High Town, Luton
Ridgway Road, High Town
Pope's Meadow, High Town
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High Town is a hilly inner-city district of Luton adjacent to Luton railway station. The area is roughly bounded by Richmond Hill and the northern edge of People's Park/Pope's Meadow to the north, the Midland Main Line to the south, the A6 to the west, and Hitchin Road to the east.
The area and ward are officially spelled with two separate words. This is also the most common spelling of the name, but some organisations and businesses use 'Hightown', e.g. Hightown Baptist Church and Hightown Community, Sports & Arts Centre.
Architecture, shops and local employment
Compared to Luton town centre, High Town is a quieter, older world of small shops and Victorian terraced houses. It was since urbanisation a mixed area that provided housing and leisure to people employed in the hat trade that flourished in Luton until the late 1930s.
From 2008 to 2011, Luton Council spent money to renovate public spaces in the ward after many years of neglect. In 2011 Luton Council finished its largest programme for the area, which involved the refurbishment of shop fronts and re-paving of roads. Shop refurbishment was in a style "befitting the Victorian heritage of much of High Town".
Beyond the shopping parade in the southern part of High Town Road, which begins at the railway station, and on the side streets and adjacent roads are terraces of Victorian houses, traditionally built in local brick. Between High Town Road and Hitchin Road is an area of warehouses and factories.
High Town is a political ward, which returns two councillors to Luton Borough Council. Cllr Andy Malcolm (Labour) has been a High Town councillor since May 2011 and Cllr Rachel Hopkins (Labour) was elected in May 2019, after deciding to switch from Barnfield ward. They both live on the same road in High Town.
Aysegul Gurbuz, a Labour councillor elected in High Town in May 2015, was suspended by the party in April 2016 after anti-Semitic comments were found on her Twitter account. The case came to national attention, with then Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn telling BBC One's Andrew Marr Show: "Anti-Semitism is absolutely abhorrent and wrong. Anyone that commits any act of anti-Semitism, that makes anti-Semitic remarks, is auto excluded from the party and an inquiry follows immediately". Gurbuz apologised and resigned from Labour the next day. Three years later, she wrote an article for The Independent, in which she explained that she grew up with people who normalised bigoted remarks, and that education and interaction were the keys to tackling racism.
Labour's Olly Martins lived in High Town when he became the first elected Police and Crime Commissioner for Bedfordshire, which includes the Luton area. The current Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner is Kathryn Holloway.
The 2011 Census recorded a population of 9,046 people living in the High Town ward, an increase of 27.8% on the 2001 Census figure. This was the second highest population increase recorded in an electoral ward in Luton between 2001 and 2011, the largest increase being in South ward.
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High Town has a high proportion of young adult residents, compared to the average across Luton.
About a third of Luton's population was involved in producing hats in the industry's heyday in the 1870s, but by 1999 this had declined to about 1,000, around 0.5% of the population at that time.
However, there are still hat makers and associated trades in High Town.
- I Llewellyn & Co, Midland Road.
- Olney Headwear, Old Bedford Road. The firm has made boater hats for various schools, including Harrow, and one of its customers was the French film star and singer Maurice Chevalier.
- Ken Peirson, Old Bedford Road.
- Nigel Rayment, Frederick Street.
- F Ruegger / Millinery UK, Clarendon Road.
- KR Snoxell & Sons, Clarendon Road.
- Walter Wright Limited, Albion Road.
- Barford Brothers’ dye works on North Street is the last company in the UK producing dyes for the hat trade.
- Boon & Lane Hat Blockers on Taylor Street makes wood and metal blocks for shaping hats.
- Randall Ribbons on Frederick Street supplies hat trimmings, materials and accessories.
Culture and community
In 2010, two ‘pop-up’ (temporary) community art spaces were created in empty shops on High Town Road by Luton Borough Council, Luton Culture and community interest company Meanwhile, Space, involving High Town-based artists Abi Spendlove, Fiona Martin and Zena Jay Ellis, amongst others. One of the aims of the High Town Art for All project was to bring the shops back into use as retail spaces, which was successful. The scheme was awarded Best Community Project in Luton's Best 2010 Awards.
There were a further two exhibitions in these former shops. One was by British artist Nigel Grimmer at the end of 2010. The other, by German artists Annette and Erasmus Schröter, was opened by the cultural attaché to the German embassy in early 2011.
