Dunstable is a market town in Bedfordshire, England. It lies on the eastward tail spurs of the Chiltern Hills, 30 miles north of London. These geographical features form several steep chalk escarpments most noticeable when approaching Dunstable from the north.
The 19th century saw the straw hat making industry come to Luton and a subsequent decline in Dunstable, to be replaced in the early 20th century by the printing and motor vehicle industries with companies such as Waterlows and Vauxhall Motors respectively. But with the closure of the main factories and the decline of manufacturing in the area, this distinctiveness has been lost.
Shops were concentrated along the main High Street (Watling Street) until in 1966 The Quadrant Shopping Centre opened, becoming the main retail centre of Dunstable. Additionally in 1985 the Eleanor’s Cross retail area was developed to cater mainly for smaller independent shops.
With the rise of out-of-town retail parks, as with many other market towns the town centre has suffered a decline in trade. Few original independent shops remain. Of the oldest Moore’s Of Dunstable (opened in 1908) closed in 2008, leaving The Cottage Garden Flower Shop of Chiltern Road, established in 1898, as the oldest independent retail business still trading.
Since its opening in April 2007 the Grove Theatre has replaced the Queensway Hall as the town’s premier arts centre, located within the council owned Grove House Gardens.
National and local productions take place regularly at this cornerstone of Dunstable’s cultural exploits. Additional facilities include units fit for six bars or restaurants along with a 1,000 seated auditorium. (Currently a Wetherspoons entitled The Gary Cooper, an Italian, and a nightclub have opened.)
One of the town’s little gems is that of the Little Theatre, home of the Dunstable Rep Theatre Group that also hosts dramatic performances throughout the year. The auditorium, once part of the Chews Trust was fully opened in 1964 by Bernard Bresslaw. It sits next to the historic Chews House on High Street South. The town also has numerous amateur dramatics societies that perform several shows a year. These include ‘The Square Drama Circle’ and ‘Dunstable Amateur Operatics Society’.