LUTON, a parish, market and post town, in the hundred of Flitt, county Bedford, 5 miles east of Dunstable, 18 south of Bedford, and 31 from London. The Great Northern line of railway has a station here. It is situated in a vale where the river Lea has its source, and the parish includes the hamlets of East and West Hyde, Leegrave, Limbury-cum-Biscott, and Stopsley. A portion of this place formerly belonged to St. Alban's Abbey. At the time of the Norman conquest, it was held in royal demesne, and in 1216 came into the possession of Falk de Brent, by whom a strong castle was built here in the early part of the 13th century.
The town, which is situated between two hills, consists chiefly of three streets diverging from the market-place. The chief employment of the inhabitants is in the manufacture of straw plait, which is said to have been first introduced into Scotland from Lorraine by Mary Queen of Scots, and afterwards transferred to this place by her son James I. It is now the chief locality in the kingdom for this branch of industry. A large iron foundry and two malting establishments afford occupation to a good many. In the new court-house in Stuart-street are held petty sessions weekly, on Monday; also a county court monthly. A court leet is held annually, under the lord of the manor, at which a high and two day constables are appointed. It contains a good literary as well as a mechanics' institute. Luton is the head of a Poor-law Union, bearing its name, and is a polling place for the county. The land is chiefly arable, with some pasture and woodland.
The living is a vicarage in the diocese of Ely, value £900. The church, dedicated to St. Mary, is a cruciform structure, having at its western extremity an embattled tower built of stone and flint, laid checkerwise, double buttressed, and surmounted by hexagonal turrets. In style of architecture it partakes of the Perpendicular blended with the decorated Norman and early English. The western doorway and window are relieved with rich mouldings and carvings of flowers, &c. A beautifully constructed baptismal font, said to be the finest in the kingdom, stands before the west door; in form it is hexagonal, supported upon five pillars, and enclosed in a baptistery, elegant in design and workmanship. It also contains a sepulchral chapel, built by John Lord Wenlock, and numerous monuments, effigies, brasses, and heraldic devices of the Wenlock and other families, some dating as far back as the latter end of the 14th century.
In addition to the parish church there are also three district churches, viz:, Christ Church, East Hyde,* and Stopsley, all perpetual curacies, and a wooden church as chapel-of-ease to the parish church. The parochial endowments produce over £120 per annum. The Congregationalists, Baptists, Wesleyans, and Primitive Methodists, have each chapels, and the Society of Friends a meeting-house.
There are National, British, and infant schools for boys, and girls. Luton Hoo, once the seat of the Marquis of Bute, was destroyed by fire in 1844, but was rebuilt in a style of great magnificence by the present owner, J. Shaw Leigh, Esq., and is surrounded by an extensive park and pleasure-grounds. Here are remains of a tower, partly built by one of the Wenlocks in the reign of Edward IV. The Hyde and Stockwood are other residences. Monday is market day for corn and straw plait, and Saturday for provisions. Fairs for the sale of cattle are held' on the third Mondays in April and October, and a statute fair for hiring servants on the Friday succeeding the third Monday in September.