POTTON HISTORY SOCIETY
Copyright © Potton History Society. Compiled with Serif WebPlusX8. Author Dave Thompson.
New version started 17 January 2016 | Site last updated 1 June 2016
Potton is an ancient market town, with a population of about 4,000. The parish covers 2,671 acres. Its history can be traced back to the 10th century. At the time of the Domesday Book Countess Judith, niece of William the Conqueror, owned the town. By 1501 the Burgoynes of neighbouring Sutton controlled Potton Market and later bought the estate. Admiral the Hon John Byng was the next owner in 1752 but his stay was short as he was sentenced to be shot on his own quarterdeck for neglecting his duty! From 1795 to 1917 the Whitbread Family (the brewers) were Lords of the Manor. In Medieval times Potton was one of the three most important towns in the county, and was larger in size than Biggleswade. From the 12th century it had a flourishing weekly market with an important Horse Fair in January which continued until the 1930's. The presence of the market accounts for the large number of inns and public houses that were in the town. In 1903 about 40 of these still remained! Whilst the area surrounding Potton is largely agricultural, there was a large tannery in the town from 1589, or earlier, until 1970. There were two breweries, coprolite was quarried for fertilizer in the 18th century, and a large engineering works serviced local agriculture. The well known 'Potton House', a number of which can be seen in the town, were originally designed and fabricated here. The railway, which joined Potton with Bedford and Cambridge, was closed in 1968. The station, built in 1862, still remains as a private house a little along the road to Sandy. In 1783 a great fire swept through the town destroying 50 houses, damage being estimated at £25,000. However many listed buildings remain to be seen, some dating from before the fire.
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Start of the Walk
The next shop was a house of the 17th century. All these buildings have many original features. Number 21, to your left, was the original post office. It has a Doric pedimented doorway dating from the 18th century.
Now walk along the row of shops on your right, past the butcher's and stop outside Tysoes ironmongery, built between 1760 and 1783 by Henry Winn (Point C). Successive ironmongers have used this shop for the past 150 years. Over the shop is a room where local people would settle debts and hire labour on the day of the Horse Fair. The many inns would also have served the same purpose. Further along, past the chemist's shop (probably the location of the White Hart Inn) is a baker's shop, where bread has been baked for over 150 years. Look over the road to the right (the north side of the square) to the Coach House Inn. To the right of this inn, though there does not seem sufficient space, there used to be two shops which were demolished to enlarge the exit road, King Street. The Old Coach House Inn was rebuilt after the fire in 1783. Architectural features include a nice old doorway and a wing at the rear that is relatively unchanged since the early days. A drain head at the side bears the date 1785. The window built into the pub was originally a shop - an unusual combination. The newsagent and the next shop were built in the 19th century and replaced the George Inn destroyed in the fire. The large carriage entrance still remains. Note the upper (restored) window at the newsagent's, a feature of several older houses.
Walk along the north side to Lloyds bank (Point D). The Bank was originally a house but a shop front was added early this century. The building is typically florid Victorian, including marble columns! Beyond the bank is a house with 'shiplap' boarding dating from the 16/17th centuries and which survived the Great Fire. Looking directly across the square you can see that the end three shops on the opposite side have a common frontage. This was originally the White Swan Inn, a large coaching inn built in the 16th century, which closed in 1907. Now, cross the road to walk by two large blocks of flats. The first of these, Lion Court, was converted into flats in the 1980's. The facade fronts an older structure from the 18th century. Originally there were two shops fronting the square and prior to this it was the Red Lion Inn. The second block of flats is recent. Behind was the location of one of the town's two (!) Breweries.
Continue walking past the flats, out of the Market Square and along Sun Street, until you come to 'Sun House' on the right. This was an old coaching inn, built in the 16th century, or earlier, and only closed in 1908. It remains relatively unchanged, and many of the older buildings in the town would have resembled it. A little way beyond Sun House is a passageway to the right leading to private flats. Until recently this was the Congregational Church, built in 1848 of local 'ironstone' (a hard type of sandstone, common in Potton, often associated with coprolite extraction).
Start of the walk - car park. Park in the public car park (no charge). Approach from Royston Street as the road from the square is only one way. On leaving the car park (Point A) look to your left. The large house on the far corner, Granville House, partly 17th century, is one of the mansions built by prosperous local merchants - in this case a wool merchant. The original house was largely destroyed in the Great Fire - it is said that the barns, full of fleeces, burnt fiercely. Beyond this, until a few years ago, you would have seen Braybrooks Tannery, famed for its manufacture of leather and parchment.
Now walk towards the Market Square along Brook End, passing the surgery. The area to your right was, at one time, an extension of the Market Square. It's name, Hogg Hill, gives a clue to its original function. The first building that you pass was originally the Parish Rooms built by public subscription in 1901.The next building on the right is the Old Fire Station - on the roof you can see where the fire bell was housed. It was built in 1887 (as shown on the sign high on the wall)
Further along is a motor workshop - this is the site of the old blacksmith's shop. Over the road, and set back, is number 8 - this was the Chequers public house until 1979 (the pub name 'Chequers' may derive from 'exchequer' or collector of revenues). Beyond this, on the left, just before the Post Office, is a modern house, the site of the old Bell Inn. The Post Office, together with the next shop was a private school for the boys in the 19th century. Turn the corner to the right, noting the rounded corner of the building - a decorative feature occuring elsewhere in the town.
Stand in front of the Chinese Restaurant (Point B) to view the Market Square. In the centre of the square is the Clock House, built in 1956 and used as the town library and Council Rooms. It replaces the ancient shambles - a complex with brick houses at each end, folding stalls on the south used by butchers etc, and shops on the north side. Samuel Whitbread donated the present clock in the 20th century to replace a clock with only one hand - not uncommon in the early days. In 1783 the Great Fire destroyed the buildings on the north side of the square (to your right) and the east side. On your left, the buildings were undamaged and most date from the 16th century. Over the supermarket you will see a date of 1697 - probably the date of a renovation. Beyond this is a shop which, with the adjacent shop, was an inn, the Three Horse Shoes - later a printers shop. The shop sign of the printer from 1940 has recently been re-instated.
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