Skip Navigation

Welcome to Bedford Borough Council

Home > Community Histories > Luton > InterestingbuildingsinLuton > Luton Town Hall - The Old Building

Luton Town Hall - The Old Building

The Town Hall - the Belgium Arms left immediately left of the entrance block [Z50/75/72]
The Town Hall about 1900 [Z50/75/72]

William Austin in his 1928 book The History of Luton and its Hamlets wrote the following about the Town Hall: "A small Company was formed this year for the purpose of erecting a Town Hall, and, on the 27th August, 1847, the new building was opened". The entry for Luton in the Post Office Directory for Bedfordshire for 1847 says: "A handsome new Town Hall is now in the course of erection at the junction of the Dunstable and Bedford roads". Slater's Directory for Bedfordshire of 1850 states: "The town hall erected in 1848, in George-street, is a handsome and commodious building, comprising convenient apartments for the use of the county courts, and savings bank, with rooms for public lectures, concerts &c. - the entire forming a valuable improvement to the town".

Austin went on: "The cost of the ground and of the building was £2,200. It consisted of a basement under the front portion of the main building. On the ground floor on either side of the entrance were two good-sized rooms; one rented by the Luton Literary Institution and the other reserved for small meetings. Behind these was a fair-sized room with a small ante-room. In this larger room the Police and County Courts sat; the small room adjoining it served for witnesses".

"It was in the smaller room that the Savings Bank carried on its useful business for many years. On the first floor, approached by a broad staircase, was a large assembly hall, which was available for public meetings and entertainments".

"We do not think the Town hall Company ever paid its shareholders a dividend, and when, some thirty years later, it was purchased by the Town Council they were agreeably surprised to receive back in full the amounts they had contributed towards the erection of the building".

A letter in the Bedfordshire Times of 28th August 1847, dated 23rd August 1847, from "an Inhabitant of Long-Standing" struck a rather querulous note and one with slight similarities to the destruction of the building just under seventy two years later: "Sir, - As our Town Hall is nearly ready for the public service, I trust the opportunity will not be allowed to pass without some public demonstration being made, having for its object the promotion of a friendly feeling among ourselves, and for securing a more adequate appreciation of the trade and commerce of Luton among our neighbours. Would not a public dinner be the most appropriate method of securing these objects? The Marquis of Bute would probably take the chair, and invitations might be sent to the county members, and other influential gentlemen, whose presence is thought to be desirable. Whatever is done in this way should take place before the building is appropriated to its destined uses. On this account I am sorry that a County Court is to be held there this week, as the Hall will thus be associated in the minds of many with legal proceedings and compulsory payments, which, (although necessary measures) accord so sadly with these hard times".

Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service holds the minute book of the Luton Town Hall Company in the Luton Borough archive [BorL/F17]. Sadly this only begins on 11th February 1848. Three gentlemen were present at the first meeting: Richard Vyse, Henry Tomson and Edward C. Williamson - a hat manufacturer, a corn and seed merchant and a solicitor, respectively. The first agenda item was that a number of people who had promised to take shares, but had not yet done so, should be sued. The offenders were: William Bennett, William Brown (perhaps the farmer and licensee of the Fox public house listed in the 1847 directory), James Ellerd (plumber and glazier in Church Street according to the 1847 directory), William Hunt (solicitor, of Luton Villa, Bedford Road and with offices on Market Hill), James Procter and Robert Smith (perhaps the upholsterer and builder in the High Street, i. e. George Street, noted in the 1847 directory). Charles Addington Austin, solicitor, was appointed company secretary. At the following meeting, 16th February 1848, Richard Vyse was appointed chairman of the Board of Directors for the following year. The Mechanics Institute had offered £15 per annum for "the use of the largest of the two front rooms" and this offer was accepted. The Freemasons Lodge also wished to use "the Magistrates' Room and small room adjoining" - it was agree to lease them for £2/10/- per annum

