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DUNSTABLE

[Transcribed and edited information from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland - 1868]

"DUNSTABLE, a parish and market town in the hundred of Manshead, in the county of Bedford, 18 miles south west of Bedford, 5 miles west of Luton, and 47 miles by the NorthWestern railway from London, being connected with that line by a branch of 7 miles from Leighton Blizzard. The town is situated on the Chiltern hills, near the old Roman highways Watling and Iknield Street, and is supposed to have been the Magiovinium of Antoninus, afterwards called by the Britons Maes Gwyn. A synod was held here in the early part of the 13th century, about which time was founded a monastery of Black Friars by Henry I., who erected a royal residence at Kingsbury Farm, rebuilt the town of Dunstable, which had been devastated by the Danes two centuries before, and constituted it a borough, with privilege to hold two markets weekly, Sunday and Wednesday, and a fair on St. Peter's day. Across to Queen Eleanor formerly existed in the town, but was destroyed during the civil wars of Charles I. Stephen and his successor, Henry II., met at this place in 1154. Tournaments frequently took place here, and theatricals were performed in this town as early as 1110, the subject being" The Miracles of St. Catherine," by Abbot Geoffrey, of St. Alban's. In the reign of Henry V., Tillsworth and other Lollards suffered martyrdom here. The place has long been famous for the manufacture of straw-plait, besides which lace, basket-making, and the whiting-works afford employment to many of the inhabitants. The town, which chiefly consists of four streets, corresponding with the four cardinal points of the compass, contains a bank, the union poorhouse, and Chew's free school. It is situated under the Chiltern hills, and is very imperfectly lighted and paved. The water is supplied from artesian wells, sunk in the chalk stratum on which the town stands. The neighbourhood is celebrated for larks, great numbers of which are annually sent to London for sale. The living is a rectory* in the diocese of Ely, value £150, in the patronage of the lord chancellor. The church, dedicated to SS. Peter and Paul, is an ancient structure in the Norman and early English styles, originally built in the form of a cross. It has a beautifully carved oak roof, and contains some monumental brasses of the 14th century, and monuments of the Chew and other families; likewise a funeral pall, richly worked, a gift of the Fayreys. In this church was read the sentence of divorce against Queen Catherine by Archbishop Cranmer. The charities amount to over £2,000 per annum, of which £331 is for Chew's free school, about £100 is given to the poor, and the remainder is the endowment of Ashton's and Caste's almshouses; Marsh's almshouses, for unmarried gentlewomen in straitened circumstances has an income from endowment of £133. Dunstable gives name to a deanery, in the archdeaconry of Bedford and diocese of Ely. Here the Baptists have two and the Wesleyans one chapel. There are National and British schools for both sexes. The remains of immense ramparts of earth mark the site of the Roman fortifications of Magiovinium, and at Maiden Bower are traces of a British camp of 9 acres, supposed by some to be the ancient Magintum. The Queen is lady of the manor. Wednesday is market day. Fairs are held on Ash Wednesday, the 22nd May, 12th August, and 12th November; which last is the largest fair in the county for sheep."

[Transcribed from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland 1868]
by Colin Hinson 2003

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