Flooding at The Bull

A NAME which provided a link to a famous part of Dunstable’s past disappeared this year with the conversion of the old Bull pub, on the corner of Union Street and High Street North, into a set of apartments. The building is now called Vale Court.

It is pictured here, when it was known as the Bull Inn, after a thunderstorm caused flooding throughout the town in the early 1900s.

An inn had stood on the site since the 16th century, having various names including the Prince’s Arms, the Red Hart, the Black Bull and then the Bull.

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The property originally included a huge strip of land, stretching at the back through to West Street, which became known as the Bull Closes. The spare land attracted the attention in the 1600s of Henry Earle, who had started the country’s first long-distance stage coach business. He bought the Bull and used the paddocks (“closes”) on the land to rear or rest the large number of horses needed to haul his coaches.

By 1657 the Bull was very large and was one of the most famous coaching inns on the Watling Street, providing food, drink and amenities at all hours of the day and night for weary travellers. There’s a tale that its pub sign once included a bull’s head on one side and a document, purporting to be a Papal Bull (an order issued by the Pope), on the other.

By the 1800s the Bull’s ancient building was deemed to be too old-fashioned to suit the demands of the time and it was converted into a smaller inn, specialising in quality food and wine. The owners sold the Bull Close land, which became the site for new roads and houses including Edward Street.

Historians Vivienne Evans (“Dunstable In Transition”) and Nigel Benson (“Dunstable In Detail”) have carried out considerable research into the history of the Bull and their books have provided details for Yesteryear. But no-one has yet discovered documents disclosing exactly when the structure of the building was changed into its present form.

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The colour photo shows the Bull last week, in its smart new guise of Vale Court. The old pub building now contains three apartments and the room at the back of the courtyard, used for pub games in recent times, is now three bedsits.

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