The parish church of St. Mary is a cruciform building of the Decorated and Perpendicular styles, with some traces of Early English, and consists of chancel, with chapel and vestry, north and south transepts, the latter having an eastern aisle or chapel, clerestoried nave of five bays, north and south porches and a massive western embattled tower of flint and other stones in chequer work, 90 feet in height, with hexagonal turrets at the angles, and a low pyramidal roof with vane, and is supported by bold double buttresses of seven stages, enriched in the lower part with canopied niches: in the tower is a clock and a peal of 8 bells, recast in 1775 and 1761: the chancel was rebuilt in the time of Edward IV. by Jn. Weathamstead, 23rd abbot of St. Albans. Robert, abbot of St. Albans, procured this place for his convent from Robert Waudari, to whom Luton had been given upon the Earl of Gloucester's rebellion.
One of the most striking features of the interior is the celebrated and unique "baptisterium" inclosing the font ; this consists of a lofty hexagonal canopy of the Decorated period, each side exhibiting a richly crocketed gable filled with tracery and terminating In a finial between the gables are slender buttresses rising onto crocketed pinnacles, and the roof is groined and enriched with allegorical carvings ; the lower portion, save the entrance, is surrounded with a gabled arcade; within, there is room for eight persons to stand round the font, which is also arcaded and stands on a clustered shaft; the total height of the structure is about 20 feet, and the diameter 9½ feet; it was formerly painted and gilded, and by tradition is said to have been presented to the church by: Queen Anne Boleyn: on the south side of the chancel are four sediliæ, or stone seats, richly carved, with cinquefoil ogee arches, separated by pinnacles, and surmounted by a floriated cornice: in the spandrels are the arms of Edward the Confessor, the kingdom of Merck, the Abbey of St. Albans, King Offa, and Abbot Wheathamstead ; above is the abbot's motto, "Valles abundabunt valles :" on the north side of the chancel, separated from it by a lofty Gothic double arch, divided into two by a slight pier, with clustered columns, and open mullions in the spandrels, is the Wenlock Chapel, which appears, from an inscription now in the British Museum, to have been built by Sir John Wenlock previous to the year 1461; the chapel retains some ancient stained glass, and is divided from the transept by two arches and a finely carved screen of wood: in the chapel is an embattled altar tomb, with the recumbent coloured effigy of a priest, ii representing William de Wenlock, prebendary of St. Paul's, London, and rector of St. Andrew's, Holborn, 1392, with inscription and shields; under the south arch is an altar tomb, with the effigy in brass of a lady, under a canopy, said to commemorate Queen Anne Boleyn, but more probably representing Elizabeth, Lady Wenlock; on the north side of the chapel, beneath arches, are two altar tombs, now despoiled of their brasses.
The Hoo Chapel, on the east side of the south transept, was renovated about 1870 by the late Shaw Leigh esq. of Luton Hoo, and is now separated from the transept by a richly carved oak screen, in which portions of the old rood screen are incorporated; on the south side of the chancel is an arched recess, groined, and on the top of the pediment are figures, carved in stone, of bears and an angel holding an urn or pyx; in the north transept, formerly in the Wenlock Chapel, is a stone, with shield of arms and inscription to Thomas Crawley, of Crawley, 1629; Sir Francis Crawley knt. judge of the Common Pleas, ob. 13 Feb. 1649; and Francis Crawley, his 2nd son, cursitor baron of the Exchequer, ob. 1682: there are brasses, chiefly retaining their effigies, to John Barber, 1415, and Agnes his wife; Hugh at Spetyll and Alice his wife, c. 1425; John Penthelyn LL.B. vicar, 1443 ; John Hay, 1455, and his wives Anna and Isabella ; Edward Shiffield LL.D. canon of Lincoln and vicar here, 1502; John Ackworth esq. 1512, an d Alice and Amy, his wives; John Lamar, 1512, and Elynor his wife, 1505 ; John Sylam, 1513, and Elizabeth and Joan his wives; Robert Colshill and Anne his wife, 1524; Roland Staper, 1558, and Dorothy his wife, 1565 ; William Herne, vicar 1574; George Rotherham, 1593, and E1izabeth and Anna, his wives: Lady Penelope Napier, 1658, and some others undated ; besides an altar tomb to Thomas Gilbert, 1566; one bearing the rude stone effigy of a priest, conjectured to represent an abbot of St. Albans; an inscribe d slab to Michael Knight, gent. 1697; and memorials to the Hon. William Stuart D.D. archbishop of Armagh, and vicar of Luton, 1779-96, and his wife Sophia, last surviving grand-daughter of William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania ; and to Rev. William McDouall, vicar, 1849; the complete restoration of this church, one of the largest parish churches in England, was begun in 1865, under the direction of the late George Edmund Street esq. R.A. and cost up to 1885 about £9,000; the refitting of the interior inclu ded the erection of a fine pulpit of alabaster and marble, with mosaic and canopied panels: the whole surface of the east end wall is also now covered with designs in mosaic: and there is a reredos of the same material, with a representation of the "Last Supper" by Salviati, inclosed in a framework of alabaster : the east window and all the windows of the transepts and aisles are stained: in 1893 all the clerestory windows were filled with stained glass, in memory of Kitt Tomson esq. by his son, Walter Bol ton Tomson M.D. and in 1897 a memorial window was erected to the Rev. James O'Neill, vicar, 1862-97: the entire length of the building is 174 feet : width, 57 feet; transept, 100 feet: there are sittings for 2,500 persons. The register dates from the year 1603.
Christ Church is an ecclesiastical parish, formed in 1861. The church, built in 1856, at a cost of £2,000, raised by voluntary contributions, is an edifice of red brick with stone dressings, consisting of chancel, aisles, and a low tower, containing 3 bells: the south aisle was added in 1864, at a cost of £1,200; and a new chancel in 1882, at a further expenditure of £2,280; in 1887, the choir stalls and an organ were added at a cost of £800: there are sittings for 750 persons, of w hich 425 are free. The r egister dates from the year 1856.
The mission church of St. Andrew, in New Bedford road, built in 1888, at a total cost of £615, is attached to Christ Church. St. Matthew's, Hightown, is an ecclesiastical parish, formed in 1877 from Luton civil parish. The church, erected in 1876, at a cost of £5,000, from designs by Mr. G. Vialls, of London, and Mr. J. R. Brown, of Luton, is an edifice of brick in the Gothic style of the 13th century, and consists of chancel, nave, aisles, transepts, and a bell cote at the west end containing 2 bells: there are 900 sittings. The register dates from the year 1876. The parish of St. Saviour was formed in 1892 from that of Christ Church. The church, in Russell street, a temporary structure of brick, built in 1887 at a total cost of £950, was a mission church to Christ church, and consists of chancel (added in 1889) and nave: there are 350 sittings: the building of a permanent church was commenced in 1897, and the north aisle was completed in 1898, at a cost of £3,200. The register (baptismal only) dates from 1893. The parish of St. Paul, New Town, was formed in 1892 from the parish of Luton. The church, formerly a chapel-of-ease to the parish church, was built in 1890, at a cost of £5,000, and is an edifice of red brick and stone in the Early English style, consisting of chancel, nave and aisles : there are 900 sittings, 800 being free. The register dates from 1895. [Kelly's Directory - Bedfordshire - 1898]