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Remembering Luton

I have led a somewhat nomadic life and prior to moving to South Carolina in 2001, I had never lived in one place longer than ten years. I have lived on both the East and West Coast of the United States since 1979 and even my native England seems like a foreign country to me now because I visit there so infrequently.

I often wonder where do I call home? I was born in Surrey, England but left there as a baby and have never been back, but there is one place where I lived between 1949 and 1959. I was 13 when I moved there and 23 when I left.

The town is Luton, about thirty miles roughly due north of London. This is where I spent my teen years, where I grew from a boy to a man. If I have a place I can call my home town it is Luton. This was the town where I was given a second chance. I had failed an exam at age eleven which would have enabled me to go for a higher education.

I failed because my schooling was disrupted when we moved three times that year because my father kept losing his job. But at aged fourteen I passed an exam to attend Luton Technical School, which later led to an apprenticeship in engineering.

Part of Luton Technical School was a Community College where older students would attend. Some of these students were racing cyclists and the school bike racks would be full of beautiful lightweight racing machines with names like Hetchins, Holdsworth and Hobbs od Barbican.

This is where the fascination with the bicycle began, I joined The Luton Arrow Cycling Club and started racing. I would later learn to build racing bicycle frames. A skill that eventually led to my moving to the US and a successful bicycle manufacturing business in Southern California through the 1980s.

I haven’t been back to Luton for many years. Online searches lead me to websites and message boards where ex Lutonians like me post messages from time to time. Sometimes people are unkind to Luton and I have seen it described as “The worst shit-hole in England.” What happened? As I remember it was a great town.

The 1960s came right after I left, the boom years when money was being made and was being spent just as fast. The Luton Town Council, the politicians, decided in their wisdom to tear down many of the beautiful old buildings and rebuild. A good example is the old library building right across from the Town Hall. (Pictured above.) This building was a gift to Luton donated in 1910 by Andrew Carnegie the American philanthropist.

It was a beautiful old building with great character where I would often stand on its steps and wait for a date to show up. We had no cell phones, few of us even had phones at home and we had no cars, we used public transport. if we made a date we would have to arrange to meet somewhere. The Town Council replaced the library with a soulless glass faced monstrosity.

Like the unscrupulous surgeon who will operate on you whether you need it or not, just to take your money, the Town Council in cahoots with the big developers ripped the heart out of Luton. They made it a less desirable place to live so people started moving out. And an immigrant population moved in.

Luton today has a huge Moslem population and I have even seen it featured on the TV news here in the US because of some links to the terrorist bombings in London. I’m sure the majority of Luton’s citizens today are law abiding but there always a few who drag down the reputation of a place. Not that I am suggesting you put Luton on your list of must-see places if you visit England.

Large Towns and Cities have a soul. It is I believe the collective souls of all the people who live there. New York City for example has a special energy that you feel when you are there. San Francisco and London have it also. Luton definitely had a soul when I lived there, and if it doesn’t have one now maybe it’s because the people who live there don’t have a sense of belonging there. They are nomads like me.

I will probably not go back to Luton, I prefer to remember it fondly as it once was, and for any ex-Lutonians out there, (It seems we are scattered all over the world.) take comfort in the fact that Luton is a very good place to be from.


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Reader Comments (5)

so beautifully written ;-)

August 5, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMircea Andrei Ghinea

Hey Dave, isn't Jon Lord from Luton? (I could google it I guess but rather hear from you)

August 5, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDan

Jon Lord was from Leicester (Pronounced Less-ter,) Leicester is a City some distance north of Luton, pretty much in the center of England. I lived there briefly after I left Luton in 1959.
BTW a City is a City because it has a Cathedral, Luton doesn't have one so it is a Town. It has nothing to do with the size or population. Most European Cathedrals were built in the Middle Ages. Ones built since then replaced those destroyed by fire or war.
A little bit of useless information I was taught in school, someone is bound to dispute it.

August 7, 2019 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

Dear Dave ,how strange you doing your Luton posting,last wkend Blinded by the Light a ‘brit’ movie opened,set in the 80’s and about a Brit Asian bonding with a friend over their love of Bruuuuce’s music,and only this morning on the BBC site Monty Panesar ,first class cricketer [dont think he’s in this Ashes squad]and also of Asian parentage posted a piece about when young saying he was from Bedford not Luton,his comments certainly reflect Luton not being perceived as ‘cool’ certainly in the 70’s and 80’s and ironically since then Bedford has had a bit of an urban drug problem

August 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterStef

Dave, I have similar feeling's about Birmingham,England I Loved taking the bus downtown and just walking around the grand building's, There are even building that have a coat of arms above the door that I got to help carve, when I worked for the sculptor William Bloye, I even worked on the clay models of the now called Golden Boys statues. I even carve the inscription on the plinth of the Queen Victoria statue, So I guess that I am part of the history of that city. BUT Sadly many of the buildings are long gone now and it is hard to even recognize the city anymore. The same with Yardley the place I grew up in, now vastly different. PROGRESS? who knows as I am in my 86th year I have a 10-year-old Grandson, Wonder what the world will be like when he is 86

August 9, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterjohn crump

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