Luton began when the Saxons conquered Bedfordshire in the 6th century. They created a farm or settlement called a tun by the river Lea. (Lea may be a Celtic word meaning bright river). By the 10th century the little settlement of Lea tun had grown into a town. Luton would seem very small to us with a population of only several hundred.

Many of the people of Luton lived by farming, at least part time but there was a market in the town and it acted as a focal point for the surrounding villages. By the time of the Domesday Book (1086) 'Loitone' probably had a population of 750-800. Again it would seem tiny to us but by the standards of the time Luton was a respectable size. Most villages only had populations of 100 or 150. Later in the Middle Ages the population of Luton probably rose to around 1,500.


In the Middle Ages Luton had 6 watermills. One mill gave its name to Mill Street. In 1137 the Lord of the Manor built a new church. In 1139 he built a castle. This castle was demolished in 1154 but it gave its name to Castle Street.

In the late 12th century a 'hospital' where poor travellers could stay was built in Farley Hill. There was another hospital in Luton, this one for sick people. It was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene.

As well as a market Luton had a fair in the Middle Ages. A fair was like a market but it was held only once a year. Luton's fair was held for 1 week in August and it would attract sellers from as far away as London. After 1338 Luton had a second fair in October.

In 1336 there was a great fire in Luton which destroyed much of the town. Fire was a constant danger in those days because most buildings were made of wood with thatched roofs. However, if they burned they could be easily rebuilt. Luton soon recovered from the disaster.

LUTON 1500-1800

For centuries Luton continued to be a quiet market town serving the surrounding countryside. In the 16th century a brick making industry grew up in Luton. Until then most houses were of wood but in the 16th century many people rebuilt their houses in brick. In the 17th century a straw hat making industry began. In the 18th century it came to dominate Luton.

During the civil wars of the 17th century there were 2 skirmishes in Luton. The first occured in 1645 when some royalists entered Luton and demanded money from the townspeople. Parliamentary soldiers came and in the ensuing fight 4 royalists were killed and 22 were captured. A second skirmish occurred in 1648 when a royalist army passed through Luton. A group of stragglers were caught by parliamentary soldiers in an inn on the corner of Bridge Street. Most of the royalists escaped but 9 were killed.

In the 18th century Luton continued to be an agricultural market town serving the local villages. Hatmaking was its only important industry. In Luton there were the same craftsmen you found in any market town such as brewers, bakers, butchers, carpenters and blacksmiths. In the early 18th century a writer said: 'It has a market house and a large Monday market for corn with which this area much abounds'.

Luton Hoo was built in 1757 for the 3rd Earl of Bute. It was desinged by the architect Robert Adam (1728-1791). However it was largely rebuilt after a fire in 1843.

For centuries there had been a ford across the Lea. In 1797 a bridge was built and Bridge Street was created.


Luton grew rapidly in the 19th century. In 1801 the poulation was 3,095. By the standards of the time Luton was a fair sized market town. By 1851 the population of Luton had exceeded 10,000 and it continued to boom. By 1901 it had reached 38,926 more than 10 times the 1801 level.

The straw hat making industry continued to dominate Luton although some felt hats were made after 1877.

There were many improvements to Luton during this century. From 1834 Luton had gas light. In 1847 a Town Hall was built. The first in Luton newspaper began publication in 1854. The same year the first cemeteries were opened (as the churchyards were becoming overcrowded).

Like the rest of the country Luton suffered an outbreak of cholera in 1848. In 1850 a Board of Health was formed and they set about building sewers. A water company was formed in 1865 and by 1870 the whole town had a piped water supply. Meanwhile the railway reached Luton in 1858.

The covered market was built in 1869 as a plait hall where plait could be bought and sold. Then in 1872 Luton gained its first hospital when a cottage hospital was built. The same year the first swimming baths were built.

Luton was made a borough in 1876 and Luton Chamber of Commerce was formed in 1877.

Luton Town FC was formed in 1885.


During the 20th century the hat making industry, which had dominated Luton for so long went into decline but new industries came to Luton. One of these was engineering. Vauxhall came to the town in 1905. Soon Luton became known for car manufacturing. In the early 20th century gas cookers and meters were also made in Luton as well as ball bearings. A chemicals industry also began in Luton in the early 20th century.

