Coordinates: 51°53′10″N 0°31′16″W / 51.88603°N 0.52102°W / 51.88603; -0.52102

Dunstable, The Clock Tower and Market Cross - - 145452.jpg
The Clock Tower and Market Cross
Dunstable is located in Bedfordshire

 Dunstable shown within Bedfordshire
Population 35,000 [1]
OS grid reference TL0121
Unitary authority Central Bedfordshire
Ceremonial county Bedfordshire
Region East
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Postcode district LU5, LU6
Dialling code 01582
Police Bedfordshire
Fire Bedfordshire and Luton
Ambulance East of England
EU Parliament East of England
UK Parliament South West Bedfordshire
List of places: UK • England • Bedfordshire

Dunstable (pronounced /ˈdʌnstəbəl/) is a market town and civil parish located in Bedfordshire, England. It lies on the eastward tail spurs of the Chiltern Hills, 30 miles north of London. These geographical features form several steep chalk escarpments most noticeable when approaching Dunstable from the north.



In Roman times its name was Durocobrivis. There was a general assumption that the nominative form of the name had been Durocobrivae, so that is what appears on the map of 1944 illustrated below. But current thinking is that the form Durocobrivis, which occurs in the Antonine Itinerary, is a fossilised locative that was used all the time[2] and Ordnance Survey now uses this form.

There are several theories concerning its modern name:

  • Legend tells that the lawlessness of the time was personified in a thief called Dun. Wishing to capture Dun, the King stapled his ring to a post daring the robber to steal it. It was, and was subsequently traced to the house of the widow Dun. Her son, the robber, was taken and hanged to the final satisfaction that the new community bore his name.[3]
  • It comes from the Anglo-Saxon for "the boundary post of Duna".[3][4]
  • Derived from Dunum, or Dun, a hill, and Staple, a marketplace.[5]


Ancient history

Relics of Palæolithic man, such as flint implements and the bones of contemporary wild animals, suggest settlement is prehistoric. At Maidenbower in the parish of Houghton Regis to the north, there is an Iron Age hill fort and is clearly marked on the Ordnance survey maps. Maidenbower has some of the ramparts showing through the edge of an old chalk quarry at Sewell where there are Bronze Age remains of an older fort. There are a lot of prehistoric sites in this area and details can be found with the Manshead Archaeological Society who are based in Winfield Street, Dunstable.

Roman settlement

There was already some form of settlement by the time that the ancient Roman paved road (now known as Watling Street, and in the Great Britain road numbering scheme the A5) crossed another ancient and still-existing road, the Icknield Way.[6][7] Traces of Neolithic activity are not in doubt but much of their mystery may be lost under the surrounding Chiltern Hills.

A map of Dunstable from 1944

The Romans built a posting station and named the settlement Durocobrivis,[8] which survived until their departure from Britain. The area is most likely to have been occupied by Saxons, who overran this part of Bedfordshire in about 571 AD.[citation needed]

Mediaeval times

Until the 11th century this area of the county is known to have been uncultivated tract covered by woodlands. In 1109 Henry I started a period of activity by responding to this danger to travellers. He instructed areas to be cleared and encouraged settlers with offers of royal favour.[9] In 1123 a royal residence was built at what is now called the Royal Palace Lodge Hotel on Church Street. The King used the residence as a base to hunt on the nearby lands.

The Dunstable Priory was founded in 1131 by the King and was later used for the divorce between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, which led to the establishment of the Church of England in opposition to the Roman Catholic Church. The same year the town granted a town charter to the power of the priors.

In 1290 Dunstable was one of twelve sites to erect an Eleanor cross recognising Eleanor of Castile, wife of Edward I, whose coffin was laid close to the crossroads for the local people to mourn the dead Queen. The coffin was then guarded inside the priory by the canons overnight before continuing on to St. Albans.[10] The original wooden cross has long since perished but a modern memorial remains.

17th century

Bedfordshire was one of the counties that largely supported the Roundheads during the English Civil War. Nearby St Albans in Hertfordshire was the headquarters of the Roundheads, and troops were occasionally stationed at Dunstable. The town was plundered by King Charles I's soldiers when passing through in June 1644, and Essex's men destroyed the Eleanor cross.[6]

The town's prosperity, and the large number of inns or public houses in the town, is partly because it is only one or two days' ride by horse from London (32 miles (51 km)), and therefore a place to rest overnight. Towns like Stevenage on the Great North Road benefitted from the same effect, and of course similar settlements all over the rest of the country. There are two pubs which still have coaching gates to the side: the Sugar Loaf in High Street North, and the Saracen's Head [sic] in High Street South. The Saracen's Head is a name often given to pubs frequented by knights of the Crusades. It is considerably lower than the road to its front, witness to the fact that the road has been resurfaced a number of times during the lifetime of the pub.

