Christmas in Dunstable through the Ages, by Jean Yates (Dunstable Cultural Consortium)
The people of Dunstable have over the centuries witnessed some interesting events during the Christmas period.
- In 1121, Henry I, having driven robbers away from the important north road, by having much of the forest cut down and the royal manor of Kingsbury built at Dunstable, kept his Christmas here with great splendour, receiving an embassy from the Earl of Anjou.
- Henry’s first wife, Queen Matilda, had died in 1118, and two years later his only legitimate son and heir to the throne, had drowned. Perhaps it was during that visit he founded a priory here, as a memorial to Matilda and their son, as by 1125 the first Dunstable Prior had been appointed.
- For those who celebrated Christmas in Norman times, it wasn’t just one day, but a season covering at least the 12 days from 25 December to Epiphany on 6 January. Sounds good? There’s a rider: Christmas was preceded by a month of fasting in the season of Advent.
- In 1137, Dunstable must have been awash with noise and colour when King Stephen continued his predecessor’s tradition and spent a Christmas here at Dunstable, worshipping at the Priory, with the canons.
- In the year 1233 the Dunstable annalists, who kept the Priory diary, tell us, “There was a great frost at Christmasse, which destroyed the corn in the ground, and the roots of hearbs [herbs] in the gardens, continuing till candlemasse without any snow, so that no man could plough the ground, and all the yeare after was unseasonable weather, so that bareness of all things ensued, and many poor folks died for want of victuals, the rich being so bewitched with avarice, that they could yield them no reliefe”.