DALLOW LANE – DEVELOPMENT OF THE GROUND
This article sets out the history of the Dallow Lane ground and has taken over four years to put together from various, often small clues. The vast majority of the site of the ground has been severely disturbed since 1897 so laborious research was the only way to reliably reconstruct it.
This is an upside down article with a summary of my findings at the beginning for your convenience. The history of the site with supporting evidence and detective elements follows. As is my usual policy, I have included everything which may help others with their research.
The land at Dallow Lane was owned by the Crawley’s of Stockwood House and managed by the Land Agent Mr Cumberland (who owned the cattle market in the town). Excelsior and other teams rented a meadow in Dallow Lane. Wanderers played at the People’s Park area known as Bell’s Close until they moved to Dallow Lane at the start of the 1884/85 season.
The first illustration shows the Dallow Lane ground from 1884 to 1887. The pitch nearest to Dunstable Road was Excelsior (1879 to 1885) then Luton Town’s (1885 to 1897). The other pitch was Wanderers from 1884 to 1887. The ends were known as the railway/gasworks end and the Dallow Lane/Workhouse end. Most of the Workhouse is still standing and is now St. Mary’s Hospital. Luton Albany also played in Dallow Lane – Albany Meadow (1884 -1887). The illustrations are not to scale.
After the demise of Wanderers in the spring of 1887, Luton Town had more room and therefore flexibility in the meadow. They may have moved the pitch onto that of the Wanderers – they certainly did after the Pavilion was built in 1890. The Pavilion was built in the Summer and Autumn of 1890 and paid for by the brewer J.W. Green at a cost of £50. The Pavilion held spectators on the upper tier. The ground floor held changing rooms and a refreshment stall underneath. The photo below is from 1957.
The ground was also levelled at the time the pavilion was built in 1890. It is highly likely that earth from this levelling was formed into banks or rudimentary terraces for supporters.
The ground was also used for cricket, athletics, cycling and it was the premier venue for the town of Luton for fairs, concerts, dog shows and other events.
January 1893 saw the pitch turned 90 degrees with a goal at the Dunstable Road end and at the pavilion end. December 1893 saw the grandstand built in the position shown in the illustration below. There is no evidence of a permanent grandstand on the site before this date.
The grandstand could hold 400 people and below is the only photograph we have.
We know from a newspaper interview with Isaac Smith, the club secretary, that the pitch in 1894 was 120 yards long by 70 yards wide. The minimum width a pitch could be was 70 yards which was used by the club as the railway line and Dallow Lane bordered the site.
The aerial photo (2017) below shows my best estimate of where the pitch was positioned from 1894.
The circle is the site of the pavilion and the small oblong the site of the grandstand.
I visited the site (now Dallow Road Primary School) in January 2016 with the club historian and took some photographs.
The following photo was taken on the goal line at the Pavilion End with Dallow Lane in the background and the Railway line/Hatters way behind the camera. In October 1895 a step to form a terrace was cut – the bank could well be the remains of that terrace.
The following photo was taken near the halfway line looking towards Dallow Lane.
The following photo was taken from next to the grandstand looking towards Dunstable Road.
The following photo (was taken roughly where the Grandstand photo was taken in April 1896) looking towards the Workhouse. You can just see the Workhouse to the left of the fir tree.
Record attendance at the Dallow Lane ground was 6,898 v West Bromwich Albion in the F.A. Cup on the 30th January 1897.
Background to the site
1880 Ordnance Survey map below
From the History of Luton by William Austin, 1928. –
“In the Manor Court Rolls of 1829 mention is made of a brickfield in Dunstable Road worked by one William Gregory, who had erected some cottages on the waste there. It must be noted that seventy years ago [so 1857] the whole of the fields on the east side of Dunstable Road from Alma Street to the railway were disused brickfields. The cottages referred to were the old thatched cottages which stood on the sites of the houses now called “Brighton Terrace” and Victoria Villas.
