An old inn, The Swan With Two Necks, was in this building until 1913. It had been an inn since at least Victorian times and is mentioned in old trade directories as a stopping point for carriers and stage-coaches. It is included in a timetable in the 1830s and 40s for a famous coach called The Wonder, used by Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin, travelling between Islington and Shrewsbury.
There was another inn with the same name in Dunstable in the 1700s, at 17 High Street North. This became a hat factory in around 1790 and, a few years later, the name was transferred to Middle Row. The hat factory closed in 1851 and the building there, once called Town Hall Chambers, became a jeweller's for a time.
The inn name should really be The Swan With Two Nicks. In former times, the birds were marked with nicks in their beaks to denote ownership. Only a few privileged landowners were allowed to own swans, whose meat was regarded as a delicacy,
The pub in Middle Row was sold by Burr's Brewery in 1841 when documents mentioned that it had sometimes been called The Lion and Lamb.
After 1913 Reynold Cook had a hair-cutting salon in the building, with a German helmet displayed on its window ledge. It became a high-class baker's shop in the 1950s when Redrup and Starking's provided a particularly tempting array of cakes.
Halfords sold motor accessories here in the 1960s, followed into the building by Burgess Office Equipment.
Then Ladbrokes expanded their smaller betting shop, next door, into the premises.
The archway next door is quite new. It was created in 1978 when the shop at number12 was pulled down.
Number 14 Middle Row, on the other side of the new archway, was a public house called the Cross Keys in the 1800s but the old building has housed a wide variety of shops in its time.
It was best-known as a jeweller’s, run by Percy Lester from 1911. Previously, his business had been in a shop on the corner of Middle Row but this was demolished to make the road wider and Mr Lester had to move. He then stayed at number 14 until the start of the Second World War when he sold the shop to the James Walker chain of jewellers. They transferred to the new Quadrant shopping centre in 1966.
Percy Lester’s father, Walter, had started the family business in around 1876.
The shop in Middle Row was once one of a series of properties owned by a wealthy widow, Mrs Frances Ashton. After her death, her trustees sold it to a carpenter in 1796.
There were numerous businesses in the premises after that, including a corn dealer and a fishmonger. It had become a pub called the Cross Keys by 1869, although it is possible that an earlier pub called the Magpie, run by Mary Pratt, was in the building in 1840, perhaps sharing the building with a butcher named William Arnold.
The Cross Keys did not remain in business for long. By 1881 the occupier of the building, William Turney, was describing himself as a grocer.
Text: John Buckledee of Dunstable and District Local History Society. ©
Design: David Turner.
Narration about The Swan With Two Necks by Katy Elliott of Dunstable Repertory Company.
Recording: David Hornsey.
Website developer: Joshua Buckledee.