Even during the depression of the 1930s Luton was a prosperous town and suffered less unemployment than many towns thanks to its new industries.

Luton grew rapidly in the 20th century. It had a population of about 50,000 in 1914 but by the 1960s it had grown to over 130,000.

Conditions in Luton improved in the 20th century. In 1908 trams began running in the streets but in the 1920s they were superseded by buses. The last trams ran in Luton in 1932. The first cinema in Luton opened in 1909. Luton airport opened in 1938.

In 1904 the council purchased Wardown estate and made it a park. Wardown house became a museum and art gallery in 1931. In 1919 the Town Hall was burned during a riot. A new Town Hall was built in 1936.

Also in the 1920s and 1930s the council set about demolishing the worst slums in Luton and they built the first council houses. A New Court House was built in 1937.

The boundaries of Luton were extended in 1928 and 1933 to include Leagrave, Limbury and Stopsley. Luton and Dunstable hospital opened in 1939.

During World War II 107 people were killed by German bombing and over 1,500 houses were destroyed or damaged. After the war the council had to replace these and also demolish many remaining slums. Many new council houses were built to replace them. Estates were built at Farley Hill, Stopsley, Limbury and Leagrave. Meanwhile the M1 was built in 1959.

A new central library was built in Luton in 1962 and the Arndale Centre was built in 1972. Wigmore Park Shopping Centre was built in 1991.

In 1997 Luton was made a unitary authority and in 1998 The Galaxy Leisure Complex opened. In 1999 a new railway station Luton Airport Parkway was built. So was a new passenger terminal at the airport.


Car production ended in Luton in 2002. It was the end of an era for Luton although the town continues to prosper. In 2007 St Georges Square was redeveloped.


Luton has a long and proud history of welcoming arrivals to the town from overseas and, with more than 100 languages being spoken in the town, it is one of the most vibrant multicultural environments in the country.

Luton has a large Irish community, as well as people from all over Europe, Pakistan, Kashmir, Bangladesh, India, Africa, the West Indies, Vietnam and Bosnia.

This diversity is being celebrated in the campaign ‘Luton in Harmony’, in which residents are expressing pride in their town by wearing a badge and signing a pledge card. The local authority is also funding the oral history project ‘Luton our Story’, highlighting the various contributions made to local life by our varied communities.

Luton’s culture, entertainment, shopping and nightlife benefit greatly from this rich variety of communities, with a wide range of markets and restaurants, some of the most culturally diverse outside London.

The Luton International Carnival - the largest one-day carnival in Britain - is a testament to the town’s community spirit. Each year it regularly attracts over 80,000 visitors, who come to join the celebration of our multi-cultural heritage. Other events include the Luton Mela, an award-winning festival highlighting the best in Asian performance and visual arts, plus St Patrick’s Day and St George’s Day activities, demonstrating a commitment to creating a strong and cohesive community in Luton.

To cement Luton’s reputation as this country’s home of carnival, the UK Centre for Carnival Arts was created by the Luton Carnival Arts Development Trust with £6.8 million of regional and national funding, creating the UK's first dedicated centre committed to training individuals and organisations in the disciplines of carnival arts.

Regeneration & Development

Luton as a town that is fast realising its true potential. More and more businesses are recognising that Luton is the place to build a brighter and better future.

We are a town that welcomes new businesses, developers and investors, helping them to benefit from the experience of large and small organisations that are already enjoying the advantages of relocating to the town.

Luton is now one of the leading towns in the country when it comes to business growth resulting in a thriving and buoyant economy.

Luton is home to Vauxhalls’ head office, the European customer care centre, the warehouse and GM Manufacturing Luton, the latter producing the Vivaro Van under the Vauxhall, Opel, Nissan (Primastar) and Renault (Traffic) brands.

Prestigious business parks such as Capability Green and the Butterfield Business Park, incorporating the award winning Innovation Centre and Business Base, offer state of the art, contemporary and sustainable buildings for a variety of end uses. These range from corporate headquarters and serviced offices through to bespoke buildings for research and development, manufacturing and technology.