In the same year, 1829, a well-known man, Lawrence Clark, obtained permission from the Lord of the Manor to enclose “Fox Dell,” a part of the “waste of the Manor.” Fox Dell was at the corner of Dallow Lane and Dunstable Road, opposite the Fox public-house. In this Dell Clark erected a thatched cottage which was standing till a few years ago.
The “Fox” public-house has been recently (1927) rebuilt. An annual fair used to be held in front of this inn called the “Fox Fair.”
In 1859 John S. Crawley added Dallow Farm to the Stockwood Estate.
The above is an advert from the Summer of 1873.
From a letter held by Bedfordshire Archives dated 22nd July 85 talking about Dallow Farm,
“Scarborough, the original tenant in February signed farm over to Seymour, to be ratified by Mr Crawley. Mr Crawley agreed, so no claim against Crawley. Mr Scarborough’s stock is still on the land and to be sold on the 5th August 1885”.
Below are two photos and a painting of Dallow Farm.
T.G. Hobbs recollections of Scarborough’s Meadow, Dallow Lane, appeared in the Luton News in the 1930’s.
“Scarborough’s Meadow that I knew for twenty years or more as a favourite place for school treats, is now covered by the last streets lying between Dallow-road and Ashburnham-road. Beyond the infirmary it was all open country except for a cottage in a dell nearly opposite the Infirmary. Schools taking part in combined efforts would meet upon Park-square and march to the meadow. In particular I remember the celebration of the Sunday School Centenary about 1882 when there was a massed effort to sing before forming a procession. The singing was led by a cornet and conducted by Mr George Wing. Probably 10,000 persons were present in Park-square. Other demonstrations on a big scale used to be carried out there by United Bands of Hope”.
The early days of football in Dallow Lane
As usual, I have included every scrap of evidence on the ground that I have come across. Some is not useful at the moment but as I have found time and again, it may come in handy at a later stage.
Luton Excelsior played in Dallow Lane presumably from their formation in 1879. Luton Albany also played there and Luton Wanderers moved there in 1884. We do not know if Excelsior built a grandstand. We know from the minute book that Captain Andrew Carruthers had built one at Bury Farm. So it was feasible for Excelsior to have built a structure there if the landlord approved. But it is not mentioned.
The committee meeting of 13th October 1885 agreed on the first structure for the ground which was that a
“box or hut be made for the convenience of members of the committee at the entrance to our meadow in Dallow Lane”.
Presumably the gatemen had got cold and wet taking the admission money so required some shelter. The first structure belonging to the club was what sounds like a sentry box.
The Luton Town committee meeting on 31st October 1885 instructed Mr Smith to see Mr Spratley the Wanderers’ Secretary;
“to inform him that if the Wanderers liked they could to their benefit keep people off our braeded [braided] fence”.
This is an important clue we have about the meadow in Dallow Lane. Wanderers were at home to Chesham and the Luton Town second eleven would be practising in the same meadow. We can guess that there were a series of pitches on the site as Albany also played in Dallow Lane. The minutes book mention a gate from Dallow Lane but this was probably a five bar gate. A braided fence can be a semi-permanent hurdle which had stakes at each end which could be hammered into the ground to separate the two pitches. It could be taken up afterwards if necessary. This would be a good solution to keeping a boundary between the two rivals.
The Luton Reporter of the first week in January 1886 says;
“Two good matches are announced for tomorrow (Saturday). The first is between the Clapham Rovers (who were in the third round for the Association Challenge Cup) and the Town Club in the meadow of the latter, and begins at three o’clock; the second is between the United London Scottish and the Wanderers, in the meadow of the latter at two o’clock”. So there must have been some co-operation between Luton Town and Wanderers to arrange this staggered kick off. As it gets dark at about 4.10pm, Luton Town must have agreed with Clapham that the game would last about seventy minutes
In the Summer of 1886 the committee resolved that a urinal be fixed by Mr Almond at the cheapest possible rate, the second structure to be erected on the Dallow Lane ground.
Spring 1887 – Luton Wanderers, who played on a pitch next to Luton Town, went out of business, thus freeing up the meadow entirely to the Straw Plaiters.
