Places > Dunstable > Churches and Meeting Houses > Priory Church
The Priory Church of St. Peter, with its monastery, was founded by Augustinian Canons (monks), under the patronage of Henry I, in 1132. Henry I gave the Priory control of Dunstable.
The Norman style church was built in the form of a cross with a great tower at the crossing and with two smaller towers at the west end. Progress was slow and it was some 70-80 years before the church was complete. Ten years later a violent storm destroyed much of the front of the church. The damaged part was rebuilt but in a different style (Early English).
The monastic buildings consisted of a dormitory for the monks, an infirmary, stables, workshops, bakehouse, brewhouse and buttery. There was also a hostel for pilgrims and travellers, the remains of which is known today as Priory House. Opposite the Priory was one of the royal palaces belonging to Henry I, known as Kingsbury. Today it is the site of the Old Palace Lodge Hotel and the Norman King pub.
In 1290, the funeral cortege of Queen Eleanor, wife of Edward I, was housed overnight at the Priory and in 1533, the annulment of the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon took place in the Priory Lady Chapel.
Until the close of the 14th century, local parishioners used the north aisle as their parish church. However, as the town grew, they began to spill out into the nave area. The canons did not welcome this but an agreement was reached that the local people should be responsible for the upkeep of the nave area. This they did as cheaply as possible resulting in the nave roof changing to a flat roof and the western tower to a bell tower.
The closure of religious houses began in 1536 and the church and monastery was finally closed down in January 1540. A turbulent period followed with many of the Priory buildings being pulled down. However, the part used by the local parishioners was saved and is still in use today as the Priory Church of St Peter.
- Dunstable down the ages, by V Evans (Book Castle, 2002)
- Dunstable with the Priory, by V Evans (Book Castle, 1994)
- Priory Church of St Peter, Dunstable, by F.A. Fowler (District Church Council,1990. First published 1959)
- Topic file on Priory Church at Dunstable Library
Priory Church of St Peter, by Bedfordshire Libraries, 2005
Page last updated: 24th January 2014