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Luton is a town, borough, and unitary authority in Bedfordshire, south-east England, but administratively in the East of England region. It has a population of 213,052 (as of mid-2019) and is one of the most populous towns in the United Kingdom without city status. It is also the most populous town in the county of Bedfordshire. The town is located on the River Lea, approximately 30 miles (50 kilometres) north-northwest of London. The town was founded in the sixth century as a Saxon outpost on the River Lea, which gives the town its name. Luton is mentioned in the Domesday Book as Loitone and Lintone, and St Mary’s Church, one of the largest in Bedfordshire, was built in the 12th century. Local museums in Wardown Park and Stockwood Park explore Luton’s history.

Luton was famous for hatmaking for many years, and it also housed a large Vauxhall Motors factory. The plant began producing automobiles in 1905 and remained in operation until its closure in 2002. Vauxhall Motors’ head office, which had been in the town for many years, has now relocated in 2019 to the village of Chalton, Bedfordshire, on the northern border of the Borough of Luton. London Luton Airport, which opened in 1938, is now one of Britain’s major airports, and the town also has three railway stations. The University of Bedfordshire was formed through a merger with the University of Luton, and it has two campuses in Luton.

Luton Town Football Club, nicknamed “the Hatters” due to the town’s connection to hatmaking, has spent time in the top flight of the English league and won the Football League Cup in 1988. They have been playing at Kenilworth Road since 1905, and planning permission for a new, larger stadium was granted in 2019. The largest one-day carnival in Europe, Luton International Carnival, is held on the day before the last Monday in May, and the Saint Patrick’s Festival is held on the weekend closest to Saint Patrick’s Day because Luton has a large Irish community. The town also has a large Pakistani community, who, like the Irish, were drawn to work at the Vauxhall car plant. Luton Hoo is a Grade I listed English country house designed by Scottish architect Robert Adam.



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    HISTORY

    The Anglo-Saxons are thought to have founded Luton in the sixth century.

    The Domesday Book mentions Luton as Loitone and Lintone. Agriculture dominated the local economy at the time, and the town had a population of 700 to 800 people.

    In 1121, Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester began construction on St Mary’s Church in the town centre. By 1137, the work had been completed. The modern Castle Street takes its name from a motte-and-bailey castle that was built in 1139 but demolished by 1154.

    Hat manufacturing began in the 17th century and became synonymous with the town.

    The town grew: the population was 3,095 in 1801 but had risen to over 10,000 by 1850 and nearly 39,000 by 1901.

    In 1854, the town saw the introduction of newspaper printing. The first public cemetery opened the same year, and Luton was incorporated as a borough in 1876.

    The hat trade in Luton peaked in the 1930s, but fell precipitously after WWII and was replaced by other industries.

    Vauxhall Motors established the largest car plant in the United Kingdom in Luton in 1907, and during WWII, it built Churchill tanks as part of the war effort. Despite the factory’s heavy camouflage, the factory made Luton a target for the Luftwaffe, and the town was subjected to a number of air raids. There were 107 fatalities, and the town was severely damaged (over 1,500 homes were damaged or destroyed).

    The original town hall was destroyed during the 1919 Peace Day celebrations at the end of World War I. During the 1950s, Dr. John G. Dony, author of The Flora of Bedfordshire, told his history students (he taught at Luton Grammar, the predecessor of Luton Sixth Form College) that he had broken the last intact window of the old town hall during the 1919 riots. Local residents, including many ex-servicemen, were dissatisfied with their jobs and had been denied the use of a nearby park for celebratory events. They stormed the town hall and set it on fire (see Luton Town Hall). In 1936, a replacement structure was completed.

    Since the early twentieth century, Luton Borough Corporation had supplied electricity to the borough via the Luton power station, which was located adjacent to the railway. When the electricity industry was nationalised in 1948, ownership passed to the British Electricity Authority, and later to the Central Electricity Generating Board. Connections to the national grid rendered the 23 megawatt (MW) coal and, later, oil-fired power station obsolete. There was a single chimney and two reinforced concrete cooling towers at the station. The power station closed in 1968, after delivering 3,192 MWh of electricity to the borough in its final year of operation.

    The council owned and operated Luton Airport since its inception in 1938. It is now one of the area’s largest employers.

    Luton experienced an economic boom during the pre-war years, as new industries grew and prospered. In the 1920s and 1930s, new private and council housing was built, and Luton began to incorporate nearby villages Leagrave, Limbury, and Stopsley between 1928 and 1933.

    Following the war, a number of large council housing estates were built, most notably at Farley Hill, Stopsley, Limbury, Marsh Farm, and Leagrave (Hockwell Ring). In the mid to late 1960s, the town’s Marsh Farm area was developed as a large council housing estate, primarily to house the overspill population from London. The estate, on the other hand, developed a reputation for high levels of crime, poverty, and unemployment, culminating in a riot on the estate in July 1992 and another more serious riot three years later.

    The 2002 closure of the Vauxhall manufacturing plant had a negative impact on Luton, resulting in increased unemployment and deprivation.

    

    GEOGRAPHY

    Luton is located approximately 34 miles north of London and 39 miles southwest of Cambridge. The town is at the heart of the larger Luton built-up area, which also includes the Central Bedfordshire towns of Dunstable and Houghton Regis. The town is the largest in Bedfordshire’s ceremonial county, followed by Bedford.

    Luton is situated in a valley in the Chiltern Hills to the east. The Chilterns are a mix of Cretaceous period[46] (66–145 million years ago) chalk and deposits laid down at the southernmost points of the ice sheet during the last ice age (the Warden Hill area can be seen from much of the town).

    Bedfordshire had a reputation for brickmaking, but the industry has since declined significantly. Stopsley’s brickworks took advantage of the clay deposits to the east of town.

    The River Lea, which is part of the Thames Valley drainage basin, has its headwaters in the town of Leagrave. This area is surrounded by the Great Bramingham Wood. It is classified as ancient woodland because records date back at least 400 years.

    For miles, there are few routes through the hilly area, which has resulted in the construction of several major roads (including the M1 and A6) and a major rail-link through the town.

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