19th century

Dunstable's Grove House

Dunstable's first railway opened in 1848. It was a branch joining the West Coast Main Line at Leighton Buzzard. A second line linking Dunstable with Hatfield via Luton opened in 1858. Passenger services to Dunstable were withdrawn in 1965, but the line between Dunstable and Luton remained open for freight traffic for many years.

Dunstable was a significant market town, but its importance diminished as the neighbouring town of Luton grew.

20th century and after

The 19th century saw the straw hat making industry come to Luton and a subsequent decline in Dunstable, to be replaced in the early 20th century by the printing and motor vehicle industries with companies such as Waterlow's and Vauxhall Motors respectively. But with the closure of the main factories and the decline of manufacturing in the area, this distinctiveness has been lost.

Shops were concentrated along High Street North/High Street South (Watling Street) until in 1966 the Quadrant Shopping Centre opened, becoming the main retail centre of Dunstable. Additionally in 1985 the Eleanor's Cross retail area was developed to cater mainly for smaller independent shops.

With the rise of out-of-town retail parks, as with many other market towns the town centre has suffered a decline in trade. Few original independent shops remain. Of the oldest Moore's of Dunstable (opened in 1908) closed in 2008, leaving The Cottage Garden Flower Shop of Chiltern Road, established in 1898, as the oldest independent retail business still trading.[11]


Before the Local Government Act 1972 coming into force in 1974, Dunstable was a municipal borough. It is now a civil parish in the Central Bedfordshire district.

For council elections the town is divided into wards. Since 2002 these have been called Chiltern, Dunstable Central, Icknield, Manshead, Northfields and Watling.[12][13]


The oldest part of the town is along the Icknield Way and Watling Street where they cross. These roads split the rest of the town into four quadrants which have each been developed in stages.[14]

The northwest quadrant started to be developed in the 19th century when the British Land Company laid out the roads around Victoria Street. The development of the Beecroft area began with the houses around Worthington Road; after World War II the borough council extended the estate up to Westfield Road with its shops, and then up to Aldbanks. The war-time site of the Meteorological Office, where the road Weatherby is now, was redeveloped by George Wimpey and others. At the north of the town there is an estate originally marketed as French's Gate Estate, and at the west of the town there is an area of houses on Lancot Hill.[15]

The southwest quadrant has largely been developed since World War II. There are three main estates. In the Lake District Estate all the streets are named after places in the Lake District and Cumbria; the estate includes a parade of shops on Langdale Road. It was originally called the Croft Golf Course Estate and was built by Laing Homes. Oldhill Down Estate around the Lowther Road shops was developed by William Old Ltd, and the Stipers Hill Estate around Seamons Close was initially created by the Land Settlement Association.[16]

In the southeast quadrant, the area around Great Northern Road was developed at the end of the 19th century as Englands Close Estate and Borough Farm Estate. The Downside Estate including the shops on Mayfield Road was planned by the borough council in 1951.[17]

The northeast quadrant is a mainly commercial and civic area, the result of redevelopment in the early 1960s. But the site of Waterlow's printing works around Printers Way is now occupied by houses built in the 1990s. The Northfields Estate at the north of the town was completed by the borough council in 1935.[18]

Further east, near the boundary with Luton, there is another area that has largely been developed since World War II. To the south of Luton Road, Jeansway was completed after the war; to the north, Poynters Estate and Hadrian Estate were built on either side of Katherine Drive, where there is a parade of shops. The area also includes the Woodside Estate which contains most of the factories and warehouses that still exist in Dunstable.[19]


The town lies in the parliamentary constituency of South West Bedfordshire.[20] Since June 2001 Leighton Buzzard based lawyer Andrew Selous has won election to representation on behalf of the Conservative Party.[21] For many years previous David Madel was MP for the district.



The A5 trunk road lies at the heart of Dunstable's transport infrastructure, directing movement north and south. This movement is additionally complemented by the M1 motorway which is located east of the town in Luton. The nearest motorway junction is J11, which is about two miles to the east of the town centre via the A505. Although congested, the town's roads provide the means to connect to the country's motorways systems.


