The History of Potton


It stretches back over a millennium: the first mention of ‘Potune’ is in a grant of land in 960 A.D. from the Saxon Aelfhelm to Ramsey Abbey.

1086: In the Domesday Book Potune had 18 villagers, 2 freemen, 13 small-holders and three serfs. The land was held by Countess Judith, niece of William the Conqueror.

1094: William 11 granted a market, which may have been held in the churchyard, before moving to the present Market Square.

1203: Market day changed from a Sunday to a Saturday and continued until the 19th century. Butchers rented stalls in the Shambles and people from surrounding villages also came with eggs, butter, vegetables, straw plait and lace.

10941237: Potton was split into four manors (land holdings): Rectoria, Burdetts, Regis and Much Manured.

13th century: St Mary’s Church appears to have been built. The tower was added in the 15th century.

1544: Start of the combining of the four manors by the Burgoyne family by progressive land purchase.

1637: The four manors had become one.

The growing prosperity of the market town was reflected in the houses on the south side of the Market Square and in Sun Street. These have timber frames which originated in late medieval or early Tudor times. The market had developed into one of the most important in Bedfordshire by the 18th century.

From around 1670 there were also yearly fairs; January was a horse-fair which continued until the 1930s. The September Statute fair, originally for hiring labour, developed into an annual “merry making” with Mr Thurton’s gallopers and many side shows. October became a sheep fair: in 1821 a thousand animals were on sale “..white faced with dull black spots in them, wool long and matted…”.

1742: John Wesley was invited to visit Potton for the first time by a friend in Everton and referred to the locals as “wild beasts in abundance”.

1752: Admiral Lord John Byng, a British Royal Navy officer, became Lord of the Manor. But he was court martialled for failing “to do his utmost” to relieve a besieged British garrison during the Battle of Minorca at the beginning of the Seven Years War. Despite requests for clemency, he was condemned to death and faced a firing squad on board HMS Monarch in Portsmouth in 1757. His family have long campaigned for a pardon. As recently as 2007 they said : ‘Admiral Byng did not deserve to be shot. He may not have been a brilliant sailor but he had an unblemished career and he had never lost a ship or drowned a sailor. The Byngs won’t take the refusal of a pardon lying down. We’re going to take this further.’ He had never married and his estate was inherited by his nephew George Byng, the fourth Viscount Torrington of Southill.

18th century: Potton’s grain market was one of the four largest in the county.

1783: The Great Fire of Potton started in a clover stack in a field where Spencer Close is and spread over 24 hours to King Street and the southern side of the Market Square (around Tysoe’s). It destroyed around 100 houses, two pubs as well as numerous outhouses, stables with horses, barns with cattle, and haystacks. The rebuilding of this part of the town gave us a rich heritage of Georgian buildings.

1795: Viscount Torrington of Southill sold his Potton lands to the beer magnate Samuel Whitbread. The family continued as Lords of the Manor until 1917 when their land and properties were purchased by many individuals.

1815: Rate documents show there were 15 inns.

1840: Building of the Baptist Chapel.

1848: Building of the Congregational Chapel (later the United Reform Church).

1857: The railway era starts when Captain William Peel V.C, 3rd son of Sir Robert, privately constructed a line between Sandy and Potton. The pride of the line was the “Shannon” locomotive named after the frigate in which he served on the China Seas. The original engine shed still stands on private land off Biggleswade Road.

1862: The Potton to Sandy line is amalgamated into the Bedford to Cambridge line with a station built on Sandy Road. There was lots of freight traffic with local market gardeners ordering loads of manure and soot from London, and sending vegetables by return.

1860: Potton manor house, complete with ballroom and later a large conservatory, was built next to the site of an older house at the bottom of King Street.

1870 & 1878: Two further serious fires prompt the formation of a volunteer fire brigade

1876: Purpose built Board schools opened to cater for a growing population of around 2,000.

1876: Potton has 34 public houses to cater for the many people arriving for the horse fairs. Bull Street had three side by side: The Bull, The Green Man and the King’s Head. The Potton Brewery Company operated from premises opposite Tesco’s on King Street and there was a mineral water factory in Sun Street.

1887: A new fire station was built and opened at Brook End in what is now The Community Centre.

1890: After some opposition the Salvation Army was founded.

1903: More than 30 pubs and inns listed for a population of 2,033.

1931: A Technical school opens in the building that is now the Potton Club.

1956: Old Shambles replaced by current Clock Tower.

1968: Potton railway station closes.

1970: The Tanyard, which had provided employment producing leather and parchment, closed. Its familiar smell hung over the town on most days. It was sited where Braybrooks Drive is now.

1977: Potton History Society formed on the occasion of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.

1982: Old board schools demolished and replaced by the Everton Road schools.

1903: Still 30 pubs listed.

1930s: Market had declined to just horse fairs but they attracted huge crowds.

1935: Sir Malcolm Stewart, the last Lord of the manor, lived at Sandy Lodge (now RSPB HQ) and provided land and a home for unemployed men in the first Land Settlement Association holding. Many of the original settlers were Durham miners who often struggled to adjust to an agricultural way of life. There was a high turnover before the war years provided stability with families settling who were more used to the land.

1991: Census shows 4,230 residents.

2000: Just 7 pubs remain. Party on Potton is formed after a hugely successful 8-day Millennium celebration.

2022: Party on Potton back after the pandemic shut down. Potton celebrates the Queen’s Jubilee in June and then mourns her passing.

A Website.