Luton has a strong record of attracting inward investment with millions of pounds coming into various partnerships in recent years. There are some significant schemes coming to Luton that, along with the towns infrastructure, point to promising signs for the future.

Luton is one of the largest towns in south east England, with a population of 184,000 residents and about 71,000 households. Vocational analysis shows clear advantages for the town and wider conurbation in air transport, motor vehicles, medical and precision instruments, ICT, aerospace and food and drink.

Luton has a multi-lingual, highly skilled, local workforce.This is further enhanced by good transport links to a widespread catchment area, extending through Bedfordshire and the surrounding counties and down to north London. There is also a wide and active membership on the learning, skills and employment themes within the Local Strategic Partnership.

Excellent education opportunities are on hand for everyone who lives,works or studies here - not only during school years but throughout life from early years and childcare, through to college and university.

More than £4bn has already been invested in the town. Exciting regeneration works are underway and more development opportunities are available now and in the future.

The town has a diverse cultural population with strong links to the European and world markets including Albania, Russia, Poland, Turkey,Vietnam, Bosnia, Pakistan,Kashmir, Bangladesh, India and the Caribbean.


Here are some of the exciting community based projects, groups and societies that are part of Luton. 

Street Pastors

Street Pastors is an inter-denominational Church response to urban problems, engaging with people on the streets to care, listen and dialogue. Luton Street Pastors was launched on December 2009. Since then we have had teams out on the streets of Luton on Friday and Saturday nights. We are a multidenominational team of over 40 volunteers, who each give up an evening a month to go on the streets of Luton. 

Luton Carnival Art Developments Trust

Established in 1998 as a registered charity, LCDAT aims to keep the spirit of Carnival alive all year round by organizing Carnival related events and workshops while also raising much needed revenue.

Bedfordshire Rural Communities Charity

(BRCC) is the leading countywide charity working with communities across Bedfordshire and Luton, with a proven track record in community development developed over the past 50 years.  BRCC delivers a wide range of services and activities in order to maintain communities that are strong, thriving, well served and inclusive.

Biso Afrika

Biso Afrika is an organisation established in Luton, which aims to bring cultures and communities together by organising social events. The intention is to create environments which promote the understanding and the sharing of our individual cultural heritage, while discovering the diversity of others. 

Luton Irish Forum

Improving Welfare. Promoting Culture. Promoting Social Inclusion. Advancing Education.

Luton Council of Faiths

LCOF is committed to encourage and promote tolerance, respect and mutual understanding among people of all faiths and cultures.


The town centre features a premier indoor shopping centre, The Mall, which attracts more than 20 million shoppers a year to its many popular high street and independent stores. Luton is also home to a first-class educational establishment, the University of Bedfordshire, and a top-class healthcare facility, the Luton and Dunstable Hospital, which looks after much of the surrounding region.

Luton is a major regional employer. As one of the most important areas in the South-East for business and commerce, it not only provides a significant level of employment for the surrounding region but also plays a big role in the national economy. Several major national and multi-national companies have chosen to join us, including Astra Zeneca, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical manufacturers, Selex, whose research headquarters are at Capability Green, and travel giant Tui, as well as airlines such as easyJet and Ryanair, to name but a few. Vauxhall Motors maintains its longstanding presence in Luton, with its UK headquarters and a European customer care centre, and the town is still General Motors’ UK centre for commercial vehicles.

Luton’s successes are based on many examples of communities, public services and business working together in partnership, with tangible success. Educational achievement is continuing to rise, with many schools winning praise from Ofsted inspectors, and some featuring in the Government’s prestigious annual list of top performers. Luton is also creating 13 new or remodelled secondary schools under the £280 million Building Schools for the Future project, which is also delivering the £25 million Luton Aquatic Centre, with a 50-metre, Olympic-size swimming pool, plus 450 social housing units, health facilities in partnership with Luton PCT and other community facilities, one of the most ambitious programmes in the country.

Luton Borough Council is committed to getting the best for the town, and has helped to attract more than £100 million in regeneration and community development grants over the last ten years to support and encourage local industry and commerce. All told, by 2012, around £4 billion will have been invested in a wide range of capital projects, the largest for any UK town, creating more than 3,000 new jobs.

