55 George Street Luton
George Street in 1901 - to see a larger version, please click on the image
55 George Street lies at the junction with George Street West. It was first listed in the Post Office Directory for Bedfordshire of 1869. It was then in the occupation of William Walsh, straw hat and bonnet manufacturer. He was listed at King Street in a directory of 1864.
A commercial catalogue for Bedfordshire of about 1890 has an entry for Walsh's business: "In the year 1562, over three hundred years ago, the destinies of the whole of Bedfordshire were being catered for , not only without the knowledge of the inhabitants, but also without intention on the part of the benefactor. This was no other than the illustrious and unhappy Mary, Queen of Scots, who, in this year, held out inducements to a number of foreigners to settle in Scotland, to introduce there the plaiting and working of straw, which was, up to that period, an unknown art either in Scotland or England. In the former country, however, the work never came to much, and the colony of Lorrainers was removed by James I to the Luton district, where it has ever sicne flourished in congenial soil. In the reign of George I, the introduction of the method of splitting straw for making plait gave a great stimulus to the craft, which was never at a more prosperous pitch than at the present time. hence we find in Luton, which has always been the chief centre of the straw hat manufacture, as Dunstable is of the manufacture of plait, a large number of enterprising firms or individuals, who have much capital invested in this very important industry. Few of these, however, are of an old-fashioned nature, why, it would be difficult to say; therefore those which have been long engaged in the trade deserve a special mention at our hands. In this number we must include Mr. William Walsh, of George Street, who represents one of the oldest houses in the straw hat trade in the district. This gentleman has long enjoyed a large connection among the chief wholesale buyers in London and other large centres, the trade done by him being of course confined to wholesale dealings. The premises in which this important business is carried on occupy a conspicuours and favourable position at the corner of George Street and George Street West, and have an immense total frontage, and an elevation of three stories. The space at command, therefore, is considerable, and there are extensive showrooms, in which a comprehensive display of high-class goods is always maintained. Every variety or quality of plait in all the innumerable colours, combinations, textures, or values, is here adequately represented, and orders to any amount or to any specified pattern are quickly executed at Mr. Walsh's establishment. In the workrooms, which are arranged on the most convenient system, we find all the most modern appliances of the straw-worker's art, and every convenience for the rapid or expeditious production of a large output. in all the principal markets Mr. Walsh has long been favourably known as a manufacturer of enterprise and energy, and one to be depended upon in emergency. He employs an adequate number of workpeople, and is by all these, as well as by his fellow-townsmen generally, much esteemed and respected".
By the time of Kelly's Directory of 1894 the concern is named William Walsh and Son and is last listed in Kelly's for the county of 1906.
By 1910 Briggs and Company, boot makers were listed at 55 George Street. 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.
55 George Street was owned as well as occupied by Briggs & Company [DV1/R7/50-52]. The frontage to George Street was 21 feet 6 inches with a return frontage to George Street West of 22 feet 6 inches. The shop was divided into two areas measuring 21 feet 9 inches by 25 feet and 24 feet 6 inches by 38 feet 6 inches respectively; there was no basement. A store at the rear measured 25 feet by 16 feet 6 inches. The shop had a "Good Window".
Part of the first floor was let to Pearl Assurance Company Limited on a fourteen year lease from 1925 at a rent of £85 per annum. The front offices measured 24 feet by 11 feet 6 inches and 17 feet 6 inches by 10 feet 6 inches. The rear of the first floor and front of the second floor was let to Bertschy Limited , ribbon manufacturers and was "really 2a George Street West". Rent was £150 per annum. The first floor room measured 29 feet by 45 feet and that on the second floor, used as a store, 20 feet by 53 feet.
The rear of the second floor, also considered 2a George Street West, was let to chartered accountant Joseph Taylor at £30 per annum for a room measuring 25 feet 3 inches by 9 feet 6 inches. Finally, two front and one rear office on the second floor were let to Carter, Son & White on a seven year lease from 1925 at £50 per annum. The rooms measured 13 feet 9 inches by 11 feet 9 inches, 10 feet 6 inches by 11 feet 6 inches and 18 feet by 11 feet respectively.
Briggs and Company are listed at the premises as late as 1950. By 1960 the main occupier was Lord Peter Limited, "specialists in Clarks shoes". They are occupiers at the time of the last Kelly's Directory for Luton in 1975.
The building has a 20th century frontage to George Street but the return frontage to George Street West looks like the 19th century building which would have housed William Walsh and Son. Other occupiers of the premises include:
- Hopps, Bankart and Ashworth, chartered accountants: 1910;
- Arthur T. Dimmock Limited, straw hat materials merchant: 1914;
- Arthur Wilson, dental surgery: 1914;
- Ratners (Jewellers) Limited: at least 1960 until at least 1975 - this address is, from 1968, referred to as 55a George Street.
55 George Street June 2010