A working market town in southwest Bedfordshire, at the northern end of the Chilterns. The name 'Dunstable' simply means 'market on a hill' in old English.
The town started out as a Roman staging post, located at the junction of the two major highways, Watling Street and the more ancient lcknield Way. The resultant settlement (then known as Durocobrivae) became a place where travellers could take rest, obtain refreshments and change horses.
During the 18th-century Dunstable developed into a popular coaching town and was then known for the manufacture of straw hats.
Dunstable's Augustinian Priory was founded by Henry I in the early 12th-c; later to be dissolved by Henry VIII in the 16th-c. The original medieval priory church still stands as part of the church of St Peter. It has a Norman nave and a fine west front that was restored in 1900. Ironically, it was here that Archbishop Cranmer pronounced Henry VIII's divorce to Catherine of Aragon in 1533.
The Priory House Tourist Information and Heritage Centre, just across the Priory Gardens from the church, provides an insight into the history of Dunstable with a regular programme of events, demonstrations, talks and temporary exhibits. The Grade II listed property was built over the site of the original priory’s guest house. The house features a tearoom and gift shop and is an ideal place to start a tour of the town.
Dunstable originally hosted one of the twelve Eleanor Crosses, erected by Edward I after his wife, Queen Eleanor of Castile passed away in 1290. Parliamentarian forces destroyed it in 1643, and a modern commemorative monument has been erected near the Eleanor's Cross Shopping Precinct. The precinct, along with The Quadrant and the High Street, provide a good range of national and independent shops. Street markets are held in front of the Queensway Hall on Saturdays.
The town's location on the prehistoric lcknield Way clearly indicates its links with the ancient past. Just outside Dunstable is a group of excavated round barrows where several Bronze-Age skeletons, knives and weapons have been found.
The low ridge of Chiltern Hills, nearby, are know locally as the Dunstable Downs.
Dunstable Downs, Bedfordshire
The downs rise above the Vale of Aylesbury, with views that stretching for miles across rich farmland. On clear summer days gliders and hang-gliders can be seen circling above. The headquarters of the London gliding club were established on the downs in 1930.