Dunstable Yesteryear - 'Where bitterns once nested'

The stream at Wellhead, Dunstable, was the subject of this photo which was artificially coloured for a postcard published in the early 1900s. judging from the King George V postage stamps on its back.
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The stream rises from a spring at the foot of Dunstable Downs which once created a pool, a popular swimming spot for locals, near the Tring Road. The water-table has dropped in recent years but the pool’s gully can still be seen.

There were headlines in 1870 when Crichton Benning, the son of Dunstable’s town clerk, rescued a near-unconscious Henry Hose from drowning at the pool.

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The sedges around Wellhead were once frequented by bitterns, a bird which is now almost extinct in England. It had an extraordinary call which could be heard for miles.

Wellhead, Dunstable, pictured in the early 1900s.Wellhead, Dunstable, pictured in the early 1900s.
Wellhead, Dunstable, pictured in the early 1900s.

Charles Lamborn, the local historian whose book The Dunstaplogia was published in 1859, wrote: “Of all sounds there is none so dismally hollow as the booming of the bittern. It is like the uninterrupted bellow of a bull, but hollower and louder, and may be distinctly heard at the Five Knolls (the burial mounds on top of the Downs), as if issuing from a formidable being that resides at the bottom of the waters.”

The bird was once hunted for its flesh, regarded as a luxurious delicacy.

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

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