The committee decided on 12th April 1887 to write to the Luton Town Cricket Club for permission “for the shed to remain allowing them use of the same”. Apart from the box for the gatemen and the urinal, this is the first permanent structure directly referred to. The Cricket Club appear to have moved to Dallow Lane.
24th September 1887 – “The positions of the goals had been slightly but advantageously altered, since last season.”
22nd October 1887 – “They won the toss and elected to play towards the railway end”.
26th December 1887 – In a game against Unity of Wimbledon “During the interval a general stampede occurred among the spectators, who moved en masse to the other end of the ground, expecting (as really proved to be the case) that play would be kept pretty much near the visitors’ goal.”
Below is an advert from the Bedfordshire Times of August 1888.
Summer 1888, the Club secure the Fox as dressing room for the coming season.
Summer 1888 – building work on the meadow according to the February 1889 Cricket AGM
15th June 1889 – Athletic meeting at Dallow Lane, very heavy rain and the “stand was fairly well patronised” but “the rain was such that people got wet anyway.” This was probably a temporary stand built for the day. Newspapers around the country mention many such temporary stands being built at this time, and earlier. Some temporary structures held over a thousand spectators at some of the major events.
August 1889 and LTFC minute book make no mention of using the Fox or any other pub as a dressing room.
23rd November 1889 – Luton Reporter – “Deacon started the ball for the locals towards the Workhouse, but it was soon returned by the visitors, who pressed rather severely for the first fifteen minutes, and missed two splendid chances at goal. The tables, however, were soon reversed. Miller, by a magnificent piece of leather chasing, transferred to H. Whitby, who scored one of the best goals ever obtained in the Lane. After the kick-off Miller, who played all through in grand style, settled on the ball, and made a praiseworthy attempt, which was frustrated by a “header,” and after a corner and scrimmage the ball got away. In the second half the “reds” made matters pretty warm for the citizens. J.C. Lomax, Miller and F. Whitby in succession endeavoured to add to the count, the last named missing an easy chance through being blinded by smoke of a passing engine.”
The goalmouth must have therefore been very close to the railway line.
The ground is redeveloped
4th August 1890 – LTFC Minute book entry talks of a “grandstand and enclosure.” They meant pavilion as there is no more mention of a grandstand until money is raised in 1893 to build one.
September 1890 – The LTFC Minute book mentions for the first time that there was a transfer to the Pavilion of 3d.
The levelling of the pitch would have given them earth to construct banks around at least some of the pitch for spectators to stand on to watch the game.
29th November 1890 Opening of the new ground. The Luton Reporter begins;
“On Saturday, last the much-improved ground in Dallow-lane was formally opened, the occasion being a return football match between the Town Club and Old St. Mark’s. The ground, as has been previously stated, has been hired under a seven years’ lease by a central committee composed of representatives of the Town Football, Cricket and Athletic Clubs. The work of levelling was undertaken in the autumn and though it is not yet completed sufficient progress has been made to enable the winter game to be played. There will eventually be a cinder path track, tennis courts and other conveniences. The pavilion, which has been erected at the expense of Mr J.W. Green, stands in a position facing Dunstable-road. The building itself is not quite finished, and various adornments which are to be added have not at present been commenced. Now, however, there is ample space for spectators above, with abundance of room for players underneath, while a refreshment bar is placed on the ground floor, refreshments being dispensed here on Saturday by Mr H. Pike. The formal ceremony of opening the ground was performed by Alderman Alexander (ex-Mayor), this consisting in kicking-off the ball in the match. There was a surprisingly large number of spectators, the ropes being entirely lined; indeed, the number must have been a record for Luton.”
The ground was shared with the Athletics and Cricket Clubs who, along with the Football Club, contributed members to a Central Committee. This committee dealt with the loans and legal responsibilities for the ground including liaising with the owners. The individual clubs having the day to day running of the ground during their sporting season.
