Luton
Population:
184,900
Area: 43.35 km² 

Luton is a large town and local government district in England, located 51 km (32 miles) north of London. Historically it was part of the county of Bedfordshire, but since 1997 it has been an administratively independent unitary authority. It remains part of Bedfordshire for ceremonial purposes. It is in the East of England region, but was formerly in South East England region, and in common usage is still often considered to be in the South East. Luton, Dunstable and Houghton Regis form a conurbation which had a population of 235,146 in 2001.

Luton is the home town of the Luton Town F.C. football club, who are in The Championship division. Their nickname, "The Hatters", dates back to when Luton had a substantial hatmaking industry.

London Luton Airport is to the south-east of the town. The main campus of the University of Bedfordshire is in the town centre. From 1905 until 2002 the town had a Vauxhall Motors car factory, the first Vauxhall factory and from where the company was founded. Dunstable is to the west of Luton. The M1 motorway runs between Luton and Dunstable: it does not form the boundary, as parts of Luton are to the west of it.

Luton has a Site of Special Scientific Interest at Warden Hills on its outskirts.

The town has several large parks, Wardown houses the museum and is located near the town centre. Stockwood houses a craft museum and the Mossman Collection. Wardown Park and the museum were a gift to the town from the then Mayor Asher Hucklesby.

Luton Carnival is the biggest one-day carnival in Europe, which usually takes place on the late May Bank Holiday. Crowds usually top 150,000 on each occasion, with it being a huge multicultural event attended by people from all over the country.

The town is famous for its airport, London Luton Airport, which is currently the fastest-growing airport in the United Kingdom. The airport is renowned for being a hub for budget airlines offering cheap flights. The England football team regularly fly from the airport when playing matches abroad.

A £400 million regeneration of the town centre is planned, including upgrades to the town's bus and train stations as well as general improvements. It is hoped this will breathe life into the town, which has been flagging with the decades of decline of the manufacturing industry in Great Britain, which Luton once thrived from.

Settlements have existed on the site since the paleolithic era, most notably the henge monument now called Waulud's Bank, which dates from 3000 BC. The Roman settlement in the area was concentrated at Durocobrivis and Verulamium. The foundation of Luton is usually dated to the 6th century when a Saxon outpost was founded on the river Lea, Lea tun. Luton is recorded in the Domesday Book as Loitone and also as Lintone; its population was 700, by 1240 the town is recorded as Leueton. The town had a market for surrounding villages and grew steadily, if slowly. By the 14th century, the town had two fairs each year.

King John (1166-1216) had hired a mercenary soldier, Falkes de Breauté, to act on his behalf. (Breauté is a small town near Le Havre in France.) When he married, he acquired his wife, Margaret's London house which came to be known as "Fawkes Hall", subsequently corrupted over the years to "Foxhall", then "Vauxhall". In return for his services, King John granted Falkes the manor of Luton. He was also granted the right to bear his own coat of arms and chose the mythical griffin as his heraldic emblem. The griffin thus became associated with both Vauxhall and Luton in the early 13th century. [1]

The agriculture base of the town changed in the 16th century with a brickmaking industry and in the 17th century when the hatmaking began. By the 18th century the hatmaking industry, especially straw hat manufacture, dominated the town as its only significant industry. Hats are still produced in the town on a smaller scale. Luton Hoo, a nearby large country house, was built in 1757.

The town grew strongly in the 19th century; in 1801 the population was 3,000. By 1850 it was 10,000 and by 1901 it was almost 39,000. This rapid growth was fuelled by the arrival of the railway in 1858, which bypassed Dunstable, the nearby market town, which until then had overshadowed Luton. The first town hall opened in 1847 and had a complete water and sewerage system by the late 1860s. Luton was made a borough in 1876 and the football club was founded in 1885.

In the 20th century, the hat trade severely declined and was replaced by newer industries. Vauxhall Motors opened a car plant in 1905, along with an Electrolux household appliances plant, followed by other light engineering businesses. The town had a tram system from 1908 until 1932 and the first cinema was opened in 1909. By 1914, the population reached had 50,000. The original town hall was burned down in 1919 during the victory celebrations at the end of the First World War; local people including many ex-servicemen had been refused the use of a local park to hold celebratory events, and so made a bonfire of the town hall. (See article on the Luton riots in External links, below.) A replacement town hall was completed in 1936. Luton Airport opened in 1938, owned and operated by the council. In World War II, the town suffered a number of air raids, and although only 107 people died there was extensive damage.

Post-war, the slum clearance continued and a number of substantial estates of council housing were built, notably at Farley Hill, Stopsley, Limbury, Marsh Farm and Leagrave, (Hockwell Ring). The M1 passed just to the west of the town from 1959 and a substantial covered shopping centre, the Arndale Centre, was opened in 1972. The Arndale Centre has had a major refurbishment, including a new glass roof, which has transformed the area.

In 2000, Vauxhall announced the end of car production in Luton; the plant closed in March 2002. At its peak it had employed around 35,000 people.