At the next meeting on 21st February it was resolved to let rooms as follows: The Great Room at 25 shillings with gas and 20 shillings without; the Magistrates' Room at 12 shillings with gas and 10 shillings without and the Ladies' Committee Room at 5 shillings without gas. The ladies presumably provided their own. On 14th March more shareholders were threatened with legal action if they did not pay their instalments: Edward James Beale (linen draper of George Street), John Bigg (auctioneer of Park Street), Frederick Davis (show warehouse owner, currier and straw plait merchant in the High Street) and A. W. G. Puddephatt. On 6th April John Everitt, straw hat manufacturer of Church Street, was summoned for non-payment if his share instalment. On 9th May threatening letters regarding non-payment were sent to Gilbert Hunt, James Ellerd, Thomas Tomalin (perhaps Thomas Tomlin, baker of George Street) and "Darley", probably James Darley, straw hat manufacturer and plait dealer of Park Street. Richard Gadsden of Boughton Mill [Northamptonshire] and J. W. Duncan "late of the London & County Bank" were threatened with legal action on 8th June and 13th September respectively.

On 26th October 1848 it was announced that five lots adjoining the Town hall would be sold at auction with reserve prices of £200, £120, £120, £120 and £100 respectively. They were sold at auction in April 1850, though by then reserved prices were £120, £150, 3150, £150 and £300 respectively! Obviously only the last lot sold as the first four lots were again put up for auction in 1851. It was bought for a total of £450 by Edward Chilwell Williamson, solicitor. He then tried to lower the price to £400 but the Company would not agree. Obviously the deal then fell through because brewer Frederick Burr then offered £200 for two of the lots. This was countered by an offer of £225 from Richard Vyse and it was resolved to offer them to Burr for £250. Sadly the minutes do not reveal the final outcome.

On 16th November 1848 it was announced that the Town Hall had received a certificate of registration as a place of public worship. On 3rd September it was resolved to let the Magistrates' Room and ante-room to the magistrates for £20 per annum and the ante-room to the Savings Bank for £3/10/- per annum "to be used on Monday mornings during the hours of business viz from 10 to ½ past 11 without firing, providing the magistrates do not object thereto". The Poor Man's Club were allowed use of it on the first Wednesday of every month in the evening for £1/10/- per annum. The Luton Local Board of Health used the savings bank from September 1850 as a board room ad 3d. a time.

In November 1851 £1,200 was borrowed on mortgage "to be applied in payment of the debts incurred by the Company remaining due on account of the Purchase of the land on which the same is built and other liabilities". The Plait Association were given use of the savings bank room at 2/6 a time in June 1852. In August 1854 George Goles was appointed Hallkeeper "at a salary not exceeding 8/- a week". William Austin notes that a clock was placed in the Town Hall to commemorate the end of the Crimean War in 1856.

The minutes end on 24th November 1855 and to not begin again until 10th April 1867. A meeting of 1st March 1870 shows us that William Austin's conception that no dividend was ever paid is not quite accurate as a minute reads: "Mr. Hawkes reported that the Notices of a Dividend of 7/- per Share had been issued under the signature of Mr. C. A. Austin, the Secretary, and that the Treasurer had been authorized to pay the same out of the Balance in hand". It was at this meeting that the company was, effectively, re-started.

It was reported that five of the directors were dead: Richard Vyse; John Jones; Edward Chilwell Williamson; James Waller (straw hat manufacturer) and Frederick Burr (brewer). Four surviving directors were Henry Tomson (corn merchant), William Willis (straw plait manufacturer), Thomas Foster (seedsman) and Robert How. Gustavus Jordan, Major Burns, Francis Cook (grocer), Charles Addington Austin and William Hiram Higgins (plait manufacturer) were appointed as new directors. The meeting of 8th March 1870 resolved: "Mr. Pettit to be re-appointed Hall Keeper at 8/- per week".

The Luton Town Hall Company was wound up in 1875 and it was resolved that: "the Books, papers & Seal of the Company be deposited with Mr. Robert How, King Street, Luton". The Town Hall had been sold to the Luton Local Board of Health, which had offered £2,000. The Company had held out and in July 1874 had accepted a final offer from the Board of £2,125.

