Luton at war

DURING the Second World War the threat of air raids on Luton meant many water stores were needed by firefighters.

Taken in 1941, the main photograph shows land in Bridge Street that had been excavated and concreted before being filled with water.

The picture was published in the Luton News of October 16 alongside another of the River Lea by The Moor, which had been dammed to provide a water supply for fire crews.

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In the photo above, workmen are filling in the Bridge Street static tank in August 1951.

Wartime water tanks were dotted around the town, with one in Bond Street, a road which no longer exists. The tank was dismantled in 1953 when the Mac Fisheries shop, later absorbed into Marks & Spencer’s store, was built.

There appears to have been another supply in Midland Road, next to the old Central Mission, which survived until at least 1960. The Luton News carried a photo on January 28 of that year showing the tank filled with rubble and the upturned shell of a car.

Among the estimated 1.5 million Luton News negatives stored at Wardown Park Museum there’s an aerial view from 1947 of what looks like a water tank in George Street West, opposite the entrance to the car park of the old Savoy cinema. This seems to have vanished by 1951.

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After the war, the Bridge Street site was chosen for a new library because of its central location, although it was not ideal for construction of such a large building as the River Lea passes directly beneath it. To solve the problem, the library’s main book stacks were designed as a vertical feature of the building, giving it a central core.

The library opened to the public in 1962 and in the same year the Queen unveiled a commemorative tablet in the entrance hall.