Timeline: Selected History of Luton
Fossils of very early Neanderthals dating to around 400,000 years ago have been found at Swanscombe in Kent. They would have lived around the same time as the ‘Chatham Elephant’ (Palaeoloxodon antiquus) which was discovered in Upnor in 1913 by Syd Turner, of Luton. Continental shifts and ice ages meant that Britain wasn’t inhabited for long periods of time, the last of these ice ages ended around 11,700 years ago, and since then Britain has been continuously occupied.
43-410: Roman Britain
An army of 40,000 professional Roman soldiers were landed in Britain under the command of Aulus Plautius. Archaeologists debate where they landed – Richborough in Kent, Chichester in Sussex, or perhaps both. Somewhere, perhaps on the River Medway, they fought a great battle and crushed the Catuvellauni, the tribe that dominated the south east. There is definite evidence that Romans lived in Medway, and Luton. Much Roman archaeology has been found in Kent, including in Luton.
In 1869 a Roman Burial Chamber was discovered in the Luton Rd area, opposite the site of the present church.
An internment of a cinerary urn containing bones and a bronze brooch were found at Batchelor’s brickfields on the South side of Luton.
Burial and other materials were also found at Gransden’s Brickfields 30 yards south of the road from Luton to Bredhurst.
In 1896 – whilst digging a well for the waterworks – bones and a Roman vase were found.
In the Romano-British period, the area of modern Kent that lay east of the River Medway was known as Cantiaca. Its name had been taken from an older Common Brittonic place-name, Cantium ("corner of land" or "land on the edge").
The Jutes invaded and settled in southern Britain in the late 4th century. Jutish Burials have been discovered in the modern area of Slicketts Hill. According to Bede, Jutes settled in Kent, where they established Cantaware (Latinised as Cantuarii), an early medieval kingdom in the area now known as Kent.
The Jutes called Luton – Lutton. “Luton is an old Anglo-Saxon place name. Town in the lieu, hence Luton, and some old documents spell it Lutton, others Lieuton and from some years now Luton.” (‘The Story of Luton’ by Syd K Turner, 1952.)
John de Hamme of Luton paid 1d rent for a tenement (property) in Luton.
At the end of the C15th “the road to Luton branched off from the main road to Canterbury, traversed the road now known as Beacon Rd, and descended the hill of the same name to the village”. (James Presnail in ‘Chatham the Story of a Dockyard Town’).
Chatham is established as a Royal Dockyard. From then until the late 19th century, further expansion of the yard took place, including building of the Medway forts to defend it.
The Hen & Chickens was built as a farmhouse. It began selling beer in 1746. There was also a blacksmiths forge attached but that burnt down shortly after 1890. Luton was still a mostly rural area, with a few farmhouses and dwellings scattered around.
The jaw and teeth of a mammoth and some other fossils were found by Robert Dadd in a flint quarry in Luton. However, his son Richard Dadd is probably better known than him – as he murdered his father 12 years after!
Richard Dadd was a Victorian painter, who went on to paint masterpieces, including ‘The Fairy Fellers’ Master-Stroke’ from Bethlem and Broadmoor hospitals.
The tithe map shows less than 12 dwellings on Luton Rd.
Luton is described as “a pleasant village and chapelry” by Samuel Bagshaw.
It was constituted in 1852; and it had a post office under Chatham.
First mention of The Waggon At Hale as a public house. Named after a cart that used to serve workers in the fields.
Luton Arches built.
The London, Chatham and Dover Railway (LCDR) was created on 1 August 1859, when the East Kent Railway was given Parliamentary approval to change its name.
Post office directories estimate 2,200 people were living there in about 580 houses.
Medway Union Workhouse opened on Magpie Hall Road.
Victorian botanical illustrator Anne Pratt got married in Christ Church, Luton. She lived with her sister off today’s Luton Road. There have been three churches called Christ Church; the first building was there from 1842-1886.
The second from 1886–1982, and the third modern building opened in 1983.
Luton Infant School founded.
Fort Luton was built. During its construction Pre-Roman remains were found there in 1891. One skeleton may have been 7 feet tall. The Fort’s rolling drawbridge is the only one left in UK.
It took 50 minutes to go from London to Chatham by train.
Trams were installed. The tram depot on Luton Rd is now Tramways housing estate.
Luton was growing fast in response to the expansion of Chatham dockyard. The area between the High Street and Luton village illustrates part of that growth, with its many streets of Victorian terraces and the planned Avenue Estate that was never built, halted perhaps by the start of WW1.
Post office directories estimate 13,687 people were living there.
Fort Luton used as a transit camp for troops en route to the front during World War 1.
Luton Junior School holds May Day celebrations.
“When we were young it was a service town, army and navy. If they misbehaved the redcaps used to come and take them back to barracks. Snowballs we used to call them.”
“It’s so different to what it was.”
“There’s so much traffic.”
On Wednesday 1st October, Chatham & District’s bus services started, replacing the trams which had been based in Luton.
The workhouse became Medway Hospital. Renamed County Hospital in 1936. In 1948 upon the founding of the NHS it was absorbed into it and became All Saints Hospital.
Shorts employee and Luton man William Mason built his own airplane in the sitting room of his home at 288 Magpie Hall Road! “I am building the machine so it can be towed by a car… The machine when folded will be less than 8ft in width.” The Examiner, 1939
Luton Memorial Meadow dedicated as a living remembrance to Luton residents killed in both World Wars.
Fort Luton Boys School and Christchurch Girls School opened. Originally built to hospital specifications in case they were needed as such. Both closed in 1995.
The building in the middle of Luton arches was knocked down.
Coronation Party held at Pilchers Coaches. (Listen to Les Beaney’s oral history for a story about this!)
The Driver Fountain was removed from Luton Arches.
Bangladeshi Welfare Association set up Chatham Hill Mosque.
Chatham Dockyard Closure.
Medway Community College opens.
All Saints Hospital closed.
Luton Millennium Green is created.
A garden was added to Luton Memorial Meadow.
Medway Community College becomes Bishop Of Rochester Academy. Renamed Victory Academy in 2015.
Electoral register estimates that around 20,000 are living there.
Let us know if we’ve missed anything out and send us your stories! (Email to )