The above photo and article appeared in the Luton News in 1957. It says that the structure was used as stables. This was within living memory and the article includes a quote from a fan who witnessed the infamous 1894 Luton v Millwall game when the referee, Nat Whittaker, did not have his best game. The fan confirms it was the pavilion.
The photo below appeared in the Luton News in 1955. Circled is the Pavilion. It stands at a slightly strange angle to the pitch. This angle is a nagging doubt as is the fact that it is brick built – would a landlord allow a permanent wooden structure to be built on their land?
We have the following clip from the Luton News of 10th June 1898 which talks about Brown’s Timber yard (which was built on the site) and confirms it was the pavilion.
28th February 1891 – “The home eleven lost the toss and they defended the goal at the railway end.”
18th April 1891 – “Kettering, who had the sun in their eyes, having to defend the goal at the railway end”
3rd October 1891 – “The home captain lost the toss and the Lutonians defended the goal at the gas-works end during the first half. The sun was shining very brightly in the faces of the Luton men during this time and not only did they labour under this distinct disadvantage but they were also playing against the wind.”
16th January 1892 – “defended the Workhouse end” v Middlesbrough.
March and April 1892 – “defended the Pavilion End.”
19th September 1892 – minute book,
“Mr Hughes then brought forward the goal nets again saying that after Saturday everyone ought to be convinced as to the advisability of using them but as the club had already gone as far as practicably with regard to expense he, with the sanction of the committee would guarantee to find enough money for the nets and possibly for canvas to protect the ground from over lookers. It was therefore proposed by Mr Pakes and seconded by Mr Hackett and carried unanimously that Mr Hughes be allowed to collect subscriptions for the above object”.
30th September 1892 – The Luton times says
“A good collection was made on the ground for the purchase of goal nets, and canvas to be placed on the Dallow-lane fence to prevent outsiders from having a gratuitous view of the game. The goal nets will be used at once and the canvas put up as soon as possible.”
16th January 1893 committee meeting – “Resolved that the ground be changed and play in the opposite direction”.
March and April 1893 – “Defended the Pavilion end.”
April 1893 – “Galbraith started play from the Workhouse end with the sun shining in the faces of himself and his companions.”
May 1893. Newspaper reports of a little girl who lived in Dallow Lane having an accident. There were therefore some houses built in the Lane at this time.
May 1893 – AGM talks of men who lent the club £5 for ground improvements. These must have been for substantial building work and must mean the proposed grandstand.
A committee goes to Bury Farm to see if they can move the grandstand there to Dallow Lane (Bury Park FC had folded). The committee reports that it is not possible to move it. This might have had an impact on the design of the new grandstand at Dallow Lane. They may have designed it to be dismantled (as the club did not own the Dallow lane ground)
9th August 1893 – minute book, “Mr Horn then gave the report of the ground committee who recommended that the canvas should be extended to double its present length and if it was found that the sand in Mr Deacon’s Meadow was raised to allow the play to be seen, enough canvas be purchased to prevent the same”. Work to be carried out at once.
11th September 1893 – minute book entry “Work to be carried out in respect to the canvas.”
24th September 1893, Luton Reporter – “It is understood that Mr T.N. Hughes has been successful in collecting sufficient to provide goal-nets and canvas for the Dallow-lane side of the field.”
September 1893 – “The Luton men lost the toss and kicked off from the Dunstable-road end with the blinding sun shining full in their faces.”
September 1893 – “Galbraith started operations from the Dunstable-road end with the sun and a fairly stiff breeze against him.”
2nd October 1893 – Minute book entry –
The sub committee appointed to view Mr Taylor’s stand reported that they could not recommend it as it was in no way suitable for the purpose required. After considerable discussion Mr Davey volunteered next week to bring in a drawing of a stand 120 foot long with 3 tiers of seats with room for 2 rows to stand behind them, the seats to be one yard apart”.
“resolved that the tarring of the racks be left to the groundman”.
The “racks” are duck boards to keep the supporters out of the mud. There may well have been terraced “racks” of a couple of steps. Together with steps cut into banks around part of the ground these would have provided a reasonable view for most supporters.
