Final straw for Luton’s Plait Halls as they made way for the Arndale

In 1887, John Bartholomew’s Gazetteer of the British Isles described Luton like this: “The town has a picturesque position and has largely increased during recent years.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 19th March 2015, 4:09 pm
The Plait Halls in Cheapside, Luton, in 1907.
The Plait Halls in Cheapside, Luton, in 1907.

“It is celebrated for the manufacture of straw hats and bonnets, the origin of the industry in this country being due to Mary Queen of Scots, whose son James removed the handicraft from Scotland and established its position at Luton. The Plait Hall here is a fine building.”

That should have read Plait Halls, in the plural. They were in Cheapside and Waller Street and opened in 1869 to take the large open-air straw plait market away from George Street.

Helped by cheap imports of plait from the Far East and by the invention of a sewing machine for plait, the hat industry was booming.

The Plait Halls were built in an area which was rapidly becoming the nucleus of the industry.

Large factories were clustered near railways (the Midland railway had been opened in 1867 for goods and 1868 to passengers) for the transport of goods as orders were coming from all over the world.

During the early 1970s many buildings used by the millinery industry, including the Plait Halls, which in later years housed Luton Indoor Market, were demolished for the construction of the vast Arndale Centre.