A History of the County of Bedford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1912.
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Dunstable is a municipal borough on the old road from London to Chester and Holyhead, from the former of which it is distant 32½ miles. The town stands about 480 ft. above ordnance datum, and is surrounded by open country, which rises in the southwest, where lie the famous Dunstable Downs, to 800 ft. The Blows Downs, to the south-east, reach nearly 700 ft., but north of Dunstable the land gradually falls away, and though picturesque the scenery is not so bold in character.
The soil is chalky throughout, and Dunstable is supplied with water drawn from two wells sunk on Half Moon Hill, on the south side of the town. As this water is filtered through from 200 ft. to 450 ft. of chalk it is of unusual purity, and its excellence partly accounts for Dunstable's reputation for healthiness. Defoe, writing c. 1778, notices that Dunstable having no running water near is forced to draw water from deep wells 'by means of great wheels.' He also notes the four large ponds to receive the rain water and instances the holding quality of the soil by the fact that these ponds were never dry.
The parish and town of Dunstable are practically coterminous, the area of the former being 453 acres, whilst the rateable area of the town is 431 acres. The parish is therefore more or less built over, and in the north-west the buildings have encroached upon the neighbouring parish of Houghton Regis, where are the Dunstable gasworks and extensive works for the manufacture of whiting, an important modern industry. Dunstable Park, in the upper part of the town, the only open space of considerable extent, belongs to Mrs. Malden and forms part of a grazing farm.
Dunstable owes its mediaeval development to the fact that two important ancient roads pass through the parish. The Watling Street, the Roman military road, runs from north-east to south-west, and the possibly still older Icknield Way, probably of British origin, crosses from south-east to west. But evidences of even earlier settlement are found in the neighbourhood, which abounds in relics of Palæolithic man, such as flint implements and the bones of contemporary wild animals. Neolithic remains have also been unearthed in the surrounding fields, and the long ruined barrow in Union Street dates from this period. Besides the Icknield Way, Mr. Worthington Smith has found traces of another British road, the precursor, as he suggests, of the Roman Watling Street, which crossed the Icknield Way to the west of the present town, and still exists in the Green Way leading to Totternhoe Hill. (fn. 1) The Romans possibly found a British settlement at or near the site of Dunstable; at all events, there was established here in the RomanoBritish period a station on the Watling Street called Durocobrivae. (fn. 2) After the departure of the Romans the Saxons arrived near Dunstable, probably about 571, when they overran this part of Bedfordshire. (fn. 3)
This part of the county was in the 11th century, so far as we know, an uncultivated tract, in places covered by woods. Henry I, who recognized the dangers attending travellers on the Watling Street, caused the woods to be cut down and encouraged settlers by the promise of royal favour. Various legends have arisen to account for the origin of the name and town, and the lawlessness of the time and place has been personified in a robber called Dun, whose evil deeds exasperated Henry. The latter, according to one version, is supposed to have defied Dun by fixing his ring to a pole in the highway by means of a staple and daring anyone to steal it. The ring and staple vanished, but were traced to a house inhabited by the widow Dun, whose son, the robber, was finally taken and hanged, but had the satisfaction of seeing his name and deed commemorated in the name of the newly-founded community. (fn. 4)
Under royal protection the town flourished and became, as Henry I had foreseen, an important station on the great road which opened up communication with the north and north-west. The passage to and fro of travellers gave to the town from the first its character of a place of call, from which it derived its prosperity in the Middle Ages, and afterwards in the coaching days. Henry I is supposed to have built the town before 1119, and some evidence of its existence at this time is afforded by the Gesta Abbatum, which chronicles the performance of a miracle play of St. Katherine, given at Dunstable by Geoffrey of Gorham, a native of Maine, afterwards Abbot of St. Albans from 1119 to 1146. He was invited by Abbot Richard to take charge of a school at St. Albans, but as he failed to appear in time the post was given to another; while waiting for the reversion he took up his residence at Dunstable and taught there instead, and during his stay produced a miracle play. (fn. 5) This school here referred to, the history of which has already been given, (fn. 6) must have been founded very early in the 12th century. It was granted to the priory by Henry I about 1131, (fn. 7) and was confirmed by succeeding sovereigns.
The comparative isolation of the priory and the straightforward plan of the town, which consisted of four main streets with a few others branching off at right angles, simplified the process of nomenclature. Watling Street became North Street and South Street, according to its position with regard to the marketplace, and the Icknield Way East Street and West Street, on the same computation. South of West Street and parallel with it ran a lane called Hallwycke in the 13th century (fn. 8) and Holliwick in the 17th, (fn. 9) connected with South Street by another called Pochonlane, mentioned in documents of the 14th to 16th century. (fn. 10) The road formerly called England's Lane, and now Britain Street, which branches off at right angles to High Street South on the east side, once formed part of the priory's possessions, and in the 16th century the fields south of the priory were known as Great and Little Englands. (fn. 11) Tenements were distinguished by special names, often those of their owners, and in the 15th century there occur Petrouches toft in West Street, (fn. 12) and tenements called Hugremas, le Castell and Loughtons or Floure delys in North Street. (fn. 13) Dunstable does not seem to have been protected by a wall at any time, but a ditch ran round the town, serving as a boundary, of which mention is made in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. In 1283 a servant of John Durrant, junior, who had committed suicide, was thrown into the ditch after the coroner's inquest, but drawn out by the Hospitallers and buried in the cemetery. (fn. 14) That part which inclosed the south end of the town was called the South Ditch, (fn. 15) and between the whole ditch and the town lay open spaces—the North, South and West Inlands or Innings—in which the burgesses held land for cultivation, probably in acre strips. (fn. 16) In addition to the above-mentioned place-names, we hear in the 14th century of the Cookerowe, (fn. 17) which probably formed part of the marketplace, and in the 17th century appears the Middle Row, a line of houses built across the market-place, (fn. 18) removed in 1803 when the road was improved. The name seems also to have been applied to a group of old houses on the west side of the market-place, and is in use at the present day.
Some of the travellers who passed through Dunstable have recorded their impressions of the place. Leland, in the reign of Henry VIII, just mentions the position of the town with regard to Houghton, and makes no comment (fn. 19); but Camden, who visited it at the beginning of the 17th century, describes it as a busy place, 'with 4 streets pointing to the 4 corners of the heavens,' along which stood numerous inns. (fn. 20) In each of these streets, 'universally wide and well kept,' and meeting in the market-place, was a public pond supplied by rain-water. Thomas Baskerville, who passed through here in May 1681, called it a pretty good market town, and noticed the large open fields which surrounded it. (fn. 21) The open character of the country impressed another traveller, who in August 1768 happened to pass through the town, but he dismisses it with the curt criticism, 'Dunstable not worthy of any remark.' (fn. 22)
There is little at the present day to remind the tourist of the antiquity of Dunstable, which presents the appearance of a well-built modern town. As in former days, the houses stand back from the wide streets, now shaded by trees of thirty years' growth, but there are few buildings of any age and the majority are of brick. As one approaches the town from St. Albans, on the Watling Street, the road stretches in a straight line through Dunstable to Houghton Regis, the upper part of the town. At the entrance to Dunstable Watling Street becomes High Street South, and on the right are the buildings of the Chew charity, six almshouses and a school. The school-house is a pleasant Georgian building in brick, with wooden modillion cornice and central pediment. Over the doorway are two spirited figures of school-boys and an inscription stating that the heirs-at-law of William Chew created and endowed the school in the year 1715. The almshouses are two-storied brick buildings with tile roof, leaded casements, and wooden hoods over the doors. They were erected in 1723 by Mrs. Jane Cart, daughter of Mr. Thomas Chew. On the same side, just before reaching the market-place, is a large house of brick and stone, a part of the priory buildings, which was formerly used as a straw-plait factory by Messrs. Munt & Brown. Beyond in the market-place, where the Watling Street meets the Icknield Way, was placed one of the crosses erected to the memory of Queen Eleanor's last journey, and demolished in the Civil War. It stood by the roadside west of High Street, near the Rose and Crown Inn and south of the Cross House, now destroyed, which faced London. All trace of the cross was lost for over 150 years after its destruction by Essex's soldiers, and it was not until the beginning of the last century that the site and part of the foundations were discovered when the road was undergoing alterations. The old Market House used to stand in the middle of the street, but was removed in 1885. Hard by in Church Street, formerly the Icknield Way, stands the church, the chief object of interest in the place, now only one-third of its former size, but with a remarkably fine west front. The church stands back from the roadside on a gentle slope, and around it stretches a wide open space which was formerly covered with the priory buildings. Beyond the churchyard of the priory, on the north side of it, was Henry's Palace, Kingsbury. (fn. 23) Parts of the stone foundations are supposed to remain. It was excepted from the original endowment of the priory, and was not granted to the canons till 1204. (fn. 24) It is not known for what purpose it was used by the priory, but it was evidently much decayed at the Dissolution, and in 1816 its site was occupied by a farm-house and yard, while the part thought to have been the hall was used as a barn, a portion of which still remains. (fn. 25) The farm-house has since been replaced by Kingsbury House, an 18th-century building in the occupation of Mr. Henry Brown. Immediately to the west of the house a quatrefoil panel of stone, with a shield of the arms of Dunstable now almost undecipherable, has been built into the garden wall fronting the road. In the same street is the group of buildings called 'The Ladies' Lodge.'
Immediately north of the market-place, on the west side of High Street North, stands the modern town hall, on the site of an older building burnt down in 1879, and adjacent to it, and now forming part of the Anchor Inn, is a stone gateway of the later half of the 16th century. On either side of the archway are half-columns of Doric type standing on low pedestals, the arch being contained beneath the entablature. Above is a low six-light mullioned window. On the opposite side of the road a little further down are some 18th-century stone and brick houses with porticoes, chief of which is the Old Sugar Loaf Hotel mentioned below. It bears the date 1717 on a rain-water head. The only other building of importance is the Ashton Grammar School, a handsome structure almost half-way down the street, which was built in 1887 from the surplus funds left by Mrs. Frances Ashton in 1715 for the endowment of almshouses erected in West Street. Behind the school lies Park Farm commonly known as Dunstable Park, and the northern boundary of the town is reached at Millers Lay, a little more than half a mile north of Union Street. Between High Street North and West Street is a large open tract of ground used as a playing field by the boys of Ashton Grammar School. On it stands an old windmill, still in use as a steam-mill, belonging to Mr. F. Simmons. Robert Faldoe died seised in 1621 (fn. 26) of a mill which probably stood on Mill-Bank, a short distance to the north, and which was afterwards in the Briggs family. (fn. 27)
These open spaces in and around Dunstable were a temptation to the vagrants of the Middle Ages, and from the days of Henry III onwards proclamations were issued against the squatters on waste lands. The hucksters, pedlars and undesirable tramps used to settle on the open spaces outside the town, and the burgesses in 1366 stated that quarrels often accompanied by crime and violence were of frequent occurrence among them, so much so that the townspeople required to be attached and presented for contempt of hue and cry when raised for such disputes. (fn. 28) In 1552 the gipsies arrived, and were ordered by the Privy Council to be deported in pursuance of the Poor Law policy, which bore harshly on vagabonds. (fn. 29) There was a poor-house in Dunstable on the north side of the Swan Inn, for which protection was granted in 1592 to Richard Merry, the proctor, (fn. 30) but it was abolished in 1836, and the paupers, numbering fortytwo, removed to the union house at Luton.
