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[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 ©2013




Church History

  • Church of England
    • The living is a rectory not in charge, in the archdeaconry of Bedford, and diocese of Lincoln, endowed with £200 private benefaction, and in the patronage of the Crown. The church, which, with some rooms having vaulted and groined stone roofs, forms the only remains of the ancient priory, is dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul, and was originally a magnificent and extensive cruciform structure, with a tower rising from the intersection: Henry VIII. having abandoned his design of making it a cathedral, a considerable part of the edifice was demolished. The remains consist of the west front, nave, and two aisles each of the latter extends from the western doors to the entrance to what was once the choir, being about one hundred and twenty feet long: at the north-west angle is a tower embellished with a double row of niches, which formerly contained statues. The architecture combines some portions in the Norman, with others in the early and later English styles. The windows are of comparatively modern date; the eastern end terminates in a flat wall, the two arches adjoining which form the present choir: the roof is of finely carved oak in the decorated style, the beams being supported by figures representing angels : the western entrance is surmounted by an elegant stone rood-loft of four pointed arches and clustered columns. Over the communion-table is a painting of the Lord's Supper, by Sir James Thornhill. The ancient altar-cloth, (which is now in the possession of John Miller, Esq., of Bedford, or his representatives), is a fabric of the richest crimson and gold brocade, so exquisitely wrought, that it has hitherto been impossible to discover the mode in which it was manufactured; and, though upwards of three hundred years old, it still retains its original freshness and beauty. Amongst the various monuments in the chinch are several to the Chew family, who were great benefactors to the town. On the eastern side of the church, stone coffins and various relics of antiquity have been dug up. There are two places of worship for Baptists, and one for Wesleyan Methodists.

      [A Topographical Dictionary of England - Samuel Lewis - 1831] Henry I. in or subsequently to the year 1131, established here a priory of Black Canons, dedicated to St. Peter; after its surrender, c.1534, the greater part of the buildings were pulled down; and the site was granted, 1: Mary (1553), to Sir Leonard Chamberlayne. The portion still remaining consists of part of the nave and west front of the conventual church, and now forms the parish church of St. Peter, which consists of clerestoried nave and aisles, a length of about 120 feet, and an embattled tower with a bold octagonal turret rising above it at the north-west angle, and containing 8 bells: the exterior is chiefly Norman, and on each side of the nave are arcades of six circular arches: the oak roof is entirely new, and is finely carved with knots of flowers; the beams supported by figures of angels: the south aisle has been restored, with a groined Norman roof: the north aisle: is Perpendicular and was restored in 1876: the west end of the interior exhibits a beautiful stone screen of four arches of the Early English period, but the east end is a plain wall, possibly built when the other portions of the priory were demolished, the two eastern most arches on either side forming the present choir: the west front consists principally of two stages, flanked on the north by the staircase turret of the tower, which is supported by massive buttresses, relieved by Early English niches, once tiled with statues of which there are still some remains: on the south side is a smaller embattled turret, with buttresses of equal size: the lower storey has a very fine Norman arch of four orders, with as many columns on either side, the mouldings being richly carved: the doorway itself is blocked, and filled with a smaller entrance of Perpendicular work, above which are three niches; the lesser or northern entrance, beneath the tower, is an elegant Early English arch, recessed in five orders; between these is another Early English arch enclosing a portion of a Norman arcading ; the next portion of the first stage is filled, as far as the great Norman arch, with an Early English arcade, the arches of which retain pedestals: the second stage displays a lofty open arcade of the same period, leading to the tower, two of the openings over the great entrance being larger than the rest and rising to the parapet ; the unequal surface thus created is filled with a small blind arcading, and the whole is finished with battlements; the commingling of Norman and Early English work on this front is very remarkable, and the character of the Norman ornament, though much mutilated, almost matchless: in the Lady Chapel of this church, Archbishop Cranmer, on May 23rd, 1533, publicly pronounced the divorcement of Queen Katherine: the plate and rich pulpit cloth were presented by two sisters in the year 1721: in the south wall of the nave is a flat arched recess, richly feathered, and enclosing the recumbent effigy of an ecclesiastic, fully vested, with the head resting on cushions and the hands together: a large slab in the nave contains brass effigies in shrouds, of Henry Fayrey, 1516, and Agnes his wife ; below is an inscription and figures of 9 children; parts of this, as well as the circular brasses at the angles are missing: there are other brasses to Lawrence Pygot, 1450, and Alice his wife ; John Peddar, 1463, and his wives Margaret, Matilda and Agnes; John Blunte, 1502, and his wife Elizabeth and 15 children; Richard Pynfold, 1516, and his wife Margaret, and 4 sons; Robert Alee, 1518, and his wife Elizabeth; Nicholas Purvey, 1521, and his wives Elizabeth and Alys, and children; Richard Fynche, 1640; Thomas Fynche, 1586; Elizabeth Fynch, 1607; and others, 1460 and 1520: the church was thoroughly restored during the year 1871, under the direction of a committee, at a total cost of £12,000; the south aisle was rebuilt, the whole of the nave walls repaired, and a new roof fixed, the interior renovated, and the open arcade of the west front renewed. The register dates from the year 1558. [Kelly's Directory - Bedfordshire - 1898]

  • Non-conformist
    • There are two places of worship for Baptists, and one for Wesleyan Methodists. [A Topographical Dictionary of England - Samuel Lewis - 1831]
    • Here are Baptist, Congregational, Primitive and Wesleyan chapels.
    • The Catholics have a mission at 78 High street.
    • A cemetery of 10 acres, in West street, was laid out in 1863; it has two mortuary chapels, and is under the control of a burial board of 12 members. [Kelly's Directory - Bedfordshire - 1898]

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