Wardown Park Museum, formerly the Luton Museum & Art Gallery in Luton, is housed in a large Victorian mansion in Wardown Park on the outskirts of the town centre. The museum collection focuses on the traditional crafts of Bedfordshire, notably lace-making and hat-making. There are samples of Bedfordshire lace from as early as the 17th century. The Women's Hat Industry collection features over 600 hats in an extensive collection (the hats are in storage and can be viewed by prior arrangements with the museum). There are also extensive displays of decorative arts, including Saxon jewellery. There are also exhibits of costumes, straw-plaiting, fine arts, and several Victorian room settings, as well as medieval guild books.
The first floor galleries were refurbished and opened as the Luton Life displays in February 2003. This was partly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The museum displays explore stories of Luton people over the past 150 years. The galleries contain several listening posts where visitors are able to listen to local people telling their stories and describing key events. Additionally there are also several interactive displays as well as computer screens with historic photographs of Luton. The ground floor displays include the Living Landscape gallery which displays local archaeology and natural history, including the Shillington Roman coin hoard and an Iron Age mirror, finds from Waulud's Bank are also on display. The Lace Gallery displays some of the museum's extensive collection of locally produced lace work.The Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment gallery, produced by the Imperial War Museum, explains the history of the local regiment. The museum holds around three to four temporary exhibitions each year in the temporary exhibition gallery on the ground floor.
The house that became Wardown Park Museum was a farmhouse and country residence in the 1800s. The park itself started out as a private estate owned by Richard How. Richards son, Robert built the first property within the park, called Bramingham Shott, which is the current home to the museum. In the early 1870s the estate was taken over by local solicitor, Frank Chapman-Scargill, he rebuilt much of the earlier house in 1879 for a total cost of £10,000. Scargill left Luton in 1893 and the house and property was let to B.J.H Forder who renamed the estate Wardown. By 1903 the current owners, (The Stewart Family, whose famous son, Sir Malcolm Stewart founded the London Brick Company) decided to sell the house and 11-acre park. Over the next few years extensive improvements were implemented, many new trees were planted, as well as new footpaths and bridges being constructed. The layout of the park today is very much as it was in this period. A bowling green was built in 1905, reputed to be the first in Luton.
During the First World War Wardown House was pressed into service as a hospital, firstly by the RAMC, and then the V.A.D. It first opened as a Hospital in October 1914, and was used by the North Midland Division for the reception of their sick, under the care of a trained Sister and a staff of local V.A.D. nurses. Military Medical Officers administering the more in depth medical procedures. The Hospital provided accommodation for 65 patients. On the ground floor were situated three large, well-lighted wards, and a 20 bed wooden annexe, built by the Military when they moved in. The annex was on the east side of the house, out the fire exit in the regiment gallery. On the ground floor was an excellent Operating Theatre replete with up-to-date fittings, including folding operating table, high pressure steam sterilizer for dressings, and wash-basins with elbow swing taps; a Pack Store for the bestowal of the patients’ belongings and kits; kitchens, pantries, and other offices, and a large Recreation Room. Wheelchair and pushchair access to ground galleries. Please note there is restricted access for wide pushchairs and wheelchairs, and mobility scooters in the tea room and to the 1st floor galleries. Sloping paths in some areas of the 1st floor galleries. Accessible toilet opposite on the ground floor of the gallery. Audible fire alarm system throughout site. The displays have been designed to be hands-on and multi-sensory. Audio-visual points with British Sign Language on some displays. Assistance dogs are welcome.
Stockwood Discovery Centre, formerly known as Stockwood Craft Museum, is situated in Luton. The discovery centre displays collections of: Local Social History, Archaeology, Geology and Rural Crafts. It also houses the biggest horse-drawn carriages collection in Europe, Mossman Collection. The collection was put together by George Mossman who was born in Luton in 1908. Shortly after the First World War, Mossman left school and started work for a local butcher, Panters, in Park Street, as a delivery driver. This was the beginning of Mossman's lifelong interest in horse-drawn transport. Mossman had a varied working life, running several businesses and a farm. He acquired a leasing company providing horse-drawn carriages for special events such as weddings, carnivals and public occasions. Mossman drove his carriages in London’s Lord Mayor's Show for 25 years and provided some carriages and drivers for Queen Elizabeth's coronation procession in 1953. The museum houses 54 registered vehicles of Mossman's, as well as carriages from the Luton Museum Services collection. In total there are more than 63 vehicles on display, including original carriages from the 18th to the 20th centuries as well as replicas made for Mossman's work with Pinewood and Elstree firm studios in the latter part of the 20th century. Unusual vehicles include an 18th-century landau and an early-19th-century barouche, both in very good condition. There is also an 1890s 'char-a-bang' which dates from the early days of public transportation.