Within the last fifty years a suburb has sprung up round the London and North-Western station, which, though in Houghton Regis parish and called Upper Houghton Regis, is a continuation of North Dunstable. The town has also extended to the west, which is the most populous quarter.
From its important position in Watling Street near the centre of England, Dunstable has been constantly associated with the general history of the nation, while its royal origin and the presence of one of the king's houses made it often the temporary abode of the sovereigns in their journeys through the kingdom. Henry I, as above said, kept Christmas at Dunstable in 1123, and was here again in 1132, (fn. 31) immediately after the foundation of the priory. Stephen was the last king to stay at Kingsbury, where he kept Christmas in 1137, (fn. 32) for Richard never visited Dunstable, and John in 1204 bestowed the royal residence with its gardens on the priory, (fn. 33) to whom afterwards fell the honour of offering hospitality to the royal guests when they visited Dunstable. During the troublesome times of John's rule Dunstable suffered heavily in the general distress, and in 1212 was forced to contribute one large breastplate, nine smaller ones and twelve doublets to the army sent to guard the coast against the King of France. (fn. 34) The next year the town was devastated by fire, (fn. 35) and recovered only to fall a victim to the quarrels of John and his barons. In 1215 John passed through Dunstable with his foreign mercenaries, who harried the county as they went, (fn. 36) and their violences were repeated the next year by Louis and his soldiers, who moreover amerced the burgesses 200 marks. (fn. 37) The barons reappeared in 1217, but this time they passed through the town quietly enough, although they spared neither windows nor churches in the country beyond. (fn. 38) Hardly had the country recovered from the effects of civil war when another disturbance arose in the shape of Falkes de Breauté, the terror of the neighbourhood, who in 1224 ordered his brother to seize the itinerant justices then sitting at Dunstable for their audacity in inflicting heavy fines on him for misdemeanours. (fn. 39) Henry de Braibroc was seized and imprisoned at Bedford, and in the siege of the castle that followed the Dunstable people came in for great spoil of live stock and implements of war. (fn. 40)
Henry III was often at Dunstable, and while there in 1229 mediated between the prior and angry townsmen. (fn. 41) In 1247 he was accompanied by the queen, Prince Edward and Princess Margaret, on whom the prior bestowed presents, a gilt cup each to the king and queen and two gold buckles for the royal children. (fn. 42) The dissensions between Henry III and the party of reform did not greatly affect Dunstable, although it was visited by Simon de Montfort in 1263, who was received into fraternity by the prior. (fn. 43) After the defeat and death of Simon at Evesham Henry passed through Dunstable on his way to a convocation at Northampton, and was back again at the beginning of 1266 with the queen, papal legate and the younger Simon, their prisoner. (fn. 44) His last visit was paid in 1267, when he was accompanied by Richard, King of Germany. (fn. 45)
Edward I stayed at the priory with his queen in 1275, (fn. 46) and came there the following year to be judge in a quarrel which had arisen between the servants of the prior and the hunters and his falconers who had been quartered on the priory, and who, outraging all laws of hospitality, had turned upon the friendly canons and killed the chaplain. The king was prejudiced against the canons, and believed their innocence only after the verdict of a jury of thirty-six men chosen from two hundreds. (fn. 47) After the death of Queen Eleanor at Handley in 1290 the funeral procession which carried her remains to Westminster passed through Dunstable, where the prior and canons came out to meet the bier, which after resting in the market-place was taken to the priory for the night. Where the coffin had rested a plot of ground was marked out and sprinkled with holy water by the prior, and there the cross to her memory was afterwards erected by the king, the work being carried out by John de Bello. (fn. 48)
Queen Isabella was at Dunstable in 1326, (fn. 49) Edward III stayed there three times, (fn. 50) and Henry VI was there in 1459, (fn. 51) while Henry VIII, who stayed in the town in 1526, (fn. 52) chose the priory as the place of trial of Katherine of Aragon, who was then at Ampthill. The sentence of divorce was pronounced in the church by Cranmer on 23 May 1533, after a fortnight's discussion. (fn. 53) Henry VIII visited Dunstable both before the Dissolution in 1537, when he refused to stop at the priory, (fn. 54) and afterwards in 1540 and 1541, when he was meditating his scheme of new bishoprics, which comprised one for Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire, of which Dunstable was to be the see. The revenue was provided for from the spoil of Elstow and Newnham Abbeys, but the scheme was never put into execution. (fn. 55) The last sovereign to stay here was Elizabeth, who passed through in 1572 on her way from Gorhambury. Doubtless, like her royal father, she stopped at an inn, as Kingsbury had by then sunk to the level of a farmhouse. (fn. 56) The only sovereign who has paid Dunstable a visit since then is Queen Victoria, who with the Prince Consort passed through the town in 1841 on her way to Woburn.
The sympathies of the county during the civil wars of the 17th century were with the Parliament, and the king had little or no support. St. Albans was the head quarters of the Parliamentary party, and troops were quartered at Dunstable at various times. (fn. 57) The town was therefore not spared by Charles's soldiers in their ravages, and was plundered by them in June 1644, but it was reserved for Essex's men to destroy the beautiful Eleanor Cross in the marketplace. (fn. 58)
During the 13th and 14th centuries Dunstable was the scene of tournaments, to which a great concourse of people came and at which riots often arose. (fn. 59) They were a convenient cloak to hide conspiracies and other unlawful purposes, and as such were repeatedly forbidden by the king. (fn. 60) The inner significance of the prohibited tournaments of 1245, 1247 and 1265 has been explained in the article in the Political History of the county, and will therefore not be treated of here. (fn. 61) At the tournament held in 1292 very stringent conditions were enforced; no light-armed soldier or footman was to carry anything in his hand except a small shield to ward off the snorting horses. (fn. 62) It is no wonder that fatal accidents occurred, and the next year the annalist of Dunstable records the death at a tournament held in April of a very famous knight (whose name is not given), who was buried in the priory. (fn. 63) During the latter part of the reign of Edward II the disturbed condition of the county made the king look with suspicion upon assemblies of armed men, and measures were taken to prevent knights from congregating together at Dunstable on the pretence of taking part in a tournament. (fn. 64) Edward III was present at two tournaments held at Dunstable, one in 1329, when houses were prepared for the reception of him and his court, (fn. 65) and again in 1341, when, as Holinshed says, 'there was a great juste kept by King Edward at the towne of Dunstable, with other counterfeited feats of warre, at the request of diverse young lords and gentlemen, whereat both the king and queene were present with the more part of the lords and ladies of the land.' (fn. 66)
As the prosperity which attended Dunstable in the Middle Ages was due to its position on Watling Street, one of the chief thoroughfares of the kingdom, it was urgent that the road should be kept in good repair. The prior and burgesses, however, were not far-seeing enough to do their duty, and were ordered by the king in 1285 to mend the high roads in Dunstable, which by the frequent passing of carts were broken up and full of ruts, so that great danger was incurred by those who used them. (fn. 67) Watling Street was the shortest and safest route to Holyhead and was used for the carriage of treasure and provisions destined for Ireland. The supplies in Elizabeth's reign were often imperilled at Dunstable, where the inhabitants refused to assist either with horses or carriages, and on one occasion the treasure was left in the highway till midnight, when neighbouring constables were sent for, whereupon those of Dunstable began to quarrel with them. (fn. 68)
In his flight from Luton to Northampton, where he proclaimed James I king on 25 March 1603, Sir Thomas Tresham passed along the Watling Street and stopped at an inn in Dunstable. The unconscious innkeeper and postmaster evidently had to suffer for Sir Thomas's misdemeanour, for the latter says they were in a woful plight after the hue and cry raised by the pursuivant, who had no official intimation of the queen's death. (fn. 69) A few years later Dunstable witnessed the mad ride of Ambrose Rookwood and his fellow conspirators after the discovery of their treason in the failure of the Gunpowder Plot. They had placed heavy relays along Watling Street to enable them to reach the Midlands in case of need, and Dunstable was one of their posting places. (fn. 70)
When coaches began to be used as means of transit the town still retained its importance as a place of call, and became a posting place for those coaches running between London, Chester and Holyhead. Even before the advent of the stage coaches private coaches used often to pass through the town. In 1673 Sir William Dugdale, travelling by coach, was robbed within a mile of Dunstable, (fn. 71) whilst on 5 August in the following year an unfortunate passenger records a journey when 'they were forced to drive hard to reach Dunstable, the ways proving very watery and deep.' (fn. 72) The first stage coach passed through the town on Monday 12 April 1742, at a speed of 6½ miles an hour, and at the height of the coaching season eighty coaches a day disturbed the quiet of the inhabitants. The journey was not unattended with danger, for the country round teemed with thieves, and reports of robberies were of common occurrence in the newspapers. (fn. 73) The coaches had moreover to contend with a great difficulty just north of Dunstable, where the Roman road passed over Chalk Hill, seven or eight horses being required to drag the vehicles to the top, even when emptied of their passengers. This road was used by the coaches for nearly half a century, but in 1782 a new road was made, by which the ascent was avoided, as it wound round the bottom of the hill, which it left first to the right and then to the left, joining the original road just before Tilsworth turning. It was made at a cost of £16,000, and served its purpose for the next fifty-five years, when the advent of the railways sounded the death-knell of the coaches, which dwindled to less than half their number. The superiority of the railroad was not then recognized, and it was thought that if a cutting were made through Chalk Hill the shorter route would enable the coaches to compete with the railway. This was accordingly done in 1837 at a cost of £10,000, but the next year the line was opened and the prospects of coaching were destroyed for ever. (fn. 74)
This constant passing of strangers increased the welfare of the town, the demand for accommodation fostering the growth of inns. The earliest, mentioned in 1422, were the 'Lion' and the 'Peacock' in North Street before the High Cross, the property of the priory, between which stood the 'Swan,' at that date in the possession of Alice wife of John Petever and daughter of Thomas Hobbes, the ringleader of the rebellious townsmen in 1381. (fn. 75) From the Petevers it passed to John Dyve, whose family was in possession in 1515, (fn. 76) and may be identical with the 'Three Swans' which existed in North Street in the 17th century. (fn. 77) Another 15th-century inn was the 'Ram,' (fn. 78) and in the 16th century mention is made of the 'White Hart' and the 'King's Head.' (fn. 79) In those days of robbery the inn-keepers of the town were not always above suspicion, and one William Bennell, who kept an inn and had already figured in the law courts, was reported in 1596 to be the accomplice of two common horse stealers, one Robinson, a Yorkshire man, and one Kitson, a Somerset man. (fn. 80) It was the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th century which saw a remarkable increase in the number of inns, and Camden writing at that period describes Dunstable as 'populous and full of inns.' (fn. 81) The 'White Horse' was used by Henry VIII in 1537, much to the prior's dismay, who wrote to Cromwell that the king would not stay 'in my poor house which I have made ready to receive him,' and begged the latter to use his influence to alter the royal decision. (fn. 82) It was afterwards replaced by the Anchor Inn, existing at the beginning of the 19th century (fn. 83); an arch with a mullioned window above incorporated in a modern house near the Town Hall still marks its site. To the same period belong such inns as the 'Crown,' the 'Windmill,' owned by the Chew family, the 'Blackspread Eagle,' 'Eagle and Child,' George,' 'Blackboy,' 'Rose and Crown,' (fn. 84) the 'Nag's Head,' and the Bull Inn, the last two the property of Josias Settle, 'barber Chirurgen,' father of Elkanah Settle, the dramatist of the Restoration and rival of Dryden, who was born here in 1648. (fn. 85) To the coaching days of the 18th century is due the prosperity of Dunstable inns. Three among them, the 'Saracen's Head' in High Street South, the 'Red Lion' and the 'Sugar Loaf' in High Street North, rose to the rank of firstclass posting houses and are existing at the present day. The two former were important in the 17th century, and Charles I slept at the Red Lion Hotel in 1645 before the battle of Naseby. (fn. 86) The 'Saracen's Head' was nearly destroyed by fire in 1815, when a considerable quantity of silver and some gold was discovered under the floor of one of the old stables, supposed to have been hidden there to escape the ravages of Charles's soldiers. (fn. 87)
