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Memories of Luton 3

Memories of Luton 3

The Shops of Wellington Street

In his fascinating book ‘Strawopolis. Luton Transformed 1840-1876’ Stephen Bunker says that the Marquess of Bute planned and laid out Wellington Street sometime between 1821 and 1824. Later on in the book Stephen Bunker refers to a number of buildings erected in the Street in the mid 19th century, such as schools, chapels and, of course, pubs too. Perhaps the most notorious of the latter being The Wrestlers which he says was little more than a brothel. Now you wouldn’t expect that in Wellington Street these days, would you! The site of most of these places is now difficult to identify but the Street became, perhaps, the chief shopping thoroughfare of the town.

As a young teenager in the 1950s  it became my chief shopping thoroughfare too. Apologies for forgetting names, or getting them wrong, but here goes.

Farmer’s music shop at the start of the street was nirvana for me. The shop fronted both the Street and Upper George Street too and seemed to sell a thousand different kinds of musical instrument. It was the obvious place to buy a Spanish guitar, which my grandmother gave me the money for, which I still have, and which, I can no more play than I could the day I bought it (sorry gran!). However it was the record section which mostly drew me. 78s at first, but when I was eventually given a state of the art Dansette, it was 45s, 45EPs and then 33 1/3LPs. The latter seemed to cost a fortune and heaven knows how long it took to save up enough to buy my first LP, Dvorak’s New World Symphony. It was played and played again (I didn’t have any other’s at the time) and I bought the score, and conducted the whole orchestra, all of whom were neatly jammed into our front room! Sometimes I just hung around the shop listening to the assistant talking intellectually about the latest releases (I wanted to be like that). Other times I plucked up courage; asked to hear one of the LPs on sale; went into the sound proofed cubicle; listened; and then beat it!

Further up on the opposite side was an art shop. Again I fancied myself as a budding old master and so used my pocket money to buy one of a set of painting by numbers. If, feeling extra lazy, I bought just an A4 template sheet with an attached sheet of figures and shapes, which you could cut out and stick on the sheet.

Right next door, I think, was Stalkers, the book shop. Perhaps it was the only bookshop in the centre of town but it was an Aladdin’s cave of knowledge and I just used to go in and browse. A couple of times I won a school prize and could use the money at Stalkers. There was never enough prize money to buy more than the cheapest book and, one time, I ended up with one which I didn’t want and never actually read. So then you chose the book and it was delivered to the school for presentation on speech day.

So up the street and cross over Stuart Street and on the right was a fish shop which doubled up as a fish and chip shop in the late afternoon and evenings. This was a great place to earn money because you could take your old newspapers, used for wrapping the food, and get a few pence in payment. That might be enough to buy a small amount of ‘scrumps’ (bits of batter from the fried fish) or even a small packet of chips.

Later, nearby, a Chinese restaurant and takeaway was opened, and in the late 1950s I remember sitting in there, with a friend, eating god knows what. I tried to encourage mum and dad to go there too but they said they wouldn’t touch the muck. Who knows what might be in it.

Also on that side was an extraordinary pork butcher. His shop steamed with cooked pigs trotters, freshly made pease pudding, faggots, chitterlings (cooked small pigs intestines), and roast pork.

Next, for me, was a newsagent which sometimes stocked the latest copy of the Eagle comic before Mr. Noun’s (?) shop in Dumfries Street had it, and next to that was a very nice greengrocers.  One of the assistants working there was the wonderful Edie. She was an expert at flower arranging and regularly did the display for the communion table at Ceylon Baptist opposite. Edie’s other claim to fame was that she had a singing voice which could easily shatter glass and which could also determine the pace of singing for the rest of the congregation (much to the annoyance of the organist).

In this sector of the Street and on the same side of the Church was a sink of iniquity called the Wellington Cinema. My mum told me not to go there and I didn’t need much persuading. The films were always very old; the projectionist kept his bike in the back row (always a tell tale sign of something) and each showing began with the ritual spraying of everyone with DDT (?). Not for nothing did we call it the ‘bug hole’.

So on from Adelaide Street to Dumfries Street and to the bakery run by the Cripps sisters and their brother. This was a very sedate shop and not used by us very much. We went there more because I was ‘chosen’ to go weakly (sic) to Miss Cripps for piano lessons. I didn’t make much progress and one week when, with my mum collecting the bread, I was asked by Miss Cripps if I had been practising, I assured her that I had been. Disastrously, she then said she was surprised because I had left my music there the previous week. I didn’t go back, and we got our bread elsewhere.

On the corner of Dumfries and Wellington Streets was the Fountain Public House. Mum and Dad seemed to make a pilgrimage every Saturday night around the pubs in the area and I was deposited in each garden with a glass of lemonade and a packet of crisps. The Fountain had the worst garden and I hated it. It also clearly had an effect on my grandparents because I saw them emerge one Saturday afternoon and while climbing the hill my grandma clouted my granddad around the head with her handbag. Beware the effects of drink!!!

