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History of Dunstable


Bedfordshire has a fairly long history, with the remnants of an iron age fort
   Dunstable statue

still to be seen near Houghton Regis.  It enticed Anglos in as settlers because of its fertile land and excellent water supply. 

Dunstable itself has a rich and varied history, placed as it is at the crossroads of two of Britain’s Earliest roads, the Icknield Way and Watling Street , both long stretches on the journey south to London, much of which survive today.  Henry 1 began building settlements in the early 12th century to encourage travel through the vastly wooded area, building a royal residence on the site of the Old Palace Lodge in Church Street.  Henry spent some time in Dunstable, granting its town charter in 1131.  During this period Dunstable Priory was begun, a structure of some import to later royalty, where it was the scene of some of the final moments in the long drawn out divorce of Henry VIII from his first, Spanish wife, Catherine of Aragon.  It also lays claim to hosting the first ever staged play in the 12th century.

The town was one of 12 locations to build an Eleanor Cross – a wooden cross built at the end of the 13th century in tribute to Eleanor of Castile, the beloved wife of Edward I also known as ‘Longshanks’ during her coffin’s journey to Westminster Abbey.

The original wooden structure was a feature of the town’s landscape until the English Civil War period, when it was torn down by Roundheads who were in hot pursuit of
Dunstable lion engraved 
Charles I on his way to Bedford.

The town prospered throughout the early modern period, and by 1848, when the town’s
first railway opened, Dunstable was still a notable Bedfordshire town.  By the 19th and 20th century, of course, nearby Luton had begun to expand and encroach, and today is the much larger of the two.

In the early part of the century, Gary Copper, whose father had emigrated to Montana in the US, was sent back to Dunstable for his schooling, and spent about 3 years attending Dunstable Grammar School.  Today, a newly built Wetherspoons commemorates his connection to the town.  Other notable residents have included Grand Designs Kevin Mcloud, who was raised in Dunstable and also attended the grammar school; Faye Tozer, a member of recently reformed pop act Steps, also Badly Drawn Boy (Damon Gough), Kerry Dixon the footballer, and a host of other minor and major celebrities.

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