The 'Sugar Loaf' was built in 1717 and was the favourite place of call for the coaches when a halt was made for dinner. A formidable menu has come down to us, testifying to the heavy nature of the repast prepared for the traveller. (fn. 88) The inn-keepers of this time well understood how to please their customers, and the inns flourished under their able guidance, justifying the remark of a gentleman who passed through Dunstable in 1793, that they were 'remarkably elegant.' (fn. 89)
Dunstable is not mentioned in the Domesday Survey, but it is probably included under the royal estate of Houghton Regis. Whether there was any mediaeval settlement here before the reign of Henry I is doubtful. The early part of the 12th century was a period of borough development, new market towns with primitive borough rights were being established throughout the country. It is not surprising, therefore, that Henry I should have selected so eligible a site as Dunstable, at the crossing of two important roads, for a royal borough. He probably first laid out the market-place at the junction of these roads in the beginning of his reign, and, it is said, encouraged settlers around it by promising them land at 12d. an acre and the privileges accorded to the burgesses of London. (fn. 90) Henry further associated himself with the town by building himself there a royal residence called Kingsbury, where he kept Christmas in 1123. (fn. 91)
About 1131 he founded the priory of St. Peter of Dunstable, between the Icknield Way and Watling Street to the east of the town, and endowed it with the manor and borough of Dunstable, together with four culturœ of land round the town, the market, the school and all free customs belonging to the town, but retaining his royal residence. (fn. 92) His charter to the canons, which included various liberties over their lands, was confirmed by Henry II (fn. 93) and Richard I, the latter adding to the rights already granted. (fn. 94)
These charters, of vital interest to the priors, were often menaced by the successive sovereigns, and confirmations were dearly purchased from necessitous kings in 1227, 1320, 1330, 1377, 1401, 1414, 1423 and 1462. (fn. 95) The indefinite wording of the charters and the latitude allowed therein to the prior enabled him to wield almost royal authority, and brought him into conflict with the Crown officials, who jealously resented an outside jurisdiction of so wide a character. The most important privilege was that of exemption of the prior and his tenants from appearance at any court save before the king or justices of the bench, and as a corollary the right that the itinerant justices, when in Bedfordshire, should always come to Dunstable to try there Crown pleas and other cases touching the liberty only. (fn. 96) The exclusion of the sheriff from interference in the internal affairs of the borough was secured by the prior's right to the return of writs over coroners, custody of prisoners, chattels of felons and fugitives, year, day and waste and pleas of distraint, and moreover the sheriff had not power to act in the case of murder, assault, breach of the peace and crimes of violence within the borough, as the liberty was exempt from all rights exercised by him. (fn. 97) This non-interference was not always observed by the sheriff, to whom in 1228 Henry III addressed a special writ, enjoining him to see that the canons of Dunstable had free enjoyment of discharge of murder and waste. (fn. 98) Not only did the priors claim for themselves and tenants quittance of all tolls throughout England, such as passage, portage, lastage, sheriff's aids, &c., but they claimed as lords of the borough the right to all fines of their men in whatever court amerced, (fn. 99) and moreover the royal privilege of taxing them whenever the king tallaged his demesne, (fn. 100) a prerogative which brought them into unhappy relations with the townspeople.
The first recorded visit of the itinerary justices to Dunstable in 1217 is entered without comment by the annalist of the priory (fn. 101); but 1219 marks an important event, as in that year the prior proved his right to hold a court with the assistance of the justices for all pleas of the Crown and to take all fines levied. (fn. 102) In 1236 he had his full jurisdiction before the itinerant justices, (fn. 103) by whom it was decreed in 1240 that the writ of mort d'ancestor was of no force in the borough. (fn. 104) The first attack levied by the justices against the prior's liberties took place in 1259, when they refused to come to Dunstable, despite the charters, saying that their way was not to all places, but to special ones. As the prior refused to attend at Bedford, they seized his lands in the name of the king and extorted from him 10 marks before they would release them. (fn. 105) A compromise was finally arranged, by which the justices agreed to hear special pleas at Dunstable, but refused nevertheless to accede to the full exercise of the prior's prerogatives, as he had no special royal letters empowering them to hear all cases. (fn. 106) The judge most hostile to the liberty was Roger de Leyton, who attempted his utmost to crush the prior's arrogance and reduce the borough to submission to the ordinary course of law. The attack, which almost succeeded, took place in 1276, and originated in Roger's refusal to go to Dunstable without a special letter from the king. When this arrived he ignored its tenor, and the prior therefore carried the case to Westminster, where the king confirmed his liberty. In the meanwhile some of the burgesses had obtained special judges by royal licence, a proceeding which aroused Roger to anger, unappeased by the revocation of their powers. He seized the liberty on the ground that the prior had one coroner only, not having replaced the other, who had died twelve years before, (fn. 107) removed the bailiffs and imprisoned one of them because he went out of the liberty to Ely to inquire into the goods of an approver then in gaol, and released him only because he was a clerk. The prior was not allowed to sit with the justice, and was in danger of losing the liberty, which was handed over to the sheriff to answer for the issues. A fine of 40s. procured its restitution, and Roger, so says the chronicle without comment, was afterwards stricken with severe paralysis and lost the use of his tongue and of nearly all his limbs. (fn. 108) Encouraged perhaps by the aggressive attitude of Roger de Leyton, the sheriff began to molest the prior, and contested the latter's claim to fines of his tenants wheresoever amerced, goods of felons and fugitives and acquittance of murder and waste, but the prior in 1283 procured a writ from the king directing the sheriff to desist from all action until the next meeting of Parliament, when the claim would be discussed. (fn. 109) It was with difficulty the prior, who appeared in person at Bedford, persuaded the itinerant justices to come to Dunstable in 1286, and their final consent was not given until they had heard the favourable verdict of the good men of the county, when they dismissed the coroners and bailiffs of the liberty, and all Dunstable cases were to be delayed until their arrival there. (fn. 110) In the same year the prior, called upon personally to justify all his prerogatives, substantiated his claim by the charters of Henry I and Richard I, and definitely formulated his right to all fines not only of pleas of the Crown but pleas of land and to chattels of felons and fugitives, both before the itinerant justices and justices of gaol delivery. He claimed also goods of foreign felons when arrested in Dunstable and of his tenants wherever justice should be done to them, and said he was exempt from the rights exercised by the sheriff, and that he and his men and their goods were not to be molested by land or by sea. (fn. 111) All these liberties were allowed by the itinerant justices at Bedford, but were immediately contested by them on their arrival at Dunstable to try the cases there. They were anxious to hear there all pleas for Redbornestoke Hundred, and only desisted in their attempt after the prior had procured a special letter from the king telling them to go back to Bedford for all cases not touching the liberty. Unsuccessful in this, they harassed the prior in other ways, depriving him of his recording clerk, following the precedent established by Roger de Leyton. The prior's right to Crown pleas was specially in danger, but he was able to preserve the liberty intact except in the case of goods of foreign felons coming into the town, when the sheriff was to act notwithstanding the prior's charters and his long seisin of the same. (fn. 112) In 1293 the charter of London was seized by the king on the failure of the citizens to raise a hue and cry after murderers, and when returned on the condition that they should do so in future, Dunstable, which took its customs from London, was obliged to concede the same. (fn. 113) However, in 1317 a valuable privilege was established before a jury of twelve that the goods and possessions of all men in Dunstable, ecclesiastic and lay, could not be taken for the use of the king against their will. (fn. 114) The extensive prerogatives of the prior were again called in question in 1330 before the itinerant justice at Bedford, when the prior, in addition to the claims and exemptions brought forward by him in 1286, demanded the recognition of his right to year, day, waste and murder pence, for which he was amerced 60s. The king's attorney based his attack chiefly on the peculiar position of the liberty with regard to the royal jurisdiction, and maintained that the claim of the prior to the visit of the itinerant justices wherever they should be in the county, without a special commission from the king, implied royal powers of which the prior might avail himself to appoint his own chancellor and judges and even to set up his own mint, &c., which was manifestly absurd. This strong pleading was overruled by the documents, charters and royal letters produced by the prior, who emerged triumphant from the trial with the loss of none of his privileges. (fn. 115) In 1341 he was obliged to obtain a further confirmation of his right to the fines of his tenants wheresoever judged, of foreign felons arrested within the borough and quittance of all regalian rights exercised by the sheriff. (fn. 116) In 1375 Edward III sent a letter to the justices of assize, then in Bedfordshire, confirming the liberties of the borough, and directing them to go there to hear all Crown and other pleas touching the liberty, and not to molest the prior in any way. (fn. 117) Notwithstanding these continual grants and confirmations the prior still seems to have had trouble in forcing the judges to observe his privileges, and during the decade between 1390 and 1400 there are several enrolments in the Court of Exchequer of documents attesting the prior's right to the fines and amercements of his men. (fn. 118)
The ordinary business of the town was transacted at the borough court held every fortnight by the bailiff, an official of the prior, to which all tenants in chief of the prior within the borough were bound to come. Those ill or without the borough need only be present if plaintiffs or defendants in a cause, but could be called upon by the prior if, by a deficit of persons, judgement could not be pronounced. (fn. 119) At first this court took cognizance of the breaking of the assize of bread and ale according to an agreement between the prior and burgesses drawn up in 1247, (fn. 120) but later such business was transferred to the view of frankpledge, held once a year on St. Barnabas' Day in April, (fn. 121) attendance at which was enforced from all tenants over fifteen years of age, who received a month's warning, the absence of those who were over the sea, in distant parts, or at fairs, alone being tolerated. The cases tried at this view, which was presided over by the steward, were considered by the king's council in 1366 to be Crown pleas, and therefore the fines levied could not be limited to 4d. for each default, as the burgesses desired, but must vary with the gravity of the offence. (fn. 122) Defaulters of the assize of bread and ale, weights and measures, and those accused of assault, forcible entry, and other crimes of violence, were presented at the view of frankpledge by the officials whose duty it was to supervise the execution of the by-laws. (fn. 123) The view thus partook of the nature of a police-court where royal justice was meted out by the prior through his steward, and it acted as a check on the various ministers, who by their presentments gave a report of their conduct during term of office. Apart from the steward, the most important official was the bailiff who presided over the borough court, where he proclaimed the assizes of bread and ale, after having ascertained from the burgesses in court the price of corn and malt. (fn. 124) Here also, according to the provisos of 1247, he punished the transgressors against the assize on a scale drawn up in 1229, whereby he took 4d. each for the first two defaults, all the bread and ale for the prior at the third and fourth, the latter default also being accompanied by cuck-stool or pillory. (fn. 125) In Dunstable the power of the bailiff was limited by the office of the coroner, who acted in the case of waif and stray, felons' goods, deodands, &c., and heard the declaration of approvers. The election of the coroner was under the control of the bailiff and took place in the borough court, (fn. 126) and in 1228 two were appointed who were constitued also overseers of measures. (fn. 127) In 1276 there was one only, for which reason Roger de Leyton took the liberty into the king's hand. (fn. 128) The supervision of the assize of bread and ale was entrusted to eight conservators or ale-tasters, who were elected at the view of frankpledge, and whose duty it was to taste the ale, from day to day if necessary, make the assize accordingly, and report defaulters at the next view. (fn. 129) They were assisted by thirty tithingmen, responsible for the presentation of butchers, fishmongers, cooks and other shopkeepers in their tithings, who had sold their goods in contravention of the customs. (fn. 130) Arrest of defaulters of hue and cry, of authors of deeds of violence and of effusion of blood, was carried out by the constables and their chief pledges, the latter of whom with the tithingmen were bound to be present at the view of frankpledge unless leave of absence had been obtained from the steward. (fn. 131) In addition to these officials, the prior had his court criers (fn. 132) and his recording clerk, who sat with the clerk of the itinerant justices, but was disallowed by Roger de Leyton in 1276, (fn. 133) and by his successors in 1286. (fn. 134)