October 1893 – “set the enemy to defend the Dunstable road goal with the sun and a stiff breeze in their faces.”
16th October 1893 – minute book entry
“Resolved that a tracing and specifications of grandstand be sent Messrs Smart, Dunham, Neville, Pryer, Pratt, Foster asking them to tender for the same, tenders to be sent to the secretary not later than 6 o’clock on Thursday”.
20th November 1893 – minute book -“The stand be proceeded with forthwith”.
27th November 1893 – minute book;
“The Secretary then stated that Mr Smart had suggested certain alterations from plan of stand however, it was resolved to adhere strictly to the specifications”.
“It was then resolved that Secretary advertise in local papers for persons to take up shares of £2 each in grand stand 5% per annum being guaranteed, the same also guaranteed to be paid off in four years. And in the case of withdrawals, notification required on either side share list open 14 days.”
“Hire of ground”. The application for Charity Committee for the ground for the Semis and Final ties was then brought forward. It was proposed by Mr Hinson, seconded Mr Horn, that £12 10s per day be charged. This sum to include everything appertaining to the ground viz., goals, canvas, stand and preparing and making out ground”.
4th December 1893, minute book entry – “Resolved that if the stand is ready by Saturday the charge be 3d”.
11th December 1893 minute book entry “the whole committee stand as security for shares in the grand stand”.
18th December 1893. minute book entry – “Resolved that the back part of stand be filled up, barriers be constructed at the side and everything be completed by Wednesday 20th”.
23rd December 1893 – from the Luton Reporter on the F.A. Cup Divisional Final replay against the Sherwood Foresters – “On Saturday there was a very large attendance, and the new grand stand – a commodious wooden structure capable of accommodating about 400 persons – was well filled, those present numbering upwards of 3,000.”
December 1893 – The minute book does not mention separate admission money to the grandstand. It carries on mentioning separate Pavilion admission money. So the Pavilion must have retained its view of the pitch and was therefore not blocked by the grandstand.
December 1893 – pavilion end mentioned – reserve game
January 1894 – pavilion end mentioned – reserve game
February 1894 – pavilion end mentioned.
February 1894 – “Montrose started operations from the Dunstable-road end.”
March 1894 – Workhouse end mentioned.
April 1894 – played from the pavilion end.
7th May 1894 – the club minute book says that the committee agreed that “the shares for the grand stand and the improvement of the ground be paid off.”
21st May 1894 – Minute book, Members season tickets to be 10/6 per annum for all games except cup ties.
28th May 1894 AGM -“Mr Squires asked what compensation they could get for ground improvements.” “The Secretary replied that the ground had been levelled but the owners did not consider that an improvement as regards its use for building purposes. If an agreement could not be arrived at as to improvements, then the question would go to arbitrators. The grand stand was their own, and they could take half of what the pavilion made, the other half going to Messrs Cumberlands, the owners.
Mr T. Millard asked whether it would be necessary to make any ground improvements for next season, and inquired as to the £35.
Mr H. Arnold said that the sum referred to the original improvement account, when the ground was first taken over, and £225 had to be contributed between the football, athletic and cricket committees. £40 had remained for them to pay, and of this £35 had been cleared off, the balance of £5 having been advanced by a gentleman who had left the town and was not likely to ask for it.”
13th August 1894 – Minute book entry, turnstile tenders noted.
20th August 1894 – Minute book says turnstiles awarded to Stevens, Barnes and Impey.
Summer 1894. Isaac Smith is interviewed by a newspaper and says the pitch is 120 yards long by 70 yards wide.
1st September 1894 Luton Times reported that at the match against Grantham Rovers;
“the long expected pair of Iron turnstiles had been erected at the entrance to the ground and these were now used for the first time, proving a great convenience.”
3rd September 1894 – Minute book says that the “Hon Sec obtain a board for members entrance with the following painted on it – Members and boys only.
10th September 1894 – minute book “Resolved that Mr F. Scott be appointed to superintend the work in connection with the alterations on the ground. Also resolved that a sub committee be appointed consisting of Mr Arnold, Treasurer and Secretary to accept tenders for alteration to grand stand and arrange about the same.”