Dunstable is served by two main operators, Arriva and Centrebus. Arriva runs the interurban services to Luton (direct and via Houghton Regis), Leighton Buzzard and Aylesbury, but other routes have been steadily taken over from Arriva by Centrebus in recent years, which now provides services to St Albans, Harpenden, Luton (direct and via Caddington), Toddington and Milton Keynes. Centrebus also operates three local services within Dunstable to Beecroft/Weatherby, Downside and the Langdale Road estate. Many bus services are financially supported by Central Bedfordshire Council.


Dunstable was once served by the Dunstable Branch Lines to Leighton Buzzard and to Luton from Dunstable Town railway station. There have been a number of campaigns for the re-establishment of a passenger railway although none of them has proved to be successful. Dunstable is now one of the largest towns in England without a railway connection.[22]

Proposed developments

Luton to Dunstable busway

Plans are now going ahead for the Luton to Dunstable guided busway between central Dunstable and Luton Airport via Luton town centre, much of which will run along the lines of the old railway.[23]

A5-M1 Link (Dunstable Northern Bypass)

A5-M1 Link (Dunstable Northern Bypass)
Proposed Dunstable and Luton Northern Bypass.png
The route of the Dunstable Northern Bypass proposal and route options for the connecting Luton Northern Bypass.
Location Central Bedfordshire
Proposer Highways Agency
Status Proposed
Type Road
cost estimate £95 million
start date suspended
Geometry KML

As part of a solution to Dunstable's growing traffic problems proposals for a Northern Bypass A5 - M1 Link road have been submitted. These comprise of a two-lane dual carriageway running east from the A5 north of Dunstable to join the M1 at a new Junction 11a south of Chalton. Here, it is intended to join with the proposed Luton Northern Bypass to form a northern bypass for the wider conurbation.

The proposal is currently awaiting the results of an ongoing review of the M1 widening scheme as any changes to this scheme could potentially affect the bypass proposals. Until these results are released plans for the Dunstable Northern Bypass cannot proceed.[24] Following the Highways Agencies decision to drop claims for the Dunstable Eastern Bypass,[25] the Woodside Connection is also currently under scrutiny.[26]

Like other major transport schemes the Dunstable Northern Bypass is suspended pending a government spending review due to be completed by Autumn 2010.

Woodside connection

Following the abandonment of the Dunstable Eastern Bypass[26] a new road is being considered which would connect to the A5-M1 Link (Dunstable Northern Bypass) to the Woodside industrial estate.[27]



Since its opening in April 2007 the Grove Theatre has replaced the Queensway Hall as the town's premier arts centre, located within the council owned Grove Gardens.

National and local productions take place regularly at this cornerstone of Dunstable's cultural exploits. Additional facilities include units fit for six bars or restaurants along with a 1,000 seated auditorium.[28] (Currently a Wetherspoons entitled The Gary Cooper, an Italian restaurant named Adesso, and a Dim Sum restaurant have opened.)

One of the town's little gems is that of the Little Theatre, home of the Dunstable Rep Theatre Group that also hosts dramatic performances throughout the year. The auditorium, once part of the Chews Trust was fully opened in 1964 by Bernard Bresslaw. It sits next to the historic Chews House on High Street South.[29] The town also has numerous amateur dramatics societies that perform several shows a year. These include 'The Square Drama Circle' and 'Dunstable Amateur Operatics Society'.


Along with several parks and open spaces kept by Central Bedfordshire Council, Dunstable Leisure Centre is operated by Leisure Connection Ltd on the council's behalf. It houses a 25-metre swimming pool, squash courts, a large hall, extensive fitness studio, indoor bowling green and multi-use outdoor pitch.[30] It is situated next door to the newly-built Grove Theatre, a modern 24-lane ten-pin bowling centre and Dunstable College.

The town is home to two senior football clubs, Dunstable Town F.C. and AFC Dunstable who both play at the Creasey Park Stadium. Both clubs compete in the Spartan South Midlands League with Dunstable Town in the Premier Division and AFC Dunstable in Division One. Dunstable Town famously recruited George Best to ply his trade in the town and defeated Manchester United 3-2 in the process.

A Rugby Union team that plays in RFU Midlands 2 (level 6) called Dunstablians play their matches in nearby Houghton Regis on Bidwell Hill.

Lancot Meadow (51°53′07″N 0°32′36″W / 51.8853°N 0.5434°W / 51.8853; -0.5434 (Lancot Meadow)) is a small nature reserve managed by the local Wildlife Trust.[31]


Within the town, there is the modern Grove Theatre, newly refurbished Priory House Heritage Centre (free to the public), and the Priory Church where Henry VIII formalised his divorce from Catherine of Aragon. There is shopping in the heart of the town at the Quadrant Shopping Centre; across High Street North there is a secondary area called Eleanor's Cross Shopping Precinct with a modern statue commemorating the original cross. Nearby Luton has the Waulud's Bank prehistoric henge and Luton Museum & Art Gallery.

