Gateway to remnants of Dunstable’s ancient monastery

Priory Gateway
Priory Gateway

Most remaining remnants of Dunstable’s Augustinian monastery now lie hidden under the turf of Priory Gardens.

But one section is still visible – the wall and arch now known as the Priory Gateway, alongside the church. It has been a subject for numerous artists over the centuries, including this coloured engraving produced in 1787.

The structure has become dangerous in recent years, and is now fenced off.

But huge efforts to restore it are being led by Dunstable Town Council, with support from the Central Beds Council archaeologists. The plan is to apply for a Heritage Lottery Grant to cover the cost.

The old priory, pulled down by order of King Henry VIII, almost certainly had a magnificent gatehouse which demonstrated the important status of the monastery.

A recent geophysical survey by Dunstable’s Manshead Archaeological Society revealed evidence of a substantial building on the gateway site, and perhaps the present wall and archway were a small part of this, left standing when the king decided to spare the adjoining church from the general demolition work.

Stone from the famous quarry at Totternhoe was used to build the monastery, but the remaining wall shows evidence of previous repairs over the centuries utilising material quarried from other areas, including Northamptonshire and Rutland. Karin Kaye, of KDK Archaeology, has been commissioned to investigate the history of the wall and analyse the types of stone used in its construction and later repair.

The feeling is that it is important to retain evidence of efforts made by previous generations to preserve the gateway, rather than simply use Totternhoe stone to try to reproduce the original medieval work.

“That would destroy the narrative which is there to see,” she says. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful structure.”

> Yesteryear is compiled by John Buckledee, chairman of Dunstable and District Local History Society.