On 19th December 1874 a schedule of the premises was drawn up as follows:

  • Room No. 1: grate; fire irons and fender; gas pendant;
  • Room No. 2: grate; fender and fire irons; gas pendant; table; 24 chairs; rail and pegs; iron safe;
  • Room No. 3: grate; fender and fire irons; blower; rail and hat pegs; two pendants; one large table;
  • Room No. 4: grate; fender and irons; two pendants;
  • Room No.5: grate and fender; one pendant;
  • Passage and stairs: two pendants; one pair of steps;
  • Room No.6: two grates; one screen; two pendants; platform; steps to platform; baize to platform; partition to platform; table; 42 forms with backs; five forms without backs; four blinds and rollers;
  • Outside: iron grating and stone in back yard;
  • Basement: iron stove; kitchener; oven and boiler; hot iron plates; plate rack; four gas brackets; reading stand; large fender; blower; quantity of iron rails; gas piping for the whole building.

These fixtures were sold to the Board for a further £45.

A list of the shareholders, order as in the original list, the number of shares and their total value at £3/11/- per share is given as follows; occupations, where known from directories are included in square brackets:

  • William Ainsworth - 3 - £10/13/- [corn merchant and farmer in HighTown in 1847];
  • Sarah Ainsworth - 4 - £14/4/- [Rothsay Road in 1877];
  • Alfred Austin - 1 - £3/11/-;
  • Thomas Erskine Austin - 1 - £3/11/- [clerk to Luton Poor Law Union and Superintendent Registrar, 56 Dunstable Road in 1877];
  • Charles Addington Austin - 1 - £3/11/-;
  • Edmund Bates - 2 - £7/2/-;
  • Edward James Beale - 2 - £7/2/- [linen draper, George Street in 1847];
  • William Bennett - 2 - £7/2/- [plumber, painter and glazier, Castle Street in 1877];
  • Patrick Benson - 2 - £7/2/- [surgeon, Wellington Street in 1877];
  • Benjamin Bolton -  3 - £10/13/- [straw hat manufacturer, Market Hill in 1847];
  • William Brown - 5 - £17/15/-  [architect, surveyor and auctioneer, 16 Park Street in 1877];
  • Henry Coles Brown - 2 - £7/2/- [corn merchant, Church Street in 1847];
  • Andrew Burns - 12 - £42/12/-;
  • Frederick and Charles Burr  - 20 - £71 [brewers, Park Street in 1847];
  • Elizabeth Butlin -  2 - £7/2/- [licensee and owner of the GeorgeHotel in 1847];
  • Charles Sidney Beecroft - 1 - £3/11/- [linen and woollen draper, George Street in 1877];
  • Henry Blundell - 5 - £17/15/- [Moulton Lodge; Blundell Brothers were linen drapers, 14 & 30 George Street in 1877];
  • James Cook - 4 - £14/4/- [mealman, Market Place in 1847];
  • Francis Cook - 2 - £7/2/- [grocer and provision dealer, Park Street] I 1877;
  • Thomas Cubitt - 5 - £17/15/-;
  • William Crawley -10 - £35/10/-;
  • James Ellerd - 6 - £21/6/- [plumber, painter, glazier, paperhanger and decorator, Langley Street in 1877];
  • Thomas Foster - 10 - £35/10/- [cooper and seedsman, Chapel Street in 1877];
  • Daniel Gilbert - 1 - £3/11/-;
  • Henry Gregory - 5 - £17/15/- [grocer, Chapel Street in 1877];
  • Francis Harrison - 2 - £7/2/- [linen draper in Park Street in 1847];
  • Charles Harrison - 1 - £3/11/-;
  • Thomas William Haselgrove - 2 - £7/2/- [stone and marble mason, Chapel Street in 1877];
  • Joseph Hawkes - 4 - £14/4/- [registrar of marriages for Luton District, 58 Dunstable Road in 1877];
