[From Samuel Lewis's Topographical dictionary of England, 1831]
LUTON, a parish in the hundred of FLITT, county of BEDFORD, comprising the market town of Luton, and the hamlets of East and West Hyde, Leegrave, or Lightgrave, Limbury with Biscott, and Stopsley, and containing 4529 inhabitants, of which number, 2986 are in the town of Luton, 20 miles (S. by E.) from Bedford, and 31 (N.W. by N.) from London. The name of this place is a corruption either of Lea-town, and thus derived from file river Lea, which takes its rise in the neighbourhood; or of Low-town, and is in that case descriptive of the relative position of the town with regard to the gentle eminences by wbich it is surrounded. At the Conquest, Luton was held in royal demesne; and in 1216 it came into the possession of Baron Fulk de Brent, who built a strong castle here: in the reign of Henry VI., the manor belonged to John, Lord Wenlock, a celebrated partizan in the contests between the houses of York and Lancaster, slain in the battle of Tewkesbury, who had erected a handsome sepulchral chapel on the north side of the church, and commenced building a stately mansion, the portico belonging to which is still standing in the park of Luton Hoo. On the 8th of July, 1828, the town suffered extensive injury from an inundation occasioned by heavy and continued torrents of rain, and so rapid was the increase of the flood that many persons with great difficulty escaped with their lives. The town is situated between two hills, on the river Lea: from the market-house, which stands in the centre, three streets diverge obliquely, which are neither lighted nor paved; the inhabitants are well supplied with water from the river. The manufacture of straw-plat is carried on to a very great extent, and it is said to produce a greater proportion of that article than any other town in the county; the proprietor of one of these establishments has recently obtained a patent for the manufacture of Tuscan grass plat, whicb is here wrought into hats and bonnets: there are two good malting-houses in the town. The market, which is plentifully supplied with corn and straw-plat, is on Monday: fairs are held April 18th and October 18th, for cattle; and there is a statute fair in September. A court leet is held annually, under the Marquis of Butw, as lord of the manor, at which a high constable and two day constables are appointed.
The living is a vicarage, in the archdeaconry of Bedford, and diocese of Lincoln, rated in the king's books at £35. 12. 1., and in the patronage of the Marquis of Bute. The church, which is dedicated to St. Mary, exhibits some fine specimens of the decorated and later styles of English architecture : it has at the west end a handsome embattled tower of flint and freestone in chequers, with an hexagonal turret at each corner, and a doorway, the mouldings of which are peculiarly beautiful : in the interior are vestiges of much earlier date than its general character indicates, especially in the north aisle, which contains a fine pier in the early style of English architecture the western door is remarkable for some very good panelling, and in the chancel are some stalls in the later style: a few of the windows have remains of stained glass, and in the cast window is a representation of St. George and the dragon. There are also some curious monuments, and a monumental chapel but the chief object of attraction is a baptistry chapel, of decorated character, with pointed arches, terminating in elegant tabernacle-work, and containing a stone font supported on five pillars. There are places of worship for Baptists, the Society of Friends, and Wesleyan Methodists. Sundry benefactions for the instruction of children amounting annually to the sum of £31. 18 4., are now applied towards the support of a National school, in which three hundred children are educated; it is further supported by voluntary contributions. In 1736, the sum of £10 per annum was bequeathed by Thomas Long, for apprenticing poor boys. At the principal entrance to the town are twelve almshouses, which were erected in 1808, for the residence of twenty-four poor widows, who receive the weekly sum of four shillings each. In the private chapel at Luton Hoo, the seat of the Marquis of Bute, in this parish, there is very fine carved screen-work, in the later style of English architecture, which originally formed the interior decoration of a chapel erected at Tittenhanger, by Sir Thomas Pope, about the middle of the sixteenth century. The Rev. John Pomfret, author of a poem entitled "The Choice," and other popular Pieces, was born here in 1668.
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