Infringement of the less important laws was punished by fine, pillory and cucking-stool, (fn. 135) but the prior had also the power of life and death, and robbers taken in the borough and judged at the gaol delivery were hanged on the gallows outside the town or had to submit to trial by combat. (fn. 136) During the 13th century crimes of robbery with violence were prevalent, and as many as eighteen prisoners were hanged at Dunstable at the gaol delivery of 1274. (fn. 137) The prior claimed the custody of all prisoners taken in the town, and the arrest of foreigners and natives who were lodged pending trial in the prison in High Street. (fn. 138) The porter of the prison, who was responsible for them, fled to sanctuary in 1290 for his negligence in letting two escape, but, as the prison was shortly afterwards rebuilt from its foundations, the prior was probably partly to blame for letting it fall into disrepair. (fn. 139)
The extensive judicial rights bestowed by royal favour on the Prior of Dunstable as lord of the borough entailed the political dependence on him of the burgesses, (fn. 140) but it was the financial privileges exercised by the successive priors which brought them into those unhappy relations with the townsmen which lasted with few intervals during the 13th and 14th centuries. The first important conflict between these two interest arose in 1221 over the question of tithes of trade, hay and altar offerings, withheld wrongfully by the burgesses. It was decided before John, Archdeacon of Bedford, that in future oblations were to be given every Sunday of all trade wherever carried on; the transgressors to be excommunicated three times a year. If disputes should arise over other small tithes, the customs of Luton, Berkhampstead or of some of the neighbouring boroughs were to be followed. At weddings and churchings money, candles or some other thing of good custom was to be given, and 'neither going nor returning from the altar shall they spend their offering on players or poor people.' (fn. 141)
In 1227 a serious quarrel broke out which lasted till 1230, and was settled only after the intervention of the bishop, king, chancellor and chief justice by John, Archdeacon of Bedford. The burgesses at first demanded that all fines should be limited to 4d., that the prior should have power of distraint in the public streets, (fn. 142) and should not be able to cite them to appear before the king's court. He was to free them and their goods wherever arrested in England, and no stranger was to be able to serve on any inquisition in the borough. (fn. 143) The prior resisted these claims, and said that should the burgesses succeed in limiting fines to 4d. great evil would ensue, because they would not fear to commit large delinquencies for such a slight punishment. Moreover, no distinction could be made between rich and poor. (fn. 144) Both parties were summoned to appear before the king's court to prove their claim to the non-interference of foreigners which the prior disavowed, but, the burgesses refusing to appear, twenty-four of the more important of them were arrested by the sheriff and imprisoned at Bedford. (fn. 145) On their submission and appearance at Westminster they were fined 20 marks, as they could prove no claim but custom. (fn. 146) The prior took the opportunity to get his charter confirmed at a price of £100, towards which he forced the burgesses to contribute 100 marks assessed by the worthy men of the borough but collected by the bailiffs. (fn. 147) During the distraint of Master Rake's goods for his share an affray arose in which many were wounded, though the victory remained with the prior's servants. (fn. 148)
In revenge the people in 1228 withdrew their offerings, and though excommunicated by the prior entered the church, in consequence of which desecration mass was not celebrated from 1 August to 9 October. On the demand of the prior, Hugh Bishop of Lincoln from the pulpit excommunicated the offenders, but a temporary reconciliation was effected by the Archdeacons of Lincoln and Bedford. (fn. 149) The next year, during his stay at the priory, Henry III established peace at the intercession of the prior, but on his departure the ill-feeling broke out again. (fn. 150) The prior cited twelve of the burgesses to appear at Westminster, where the award was read over to them with an admonition to keep it, but they refused to do so without a special order from the king. (fn. 151) When this arrived the prior proceeded to tax the tenants in chief, (fn. 152) but the burgesses who assessed the tax rated their friends at a low rate and unjustly oppressed the poor, who in a fury withdrew their offerings, giving 1d. only for churchings and funerals. They slandered the canons, abused their servants and all those who used the prior's mills and inflicted damage on their goods. At this juncture the chancellor and chief justice happened to pass through Dunstable, and threatened the people, but when the sheriff's bailiff tried to distrain for tallage the men and women turned upon him and hindered him in his duty. The Bishop of Lincoln again excommunicated the offenders, who this time said they would rather go to hell than give way in the matter of taxation, and even went the length of treating with William de Cantlow for 40 acres of land where they might live toll free. The judge, wearied out with the complaints of the prior, refused to act, but the quarrel was at last made up by the intervention of John, Archdeacon of Bedford, in 1230. (fn. 153) The prior for a sum of £60 renounced his right to tallage the borough, fines were limited to 4d. and all contests which could not be settled by arbitration were to be taken to Westminster, the judgement there pronounced to be put into execution without delay. (fn. 154)
After this date the intercourse between the prior and burgesses was of a more peaceful nature, but differences arose over the interpretation of the 1230 agreement which were laid before the king's council in 1366. By their decision the convention was modified, principally in the prior's favour, as the fine limitation was removed. (fn. 155) This defeat doubtless rankled in the burghal mind, and predisposed the people to profit by the restlessness and disorder caused by Jack Cade's rebellion in 1391. Fired by the example of the riots at St. Albans, the townspeople took counsel together, and under their ringleader John Hobbes wrested a temporary charter of liberties from the prior, but nearly fell to blows with one another over a clause prohibiting neighbouring butchers and fishmongers from selling in the borough. In the suppression of the rebellion those incriminated were harshly punished, but the prior, though soft words had failed to induce the burgesses to part with their charter, which they yielded only after citation before the king at St. Albans, interceded for the wrongdoers, so that none were hanged. (fn. 156) The prior's generosity, however, does not seem to have been greatly appreciated by the burgesses, who in 1390 thought it worth while to obtain an exemplification of the 1366 agreement. (fn. 157) About this time a dispute arose between the prior and the burgesses as to the use of the priory church of St. Peter. The parishioners already had their altar of St. John the Baptist in the north aisle of the nave which was consecrated in 1219. For some reason, however, they desired apparently to have another altar of Holy Trinity in the nave with a secular vicar to serve it, and built a wall in the nave to which the altar was attached. This arrangement the prior considered an encroachment and an obstruction to the convent services. Disputes therefore arose which were settled by an ordinance in 1392 by the efforts of Sir Reginald de Gray, Sir William la Zouche and others. It was agreed that the burgesses should have the altar newly erected by them, and that the building of the new wall to which the altar was attached should not be considered a dividing in two (sectio) of the church of St. Peter, but should be one and the same church of the monastery of St. Peter and not the church of the Holy Trinity. The upper part of the church was to be called the conventual church and the lower part the parish church, where the parishioners were to have all services except on the six chief feasts of the year when they were to attend in the chancel of the conventual church. The monastery was to have its processions as usual in the lower part, and if any parish service should be going forward at the time of any procession it was to cease until the procession had returned to the choir. At certain times the gospel was to be read in the chapel of St. John the Baptist. Finally the parishioners were to be responsible for the repair of the lower part of the church. (fn. 158) It is probable that the gild of St. John the Baptist, founded in 1442, took over some part of the town organization as similar gilds did elsewhere. (fn. 159)
The control of the borough was so concentrated in the hands of the prior that it eliminated all possibility of combined civic action on the part of the burgesses. The prior held the courts, made by-laws, appointed officials, and punished transgressors, and though the burgesses' interests, as shown above, were not always identical with those of their lord, the almost royal power exercised by the prior prevented any attempt at independent organization. In 1247 certainly the tenants in chief of the prior acquired the right of holding a court of their own for their tenants in fee, (fn. 160) but there was no small inner body representing the whole community. Even where the prior sought the advice of the burgesses or needed their consent, as in 1279, when he ordered the butchers to remove the wooden sheds covering their stables and to erect such only as should not touch the ground, he acted with the whole commonalty. (fn. 161) Again in 1295, when the famine in corn caused the bakers to break the assize of bread, and the prior punished them severely according to the customs of the town, he did so with the assent of the whole commonalty of the burgesses. (fn. 162)
It has been generally stated that Dunstable had a mayor during the centuries preceding the Dissolution, but the chief officer of the town is nowhere spoken of as 'major,' but is in every case but one called a 'praepositus' or reeve. He is mentioned as early as 1179, (fn. 163) and though an entry in the Annals describing the quarrel between the burgesses and the prior says it arose in 1227 'when the bailiwick was in our hand,' (fn. 164) yet this only goes to show that the burgesses had perhaps some voice in the appointment of the officials, not that the prior was mayor in that year. Thomas Hobbes, the spokesman of the mob who demanded a charter from the prior in 1381, has been called 'the worthless mayor' of Dunstable, but the words capitalis pravus cannot be taken to mean more than worthless ringleader. (fn. 165)
It was natural in view of the weak communal organization of the burgesses, and from the fact that they took their customs from London, that there should be no gild merchant at Dunstable. Trade was regulated by the prior in his courts, and as he had the view of weights and measures, the assize of bread and ale, he was able to control the conditions under which goods were produced, their prices and quality. The burgesses and prior were at one in their efforts to establish well-regulated trade and definite ordinances for their guidance in the everyday affairs of life, and about the year 1221 an interesting set of customs was drawn up by the prior, doubtless with the assent of the burgesses. They are ten in number, of varying import, though the majority deal with commercial matters and run as follows:
1. Each burgess may erect in his fee a windmill, horse-mill, dovecot, oven and handmill, 'curalia,' wood pile and dunghill, unless the two latter are deemed to obstruct the king's highway or the prior's market, by view of the 'legemen' of the town.
