High Town, Luton
Ridgway Road, High Town
Pope's Meadow, High Town
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|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
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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.
- 1 Architecture, shops and local employment
- 2 Government
- 3 Demography
- 4 Economy
- 5 Culture and community
- 6 Transport
- 7 Education
- 8 Religious sites
- 9 Sport and leisure
- 10 Local attractions
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
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 2008–11 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 part of the larger High Town ward, which also contains much of the town centre and Hart Hill returns two councillors to Luton Borough Council. Aysegul Gurbuz (Labour, suspended as of April 2016) and Andy Malcolm (Labour) were elected in 2015.
The ward forms part of the parliamentary constituency of Luton South, and the MP is Gavin Shuker (Labour). High Town is situated within the East of England (European Parliament constituency).
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 significant proportion of young adult residents.
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.
- Llewellyn & Co, Midland Road.
- Olney Headwear, Old Bedford Road. The firm has made boaters for various schools, including Harrow School, 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.
- Hat designer Marie-Louise Lowcock, Clarendon 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 the 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.
In 2013 Shop 33 was opened within High Town, providing an outlet for local artists and craftspeople. The shop was administered by Luton Community Arts Trust, a local arts charity that was formed in 1976. As of 2017, Shop 33 permanently closed.
LCAT also administer the dedicated High Town web site at: http://www.hightownluton.com
High Town used to host an annual festival, with a tug-of-war competition held between teams representing different pubs. The Friends of High Town residents group 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.
The annual Luton Beer and Cider Festival is held at Hightown Community, Sports and Arts Centre, where it moved following the closure of its previous venue, The Drill Hall on Old Bedford Road. The beer festival celebrated its 30th year in 2012.
High Town Matters is an occasional newspaper, published by anti-racism organisation Hope Not Hate, and delivered free of charge to homes and meeting places in High Town.
Greenbank Music Village, which was founded in 1983, has been on Cobden Street since 1998. It offers music tuition, rehearsal and recording studios, and has a music shop.
Between them, the largely High Town-based singerless punk band The Knockouts run music label High Town Records, produce cult fanzine Clod and the Luton Haiku, a daily online ode to the town.
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.
The Army Cadet Force has a detachment which meets at the ACF Centre, behind the former Drill Hall site, on Old Bedford 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.
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 was used for Luton Borough Council's annual fireworks display in November until the event was cancelled in 2013. Wardown Park could be considered Luton's main park, due its size and central location.
People's Park (including Bells Close Recreation Ground and Pope's Meadow) and Wardown Park both won a Green Flag Award in 2013, recognising them as amongst the best green spaces in the UK. It was the first year that People's Park was awarded a Green Flag. Both parks retained their Green Flag status in 2014.
There are allotments just off Stockingstone Road, managed by Wigmore & District Leisure Gardens Association.
Pubs and bars
High Town remains a place to experience traditional pubs.
The British actress Diana Dors, an iconic figure of the 1960s, occasionally served behind the bar at The Rabbit, which is on the corner of Old Bedford Road and North Street, and is now called The English Rose.
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 live music and Gaelic games shown on its TV screens.
There was a pub on York Street (at its junction with High Town Road) called The Freeholder, which became an Indian restaurant, and then reverted to its original name when it was reopened as a bar in late 2012.
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. First Capital Connect (FCC) 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 Trains 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. It was classified as ‘Good’ following Ofsted’s January 2013 inspection. Three previous reports rated the school as ‘Satisfactory’. There is also early years provision on the St Matthew's Primary School site; Stepping Stones was given a score of 2 by Ofsted, following an inspection in November 2012. This is an improvement on its Ofsted rating of 3 in October 2009.
Barnfield College, a further education institution which is part of Barnfield Federation, has one of its campuses in York Street.
Bedfordian Business School on Duke Street is a Further Education college offering a range of courses to MBA level.
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
- City Wide Family of God – Sunday worship meetings held at Hightown Community, Sports and Arts Centre, Concorde Street
- Hightown Baptist Church, Reginald Street
- High Town Beacon, a group belonging to Stopsley Baptist Church, meets in various places in High Town
- 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
- New Living Way Church - Sunday services held at Alban Neve Deaf Association, Old Bedford Road
- 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 most 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.
Galaxy Gymnastics Club is a not-for-profit organisation that has its premises on Concorde Street, where it has sessions for children and adults.
Hightown Community Sports & Arts Centre is in a separate building on Concorde Street and is run by Active Luton for Luton Borough Council. It has a variety of sport and fitness activities on offer.
High Town Working Men’s Club on Oxen Road has a bar, a function room and a hall with a stage. The facilities are open to members and their guests. The Club is affiliated to the Working Men's Club and Institute Union (CIU).
La Phyzz offers fitness, dance and theatre classes at its privately run facilities on Duke Street. Robert Kirkland-Hay worked at La Phyzz when he appeared as a losing contestant on Channel 4 television series Come Dine With Me.
There is also a range of dance classes available at Tina’s School of Dance on Old Bedford Road, as well as in acrobatics, keep-fit, 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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- Luton Council
- 2011 census interactive maps Archived 29 January 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 27 May 2013. Retrieved 18 June 2008.
- Hightown Beacon [@HighTownBeacon] (19 February 2013). "We made it into local newspaper with @FriendsHighTown for our joint effort gardening at Rainbows" (Tweet) – via Twitter. /photo/1
- The Association of Train Operating Companies – Official Timetable