Looking around Houghton Regis today, there are many clues to its history and the way it would have looked in past times. There are many old buildings that have survived the test of time and still retain their historic character. The street names are also a clue to what has been before.
It is known that Puddlehill (where Chalk Hill is now situated) was occupied from Neolithic times. Before Watling Street (now the A5) was cut through the chalk, Puddlehill and Maidenbower were on the same piece of downland. The hamlets of Puddlehill, Sewell, Bidwell and Thorn formed part of the parish of Houghton Regis and are still recorded as such today.
In the history books references to Houghton Regis have been found at the time of Edward the Confessor. In 1086, it was entered into the Domesday Book, which was a record of a survey of the land of England carried out by the commissioners of William 1st.
The name of Houstone was recorded in the Domesday Book, but many different versions of the name were recorded between the years of 1086 and 1353. The village name was recorded as Kyngshouton in 1287, while the name of Houghton Regis as seen today, was first used in 1353. The name Regis was used even in the days of the Domesday Book, as it was a royal manor. It has also been thought that the name Houghton was of Saxon origins with “Hoe” meaning spur of a hill and “Tun” meaning village. Whichever the true meaning, it is certainly interesting reading.
England was the subject of many invasions in earlier times, and in 878 AD there were raids by the Danes, which led to England being divided. Houghton Regis was in the middle of the two sides and Anglo-Saxon chronicles record an occasion in 913 AD when the Danes set out to raid Luton. Thanks to local people the aggressors were driven away and by the time Edward the Confessor came to power in 1046, this was a peaceful land once more.
The oldest known building, which is standing in Houghton today, is All Saints’ Parish Church, (situated next to Bedford Square), which was built in the 13th/14th century. Before this a Saxon Church stood on the same site and is mentioned in the Domesday Book. Most of modern day Houghton Regis has been built around its magnificent structure and many people still enjoy visiting the church and worshipping there.
Locally Houghton Regis is famous for Houghton Hall (listed as an Ancient Monument), which was built by Dame Alice Milard in 1654 and completed in 1700. Nowadays this building is no longer a private residence and is currently used as offices. The hall once had large and magnificent grounds surrounding it, and although part of the site has been broken up, what remains is currently being returned to it’s former glory and houses many examples of wildlife.
The Crown Inn, situated along East End, is another part of local history that is still appreciated today. The inn is on a register of alehouse licences of 1822 and it is possibly the same building, which appears on a parish valuation of 1797.
The area has been constantly changing and over recent years has been the subject of much re-development.
The local boundary lines have been the subject of many changes, with much land being taken away from the Parish of Houghton Regis. The area today known as High Street North was formerly part of Upper Houghton and was added to Dunstable in 1907. In April 1933 a few local streets under went a name change, during the extension of the borough of Dunstable, and Poynters Road Dunstable, which leads into Houghton Regis, was one of those streets. It was originally known as Park Road South, whilst Park Road North has still retained its original name.
The boundary lines continued to change well into the 1950s when the Brewers Hill Estate was being built. This estate was again originally incorporated into Upper Houghton, but was lost to Dunstable when the borough was extended. The parish of Houghton Regis was not happy about this and the Parish Council put up a strong case in their defence (1953) including the scandalous increase in rates!
With the continuing trend for progress the Tithe Farm Estate was built during the 1960s with its shopping centre Bedford Square being a typical example of 1960s architecture. The original Tithe Farm, which stood on the site of Bedford Square, had a Tithe Barn built in the 15th century by Abbot John Moore. Unfortunately the farm and barn were demolished during the 1960s developments. The estate was built to ease the housing problem in the Capital to house the over spill. The Dunstable Gazette of January 1954 reported that local authorities within 100-mile radius of London were in discussions about providing assistance with housing. The area evolved with its own community life and identity, separate from those of Luton and Dunstable and with its own local facilities.
Unfortunately during the redevelopment of the area many small shops and businesses along the High Street have been lost, taking with them historic buildings. This has been one major change between the way Houghton Regis once looked and the way it appears today. Examples of businesses, which once stood are K Edwards - Provision & Grocery Stores at 100-102 High Street, Houghton Regis (now a car sales showroom), The White Horse and Five Bells Public Houses and The Queen Street Bakery, which was one of the several local bakeries owned by Mr. P Ward (once a local delivery boy). Houghton Regis was also home to The Portland Cement works.
Redevelopment of the area continued through the 1970s when the Parkside Estate was built and has continued ever since. With the cost of housing increasing in the cities, people from all over the country have continued to settle here due to somewhat lower prices and the ease of travel into London via rail and road networks.
With the dawn of a new millennium arrived new developments with brand new properties being built on the edges of the town. The most recent changes to the landscape being the addition of a new estate (under construction at the time of writing) along Sandringham Drive.
It is clear that Houghton Regis with its ancient history will continue to grow and expand into this new century and beyond, bringing with it new and exciting developments and events which will form the history of tomorrow.