Opposite the Fountain was a nice greengrocer owned by a couple; the man’s name was Eric. In the mid 1950s some strange looking green, bell shaped vegetables appeared and I told mum we had got to try one. Eric said they were called capsicums and you had to fry them. Well, mum fried and fried but the smell wasn’t a pleasant one. We nibbled on one and then decided the bin was the best place for them. Wonder whatever became of capsicums!

Just before the end of Wellington Street, and on the corner of one of the many alleys in the area was a small dairy shop. It was called Sheafs I think, but in the 1920’s it was Charlie and Nell’s shop (my grandparents). I don’t know what became of that project, though suffice it to say that afterwards when 3 Salisbury Road was purchased as their home, it was owned in the name of my grandmother, and that seems strange. You don’t think someone was not very dependable with money, do you?

Memories of Luton 2

3 Salisbury Road

Memories of Luton 2

3 Salisbury Road

In the 1940s we lived at 10 Stanley Street and then at 56 Dumfries Street;  my grandparents lived just up the road almost on the corner of Dumfries and Salisbury and in my eyes they had a much grander existence than us.

I never remember entering that house through the front door, it was always the back way for me, which was reached down a short alley way almost at the top of Dumfries. You walked past the back entrance of the bakery on the corner which produced the most wonderful bread and always, on a Good Friday, the unmissable hot cross buns.

Grandma’s house (it was in her name, for reasons I never discovered) was reached through a gate and up a small path lined by flowers such as her favourite ‘Lily of the Valley’. Along the wall bordering the bakery were some rabbit hutches and sometimes we used to let them out into the garden. We used to keep rabbits too and I thought they were just pets until my favourite ‘Billy’ disappeared one day and we had rabbit stew that week. “It’s Billy isn’t it!” I said. “Shut up and eat your dinner”, said my mum, and to my distress and guilt, I did.

You went up a step at the house end of the garden and to the right were steps leading down and to the left the toilet. That was a luxury to have the toilet so close to the house. In our’s it seemed like a day’s trek when you had to go.

Grandma and Grandad lived in the basement of their house. On the first floor lived Rita and John, two lodgers. On the second were my grandparent’s bedrooms and above that was an attic.

In the basement was a seemingly huge walk in pantry which was dark and always cool. It was perfect for shutting people in and after my great grandmother suffered that pleasure she told grandma never to let that ‘little sod’ to visit while she was there.

The kitchen, or scullery as we called it. Had a large table, in front of the window, for preparing food etc and then at the other end was the ‘copper’. This was essentially a brick oven with a large basin set into the top. Underneath was a space for lighting a fire and thus heating the water in the copper. Grandma washed her clothes in it but also, a few weeks before Christmas the Christmas puddings were boiled in there and stored away in preparation for the great event. Sometimes babies were bathed in the copper too – bathed, not boiled!

Along another wall was the gas cooker and along the opposite wall was the mighty mangle. It could have been a torture instrument and it could have been dangerous too. My dad used to joke ‘Dont get your tits caught in the mangle, Mum!”. However it was simply the means of crushing out the water from the sheets and clothes washed in the copper.


In the next room of that basement was the living room. I loved this room. We could sit and talk, or listen to the radio, assuming that Grandma had remembered to get her accumulator recharged. Sometimes I would be sent down to the shop with the old one and bring the new one back. I never did, and still don’t, understand the technology of that.

In the corner stood a wind up gramophone. There were only 2 records, it seemed to me but I listened to those again and again.  One was a very strange song which I could never understand but the music was catchy and it etched itself into my memory.

The other was a song called ‘Today I feel so happy’ and I would move around the room singing it out loud.

The rest of the house was nothing extraordinary but going up into the attic was what I always liked doing. I always hoped that something new would be up there each time Grandad allowed me to go, but even if not, that was there he kept all his old books and papers and I just loved mooching around and discovering all kinds of things which seemed to be worth knowing just for their own sake.

A few weeks ago I passed the house and all the stuff just flooded back. Thanks for the memory.

Memories of Luton 1

The Luton I Remember

Windsor Walk

It was the centre of my world for about 15years and was situated on the corner of Dumfries Street (number 56) and the Walk

We moved there during the war and my mum set about making it a place for heroes to live in – the special hero being my dad, who arrived in 1945 to a home he had never seen and to a son who didn’t know him.

For a small child the Walk seemed to be a wide and long thoroughfare. At the Adelaide Street end stood out the imposing Ceylon Baptist Church where I was sent every Sunday afternoon for Sunday School and which gradually, and more and more, became the centre of my social life until I finally left Luton in 1960.

