The Town Sign

The Town Sign was unveiled by the then Town Mayor Cllr Robin Hines on Monday 7th February 2011.

The design was based on feedback from a public consultation exercise. Many images, both historic and current were referred to, including; All Saints Church (including the stained glass window), the Village Green, Bedford Square, the Memorial Stone, Houghton Hall House and Park, the Library, the Carnival, the Council Chamber, the Leisure centre, the old village pond and willow trees (the trees remain), straw plaiting, the old windmills, barrel rolling, the old fire crew on horse and cart, the Red House, agriculture, the Old Red Lion Public House, the Crown Public House and local industries including printing, cement works and the Luton motor trade.

From this feedback the following aspects were put forward to the designers:

  • All Saints Church – if possible including the stained glass window
  • Farming – horses ploughing or horse and cart loaded with straw
  • Windmill
  • Straw Plaiting – ladies sitting plaiting together
  • Cement kilns
  • Tithe Barn
  • Village Green – shown as an area of green open space possibly with Houghton Hall House in background and /or with willow trees on the edge
  • Barrel rolling
  • The parish church of All Saints, Houghton Regis (formerly St. Michaels).

The Town Sign in its final form includes: 


As the word “Regis” tells us, Houghton was a Royal manor and had been from well before the Norman Conquest (1066). Its lands included what is now Dunstable. It was very prosperous (perhaps because of the high water table in this area) and paid a high money tax (usually only paid by towns) plus wheat, honey and other goods to support the Royal household. This mixed farming tradition was a huge part of Houghton life through the centuries and provided one of the main occupations for men. Duck farming in particular was also an important aspect of farm life until the beginning of WW2, when the government had all duck farming stopped because of the need to conserve the nation's grain supplies.



The village had a large windmill where Mill Road is now, and at the beginning of the 20th century there was also a steam mill on the same site. There was reputed to be a third mill in the town, but this has not been verified.


Straw Plaiting

From the late 1600s onwards, many of Houghton's women and children, were employed in straw-plaiting for the hat trade in Luton. In the 1860s, children commonly paraded around the town at age about five, showing off their first row of plait and receiving a sweet or a halfpenny to encourage them! In a week, the fastest plaiters could produce as many as 400 metres of the simpler plaits, and would have earned around 7 shillings (35p). However by the end of the century, Luton was obtaining most of its plait more cheaply from China and Japan and this eventually led to the end of the straw-plaiting cottage industry.


Cement kilns

Industry gradually took over from agriculture with the arrival of the railways in the mid-1800s. Between 1891 and 1901, Houghton's population rose from 2,189 to 2,608 due to development in the area. Waterlow's printing works came to Upper Houghton in 1891, and Harrison Carter opened their engineering works in 1901. J.D. Forder developed the lime works in Sewell, and Blows Downs, which he sold to Blue Circle Cement in 1912. Blue Circle developed the area from 1920. They also opened a large cement works by what was Townsend Farm and processed chalk from the quarry opposite and from Sewell as this chalk rich soil was ideal for creating cement. The huge chimneys and processing plant dominated the skyline of Houghton Regis from the 1925 until production ceased in 1971. The chimneys were demolished in 1976.


Tithe Barn

The original Tithe Farm included a tithe barn built during the13th / 14th century by Abbott John Moore. The tithe barn used to stand in what is now Bedford Square in the town centre. It was a focal point for the village. The barn was demolished in 1964 to accommodate the new shopping centre, and one of the estates in the town is named after this building. At first it was planned to include the ancient barn into the new development but it was found to be in too rotten and so it was pulled down.


Village Green

The Green is a large area of common land in the centre of the town. It remains today and is focal town centre attraction. At the back of the Green is Houghton Hall House, built in 1700, where the last Lord of the Manor lived until the line died out in 1908. The Hall is now in private hands, as is the Mews beside it where the coach and horses were kept.


Barrel rolling

Local pub teams competed in beer-barrel rolling races in the 1950s/60s to raise funds for the building of the Memorial Hall and to celebrate events such as the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. The course would run along the High Street from The Five Bells to the Chequers, and the prize was a pint of beer each for the winning team. This event was always widely attended and was filmed by Pathe News in 1962.

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