?. -

4. Increasing motor traffic competing with the town's tram system made it necessary to widen the roads wherever possible and a drinking fountain was no longer considered to be a necessity. By the time that this photograph had been taken in about 1930, the Ames Memorial had been demolished. Efforts to preserve and rebuild it elsewhere had failed. The corner of Chapel Street is seen on the right and some of the buildings there have survived.

Corn Exchange, Luton.

5. The Corn Exchange was an ornate Gothic style building which was originally used by corn chandlers, like its predecessor, for the transaction of their day-to-day trade. With due ceremony, the ancient Court Leet was held there long after there was a practical need for it. The Corn Exchange was also a popular venue for meetings and concerts. In its later years it was remembered for the sm all cafeteria in the basement and its demolition in 1951 has left a gap in the town's sociallife which a number of older Lutonians feel has yet to be filled.


6. The group of shops and inns behind the Old Market House included this hardware shop, owned by T. Chambers, photographed in 1867. The advertisements refer to the fact that dyes were supplied to the hat trade. Dying and bleaching were important processes and there were a number of factories in the town specialising in this work. The street on the right led down to George Street and the one to be seen on the left, called Market Hill, led to Castie Street past the Lion Inn.

7. The shops on the north east side of Park Square were originally 15th century timberframed houses, thus providing an historica1link with medieval Luton which had its centre hereabouts. The substantial oak frames were later hidden by brickwork and only the general air of 'quaintness', well illustrated in this photograph of Davis' shop, gives a clue to their age. At present (1982) these hidden reminders of the past are threatened with final demolition and hopefully they can be removed and reeonstructed elsewhere.

'the WreDe) ene._ No. 2U2. Pbctc, รก edeeecn, !..utOD.

8. This postcard shows the yard behind Davis' shop in ab out 1900. The 'local character' is 'Spanish' Olney, who worked as a coffin maker for Neville's the undertakers. He also acted as an odd job man and sharpened saws in bis spare time.

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