Shop 33 on High Town Road, which existed from 2013 to 2015, sold works by local artists and craftspeople. It was run by Luton Community Arts Trust. The Flamingo Arts group took over the premises in 2015 and ran it as an arts workshop until 2017.
High Town used to host an annual festival that included a tug-of-war competition held between teams representing different pubs. The Friends of High Town residents' association ran a High Town Fun Day in 2010 and 2011, where it revived a tug-of-war contest. The Luton-based 33 Arts organisation ran a High Town Festival in July 2013. A coalition of local organisations and faith groups came together to organise the July 2014 High Town Festival and it has been an annual fixture since then on the first Saturday of July.
The annual Luton Beer and Cider Festival was held at two venues in High Town: The Drill Hall on Old Bedford Road until its closure, then the Hightown Community, Sports and Arts Centre until 2018 (the beer festival's 36th year) and it has not had a permanent home since.
High Town Matters was an occasional newspaper, published by anti-racism organisation Hope Not Hate, and delivered free of charge to homes and meeting places in High Town.
Living Luton TV was an internet television channel for the town, based on Midland Road and run as a Community Interest Company. It existed from 2014 to 2017.
The Luton Today website covers news and sport within High Town ward.
From 1998 to 2018, High Town was the home of Greenbank Music Village, a converted Wesleyan Chapel building which offered music tuition, rehearsal and recording studios, and a music shop. The owner of the business, Doog Moody, demolished the property and built four two-bedroom houses on the site. All of the music services that were found at the Cobden Street site are now on offer just outside High Town, from Moody's house in Round Green.
Poet and musician John Hegley, who was brought up in Luton, used to spend time in the Scandinavia Café on High Town Road. He immortalised the eatery in a poem that is displayed on the home page of its website. He returned to ‘the Scandi’ for the High Town Arts and Crafts Fair in December 2012, where he performed and signed copies of his latest poetry collection.
Groups and societies
1st Luton Sea Scouts, Luton's only sea scout group, has its headquarters on Bowling Green Lane. The group's first meeting took place in 1909, in the bedroom of a house in Clarendon Road in High Town.
Alban Neve Deaf Association, which hosted Luton Deaf Club, was based at a purpose-built building on Old Bedford Road from 1962 until 2017. Luton Deaf Club now meets on a weekly basis, a short distance away, at Hope Church on Villa Road.
The Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain has a branch on Cromwell Hill.
The Friends of High Town residents' association meets monthly at the High Town Methodist Church.
The Lea Valley Masonic Lodge is based at The Pavilion on Bowling Green Lane.
There is one GP practice in High Town, the Wenlock Surgery on Wenlock Street.
There is one private dental surgery in High Town, U Smile Dental Practice, which is on Old Bedford Road.
Parks and open spaces
There is effectively a 'green chain' of parks and open spaces across the centre of High Town ward. Bells Close Recreation Ground is the furthest east, linking with the wooded area of People's Park at the top of a hill on its north side, then down the hill to the west to Pope's Meadow and then north-west across the Old Bedford Road to Wardown Park.
Bells Close Recreation Ground has a modern playground and a 'trim trail', and is popular with footballers and dog walkers. People's Park is designated a County Wildlife Site, because of the occurrence of a rare plant species called the Great Pignut (Latin: Bunium persicum), which gives this piece of land limited protection from development. Pope's Meadow is an open and sloping area of grassland, which is popular with sledgers in snowy weather. It is normally used for Luton Borough Council's annual fireworks display in November. Wardown Park could be considered Luton's main park, due its size and central location.
There are council-owned allotments just off Stockingstone Road, called Stockingstone Leisure Gardens. They were managed by Wigmore & District Leisure Gardens Association until 2015, when it was agreed that plotholders at Stockingstone would run the site themselves.
Pubs and bars
High Town remains a place to experience traditional pubs.
The Painters Arms, also on High Town Road, was rebuilt in 1913 and has several interesting surviving features, including a 'Jug Bar' in the centre. It is now an Irish pub, with Gaelic games shown on its TV screens.
The Well is a double-fronted nineteenth century pub on High Town Road that for most of its life was called The Blockers Arms, and for a few years before its current incarnation was a bar and nightclub called Déjà Vu.
There was a nineteenth century pub on York Street (at its junction with High Town Road) called The Freeholder, which became an Indian restaurant after owner Whitbread sold its pubs in 2001. The business reverted to its original name when it reopened as a bar in late 2012. The Freeholder bar ceased trading in spring 2015. In 2019, the pub was converted into bed and breakfast accommodation called the Eagle Hotel, with a café where the bar used to be.
