DUNSTABLE: Geographical and Historical information from the year 1791.


[Transcribed information from The Universal British Directory - 1791]

"DUNSTABLE is 33 miles distant from London, and the same distance from Northampton; 18 from Newport Pagnel; and nine from Wooburn. It stands on a chalky hill at the entrance of the Chiltern, where the old Roman Watling-street is crossed by the Ickneld-street; and Roman coins have been sometimes picked up near it, which the country-folks called madning money. Not far from it also, on the very descent of the Chiltern-hills, is an area of nine acres, with a deep ditch and rampart round it, which is called Maiden-bower. This town, having been ruined by the Danes, was rebuilt by Henry I. who made it a royal borough, but it never sent members to parliament, though once summoned i the reign of Edward II. In 1224 a council was held here by the archbishop of Canterbury. King Edward I. erected a cross here, with the arms of England, &c. in memory of his Queen Eleanor. Here several of the Lollards were martyred, in the reigns of Henry V. and VII. The church is part of a priory, built by Henry I. and opposite to it is a farm-house, called Kingsbury, once a royal palace. An epitaph in its church mentions a woman here who had nine children born at three several births, and six more at three others. The church was part of the priory; and archbishop Cranmer was the last prior, who here pronounced the sentence of divorce against queen Catherine.

Here is a charity-school. The larks taken hereabouts are said to be the largest and best in the kingdom. The road here being broad, well-beaten, and plain, and it being also the centre of many roads to London, has given rise to the proverb, "As plain as Dunstable road." Here are four streets, answering to the four cardinal points; and, for want of springs here, they have each a public pond, which, though only supplied by rain-water, are never dry. It is a populous town, and has several good inns, some of which are like palaces, it being a great thoroughfare to the counties in the North and North-west, and consequently to Scotland and Ireland.

This place seems, in former times, to have been famous for brewing; and at this time, the women hereabouts carry on a great manufacture of hats, and other conveniences and utensils made of straw; in which, it is said, they excel all the world. This part of the county was formerly very woody, and, together with the fastnesses in the Chiltern-hills, was a harbour for great gangs of highwaymen; to curb whom, Henry I. built Kingsbury above-mentioned, after the town had been ruined by the Danes, and then re-peopled the place, by promising great privileges to such of his subjects as were willing to come and settle here.

In the reign of king Henry VII. Dr. Smith, bishop of Lincoln, ordered William Tillsworth to be burnt here for denying the pope's supremacy, with this remarkable circumstance of cruelty, that his only daughter was compelled to set fire to the faggots.

The gentlemen of Bedfordshire, some time since, came to the laudable resolution of sloping the chalk-hill near this town, for the benefit of the road, which, in s frost, or after a shower of rain, usued to be so slippery, that neither men nor horses could keep their feet, which often occasioned great damage to both; to prevent which for the future, they employed a number of hands to lower it.

The market is on Wednesdays for corn, straw, plat, and hats. There are four fairs in the year, viz. Ash-Wednesday; 22d of May; 12th of August; and 12th of November; for horses and all sorts of cattle. The post comes in every morning except Monday, and goes out every evening except Saturday.

A great number of stage-coaches pass and repass almost every hour of the day, and the fare to London is eight shillings. Lesley's stage-waggon from Toddington goes from the Nag's Head inn in this town, every Monday and Friday morning, to the Golden Lion, St. John's-street, and returns every Wednesday and Sunday morning."

[Description(s) transcribed by Craig Pickup ©2002]