Nostalgic Lutonians flock to sell-out Luton Heritage Forum’s Wardown event

It included talks from historians, a tour of Wardown Park and an ‘Antiques Roadshow-style’ show-and-tell, as well as a look at the forum’s new website

Tuesday, 23rd November 2021, 5:04 pm
Updated Wednesday, 24th November 2021, 12:24 pm

Over 50 local history enthusiasts assembled at Wardown House on Saturday (November 20) to enjoy a special Heritage Day hosted by Luton Heritage Forum.

The sell-out event included talks from eminent local historians, a tour of Wardown Park and an ‘Antiques Roadshow-style’ show-and-tell, as well as a look at the forum’s new website.

Attendees heard from Luton Historical Society’s Stuart Smith, who offered a presentation on the life and work of the late Luton historian and writer, Ken Cooper, who passed away in 2020.

The group listening to presentations – photo credit: Jonathan Trotman

During the talk, Mr Smith shared a selection of Mr Cooper’s sizeable collection of historical photographs of the town, including one which included a young Ken himself as he watched Luton’s tram rails being dug up from the street in the 1930s. He also discussed how Mr Cooper inspired and supported him in writing his own book, Pubs and Pints.

Ken Cooper wrote the Yesteryear column for the Luton News throughout the 1980s and 90s. Following his death, Ken’s family donated his vast archive to the people of Luton, which is being digitised for the Luton Heritage Forum website

Steve Stephenson MBE – whose father was one of the first six West Indian people to arrive in Luton in the 1950s - spoke on the impact and legacy of the Windrush generation as well as his own memories of living in the town in the 1970s. His fascinating life story, which includes involvement with Starlight Youth Club and Luton Carnival alongside a career as a social worker and human rights campaigner, is revealed in his new book, Unbeaten Innings.

Mr Stephenson was joined at the lectern by Noel Lewis, who shared recollections of the early days of local black football club, Ebony FC, which was formed in 1972 and supported by England and Luton Town football legend, Ricky Hill.

The group browsing Luton memorabilia

Between speakers, attendees perused, discussed, and reminisced over the artifacts that others had brought along on the day. Memorabilia included: photographs, postcards, ‘dump digging’ finds, flyers, documents, and books. The event closed with a historical walking tour around the park which took in the former boating lake, bathing hut and bandstand, as well as the infamous ‘Lovers Lane’.

Following the event, Paul Hammond, Luton Heritage Forum Chair, said: "We’d like to thank everyone who came along on Saturday to share their memories and memorabilia, the Culture Trust for the use of its beautiful venue, and the fantastic speakers who were able to join us on the day.

"We were blown away by the popularity of this event, and I’m sure that those who were able to secure tickets will agree that the stories shared by Stuart and Steve were both captivating and truly inspirational.

“Feedback on Luton Heritage Forum’s new website was extremely positive, and the site will only be enhanced with every new contribution. It is designed to be a ‘people’s archive’ of our town, and we are actively seeking stories and voices which are typically omitted from traditional history books.

Arlene Stephenson with a vintage photograph of her mother, Pearl, who worked at Luton and Dunstable Hospital’s Maternity Unit in the 1960s, plus speaker Steve Stephenson MBE (photo credit: Jonathan Trotman)

"We have a desire and a commitment to be inclusive and representative and we are calling for contributions from our migrant communities, working class people, and female perspectives in particular. We are also looking for volunteers to help with the project – so please get in touch if you’re interested in getting involved.”

Luton Heritage Forum is looking for:

- A volunteer to support the uploading of photos to the website

- People willing to write 300 words on heritage themes from across the heritage spectrum, including transcribing old press cuttings

Linsey Betteridge with various documents relating to her family history

- Those willing to donate, lend and photograph Luton memorabilia

- People who can speak to elders from our communities and collect oral histories

Full training can be provided for willing volunteers. If you are interested in finding out more, please email [email protected]