15th September 1894 -“Luton took what advantage they could of the wind, which was not much, and kicked up-hill towards the Dunstable-road” and “he sent the ball almost as near the pavilion as the goal-posts.”
1st October 1894 – Minute book “Turnstile on stand left to be fixed in the best way possible.” And “Resolved that 1000 tickets be printed and sold outside the gates on Saturday 6th to relieve the rush on the turnstiles.”
Also in that meeting it was resolved that; “old gates be repainted and lettered (v Luton Town Football Ground) also that a board be obtained 3 ft by 6 to take the posters also that another board be furnished for boys only.”
December 1894 – tender issued for installation of shower bath for the dressing rooms.
21st December 1894 – Luton Times “and the grand-stand which is only capable of holding 400, was fully occupied.”
26th January 1895 – minute book “Resolved Hon Sec hire form [long bench] to place on one side of the ground inside the ropes to place the same as best he can.”
25th February 1895 – minute book “Resolved that sec obtain ashes to repair paths on Ground.”
4th March 1895 – minute book “Resolved that Hon Sec advertise that we are prepared to tenders for letting of Athletic ground for all kinds of sports during the summer months.” The meeting of 11th March shows that the Luton Athletic Club hired the ground for Whit Monday [when they held a fund raising event] and for training purposes for £15.
14th May 1895 minute book Resolved “to let the ground to Volunteer Club for cricket at £8 8s 0d provided it is left to their cricket club members only, we reserving our right to the ground when wanted by the club.”
1st August 1895 – minute book “that members only be allowed on the ground during practice.”
19th August 1895 – minute book “Mr Dimmock be allowed to sell fruit on the ground at the same price as last season £4 4s 0d. The Coffee stall was left over until next meeting.”
9th September 1895 – Minute book entry “Resolved that as the lamplighters and postmen find it impossible to see the whole of a match they be charged half price.”
18th November 1895 – minute book shows that committee resolved to allow soldiers in uniform at half-price.
7th October 1895 – Minute book “Resolved that another step be made for a kind of terrace at the back of the goal.” Also “that a sub committee be formed consisting of Messrs Barford Bennett and Sec to see to all the canvas requirements of the ground.”
5th June 1895 – minute book “to let the ground to Mr Spratley any day in July for dog show at a charge of £5.”
11th October 1895 – Luton Times “the drenching rain caused everyone to crowd into the shelter afforded by the grand stand and the pavilion.”
2nd December 1895 – Minute book “Mr Bennett to take the Dallow Lane gate and Mr Worboys the old pavilion.”
16th December 1895 – Minute book “ resolved that the players practice at goal off the pitch for the present.”
April 1896 – the team and 16 men in hats (and moustaches obviously) are photographed in front of a goal with nets with houses on the Dunstable Road in the background.
You can see the houses in the background which were in Dunstable Road. On the right you can see the Workhouse – below the two windows in the workhouse you can see an undulating fence. This is not a fence but the canvas referred to above. This was put in place along Dallow Lane to stop people viewing the match for free from the road. In the photo of the grandstand below we can see the workhouse in the background left with the same undulating canvas fence.
Piece the two photos together with the OS map, all our evidence and bear in mind the bend in Dallow Lane and we have the location of the pitch and grandstand to a very good degree of certainty.
The final piece of evidence comes from the Luton News of the 4th February 1897 which confirms the whereabouts of the pitch for the last game at Dallow Lane – “for twenty yards around the goal at the pavilion end, it was practically a sheet of ice…”
Dallow Lane record attendance 6,898 v West Bromwich Albion in the F.A. Cup on the 30th January 1897.
If you have any thoughts, evidence or photos relating to this article please get in touch via the contact button.
I am preparing another article on the move from Dallow Lane to Dunstable Road.
Wardown Park Museum, part of Luton Culture
Luton Central Library
Charlie Turner for the graphics
Dallow Road Primary School