  • Alfred Heale - 2 - £7/2/- [Park Street in 1877];
  • William Hiram Higgins - 2 - £7/2/- [straw hat and bonnet manufacturer, Upper George Street in 1877];
  • Robert How - 10 - £35/10/- [house, land, estate agent and coal merchant, King Street in 1877];
  • Richard How - 2 - £7/2/- [licensee of the Plough, High Street in 1847];
  • John Hunter - 1 - £3/11/- [straw hat manufacturer in Wellington Street in 1847];
  • John Inwards - 1 - £3/11/- [straw hat manufacturer and grocer, Wellington Street in 1847];
  • Joseph Jennings and Henry Gates - 2 - £7/2/- [ironmongers and grocers, George Street in 1847];
  • GustavusJordan - 7 - £24/17/- [silk mercer and linen draper, George Street in 1847; King Street in 1877];
  • John Jones - 20 - £71 [Park Street in 1877];
  • Farmery John Law - 2 - £7/2/-;
  • Edward Lawford - 10 - £35/10/-;
  • James Mayes - 1 - £3/11/- [wheelwright, Stuart Street in 1847];
  • Alexander Thomas Parkes - 5 - £17/15- [auctioneer and estate agent, Wellington Street in 1847];
  • Harriet Paybody - 1 - £3/11/- [Robert Paybody licensee of the Red Lion, Castle Street in 1847];
  • Caroline Paybody - 1 - £3/11/-
  • Kate Paybody - 1 - £3/11/-
  • Emma Paybody - 1 - £3/11/-
  • Charles Payne - 1 - £3/11/- [saddler and harness maker, Market Hill in 1877];
  • William Phillips - 2 - £7/2/- [chemist and druggist, Market Place in 1847];
  • Francis Pigott - 2 - £7/2/- [butcher, George Street in 1847];
  • William Thompson Pledge - 1 - £3/11/- [grocer and provision merchant, Market Place in 1847; postmaster, King Street in 1877];
  • James Procter - 2 - £7/2/-;
  • Henry Pearman - 2 - £7/2/- [wine and spirit merchant, Castle Street in 1877];
  • Joseph Richardson - 5 - £17/15/-;
  • Robert Smith - 1 - £3/11/- [upholsterer, 6 George Street in 1877];
  • Thomas Smith - 2 - £7/2/-;
  • Thomas Stormer - 2 - £7/2/- [tailor and draper, Castle Street in 1847];
  • Edward Taylor - 1 - £3/11/- [corn dealer, London Road in 1847];
  • Henry Tomson - 22 - £78/2/- [corn merchant, Bute Street in 1847];
  • Christopher Tomson - 5 - £17/15/- [farmer, Hoo farm in 1847];
  • Frederick Tomson - 2 - £7/2/-;
  • James Vass - 1 - £3/11/-;
  • Walker, Gibbon & Newman - 2 - £7/2/-;
  • Eliza Waller - 10 - £35/10/-;
  • James Warr - 1 - £3/11/- [watchmaker, Market Place in 1847];
  • Arthur Thomas Webster - 1 - £3/11/- [straw hat and bonnet manufacturer, George Street in 1877];
  • Alfred Phippen Welch - 5 - £17/15/- [J. P., Hart Hill House in 1877];
  • Daniel Williams - 10 - £35/10/-;
  • Thomas Wingrave - 1 - £3/11/- [upholsterer and cooper, Market Hill in 1847];
  • Edward Woakes - 2 - £7/2/- [surgeon, Wellington Street in 1847].

This was a total of 272 shares giving £965/12/-.

William Austin notes that two of the Town Hall's tenants - the Luton Literary and Scientific Institution and the Luton Mechanics' Institute dissolved in 1882. In 1886 Austin notes that property adjoining the Town Hall was acquired by the Corporation - this was probably the Belgium Arms beerhouse. This allowed the Town Hall site to expand and additional rooms to be put into use.

The Town Hall was much photographed. This is just as well because in July 1919 it was so severely damaged by fire in a riot that it had to be pulled down.