10. When a widow gives up her free bench, she must deliver up to the heir the fixtures fastened to the ground by nails or pins. Also the principal table with stools, the best wine cask, tub, basins, hatchet, best cup, coulter and share and the bucket of the well with the rope. All the rest she can dispose of by will or gift and she is not bound to answer for building a wall unless such wall was built after the prohibition of the king. (fn. 166)
The king's marshal from whom the prior took standard constantly entered the town to verify the weights, and as constantly fined it for false measures, and in 1293 for bad meat as well (fn. 167); but, in spite of this apparent proof of the prior's negligence, the vigilance of the official charged with the administration of the by-laws is shown by the number of presentations at the prior's courts. In 1398 such cases were dealt with at one court alone as the forestalling of victuals, false measures of wine and ale and excess of wages in trade. (fn. 168)
None of the crafts plied in the town were important or powerful enough to establish a gild, and the by-laws affecting the trades were still promulgated from above in the 15th century. There seems to have been a desire on the part of the workpeople to leave their handicraft and seek adventure in the train of some nobleman, and to prevent such practice Henry VI during his stay there in 1459 caused a proclamation to be read in the town by one of his squires, forbidding any man of whatsoever craft or mystery to join any lord's company, except he be the lord's 'meynall man in howsolde.' (fn. 169)
Gervase Markham, the last Prior of Dunstable, was obliged to surrender his house in 1540, (fn. 170) and in 1545 Richard Greenway was made keeper of the mansion, chief messuage and gardens. (fn. 171) The capital messuage was granted to Sir Leonard Chamberlain in 1554, (fn. 172) and was alienated by him in the same year to Henry Bevell, Richard Denton and others. (fn. 173) By them it was conveyed in 1561 to Richard Aves and his wife Elizabeth, (fn. 174) and after passing through the families of Crawley, Cook and Vaux in the 18th century was the property and residence of Colonel Maddison in 1846. The house and grounds, now occupied by Mr. Munt, were formerly included in the priory, and the rooms on the ground floor with vaulted ceilings are supposed to have been the hospitium. (fn. 175)
The dissolution of the priory implied the complete loss of the privileges enjoyed by the townsmen under the prior's sway, for the king, who took his place as lord of the borough, had nothing to gain by jealously guarding its jurisdictional independence. Though the burgesses might have wrested some degree of self-government from a necessitous king had the borough remained long enough in royal keeping, their hope was frustrated by its annexation in 1542 with other Crown lands in Bedford to the honour of Ampthill. (fn. 176)
The collapse of Dunstable's peculiar prerogatives and its assimilation to the normal jurisdictional conditions of the country is clearly shown by the behaviour of the sheriff in a dispute which occurred in 1540. Excluded from interference in the borough before the Dissolution, he now forcibly ejected a tenant from his house, and when called upon by the constable of the town to keep the peace he put the latter in the stocks together with all those who resisted his authority and afterwards imprisoned them in Bedford gaol. (fn. 177)
The status of Dunstable as a borough was lost sight of and it was regarded as a manor, enjoying an extended jurisdiction but attached to the royal manor of Ampthill, to which its inhabitants owed service. The townspeople became tenants of the Crown, and the franchises, fines, tolls of markets and fairs, assizes of bread and ale, profits of courts and other seigniorial privileges exercised by the prior became the right of the bailiff, a royal nominee who acquired the lease of the office for varying terms of years. (fn. 178) It was leased in 1605 for forty years at a rent of £9 18s. 8d., but in 1649 was said to be worth £24 a year exclusive of the relief upon descent and alienation, a year's quit-rent which belonged to the Crown and was valued at 12s. 6d. yearly. (fn. 179) The duty of collecting the royal quit-rents worth £14 9s. 11d. at this date was entrusted to an officer called the collector, who claimed £4 of it as his fee. (fn. 180) Some interest in the manor appears to have been acquired by Richard Ashfield and Patience his wife, who in 1655 alienated it to Thomas Herrick for £160. (fn. 181) The conveyance included the view of frankpledge, fairs, markets, estrays, goods of felons and other rights, but this interest can have been of a temporary nature only, for Dunstable continued to form part of the honour of Ampthill, and was held with it by the Bruces, Earls of Ailesbury, during the 17th and 18th centuries. (fn. 182) In 1771 the Duke of Bedford obtained a lease of the manor for three lives, which was renewed to Gertrude Duchess of Bedford in 1773. (fn. 183) It reverted to the Crown in 1839, (fn. 184) and recovered its ancient status in 1864, when it received a charter of incorporation, whereby the government of the town was vested in a mayor, four aldermen and twelve councillors, one-third of whom retire annually. (fn. 185) In 1865 borough police were established, and in 1866 Dunstable obtained a commission of the peace.
A court leet was held on 26 June 1903, when the steward reported the ale-taster for not carrying out his duties. Though the latter contended that not having received a written warrant of appointment he was not liable to a fine, he was fined 1s. 4d. and reappointed; six jurymen were fined 1s. each as 'colt' money for ale and four leading inhabitants 4d. for failing to answer summonses to do suit and service. (fn. 186) The steward received his salary of 4d. and two unsalaried officials, the town crier and bailiff, were appointed. (fn. 187) This court leet, which is a revival, has historical significance only, as there are no tenants and no business is transacted.
Dunstable only once sent members to Parliament, in 1312, when two were returned (fn. 188); for, although in 1311 a writ was sent to the borough, no return was made. The Sheriff of Bedfordshire endorsed the writ with a remark that it had been sent to the bailiffs of Dunstable liberty, so that two burgesses from the town should be sent to Parliament, but Richard de Eveshall, bailiff of the liberty, had made no answer. (fn. 189) On no other occasion was a writ issued, and at the present day Dunstable is in the southern division of the county for parliamentary purposes.
An important source of revenue in the middle ages was derived from the tolls of markets and fairs, and it was the object of every lord of a manor or borough to obtain a grant conferring this right. Dunstable, however, as its name implies, had from very early times possessed a staple or market which, with the borough, was bestowed on the priory by Henry I. (fn. 190) The market days were then on Wednesday and Saturday, (fn. 191) but some time after the middle of the 15th century the Saturday market was discontinued, and, except for a short revival at the end of the 19th century, (fn. 192) Wednesday has since then been the only day.
