54 George Street Luton
George Street in 1901 - to see a larger version, please click on the image
54 George Street was first listed in the Post Office Directory for Bedfordshire of 1869 when it was in the occupation of William Underwood, boot and shoe maker, who had first been listed, at an undisclosed property in George Street, in 1864. He should not be confused with the William Underwood at 22 George Street, who was a draper and tailor.
Underwood was last listed in 1871 and by 1885 Frederick Simpson, straw hat manufacturer, was in occupation. A commercial catalogue for Bedfordshire describes Simpson's business as follows: "In the showrooms of Mr. Frederick Simpson there is an exceptionally fine display of straw goods, which fully bear out the old-established nature and the long-sustained reputation of the house as a first-class centre of this invaluable manufacture, which has become of national importance. There is no decline in this industry, nor does there seem to be the elast possibility of such a misfortune; but in the way of the production of plait there is a very serious diminution, our chief supplies now coming from China and elsewhere. Notwithstanding this, there is a great activity generally, and the markets are kept fully supplied with goods of all grades and qualities. Mr. Simpson represents a house which has been well known as a centre of the trade for upwards of twenty years; and although on the premises there is no manufacturing done, a large number of persons find employment at Mr. Simpson's hands, and his output is thus considerable. His premises in George Street are showrooms, warehouses, etc., the building three stories in height, and the frontage a fairly good one. A great variety of patterns is maintained ready for immediate production. The goods which emanate from this house are held in high repute. Mr. Simpson has a thoroughly practical knowledge of this trade in all its details, and is much respected by all who know him".
Simpson was last listed in a directory of 1894 and by 1903 the occupier was E. J. Atkins and Son, "bookseller, bookbinder, stationer, fancy repository, printer, artists' colourman, music seller, publisher of the Bedfordshire Adveriser and Luton Times. He was last listed in 1914 when sharing the premises with William T. Hilton, costumier. By 1920 Dudeney and Johnston Limited had a restaurant at the premises.
The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 specified that every piece of land and building in the country was to be assessed to determine its rateable value. Most of Bedfordshire was valued in 1927. Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service is lucky in having the valuer's notebook covering most of George Street. Evidence in the book shows that the survey of George Street took place in 1928.
The valuer discovered that 54 George Street was owned as well as occupied by Dudeney and Johnston Limited [DV1/R7/13]. The frontage was 24 feet 6 inches. A "good" smoke room occupied the basement measuring 13 feet by 15 feet 9 inches. A similarly good restaurant occupied the ground floor and comprised two areas measuring 23 feet 3 inches by 19 feet 9 inches and 17 feet by 51 feet 6 inches. A bakehouse measuring 16 feet 3 inches by 15 feet 3 inches stood at the rear with a five drawer Tortoise Stove and a one horsepower motor. Above this lay a store room measuring 16 feet by 15 feet.
The first floor of the main building comprised a tea room divided into areas measuring 18 feet 9 inches by 14 feet and 17 feet 3 inches by 43 feet 3 inches along with a cupboard. A kitchen measuring 23 feet 6 inches by 18 feet 6 inches lay on the second floor.
Dudeney and Johnston remained in occupation until shortl yafter the survey, by the time of Kelly's Directory for the county of 1931 a new restaurant, owned by J. Lyons and Company Limited, was in occupation. This restaurant was last listed in Kelly's for Luton of 1972 and in the last Kelly's for Luton, 1975, the property was vacant. Now owned by Spanish bank Santander the upper storey probably looks much as it did in the days of the restaurant.
Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service has a Borough of Luton Public Health Department Shops Act 1934 Section 10 inspection book [BorL/EH/14/1]. This book reveals that on 4th May 1938 the property was occupied by Style & Mantle ladies' gown shop, with headquarters at Britannia House, Old Bailey, City of London. This shop may have operated on the premises as, but independent of, the restaurant. It was heated by two three unit gas radiators and had a women's toilet at the rear of the premises. Natural light was fair and electric light was provided. The staff of one man (the manager who used the conveniences at the Corn Exchange and at home in Studley Road at meal times), four women and three girls under eighteen took their dinner off the premises (presumably at their homes) but could have tea in a partitioned off portion of the shop.
54 to 56 George Street June 2010