On a bitterly cold February day, I went to Luton by train, and caught a no. 25 bus from right outside the station, along the Old Bedford Road, to Wardown House and Park. I have been waiting a couple of years to make this trip because the House has been closed for extensive refurbishment. They have done a magnificent job, and the section which particularly interested me…… the history of the HAT TRADE in LUTON has been most beautifully arranged.
The exhibits tell the story of the straw-plait industry, in which women, and children were engaged, often very young children, to earn a part of that family’s income.
There are many examples of this work on display, and the various different methods of sewing them together. At first, this was all hand done. Later, with the introduction of the sewing machine around 1850, it became much quicker and production increased greatly
Not all the Luton hat trade was using straw to make hats. Felting was also used in a big way, and although at first the felting process was all done by hand (using boiling water and noxious chemicals) machinery like the blocking machine came into use. Many processes were necessary to complete something wearable.
The new museum at Wardown is laid out as a well-to-do Victorian family house, and shows how they lived. The former home of the Scargill family; the drawing room gives an insight into gracious living,( and may be hired for private functions and weddings.)
In the lady’s bedroom, I was particularly drawn to the exhibits cleverly laid out in the small bed, and a crib, while on the walls are some magnificent embroidered samplers.
There are fascinating drawers to investigate in the dressing room , filled with collections of stockings and other footwear, and fine gloves and mittens of amazing craftsmanship.
On the first floor is the museum of the BEDFORDSHIRE & HERTFORDSHIRE REGIMENT full of history and memorabilia of its proud traditions.
In the original Dining Room refreshments can now be enjoyed, overlooking the Park from its big bay window.
There is a great deal to see in the eleven rooms and much thought has gone into their presentation. Definitely worth a visit. No charge, but donations gratefully accepted