Luton History: ‘Museum of Stories’ - from chaps to chapatis

Local historian Jackie Gunn is on a mission to share stories of Luton's yesteryear. Join her to revisit the past as she researches the town's buried secrets…
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Chai and Chapati at 187 Dunstable Road is one of the many enjoyable food outlets in the Bury Park area. The restaurant is the setting for one of the modern day stories in the new free app Museum of Stories: Bury Park.

Being passionate about the past, my interest in no.187 Dunstable Road takes me back to 1921, when Mr Charles Mares opened his new clothes shop at this address, making suits and school uniforms for men and boys. Mares Gentleman’s Outfitters was an extension of his father’s original business in George Street.

Charles Mares was born in Basingstoke around 1865 to parents John and Mary Mares. They arrived in Luton when Charles was about 2 years old. In the 1871 census his father is stated as a ‘Master Outfitter’, with the family residing at No.12 Market Hill. They went on to raise four sons and a daughter.

Charles Mares and family Charles Mares and family
Charles Mares and family

John Mares died suddenly in 1871, and Mary, his wife, continued running the tailoring business until her eldest Charles finished his apprenticeship in Leicester. On returning, Charles Mares joined the business with his mother at the helm.

Charles's brothers flew further from the nest and all died abroad. Edwin emigrated to Saskatchewan, Canada in 1895 and took up farming, while John and Benjamin sailed to Georgetown, South Africa.

John Mares junior was apparently also a master tailor, however he died of typhoid aged 40 in Gauteng near Johannesburg in 1902. His brother Benjamin was a carpenter, he married in Gauteng in 1895 but a divorce was granted a few years later. His wife’s application says he never returned home after fighting in the Boer War, with desertion suspected. The next record is his death in a Johannesburg gold mine in 1923.

Meanwhile, back in Luton, Charles Mares married May Wardill in Broadstairs, Kent in 1911. He was 46 years old and May had just turned 30. Then in 1915 the family matriarch Mary Mares passes away, but she had prepared Charles well to take over the business. From all accounts he had inherited his mother's charm and business acumen, and went from success to success, including opening a branch of Mares Outfitters in nearby St Albans.

Advertisement for Charles Mares Outfitters in Luton News from the 1930sAdvertisement for Charles Mares Outfitters in Luton News from the 1930s
Advertisement for Charles Mares Outfitters in Luton News from the 1930s

The Mares continued to be an upstanding local family, with Charles becoming President of the Luton and District Tradesman Association, and Vice-President of the Luton Amateur Swimming Club, and raising three children.

In 1927 Charles was hospitalised for an operation. His illness is not recorded, but he appeared to recover and on friends’ advice went to convalesce in Torquay. Sadly however, in the nursing home he suffered a seizure and died.

Charles's obituary says “It is with regret the loss of one of the most popular business men in the town of Luton”. He is remembered less fondly in St Albans, with the service in the Mares branch there described as “snotty condescending superiority personified”. His wife May continued the family business.

Charles Mares Limited continued to do business in Luton and surrounding areas for many years right up to the 1960s. They specialised in school uniforms. Perhaps, come the swinging Sixties, children frowned at the old-fashioned designs, and dragged their mums away to Burtons instead.

Hear more local stories in the free Museum of Stories app at

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