High Town is a distinctive suburb of Luton with a history of over two hundred years. At the start of the 19th century the area was known as Windmill Hill, making reference to the structure that stood on the site of the present Blocker’s Arms (The Well). One Samuel Goujon took bricks from the newly-demolished Park Street Baptist Chapel in 1820 and hauled them on a donkey to the site of the current Methodist Church. He built himself a house, so-called Donkey Hall that lent itself to an early name for the area as well as the building.
The ratebook of 1834 shows that Goujon’s House had been joined by two pubs still surviving today – The Railway Inn and Bricklayers arms. Donkey Hall gave way to The Cottage Hospital and was then chosen by the Primitive Methodists as the site for their 1852 church when their congregation grew beyond 400. A still- growing church stimulated the building of a second adjacent structure which still features today alongside the C of E St Matthew’s as two of the most iconic buildings in the area.
The coming of the railway in the mid- 1800s sadly cut High Town off from the rest of Luton. While a sole footbridge was the main conduit for 140 years, this also protected the area from significant modernisation. The hat industry in the form of large factories migrated from the Plaiters Lea area between the wars, and this development complemented the wealth of “cottage industry” hat factories often found in outbuildings behind shopfronts and terraced houses.
Early poor-quality terraced housing was taken down as from the turn of the 20th century and in most cases was replaced by light engineering units. Interestingly enough this process is likely to be reversed as a High Town Development Plan is rolled out over the next decade. It is to be hoped that new development is complementary to the rich heritage of the area - its Victorian shopfronts and hat-making buildings both large and small that give this corner of Luton so much character.
Find out more about the history of High Town and other areas of Luton at facebook.com/lutonhistory