Not cool Luton, not cool! I expect this kind of behaviour from Coventry (though it's understandable from Coventry, they had a tricky 1941 and I don't think they got enough hugs when they were a hamlet), but I thought more of you!
I'll admit it's partially my own fault, I came in with unrealistic expectations and there was really no way you were ever going to meet them, but if you are going to flaunt something sexy like 'Castle street' on your maps then you should know it's going to turn heads. Honestly Luton you are acting like a big old 'History Hussy', flirting with possibility and then breaking hearts without a care in the world.
My trip to Luton started with a conundrum, left or right out of the station. Left would take me into the town centre and towards the gig I was at, but right would take me towards the slightly Tolkien sounding 'High town' (Lake-town, why? Because water. High town, why? Because up.), however the sign to High town also directed me towards a multi-storey car park, so in a fit of snobbery I headed into town.
As soon as I stepped outside I could see that I might be in for a tricky hunt. The area closest to the station is a building site and beyond that there is a mix of Victorian railway buildings and C20th commercial properties. Behind these buildings, squatting like a gigantic toad (a gigantic toad that was managing to be both attention grabbing and cripplingly dull) was the unmistakeable husk of an inner city shopping mall. I passed quickly through this beige behemoth to the high street on the other side.
The High street offered no obvious historical prizes either, other than an over the top Art Deco style town hall that would have given Albert Speer wet dreams, so I turned my attention to the local tourist map that was standing in front of me. That's when I saw it, Castle Street!
Street names can be a great way to identify possible areas where supercool history is hiding and 'Castle street', 'Castle lane', 'Castle Anything' has always been one of my favourites. One quick web search later and I had the grid reference for Luton castle punched into Google maps. The internet told me I was looking for a 12th/13th century Motte and Bailey (man made hill and wooden fence) style castle, so I knew that it would be unlikely that there would be any above ground remains. That being said the hill and ditch surrounding it do sometimes survive, so it was worth a look. 15 mins later and I found myself looking at a slight bump in the carpark of a Matalan whilst feeling more than a little cheated.
With less than half a hour before I had to be at the venue I started to get desperate. In times like this there is usually one surefire saviour of the local history hunter, the English Heritage blue plaques. These little beauties have brought me historical fact based satisfaction on more than one occasion. When all else has failed they allow you to make a connection with an often obscure individual, rather than just looking at a pretty building, which can then lead to falling down a fun Wiki-hole as you find out what they did to get the blue based praise.
Back to Google then as I typed in the search 'Blue plaques Luton'. What came back made me despair. 'The top ten reasons Bedford is better than Luton', said the top search result and the ones below it were no better. Even English Heritage's own website told me I was a good 9 miles away from anything they'd be unembarrassed to show me.
At this point I thought that this blog, blog number three, would be the first to chronicle a failure, but then, as I scrolled desperately through Google maps I saw one last chance for a win, 'Church street'.
My God is St Mary's pretty! A church building has been on the site from about 850, with the current church being a fine example of Medieval ecclesiastical architecture with a few later features due to rebuilds and renovations over the years. The walls of the church are decorated with a checkerboard patterning of stone and flint and it sports a rather impressive 'battlements' style tower. The worn down head-stops by the main doorway were a personal favourite of mine and, as I arrived after sunset I was given the treat of seeing the dramatically backlit stained glass windows in all of their glory.
More than being a beautiful and historically interesting building, St Mary's had saved Luton from being a total write off and so for that I shall always love 'Church Street'.
If you enjoyed this blog you can see more of my musings as well as news of my 2015 Edinburgh fringe show 'Today is the Good Old Times of Tomorrow' at www.paulduncanmcgarrity.co.uk