The toll exacted by the prior was the cause of complaint by neighbouring towns and villages, all the more so that, as by the charter of Henry I the prior and his men were free of toll throughout England, there was no lawful means of retaliation. The Bedford burgesses were not able to enforce their privilege against Dunstable in 1220, but with Woburn Abbey an amicable arrangement was arrived at in 1225 whereby for a sum of 8 marks and an annual rent of 3s. the abbot and his tenants were to be quit of toll in the market on the condition that they were to sell their own goods only, and buy for their own needs only, the penalty for infringement of this rule being triple toll. The usual toll was charged for regrating, and the abbot undertook to do nothing in the market by private treaty or otherwise whereby the prior should be a loser. (fn. 193) Probably this agreement was not scrupulously kept by the priory, for in 1315 Woburn Abbey obtained from Edward II a confirmation of a charter of Henry King of England granting the abbot and monks immunity from toll throughout England, and a copy of the confirmation was sent to Dunstable. (fn. 194)
The Earls of Cornwall and their tenants of Sundon and Berkhampstead were continually in conflict with the market authorities of Dunstable, and Richard Earl of Cornwall, King of Germany, in 1254 oppressed the market greatly because he commanded all two-horsed carts for the carriage of his materials for Berkhampstead Castle. (fn. 195) During his tenure of the manor of Sundon the tenants paid toll to Dunstable, as did the men of Luton, of which Sundon was a member; but after his death, under Gilbert the powerful Earl of Gloucester, they refused payment which could not be enforced by the prior. When Edmund Earl of Cornwall came into possession, however, the prior obtained redress. (fn. 196)
The burgesses of Berkhampstead in 1289 impleaded the prior's bailiffs for taking toll of them in the market, but evidently thinking better of it dropped the suit the following year. (fn. 197) Shortly afterwards, however, the prior fell into great trouble, for his bailiffs stopped a cart in the market-place of Dunstable which contained fish for the dinner of the Earl of Cornwall at Berkhampstead and demanded toll. The earl avenged the affront by taking seventeen of the prior's pigs at Chalton, and would not admit of any excuse offered by the prior in mitigation of the crime. (fn. 198)
Freedom from this onerous burden of tolls was purchased with a meadow in 1290 by Richard Juvenis, lord of Humbershoe, for himself and his men, but they were still subject to toll at the fair of 1 August. (fn. 199) The purchase of exemption by a township does not appear to have protected all the individual members from the caprice or extortion of the prior, for in 1293 Hugh of Houghton, a merchant, was fined for refusing toll of corn and of other merchandise in the market, although the men of Houghton were quit of toll. (fn. 200)
Royal visits to Dunstable or its neighbourhood were viewed with very mixed feelings by the prior and town, for possible favours were counterbalanced by the heavy expenses connected with a royal stay. In 1290 Edward I spent five weeks at Ashridge during the winter season, when Dunstable was much oppressed in the furnishing and carriage of provender (fn. 201); but it was four years later, during the lengthy stay of Prince Edward at St. Albans and Langley, that the market was so greatly injured. Two hundred messes a day were not sufficient for his kitchen, and the royal servants raided Dunstable market, took whatever they could seize and paid for nothing, whether for sale or in the private houses of the burgesses, even to cheese and eggs. The bakers and brewers were compelled to relinquish their bread and ale, and those who had none were forced to brew and bake. (fn. 202) Disputes over market rights were not confined to the town and strangers, but were waged between the prior as lord of the market and the burgesses as traders. In 1433 the prior brought a case against a burgess to enforce his rights, in which the defendant, a butcher, said that all householders dwelling in the town had from time immemorial a right on market days to sell their merchandise in their own houses, or anywhere else it pleased them. This claim if granted would have deprived the prior of the toll of 1d. a day for every stall, and the quality of the goods would have suffered, as his officers could not see to the execution of the assize. The judgement was a compromise, and allowed butchers and all other traders to sell their goods in their own houses on market day where these adjoined the High Street, but the sale was to take place publicly, so that the prior's ministers could enforce the assize. (fn. 203)
After the Dissolution, when Dunstable was annexed to the honour of Ampthill, the right to the tolls of the markets and fairs was included in the office of bailiff, held under the Earls of Ailesbury as lessees of the honour and afterwards under the Dukes of Bedford. When the manor reverted to the Crown in 1839 these tolls helped to swell the royal revenue, but were purchased for £750 by the corporation in 1871. (fn. 204)
At the present day the market is held on Wednesday for corn, straw-plait, cattle, garden and agricultural produce and implements. (fn. 205)
In 1203 King John, who is stated to have been much impressed by the remains of St. Frehemund which reposed at Dunstable Priory, bestowed upon the prior a fair on the Saint's Day (10 May) and the two following days. (fn. 206) By this charter the prior proved his right to the same in 1286 and again in 1330, and put forward a claim, which was allowed, to a fair held by prescriptive right on 1 August. (fn. 207)
Francis Thynn, Lancaster Herald, who visited Dunstable on 29 September 1583, speaks of another fair 'one freiday w'che they lykewyse call a fayre is a gret markett for fyshe in sumer so that the Londonners come thither with their fyshe.' (fn. 208) By 1649 there was an additional fair on Ash Wednesday, and St. Frehemund's fair was altered to 2 May. (fn. 209) At the end of the 19th century four fairs were held—on Ash Wednesday, 22 May, 12 August, 12 November—but at the present day those in May, August and November are held on the second Wednesday in the month, and there is a fifth fair on the fourth Monday in September.
Reference has been made above to the prosperity derived by Dunstable from its position on Watling Street, and the traders who passed through in the middle ages created a demand for goods. The surrounding downs furnished good pasture for the sheep, and a thriving trade was carried on in wool. In 1327 one or two of the most discreet wool merchants were ordered to be chosen by the bailiffs and townspeople and sent to the king at York, to treat of matters relating to the realm and the profits of the wool industry. (fn. 210) Foreign merchants made Dunstable one of their places of call, and in 1338 the Bardi and Peruggi were allowed to transport the wool purchased by them at the town despite the recent prohibition. (fn. 211)
Many references to brewing occur in the annals of the priory, and in 1179 Simon Knight, a wine merchant, was fined 10s. for breaking the assize. (fn. 212) In 1398 the Brytville family owned two houses under one roof, called the 'Malt hous' and the 'Ost hous,' and a house annexed called 'Wulhous,' at the west end of Dunstable. (fn. 213) A great many of the inhabitants were employed in brewing, and the regulation of the assize of ale was the constant business before the prior's courts and led to heated disputes. Fortunes were doubtless to be acquired in the trade, for we hear of one William Marlie 'who dwelt at Dunstable, a man of great wealth and by his occupation a brewer,' who came to grief in 1414 for supporting Lord Cobham; 'he had two horses trapped with guilt harnesse led after him and in his bosome a pair of gilt spurs (as it was deemed) prepared for himselfe to wear, looking to be made knight by lord Cobham's hand.' He had the misfortune, however, to be taken and hanged. (fn. 214) Since those early days the brewing industry has declined, and forms a very inconsiderable portion of Dunstable's trade at the present time.
The great concourse of merchants and foreign traders attracted to Dunstable the Jews, who saw an opportunity to exercise their peculiar privileges in money-lending. Although no quarter bears their name, they seem to have established themselves in fairly large numbers in the borough, and were protected during the first half of the 13th century by Prior Richard de Morins. A charter of his is extant, whereby he granted to Flemengo and his son Leo, Jews of London, the right to remain in the borough and have free ingress and egress with all other liberties. For these privileges they were to pay two silver spoons each weighing 12d. for every year's residence. (fn. 215) Later on the prior was forced to come to the assistance of one of his tenants who had mortgaged a corrody to the above and their companions Bendius, Aaron and Jacob. Another Jew, (fn. 216) Mossy son of Brun, in 1221 tried to pass off on the prior a forged charter, in which the latter was said to owe the Jew £700. The forgery was detected and Mossy, who was convicted, with great difficulty escaped hanging and was banished the kingdom for ever. (fn. 217) In 1273 the pope ordered the prior to provide for Henry, a converted Jew, and for his family, (fn. 218) but the expulsion of the Jews in 1290 does not seem to have been regretted by the monks. (fn. 219)
During the 17th century straw-plaiting in Dunstable rose to importance, and Thomas Baskerville in 1681 says, 'Some people of this town are here very curious in making straw hats and other works of that nature.' (fn. 220) The inhabitants in 1689 joined the villages in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire engaged in the straw-plaiting industry in the petition against the Bill enjoining the wearing of woollen hats. (fn. 221) During the first half of the 19th century nearly the whole of this trade was concentrated at Dunstable, but the greater facilities afforded by the more convenient railway connexion of Luton with London have attracted a large proportion of it thither, although it still provides employment for a good many women. The other trades carried on at Dunstable are the manufacture of lime and whitening, printing and engineering works.
Another industry, which dates from the 17th century, is the catching of larks, which abound on the Dunstable Downs. These, to the computed number of 50,000 a year, are sent up to London in the season, as there is no demand for them locally. Thomas Baskerville in 1681 noted Dunstable as a place 'having large fields about it where in the season they catch good larks, which have the greatest esteem for birds of that kind in London.' (fn. 222) Their fame was spread abroad by the travellers of the coaching days, and a contemporary says 'Dunstable larks are served up in great perfection at some of the inns in this town (owing to a peculiar and secret method in the process of cooking them), they are admired as a luxury by the nobility and gentry who travel through Dunstable in the Lark-season.' (fn. 223)
The inhabitants in 1793 petitioned for a collateral branch of the Grand Junction Canal to be carried through Dunstable, but though a survey was made no steps were taken, (fn. 224) and the traders had to wait until the advent of the railways brought them into closer connexion with London.
Returning to the earlier history of Dunstable, it is of interest to note that in 1259 the Dominican or Black Friars came to Dunstable, (fn. 225) and with few intervals there was a constant exchange of hostilities between them and the priory. In 1444 the prior himself, John Roxston and several canons broke the close and house of Thomas the prior of the Friars. They wounded many of the Friars, throwing one of them into a pool of water and imprisoning the others, whereby divine service in the Friars' house was diminished, and they dug in the soil of Thomas, who lost the profit thereof for a long time. (fn. 226) The Black Friars were dissolved in 1538, (fn. 227) and the site and other premises were granted to Thomas Bentley, yeoman of the guard, in 1539, (fn. 228) and to Sir William Herbert in 1547. (fn. 229) Part of the house was held in 1676 by the widow Rose at a rent of 5s. (fn. 230) The site was afterwards known as St. Mary Over, and was discovered in 1835 on the east side of High Street South, in Spittle Close, opposite the Half-Moon Inn.
