Chapter 5 – The Lodges of Luton
The word Lodge has several meanings, most of them referring to somewhere to live or carry out some form of service or duty. It is also associated with similar words such as lodger, one who pays in cash or kind to “live in”, or lodgings, a place in which to live. It is certainly of ancient usage and may be found in the Bible in the Book of Isaiah, (Ch. 1 v.8) when he chastises Judah and mentions “being in a lodge in a cucumber field”. Shakespeare has Antonio say in Twelfth Night, “In the south suburbs, at the Elephant, is best to lodge”.
The term lodge, when applied to castles and later to stately homes or mansions, usually referred to accommodation for a retainer who supervised the opening and closing of the entrance gates and looked after important visitors, their retinue and horses. He became known as a gate-keeper, or from the French word Porte, corrupted to porter who lived in the porter’s lodge. The earliest known example in Luton of such a lodge is to be found in the so-called Someries Castle, situated near Someries Farm, adjacent to the runway boundary of London-Luton Airport. Today the ruin of this 15th century fortified manor house comprises a twin turreted gatehouse, entrance hall, large chapel (now open to the sky), ancillary side-rooms and a spiral staircase. In the late 18th century Henry Gough, librarian to the Marquess of Bute and noted historian, wrote of this ruin “The gateway entrance hall is twenty feet long, …from it, doors opened at the south-west to a room with a fire-place and window over-looking a courtyard, probably the porter’s lodge”.
As castles gave way to mansions, stately homes and country seats, landowners needed some sort of architectural feature at the entrance of their estates to impress either visitors or present a symbol of power to intimidate unwanted callers. The job description of the porter changed too, for although he was still expected to open and close the main gates, game-keeping and garden supervision were added to his duties. Despite the decline in the ownership of castles, an aggressive front was used when building lodges, many resembling mini-fortresses with crenellated battlements and ornate turrets. The earlier of the Luton Hoo Lodges followed this pattern, having been added at the time the estate was being upgraded by Robert Adam and Capability Brown.
When Julius Wernher bought Luton Hoo in 1903, he was not particularly interested in its historical background and soon set about modernising the whole estate. The Luton Lodge at Park Road was demolished in 1907 and replaced by the two detached houses that can be seen today, a backwater hidden by the embankments of Airport Way.
The demolition of the old lodge caused quite a stir in Luton since, with the proximity of the pretty thatched cottage “Why-Axe-Ye”, and the green and leafy aspect there-by, this area of Park Road was regarded as one of the most romantic and photogenic parts of the town.
The London Road Lodge, built in the style of a castle, was the most imposing of the Hoo Lodges, but was replaced by a detached house during the occupancy of Sir Harold and Lady Zia Wernher, the new house being occupied by the Luton Hoo Estate Manager.
On the Lower Harpenden Road there are two bungalows known as the Warren Lodges guarding the gates to Luton Hoo. The gates give access to Warren Hill, inside the estate, leading up to the mansion and were used in Edwardian times to convey guests of British and Foreign royalty from nearby Luton Hoo railway station.
Stockwood Park, one-time seat of the Crawley Family and now owned by Luton borough Council, contained three lodges in its hey-day. There were two approaches to Stockwood House for carriages, the first when approaching from Farley Hill was known as The Avenue, lined with lime, horse-chestnut and oak trees, while the second, known as the Coach Road and lined with Spanish chestnut trees, ran from Newlands Road.
The Stock-wood estate is also crossed by an ancient right-of-way called Lawn Path, this public footpath starts in London Road and leads to Woodside and Markyate, passing close by the Newlands Road Lodge on the way. The third Stockwood Lodge is a detatched house on the edge of the estate in London Road.
In 1894,the administration and running of People’s Park, Luton’s first public park, officially became the responsibility of the Corporation of Luton. The acquisition of this large open space of approximately 42.5 acres, warranted a house for the head park-keeper, known as People’s Park Lodge. His tasks included enforcing the Bye-Laws and making sure the park was open and closed at the correct times.
When Mr. Scargill built Bramingham Shott, or Wardown House as it is now called, he thoughtfully provided two lodges for the head gardener and groundsman, one in New Bedford Road and the other in Old Bedford Road. Both of these buildings are still in existence.
A lodge without an estate or “big house” is to be found in London Road near its junction with Ashton Road. The detached house, now a private dwelling, is all that remains of The Children’s Sick and Convalescent Home provided by local philanthropist Mr. A. P. Welch, J.P. The Children’s Home (or Hospital) became an Annexe of the Luton and Dunstable Hospital which was closed in the early 1980s. The site of the old hospital buildings is now a housing estate.
The Tennyson Road entrance to Luton Hoo Memorial Park holds another of Luton’s Lodges, occupied by the groundsman who looks after the amenities there. This is a strangely sombre park haunted by the past of the occupants of Luton Hoo.