The British actress Diana Dors, an iconic figure of the 1960s, occasionally served behind the bar at a pub called The Rabbit on the corner of Old Bedford Road and North Street. It was renamed The English Rose and ceased trading in 2017.
Another pub - The Old English Gentleman - existed on the corner of Burr Street and Hitchin Road from at least 1847, and was in operation until 2010. The building was demolished in 2011 and the lot has remained vacant since. Planning permission was granted in 2020 to build a block of nineteen flats on the site.
The number 14 bus travels through the centre of the ward, stopping in several places in High Town on its way between Luton town centre and the neighbouring suburb of Round Green. As such, it could be considered the main bus route through High Town. Other buses with stops in the ward include the 12, 12A, 13, 16, 17, 17A, 19, 19A, 21, 24, 25, 26, 35, 79, 81, 101, 102, 755 and 787.
Part of National Cycle Route 6 passes through High Town in the form of a marked route alternating between shared road and pavement spaces along the A6 New Bedford Road. There is also a marked cycle route along the Old Bedford Road in High Town, which alternates between shared road and pavement spaces.
The section of Inner Ring Road in High Town has a separate path next to it, shared between cyclists and pedestrians, from its junction with Hucklesby Way and Old Bedford Road to the junction with Hitchin Road.
Luton railway station lies partly in High Town ward and has an exit to Midland Road in High Town. The station typically has 10 peak trains per hour to and from St Pancras railway station in London. Trains take between 23 and 46 minutes to complete the journey, making High Town approximately one hour from the middle of the City of London. Thameslink trains also run between Luton railway station and stops south of London, including Gatwick Airport (1 hour 22 minutes) and Brighton (just under 2 hours), as well as to the north of Luton, as far as Bedford railway station. East Midlands Railway runs 'fast' services between Luton railway station and Bedford railway station, as well as stops in Northamptonshire, Leicester, Loughborough, East Midlands Parkway (for East Midlands Airport), Derby and Chesterfield.
Luton's inner ring road passes through High Town on the ward's southern side. In High Town, it starts at a signalised junction with Hucklesby Way and Old Bedford Road, runs under Luton railway station's multi-storey car park on a newly created stretch of road to traffic lights at Hitchin Road and continues along Crescent Road to new lights at its junction with Crawley Green Road. This whole section was fully opened in August 2014, completing the circular route 40 years after the first part of it was built. The aim is to ease congestion in central Luton.
There is one primary school in High Town, St Matthew's Primary School on Havelock Road.
There are a large number of churches in High Town, considering the number of people living in the ward. The established church is St Matthew, which covers an ecclesiastical parish that includes Biscot. There are also Hindu, Muslim and Taoist places of worship.
- Christ Apostolic Church, Crescent Road
- Christ Embassy, High Town Road
- Family of God Church – Sunday worship meetings held at Hightown Community, Sports and Arts Centre, Concorde Street
- Hightown Baptist Church, Reginald Street
- High Town Methodist Church, High Town Road
- Hope Church, New Bedford Road (access from Villa Road)
- Jehovah's Witnesses, Kingdom Hall, Old Bedford Road
- Luton Central Seventh-Day Adventist Church, North Street
- Luton Worship Centre Church, Old Bedford Road
- Park Church (part of Stopsley Baptist Church), People's Park
- St Matthew, Church of England, Wenlock Street
- St Ninians, United Reformed Church, Villa Road
- Winners' Chapel International Fellowship Centre, Living Faith Church Worldwide, Taylor Street
Other religious sites
- BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir (temple, Hindu), Crescent Road
- Masjid Ibrahim (mosque, Muslim), Dudley Street
- Po Shin Tao Teh Association (meeting place, Taoist), Havelock Rise
Sport and leisure
Bedfordshire County Cricket Club plays some of its matches at Wardown Park, which is within the High Town ward boundary. The ground is also home to Luton Town and Indians Cricket Club, who introduced future England cricket star Monty Panesar to the game. Before graduating to first class cricket, Panesar also played for Bedfordshire CCC.
There is also a range of dance classes available at Tina's School of Dance on Taylor Street, as well as in acrobatics, musical theatre and drama.
Luton Town Bowling Club on Bowling Green Lane was founded in 1907 and has six outdoor grass rinks.
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- The Association of Train Operating Companies – Official Timetable
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