Not far from the priory, although its site has not been ascertained, was the Hospital of St. Mary Magdalene, founded near the end of the 12th century, (fn. 231) for 'lazers and syke Folkys to be kepte theryn.' It was under the protection of the prior, who appointed the master, (fn. 232) and in 1247, when an agreement between the prior and burgesses laid down that the latter were not to plant trees except on their own property nor to touch those planted in public places, it was stipulated that if any branch of a tree obscured the light or hindered transit it should be cut off by licence of the prior and given to the lepers. (fn. 233) Grants of royal protection were obtained several times during the 13th (fn. 234) and 14th centuries, (fn. 235) and at the beginning of the 16th century the prior complained that the master appointed by him had been wrongfully 'putte owte by evyll dysposed persons.' (fn. 236)
At the Dissolution the patronage vested in the Crown, and the office of master or guider was reserved for those who had served their country. In 1601 Burnaby Danvers, 'a maymed marriner having loste bothe his legges,' petitioned for the place which was likely to be void by the execution of the former guider, then in St. Albans gaol, for some 'heynious and foule murther.' (fn. 237)
Of the priory church of ST. PETER, except for some old work at the east end of the south aisle, only the seven western bays of the nave survive, with their aisles entirely rebuilt, and the main walls ending just above the triforium stage. The church, begun about 1130, was long in building, and it is probable that a start was not made on the nave till 1150. It was finished, probably, some years before the formal consecration of the whole church by Bishop Hugh de Wells of Lincoln in 1213; and the west front had two towers, the west walls of which were in one plane with the front. In the great storm of 1222 both towers fell, one on to the prior's hall and one on to the church; and in the subsequent repairs only the latter, i.e. the north-west tower, was rebuilt, doubtless because it was used for the parish bells. The north aisle of the nave was used as the parish church, and the parish altar of St. John the Baptist was hallowed in 1219. The parish entrance was by a porch at the north-west, the stone vault of which was ruinous in 1289, when it could hardly have been much more than a century old, and was repaired by the parishioners. In 1228 a Lady chapel was built in the canons' cemetery, which lay round the east of the church; the chapel doubtless joined the east end of the 12th-century presbytery, and was finished by 1231, when its altar was hallowed. No documentary evidence refers to the repair of the west front, but in 1273 the roof of the church from the altar near the rood to the northwest door, i.e. the roof of the north aisle, was renewed by the parish, who also in 1289 added two pinnacles on the west front towards the north, probably on the north-west tower. Documentary evidence for later work is lacking, except that the Lady chapel is recorded to have been rebuilt in 1324 on account of its ruinous condition. In the 15th century some work was done on the west front, including a new top to the tower, and in modern times both aisles of the nave, as already noted, have been rebuilt and the west front severely repaired. The monastic church when complete, i.e. from c. 1230, had an aisled presbytery with a Lady chapel at the east, a central tower with north and south transepts, and a nave of eight bays with a north-west tower. The pulpitum or solid screen at the west end of the quire seats was in the western arch of the central tower, and the rood screen, with the rood altar against its west face, was one bay further west. This screen still exists, and now with a later stone wall over it forms the east end of the present church, the eastern bay of the nave being now destroyed. Enough of it is, however, left to show evidence of a very unusual alteration, a pier of c. 1370, having a clustered respond towards the nave and a window jamb with a glass groove towards the aisle, being set up against the east side of the first pier of the south arcade; and there are remains of a similar addition to the north arcade. The inference that the aisles at this part of the church were destroyed at the time when these piers were added (after the fashion of the alterations at Finchale, Durham) is not warranted by anything in the known history of the priory, and until the site of the eastern parts of the church has been thoroughly explored the question must remain unsettled.
The design of the bays of the nave, which still stand, though without the clearstory, is of late Romanesque character, the arches of the main arcade being of two orders only, while the walls between the piers do not reach their full thickness until at the triforium level. The outer order of the piers, on the nave side, rises unbroken to the height of the springers in the triforium, and then carries an arch which forms a third order to the triforium arcade. In the eastern of the now existing bays, formerly the second bay of the nave, this arch has a cheveron ornament, while in the other bays it is moulded like the other orders, showing that a break in the work here took place, the detail being altered when work was resumed. Similar evidence of a break at this point is often to be seen in the larger cruciform churches, it being necessary to build the greater part of two bays of the nave in order to give abutment to the arches of the central tower. A shaft is carried up the face of each pier, and doubtless continued to the original wall-plate level, and there was no intention of vaulting the main span of the nave. Both aisles were, however, vaulted, and a copy of the vault of the south aisle, springing from the old responds, has been set up in recent years, but all the old vaulting, and in the case of the north aisle the responds also, have disappeared. The triforium openings are blocked, and modern windows have been set in the blocking.
The west front, though a patchwork of several dates, is the most interesting part of the church. Its principal doorway belongs to the late 12th-century completion of the building, and has a fine semicircular head of five orders and shafted jambs, with richly ornamented arch and capitals. The door is blocked, and a 15th-century doorway, with three canopied niches over it, set in the blocking. To the north is part of a contemporary wall arcade, which has survived the repair of the front after the storm of 1222, and is continued northwards in 13th-century style. The rest of the front is 13th-century work, and has a second tier of wall arcading of seven bays, with pedestals for images, and over it a beautiful though much restored wall arcade, with a wall-passage behind the trefoiled arches and two tall lancet windows in the middle of the front, separated by a wide trefoiled niche. It is, however, only a fragment, and ends with a smaller arcade of five bays, to the north of the windows, and over it is an uninteresting embattled parapet—a 15th-century addition. The north-west tower is of good 13th-century work, with heavy arcaded buttresses, and a west doorway opening to the north aisle. This is a very beautiful piece of work, of six orders alternately moulded and ornamented with foliage, and seven shafts in each jamb much restored; and in the buttresses are niches like those on the west front, one of them containing part of a stone figure. The top stage of the tower is a 15th-century addition, with pairs of belfry windows and an embattled parapet. The tower stands over the west bay of the north aisle, and, though its west wall seems to have been completely rebuilt after 1222, retains 12th-century work in the north, south and east walls of the ground stage. There is evidence of the 12th-century vault and of its rebuilding in the 13th century; the rebuilt vault has also given way, perhaps on account of the weight of the stage added in the 15th century. At any rate, the base of the tower has been strengthened at this period, its north and south walls having a masonry blocking set in their arches, while the east side of the tower has been rebuilt. Of the south-west tower, which was not rebuilt after 1222, only the lower part remains, refaced, with a blocked doorway of original date. The fittings of the church are for the most part modern, a small piece of late 12th-century carving being worked into the font. The chancel screen is a fine piece of 15th-century work, with a modern top, and, though only lately placed in its position, seems not to have been removed from this part of the church until after 1838, according to the evidence of a drawing of that date now in Maidstone Museum.
In the east bay of the north arcade is set a piece of a curious and very interesting screen of c. 1540–50, its posts covered with carved ornament; and the east wall of the church is formed by the remains of the mediaeval stone rood screen, its two doors now blocked, and the space over it built up in masonry to the roof. The north door is wider than the other, and between them stood the principal nave altar, with two niches above it, the southern of the two being the larger and having held a figure of our Lady. Between these niches were found in 1891, when the screen was cleared of the plaster which then covered it, the remains of a Majesty with angels, nothing of which seems to have survived the 'restoration.' The work is all of late 14th-century date, and on the east side of the screen between the doorways is a blocked recess, which probably contained a seat where, as at Durham, people might sit in the retroquire—the space between the rood screen and pulpitum—and hear the quire services.
Before 1891 a large picture of the Last Supper by Thornhill hung on the screen over the altar, flanked by wooden painted figures of Moses and Aaron. Below were the Commandments, on wooden panels, and above the royal arms.
The masonry above the screen, dating doubtless from after the Suppression, was taken down and rebuilt, several 13th-century capitals being found in it. The larger of the two niches contained the M.R. monogram, now faded away, but some of the many traces of colour which were then revealed still exist.
The earliest monuments are some inscribed crossslabs now built into the footings of the south-west buttress of the west front; on one is the name of Alice Durant, wife of John Durant: she died in 1289, as the Annals of Dunstable record.
There are two monumental brasses in the south aisle; one has the effigies of two men and a woman, with the arms of the Merchant Taylors' Company, the matrix of an inscription and smaller brasses of seven sons and two daughters. Round the edge of the monument is inscribed: 'We know thou art not lost but sent before, Thy frendes all lefte thy absence do deploare, Nor can thy vertyes ever be for gotten, Though in the grave thy bones be rotten, For yet tonged envye to the world must tell, that as thou livest thou dyest and that was well.' The other has effigies of Richard Pynfold and Margaret his wife, 1566, with a smaller brass of four sons, and the matrix of one which contained the effigies of several daughters. In an old chest in the south aisle are fragments of several other brasses: (1) an inscription to Robert Alee and Elizabeth and Agnes his wives, 1518; (2) John Blunt and Elizabeth his wife, 1505; (3) Nicholas Purvey and Elizabeth and Alys his wives, 1521; (4) John Peddar, 1463, and his wives Margaret, Matilda and Agnes, and several effigies.
There are eight bells cast by Pack & Chapman in 1776, of which 1, 4, 7 and 8 were recast in 1896. The Sanctus bell is of bell metal roughly cast, with clapper and suspension staple of iron. The diameter of the bell at the mouth is 14¾ inches, entire height 15¼ inches; the metal is about 1 inch thick, and the weight 1¼ cwt. (fn. 238)
The registers previous to 1812 are in four books: (1) 1558 to 1749; (2) 1749 to 1812, marriages ending in 1754; (3) marriages 1754 to 1802; and (4) marriages 1802 to 1812. The first book has a most interesting illuminated title-page, drawn by John Willis in 1600, and four following pages with other drawings, and a rhyming legend of Dunstable. (fn. 239)
The priory church of Dunstable served also as the parish church, and after the arrival of the Friars Preachers, who attracted a great many of the inhabitants by the novelty of their preaching, attendance on feast day was enforced under severe penalty. (fn. 240) In 1291 the church was taxed for the Crusade at 19 marks, (fn. 241) but does not appear separately valued in 1535. The advowson was retained by the king at the Dissolution until 1552, when Edward VI bestowed it on the Dean and Chapter of St. George's Chapel, Windsor, (fn. 242) but the grant could not have taken effect, for the right of presentation remained in the Crown, by whom it was exercised until within recent years, when it was transferred to the Bishop of Ely. (fn. 243)
The value of the living was not known in 1640 when the king ordered a decision to be made, so that he should not be baulked of the first-fruits and tenths, (fn. 244) and in 1656 it was said to be worth £35 a year only. It is not surprising to hear it had been void for fourteen years, and that an augmentation of £45 a year was proposed. (fn. 245)
At the Dissolution the rectorial tithes were severed from the advowson and were leased in 1543 to Adam Hilton for twenty-one years, (fn. 246) and in 1598 to Ralph Wingate for the same term of years. (fn. 247) They were granted in 1600 to William Hawkins, (fn. 248) by whom they were sold in 1603 to Sir Richard Dyer, (fn. 249) who died seised of them in 1605, (fn. 250) leaving a son and heir William. (fn. 251) The latter's son, Sir Lewis Dyer, bart., conveyed the tithes in 1628 to John White and Samuel Browne of London. (fn. 252)
During the 15th century, when many gilds were founded, one was formed at Dunstable in 1442 by William Anable, Laurence Pycot, Henry Mauntel and other burgesses of the town and dedicated to St. John the Baptist. The gild was governed by two wardens elected by the brethren from their number, and the whole was to form a body corporate. A chaplain was maintained to celebrate divine service daily in St. Peter's Church for the good estate of the king and brethren and for the souls of Thomas Peyvre, Margaret his wife and Mary their daughter. (fn. 253) The object of the foundation was not only religious but charitable, for in the Brotherhood House chambers with beds were provided for six poor people travelling through Dunstable, and four other tenements under the same roof were reserved for the 'succour and dwelling of four poor brethren' of the fraternity, who were to pay no rent for them. (fn. 254) The gild received licence to acquire lands to the value of 10 marks a year, and their lands were assessed at £9 8s. 7d. in 1535, (fn. 255) and at £9 19s. 5d. in 1547, at which date the fraternity was dissolved, the act being excused by the fact that no poor had been relieved for six years, nor grammar school nor preacher maintained. £6 was paid as salary to the chaplain, the ornaments and goods were worth £4 3s., and there was no plate or jewels, the chalice and other church plate being found by the parishioners. (fn. 256)
In 1549 the Brotherhood House and other houses in Dunstable belonging to the gild were granted to William Smith and Peter Grey, (fn. 257) and the former came later into the possession of the Wingate family. George Wingate at his death in 1604 was succeeded by his grandson John, then aged four years, (fn. 258) and at the latter's death in 1642 the Brotherhood House descended to his son and heir Francis. (fn. 259)
Among the possessions of the fraternity was the Fayrey pall given to it by Henry Fayrey, a member of the London Haberdashers' Company, who died in 1516. It passed with the Brotherhood House to the Wingate family, and after many vicissitudes came into the possession of the churchwardens, who allowed the poor to use it at funerals at a charge of 6d. In 1812 the churchwardens sold it, and it was not restored to the town till 1891. The pall belongs to the Flemish School of Art of the 15th century and is richly worked. The names of Henry and Agnes Fayrey, and of John and Mary Fayrey, father and mother of Henry, occur upon it, and there are portraits of the two latter. (fn. 260) The pall is now kept at the rectory.
