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Dunstable in 1837

DUNSTABLE, or DUNSTAPLE, a market town in the hundred of Manshead in the county of Bedford, eighteen miles south-by-west from Bedford, and thirty-three miles north-west-by-north from London, situated at the point of contact of the Iknield and Watling Street's.

It was in very early times a place of considerable importance. Its modern name is supposed by many etymologists to be derived from Dun or Dunning, a famous robber in the time of Henry I, who with his band became so formidable in the neighbourhood that Henry cut down a large forest in order to destroy their haunts, and built a royal mansion called Kingsbury on part of its site. He also founded a priory of black canons, on whom he bestowed the town of Dunstable and all its privileges in 1131. The priors had a gaol, possessed power of life and death, and sat as judges with the king's justices in Eyre. In 1290 the corpse of Queen Eleanor rested at the market-place ; and a handsome cross was erected to commemorate the event ; but it was pulled down in the reign of Charles I as a relic of popery.

Dunstable is situated at the southern extremity of the county, in the centre of the Dunstable chalk downs. It is chiefly celebrated for the manufacture of straw hats, called ‘Dunstable hats’, and for its whiting manufactory. The market is on Wednesday, and fairs are held on Ash Wednesday, May 22nd, August 12th, and November 12th. The king is lord of the manor, and the duke of Bedford, as his lessee, holds courts leet and baron. The living is rectory in the archdeaconry of Bedford and diocese of Lincoln.

The parish church is now all that remains of the ancient priory ; the inside is chiefly Norman, and richly ornamented : over the altar is a large painting of the Lord’s Supper, by Sir James Thornhill. There are two places of worship for Baptists, and one for Wesleyan Methodists.

A charity school was founded by Mr. William Chew in 1727, and has since been endowed by various benefactors ; forty boys and fifteen girls are clothed, educated, and apprenticed : the boys are admitted at seven, and apprenticed at fourteen. Six almshouses were founded by Mrs. Cart for the residence of six poor widows ; and six others were subsequently founded and endowed by Mrs. Ashton for a similar purpose. Near the church are six houses called the 'Maidens' Lodge,' founded in 1713 by Mrs. Blandina Marsh for six unmarried gentlewomen ; their income now amounts to £120 per annum. A number of coins of Antoninus and Constantine, as well as other Roman antiquities, have been dug up in the downs in the vicinity Dunstable.


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