Dunstable’s annual history day had a Jacobean theme this year, inspired by the wall-paintings preserved in Priory House, which date back to the early 1600s.
Hundreds of people came to the Priory on Saturday afternoon when a host of activities were staged.
Inside the house, whose exhibition area is now dominated by a giant image of King James I, there was a sweet-making demonstration which included such delicious Jacobean delicacies as marzipan gooseberries laced with cloves.
A series of talks. by Ann Ledger, Susie White, Annie Gray and Ed Boreham, featured clay pipes (there’s one of the earliest depictions of tobacco smoking on the Dunstable wall paintings), 17th century hunting (shown on the wall paintings too), Jacobean food (a syllabub featuring cream, wine, brandy and fruit was produced for sampling) and, of course, the wall paintings themselves.
Outside, in Priory Gardens, there was a demonstration of civil war musketry and pike drill by members of the Winchester Regiment Re-enactment group. An alchemist kept children fascinated with a series of experiments and allowed them to handle the remains of a meteorite discovered in China.
A falconry display provided additional excitement when the birds of prey were harassed by an indignant flock of Dunstable rooks. And the pet dog of a hurdy-gurdy man caused hilarity by howling (almost in tune) whenever his master’s ancient bagpipes were played.
Stilt walkers dressed as the Three Musketeers patrolled the meadow, where various Jacobean arts and crafts were demonstrated.
There was some Shakespearean acting on an outdoor stage and children could practice maypole dancing or solve puzzles in a maze made from bales of straw.
Dunstable History Society provided an exhibition, master-minded by Joan Curran, which featured Dunstable in Jacobean times (did you know that Robert Catesby, fleeing for his life after the failure of the Gunpowder Plot, had to stop in Dunstable to have his horse reshod?).
The Dunstable Town Guides provided a display telling the story of Elizabeth Pratt, a Dunstable woman accused of witchcraft. She died before she could be brought to trial.
Saturday’s huge event was organised by Sue Turner and the Friends of Priory House and Gardens, in association with Dunstable Council. And because the Friends had successfully applied for a lottery grant, it was completely free.