The collection of rural crafts and trades held at Stockwood Discovery Centre was amassed by Thomas Wyatt Bagshawe who was a notable local historian and a leading authority on folk life. Bagshawe was born in Dunstable in 1901 and became a director of the family engineering firm. Bagshawe began a small private museum in Dunstable in 1925 and became the honorary curator of Luton Museum when it first opened in 1927. Thomas Bagshawe and Charles Freeman, who succeeded Bagshawe as curator in 1936, visited many of the Scandinavian museums which were at the forefront of folk life museums in Europe. Both were heavily influenced by the Scandinavian example and they sought ways to introduce the ideas and methods they had witnessed into Luton Museum. In 1938 a rural industry gallery was opened at Wardown designed on Scandinavian principles with built-in cases and freestanding exhibits. The museum’s annual report of that year described Luton as being at the centre of a large area that was rapidly being transformed, and that the disappearance of many rural crafts was imminent. During the 1930s and in the years immediately after World War II, Bagshawe undertook a systematic search of Bedfordshire villages to seek out the surviving crafts folk. He interviewed them and acquired artifacts from them, generally these were the tools that they had been using, many of which are on display in the craft museum today, as well examples of their finished work. From 1946 to 1949 he added nearly 5,000 items to the collection, which were all carefully documented and recorded.
Bagshawe also amassed a very large amount of notes, photographs and illustrations and carefully classified them all using the Royal Anthropological Institutes British Ethnography Committees system. This gave the collection greater detail than was typical at the time. In addition he donated to the museum his large collection of books on agriculture, local trades, crafts and related topics. Unlike many collectors working in the same field, such as Raphael Salaman, Bagshawe confined his collecting to Bedfordshire and the borders of neighbouring counties which gives the collection a very strong regional identity. Since its inception the museum service has had a very firm collecting policy to ensure that the collections have a real local significance, rather being a random compilation of curios. Bagshawe’s belief that many of the crafts and trades were on the verge of extinction proved correct and in a world of increasing standardisation, his collection is now one of the finest regionally based rural life collections in the country. Free self-propelled wheelchairs and electric mobility scooters are available to borrow. Contact the reception desk on arrival or book in advance. Free site maps and advice are available from the reception desk. Free audio and multimedia guides are available in English, Bengaliand Urdu, audio description and British Sign Language. Public address system throughout site.
The external part of the Discovery Centre features beautiful, fascinating and extensive gardens. The Period Gardens, ranging from the Elizabethan Knot Garden to the Dig for Victory Garden, were created by Luton Council from the mid-1980s onwards. Re-development work in 2007 included the building of the Sensory Garden, World Garden and Medicinal Garden. It is one of the few places in the country where the work of acclaimed artist Ian Hamilton Finlay can be seen on permanent display. Improvement Garden is a classical garden in which Ian Hamilton Finlay sculptures are an integral part of the landscape. Audio description tour of The Hidden House is available. Audible fire alarm system throughout site. Our displays have been designed to be hands-on and multi-sensory. Audio-visual points with British Sign Language throughout the Discovery Galleries and Life’s Journey Gallery. Guide, hearing and assistance dogs are welcome. Wheelchair, pushchair and mobility scooter accessible route via main pathways. All buildings, including the café and shop have level access Wheelchair, pushchair and scooter access to most galleries. Please note there is restricted access for wide pushchairs and wheelchairs, and mobility scooters in the Discovery Galleries, and Period Gardens. Sloping paths in some areas of the gardens. Stockwood Discovery Centre is a large site and visitors who find walking difficult or tiring might consider bringing along a wheelchair, stick or walking frame if they have them. However, self-propelled wheelchairs and electric mobility scooters are available to borrow if required. Accessible toilets opposite the Garden Cafe, in the Learning Centre and near the Discovery Galleries.
Location : Wardown Park Museum, Old Bedford Road, Luton LU2 7HA
Location : Stockwood Discovery Centre, London Road, Luton LU1 4LX
Transport Wardown: Luton Town (National Rail) then bus or 20 minutes. Bus Routes : Arriva 21, 24, 25 and Centrebus 231 stop nearby.
Transport Stockwood: Luton (National Rail) then bus. Bus Routes : 3, 30, 651 and Arriva 321 stop nearby.
Opening Times Wardown: Re-opening in October 2016
Opening Times Stockwood: Daily 10:00 to 17:00
Tickets Wardown: Free, Donations welcome
Tickets Stockwood: Free, Donations welcome
Tel Warwood: 01582 546 722
Tel Stockwood: 01582 548610