A few steps up the Walk was the depot where our milkman John loaded up his milk float for his deliveries. The hum of the engine and the rattle of the bottles went well before him as he did his work. There was a good neighbourliness about John; he knew who could afford his produce and who had a struggle and he worked hand in glove with the young people of the Ceylon Church so that they could deliver Christmas hampers, full of goodies, into the arms of needy, astounded and extremely moved old people.

Walking up the lane one passed the back yards of houses which fronted Wellington and Hastings Streets and since they were hardly used by the owners it became an empty, safe and enjoyable place to play hop scotch and other games.

The back entrance to Fleckney’s the Florist (Hastings Street) was in fact a large stable and there was room in it for Mr Fleckney’s car and for the horse which Mr. Darbyshire used for his removal business. Generally the horse was quiet and safe to visit, when the gates were open, but at other times it reared and neighed and was extremely frightening.

There was a small hat factory next to this, the side wall of which adjoined our back garden. Since my mum was a milliner this was one of a number of places she did work for. They were extraordinary places those factories. At ground level men worked with the gas heated model heads which the felt hoods were placed over and compressed to various fashionable shapes of the day. Steam hissed out of them when the tops were pressed tightly together and then, when dry and more stiff, they were taken upstairs where the women sowed, decorated and sometimes feathered them. Health and safety wasn’t strong in those factories and there were famous examples of dreadful fires in which the workers were burned to death. This factory, in particular, had a serious fire one evening and I remember my dad playing a water hose onto the wall to ensure it didn’t collapse in the heat.

The side to our house which fronted the Walk was long and high and perfect for use as a tennis court. Hour upon hour people had to put up with the thump of the tennis balls as they hit the wall. My back hand and fore hand strokes must have been brilliant – the neighbour’s headaches less satisfying.

There were about 8 of us kids who played in the Walk. Mostly we got on well together and enjoyed ourselves but when we took to tying peoples door knockers together with string, and thus making people unable to open their front doors or when opening them making other peoples knockers, across the street, bang, we were less popular. Tying the lids of pig bins (where food scraps were deposited) situated on the corner of the street to door knockers, so that the occasional car would plough through the string and make the lids clatter on the pavement, was also not popular.

Across the street on the opposite corner of the Walk was the brightly plastered imposing structure of the Ebenezer Chapel. It was only used for one evening a week and then on Sundays, morning and evening. The people who worshipped there were Strict Baptists; were they strict like my teachers and caned people, I wondered? The caretaker of the church was forever coming out and telling us off for making a noise but that was nothing compared to the noise the people made in the church. They sang without an organ accompaniment and sounded as though they were human sirens, like the ones we had heard during the war. When they finally left at about 11 they used to kiss each other but they never seemed to smile.

The four corners of the Walk at Dumfries Street were memorable for all kinds of reasons. I remember the piles of snow during the winter of 1947 which were so high that I couldn’t get to school. The corner was where an old couple used to meet almost every evening – my mum said that that they weren’t married to each other and were meeting secretly; I couldn’t understand why they were always arguing. That corner was also the place that people coming out of the nearby pubs, the Fountain and the Standard, used to congregate. Often they would shout but sometimes they would fight and my dad use to sit in our front room just in case our windows might be broken. Finally the corner was a sad place because I remember seeing an old lady collapse there; I ran to tell mum and she was brought into our front room and mum told me that she had died.

Further along the Walk was a carpenters business and another big hat factory which my mum worked in. Clearly we didn’t have a lot of money and so mum had to work long hours. After school I was allowed to go to the factory and wait for mum to finish and then as soon as she got home there was a knock on the door and a man would bring in huge boxes of hat shapes which mum would turn into fashionable hats. Sometimes the hats were black ones and called ‘flu’ hats because it was thought there might be a flu outbreak, people would die, and they would need black hats for the funeral. In the 1950s it was fashionable for hats to be covered in feathers which were stuck on with glue. That glue was extremely pungent and smelled like ether. For all I know we were all high as kites as we inhaled the glue, the smell of which never seemed to leave the house.

I rarely went further along Windsor Walk, it was foreign territory! I do remember an event one day however. On occasion cows were herded along George Street to go for sale at the market in Park Street. One time one of the cows broke free and raced up Wellington Street only to reach the top part of Windsor Walk for sanctuary. A lady happened to be carrying her shopping along there and turned round to have a cow looking her in the eye. She yelled, dropped her shopping and ran. I had to tell mum, we were hysterical.

Round about 1958 we went up in the world and moved from 56 to 83 Dumfries Street. It was good bye to Windsor Walk and, even though our move was a couple of hundred yards, I rarely went back there. We were now in the big league. We had a hall, a third bedroom and a larger kitchen but it wasn’t until I went to university that I lived in a house which had a bathroom and an inside toilet. We now have 3 toilets in our house, a testimony to having escaped the horrors of walking outside in the depths of winter, just to go to the loo.


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