Sport & Recreation

Luton is a great place to shop too, with The Mall - one of the first indoor shopping centres in the country – complemented by surrounding town centre streets and the attractive pedestrian area in George Street, home to a rich variety of specialist stores.

For entertainment and nightlife, Luton has a wealth of restaurants, bars, pubs, cafes and clubs. The Hat Factory, a first-class, cutting-edge arts venue, features innovative and highly creative work, such as contemporary drama by leading playwrights and producers from across the region and the UK, as well as the latest music from international and local artists. The venue also hosts new dance productions, as well as the latest music and comedy from international and local artists. The Hat Factory also offers a stimulating programme of activities for children, and further houses theHeadstart Project which delivers business and technical support and project desk hire facilities to the creative sector. Luton also has a multiplex cinema and the Library Theatre, offering music, drama, amateur and professional plays, comedy, children’s theatre and pantomimes. Luton is also home to a number of Award winning parks and gardens.

The town has an enviable reputation for producing and training athletes, and for hosting prestigious athletics events. And, operated through the leisure trust Active Luton, it has a dedicated athletics arena along with six recreation centres, four swimming pools and two health and fitness suites, plus an excellent 18-hole public golf course also featuring a nine-hole par three academy course and a covered 18-bay floodlit driving range.


Yes - we have an airport! London Luton Airport (LTN) is the fifth busiest airport in Britain. In 2008 over 10 million passengers passed through the airport in a single year for the first time.  The airport serves as a base for easyJet, Monarch Airlines, Thomson Airways, Ryanair and Wizz Air. 

London Luton Airport employs over 500 people directly and around 8,000 indirectly. The Airport is now one of the major economic drivers of the regional economy.

In a pioneering public-private partnership deal signed in August 1998, London Luton Airport remains publicly owned by Luton Borough Council but is operated managed and developed by a private consortium, London Luton Airport Operations Ltd, for a period of 30 years.

London Luton Airport was officially opened on 16 July 1938 as "Luton Municipal Airport"and was owned by the Borough of Luton and, even in those early days, it was considered that Luton ought to be designated the northern terminal for London.

During the war years, the airport continued to operate as a commercial aerodrome as well as being the base for 264 Fighter Squadron. It was also an important manufacturing site at which the Percival Aircraft Company designed and built a series of aircraft for both civil and military use - including the famous Mosquito fighter bomber - "The Wooden Wonder", which was built under licence from the De Havilland Aircraft Company.

The Airport now offers passengers an extensive choice of both scheduled and charter services including frequent departures to over 90 destinations, including services to Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Luton International Carnival

 Over 100,000 people attend the largest one-day event of its kind in Europe.


One of the most important British festivals for independent film.

Luton Arts Festival

Luton Arts Festival is a celebration of all things artistic and cultural in Luton. It strives to bring together students, local community members and national and international artists and performers work and showcase it to the people of Luton. 

Luton Fringe Festival

A fringe festival focussing on visual art, music, theatre and comedy. It is an excellent opportunity to see emerging professional artists, sample experimental theatre work, experience different art forms and view music from a variety of backgrounds and genres.

Luton Mela

Held each August, the Mela - copied from the long-standing traditions of South Asia - strengthens communities by bringing people together in a festival atmosphere where everyone can enjoy food, music and dance.

St Patricks Day

The St Patrick’s Festival is a week long celebration of Irish Culture and Heritage which gives all of Luton’s communities the opportunity to experience Irish music, song, dance and drama.

Luton Festival of Transport

Now in its nineteenth year has become firmly established on the classic vehicle calendar. With over 1400 classic cars in 2009 plus many buses, commercial vehicles, motorcycles and interesting road vehicles of all types.

Luton Cultural Food Festival

Luton is hoping to once again hold a Cultural Food Festival in the town following the success of the first event last year and we want you to tell us what you think!

Luton Summer Festival

Local bands performing their original music and bringing something different to the shoppers in Luton.

Love Music Hate Racism

Now an annual event in St George's square. Luton's diverse communities coming together for music.