Dunstable and District Local History Society meeting

The local connection between a Bedfordshire church and Long John Silver, the one-legged pirate villain of Treasure Island, was recounted by David Longman to members of Dunstable and District Local History Society at their February meeting.
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Long John was the creation of the novelist Robert Louis Stevenson, who based the character’s appearance on his friend W H Henley, whose leg had been amputated as the result of a childhood illness. Henley had a charismatic personality and became a famous writer, mainly remembered for his poem Invictus whose theme and title is used today for the Invictus Games. Henley died in 1903 and is buried in the churchyard at Cockayne Hatley.

David Longman’s talk to the history society also featured numerous anecdotes about other local churches. At Southill, for instance, a bell is tolled 50 times on the anniversary of the execution of Admiral John Byng, sentenced to death by firing squad in 1757 for allegedly failing to do his utmost to defeat French forces at Minorca. He is buried at Southill.

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Harlington Church was the starting point in 1830 for a cross-country steeplechase ending at Wrest Park which became the inspiration for today’s Grand National, and a 17th century memorial at Ampthill Church commemorates Col Richard Nicholls, who was responsible for renaming New York in America (the town had previously been called New Amsterdam before it was captured by English forces from the Dutch).

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The next meeting of the history society will be at 7.45pm on Tuesday, March 12, at the Methodist Church hall in Dunstable when Elise Naish will talk about the Mossman collection of horse-drawn carriages now preserved at Stockwood Park, Luton.

George Mossman assembled the carriages at his farm in Caddington and they were often used for scenes in period film and tv dramas. Visitors to the meeting are welcome. Entrance fee for non-members is £2.