In 1390 a chantry was ordained in the conventual church of Dunstable to celebrate mass for the soul of Nigel Loryng. (fn. 261)
The south of Bedfordshire is a great stronghold of Baptists, and in 1708 the followers of John Bunyan established themselves in St. Mary's Street, their house becoming a great meeting-place for Baptists 12 miles round. It was enlarged a century later, but injured by the fall of the roof in 1849, when a new chapel was erected, still existing. In 1790 a second Baptist chapel was built, but the one existing in West Street to-day was not erected till 1836. The Wesleyans, who have a chapel in the Square, first appeared here in 1812 and built a meetinghouse in 1831, which was destroyed by fire in 1844 and rebuilt the following year. This again was destroyed by fire in 1908 and finally rebuilt in December 1909.
Educational and apprenticing.
For the Secondary schools of the Ashton Grammar School and of the Chew Foundation, see article on the Schools. (fn. 262)
Elementary schools. (fn. 263)
In 1692 George Briggs by his will directed his executors to purchase lands of the clear yearly value of £10 for educating and putting apprentice some poor child. By deed dated 11 November 1704 certain lands in the parishes of Kensworth and Caddington were charged with an annuity of £10, which is received from Mr. H. C. G. Brandreth of Houghton Hall, and is duly applied.
In 1802 the Rev. Sir John Knightley by a codicil to his will left (inter alia) a legacy of £200 for the support of a secondary school. In the result of certain Chancery proceedings in 1813 the sum of £191 17s. consols was allocated in satisfaction of this legacy, now producing yearly £4 15s. 10d. The stock is standing in the names of the trustees.
The British School.
The old school buildings were sold in 1877, and the proceeds, with a balance in hand, invested in £343 2s. 4d. consols. The annual dividends amounting to £8 11s. 4d. are under a scheme of 7 September 1900 applicable towards the support of pupil teachers or students in training colleges.
Ashton's almshouses, founded by will of Mrs. Frances Ashton dated 30 March 1727 for six poor widows, members of the Church of England, situated in West Street, are supported out of funds allocated by an order of the Charity Commissioners of 3 November 1903 from the Ashton schools in pursuance of the schemes regulating that foundation. Each of the six inmates receives £20 a year and allowances for clothing, coal and other necessaries.
The almshouses, founded in 1736 by Mrs. Jane Cart for poor widows, members of the Church of England, situated in High Street South, are supported by funds from Mrs. Cart's general charity (see below). In 1908 each of the six almswomen received £15 4s. and an allowance for dresses, &c., amounting to £100 a year in all.
The Poor's Land charities, including the charity of Richard Finch (will 1639) and of others, now consist of certain lands let in allotments and 19 acres on the highway from Dunstable to Luton, purchased in 1890 for £1,141 10s. provided by the sale of £1,218 16s. 5d. consols, part of a larger sum of like stock arising from sale in 1881 to the Great Northern Railway Company.
The stock remaining now (1908) amounts to £1,842 10s. 8d. consols, producing £46 1s. a year, which with the rents averaging £100 a year are, after deductions for outgoings, distributed among the poor at Easter and Christmas in pursuance of a scheme of the Court of Chancery of 21 June 1850.
The Freeholders' charity, formerly included in the Poor's Land, consists of a freehold house and land in West Street, let to the Corporation for twenty-one years from 25 March 1896 at an annual rent of £20, which is applied in gifts of 4s. to 100 freeholders.
William Duncombe, by will bearing date 26 March 1603, devised a tenement situated at the church end of Leighton Buzzard, and land, the profits to be employed for the benefit of the poor in successive years of this parish, Leighton Buzzard, Battlesden, Potsgrove and Ivinghoe, Bucks.
The property at the church end subsequently became the Golden Bell public-house, which with 3 r. 18 p. of garden ground was sold in 1899 and proceeds invested in £1,664 London and North-Western Railway 3 per cent. debenture stock, producing £49 18s. 4d a year. The charity is regulated by a scheme of 23 November 1897. The share of this parish, amounting to £10, was in 1908 applied in tickets for bread, meat, groceries, coal, &c., distributed among ninety-seven poor persons, and the like amount for each of the other interested parishes.
In 1664 William Strange by will devised an annuity of £10 charged on Brewer's Hill Farm for the benefit of aged poor frequenting divine service, charged on certain lands in Houghton on the inclosure in that parish in 1796.
In 1704 Mrs. Ann Morton by will charged certain lands in Stanbridge with 1s. weekly for ever to be laid out in bread on Sundays. The annuity of £2 12s. was redeemed in 1876 by the transfer to the official trustees of £87 consols, now producing £2 3s. 4d. a year.
In 1707 Daniel Marsh by will charged his real estates in Dunstable with the annual payment of £3 on 30 September, whereof £1 was to be given to the rector for preaching a sermon on that day and the other £2 to be disposed of among the poor frequenting divine service. The annuity is paid out of a farm called Houghton Hall Estate, and a further sum of £10 a year is received from the Lockington charity (see below).
In 1738 William Avery by will charged certain property in Dunstable, now known as Burr's Estate, with the annual payment of £1 6s. for six poor in bread or money, viz. four ancient persons used to make malt, a clerk and a bellman.
In 1861 Henry Cooper Goude, by will proved 5 November, bequeathed £100, the interest to be applied at Christmas for the benefit of forty of the most needy and deserving poor. The legacy was invested in £97 11s. 3d. consols, producing £2 8s. 8d. a year.
The charity of Mary Lockington for poor maids, poor clergymen and clergymen's widows, and that of her sister, Blandina Marshe, for six maiden gentlewomen, founded in pursuance of wills dated respectively 1 June 1730 and 25 November 1730, are administered together by the same body of trustees.
The Lockington charity is endowed with 61 acres at Soulbury, Bucks., 102 acres at Totternhoe, 95 acres at Toddington, 59 acres at Hockliffe and Eggington, and 3 acres at Stanbridge, producing £400 a year or thereabouts, and £2,128 11s. 4d. consols; annual dividend, £53 4s.
Blandina Marshe's charity consists of 'The Ladies' Lodge' in Church Street (see above), a fee-farm rent of £80 3s., charged in pursuance of a Chancery decree of 1743 on lands at Toddington belonging to William Fane, two cottages (subsidiary endowment of James Cocks) let at £16 16s. a year, £1,102 10s. consols (subsidiary endowment of Mrs. Millicent Matthews, will 1770), and £1,000 consols in names of Thomas Somers Vernon Cocks and two others; annual dividends, £52 11s.
In 1907 £150 was paid to the ladies at 'The Lodge,' and out of the Lockington charity the sums of £20 and £10 were paid to the rector and poor of Dunstable respectively, £20 and £10 to the rector and poor of Leighton, £10 to the rector of Hockliffe, £35 to seven poor clergymen, £25 to five clergymen's widows, and £28 for poor maids and widows. Three-fourths of the rent-charge is paid into court, as directed by Chancery order of 30 July 1898, and one-fourth to the heirs of Thomas Ironmonger.
The charity of Mrs. Frances Ashton for poor clergymen, clergymen's widows and other charitable purposes, founded by will, dated 30 March 1727, is endowed with the Manor Farm, Bucks., containing 236 acres; Dove House Farm, Kensworth, 82 acres, producing a gross rental of £340 a year; reserved rents on six houses in Campden House Road, Kensington, £30 a year each; a rent-charge of £6 3s. 6d. a year on property at Buckstead, Studham, belonging to Earl Brownlow; also £9,338 1s. 4d. Metropolitan 3½ per cent. stock, £2,000 Bank stock and £54 15s. 9d. consols; annual dividends, £512 4s. 4d.
In 1907, after allowances to the trustees for expenses of management and outgoings, a pension of £9 was paid to each of thirty poor clergymen and thirty widows, and £95 was paid to the Discharged Prisoners' Aid Society and £4 to the Cripplegate School Foundation, for providing which a sum of £114 5s. 9d. Metropolitan 3½ per cent. stock was set aside under an order of the Charity Commissioners of 18 October 1907.
The charity of Mrs. Jane Cart, founded by indentures, dated respectively 22 and 23 June 1736, and by will and codicil, dated respectively 28 July and 9 September 1736, is endowed with farms in this county, Bucks. and Herts., containing in the aggregate 1,180 acres or thereabouts; also house property in Dunstable, producing a gross income of £1,560 or thereabouts.
In 1908 the inmates of the almshouses in High Street South (see above) received in stipends and allowances about £100, a lecturer at Dunstable £30, £2 2s. was paid to the churchwardens, pensions of £6 each were paid to thirty poor clergymen, and £6 each to thirty poor widows or maiden daughters of clergymen. The annual sum of £5 4s. is distributable in bread to the poor; provision is also made by the deed for apprenticing a poor boy of Dunstable, also for keeping clean the monument in Dunstable Church and the church clock, also the monument in Bow Church, London; £10 for the schools in St. Sepulchre's, London; allowances are made to the trustees for expenses and dinners.