Picture the scene as King Henry 1 rode into Dunstable nearly 900 years ago

Henry I at Dunstable 1123
Henry I at Dunstable 1123

A festive flavour for this week’s Yesteryear, featuring a partially coloured drawing created 100 years ago by Dunstable artist and historian Worthington Smith.

He was imagining the scene when King Henry I rode through the crossroads in 1123 on his way to his hunting lodge/palace in Kingsbury.

Smith included a caption, pictured below left, in the artwork which listed his sources.

Henry and his court spent Christmas in some splendour here, entertained foreign dignitaries and perhaps planned progress on the king’s new town, where he had ordered plots of land for building to be laid out around the crossroads.

The thick woodland alongside the Watling Street and the Icknield Way had been cleared to enable this to happen.

There is a legend that the area where these two main routes met had been made hazardous for travellers by the activities of a band of forest-dwelling robbers led, Robin Hood-style, by a man named Dunn.

Perhaps he was a survivor of former local landowners who had been dispossessed by the Normans (Henry was William the Conqueror’s son).

A few hundred years later, canons at the Priory recorded a fanciful tale that Dunstable had been so-called in Dunn’s memory. Most unlikely that the king would have permitted his local enterprise to be named after an outlaw!

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