Dunstable Downs, a chalky escarpment outside the town, is a popular site for kite flying, paragliding, and hang gliding, while the London Gliding Club provides a base for conventional gliding and other air activities at the bottom of the Downs. Further into the countryside are the open-range Whipsnade Zoo, a garden laid out in the form of a cathedral at Whipsnade Tree Cathedral, and the Totternhoe Knolls motte-and-bailey castle.


The town holds several middle schools, notably Ashton (VA) Middle School, formerly known as Dunstable Grammar School. Also Priory Middle School which is located next to Priory House and Gardens.

Upper schools include:

All upper schools within the town provide further education through attached sixth form colleges.

Weatherfield School is a coeducational special school located in Dunstable. The school educates pupils from the wider Central Bedfordshire area.

Central Bedfordshire College is a further education college located in the town. The college serves students from Dunstable and the surrounding rural area.

Notable people

Twin towns

Dunstable is twinned with:

Dunstable is also unofficially twined with Dunstable, MA.[citation needed]

Local destinations



  1. ^ 2001 UK census
  2. ^ Rivet, A. L. F. and Smith, C. (1979), The Place Names of Roman Britain, Batsford, p. 349 
  3. ^ a b Adrian Room, ed. (1995), Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1st ed.), ISBN 0-304-34869-4 
  4. ^ Sunday Times Travel, 6 January 2008, p. p46 
  5. ^ Genuki entry for Dunstable, Accessed 26_12_09
  6. ^ a b British History Online and William Page (editor), “Parishes,” 29 August 2008
  7. ^ 'Parishes: Dunstable', A History of the County of Bedford: Volume 3 (1912), pp. 349-368
  8. ^
  9. ^ British History on line - Dunstable Retrieved, 30 June 2009
  10. ^ Evans V. & Schneider J. (2002), Dunstable down the ages: an outline history from prehistoric to modern times, Dunstable: Book Castle 
  11. ^, History of the Cottage Garden Flower Shop.
  12. ^ The District of South Bedfordshire (Electoral Changes) Order 2001.
  13. ^ Dunstable Town Council, Meet The Councillors.
  14. ^ Walden, pp. 5–9
  15. ^ Walden, pp. 101, 112, 172, 190–191, 194, 199, 226.
  16. ^ Walden, pp. 266–268, 275, 282.
  17. ^ Walden, pp. 6, 136, 145–146.
  18. ^ Walden, pp. 91, 203, 205.
  19. ^ Walden, pp. 240, 241, 263–264.
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ Guides to Collections: British Railways Board at the Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service.
  23. ^ "Luton Dunstable Busway". Luton Borough Council. Retrieved 24 Nov2009. 
  24. ^ "A5-M1 Link (Dunstable Northern Bypass)". Highways Agency. Retrieved 2008-11-12. 
  25. ^ "Initial route management strategy, june 2003". Highways Agency. 
  26. ^ a b "Bedfordshire Local Transport Plan 2006/07 - 2010/11". Bedfordshire County Council. Retrieved 2009-10-04. 
  27. ^ "Transport Infrastructure". 
  28. ^ "About the Grove Theatre". Retrieved 2009-03-26. 
  29. ^ "Little Theatre". Retrieved 2009-03-26. 
  30. ^ "Leisure Connection". Retrieved 2009-03-26. 
  31. ^ Wildlife Trust, Lancot Meadow
  32. ^
  33. ^ ODNB Geoffrey de Gorham, Accessed 08-08-2011
  34. ^ [1]


  • Prehistory: Matthews, C. L. (1989). Ancient Dunstable (2nd ed.). Manshead Archaeological Society. ISBN 0-9515160-0-0. 
  • Historical town-centre locations: Benson, Nigel, (1986). Dunstable in Detail: An Illustrated Guide to the Town of Dunstable. Dunstable: Book Castle. ISBN 0-9509773-2-2. 
  • Street names: Walden, R. (1999). Streets Ahead: An Illustrated Guide to the Street Names of Dunstable. Dunstable: Book Castle. ISBN 0-871199-59-X. 
  • Second World War: Dunstable and District at War from Eyewitness Accounts. Dunstable: Book Castle. 2006. ISBN 1-903747-79-1. 

External links

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