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Luton Borough Records

Luton Municipal Borough was created in 1876. The Local Government Review partially reversed the changes made in 1974 when Luton lost the county borough status it achieved in 1964 and Dunstable became a town council instead of a municipal borough. Luton has now regained its independence. It is often incorrectly claimed that the records were totally destroyed in the fire at the Town Hall during the Peace Riots of 1919.

The records of the Borough of Luton are broadly similar to those for Dunstable, but its history is relatively straightforward. Luton was a manorial borough up to 1876, when it became a municipal authority with a Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses reflecting its enhanced status by this period. Records deposited with Bedfordshire Archives include the main committee minute books for 1908-1974 [Ref: BorLM series] and a partial run of Education Committee minutes and reports for 1902-1943 [Ref: BorLE/M series]. Of greater interest, perhaps, are the papers relating to air-raid precautions in Luton, 1935-1948 [Ref: BorLCA] which provide a detailed picture of the town's defences against air attack. There are similarly detailed papers for Luton's transport undertaking which operated trams (1908-1932) and later buses [Ref: BorLCT].

The records of the Public Health Department [Ref: BorLEH] are easily the most comprehensive of all and provide important information for the study of housing and social conditions in Luton, particularly in the period from the 1930s to the 1970s. Luton, while not experiencing the overcrowding and slum conditions of the major conurbations like London, Birmingham and Glasgow, did have small areas of bad housing especially in the older parts of the town centre built before 1855, such as Adelaide Street, Rothesay Road and Stuart Street. In 1936 a Housing Survey revealed that of 25,655 dwellings in Luton with a population of 85,600, only 100 houses were recorded as overcrowded.

During the 1930s the Borough, encouraged by attractive grants under national legislation, particularly following the Housing Act, 1936, began a slum clearance programme which, after being interrupted by the Second World War, resumed in the 1950s. The 1957 Housing Act further increased the powers of local authorities to clear and redevelop areas of bad housing which led to a series of reclearance schemes, mainly in the town centre in the years 1957-1975.

The records divide into three broad categories: firstly, records created by the clearance schemes including the Clearance Area, Compulsory Purchase Order and Public Inquiry files; secondly, records created by the enforcement of the Housing Regulations which are represented by the large series of Dilapidation and Abatement of Nuisance files; thirdly, records created to gather information about the housing stock including Housing Survey records such as survey cards and statistical summaries of the returns.