The Parish of Potton in General
The Shambles 1900
The name Potton means either farm by a hollow, or a farm where pots were made. It comes from the Old English tun, a farm, and pott which could mean a hollow or a pot. In the year 960 it was recorded as Pottune, and in Domesday Book it was Potone. Before the Norman conquest, Potton had belonged to Tostig, King Harold’s brother, and after the conquest it belonged to Countess Judith, widow of Earl Waltheof.
Walter de Merton, who went on to found Merton College, Oxford, held a large amount of land in Potton in the 1200s.
There was a great fire in Potton in 1783 in which many important documents and buildings were destroyed. Before the fire Potton was a busy, prosperous market town dealing mainly in wool. Around the market square were the large houses and stores of the wool staplers, farmers and gentlemen. On 14th August a hay stack in King Street burst into flames and the resulting sparks set fire to half the town in half an hour. Four hours later the fire was out and the best part of the town burnt down. Two great inns and the buildings all round the market place and in the road leading to it, along with the great houses and woolhouses, stables, grain stores and barns belonging to Mr Raymond, Mr Livelong and Mr Butler, were destroyed. The workshop of Mr Millar and the furniture and clothing in the curate’s house were gone. Every house except one in King Street had burnt down. The town never fully recovered.
Potton Market Square 2007
The market place (above) is now an attractive area surrounded by red brick late 18th century houses. The Market House which used to stand in the centre was commonly called the Shambles by local people. It was probably built when a Dutchman, Cornelius Vermuyden came to drain the Fens for the Duke of Bedford. Somehow it survived the Great Fire, but in 1939 it was considered to be in an unsafe condition and was given to the County Council. The council demolished most of the building and preserved only the Clock House, which now stands alone in the centre of the square.
Potton became a thriving town for butchers, grocers and fishmongers, and every Saturday there was a lively market. The butchers also sent vast quantities of veal to the London markets. Grain, particularly wheat and barley, were also traded but not in the same quantity as before the fire. There was an annual Horse Fair in January which lasted four days and in its heyday attracted buyers from all over south and west England and even France and Germany. It was also a time when all accounts were settled. There was an Easter fair called Dublin Fair, and in September there was the Statute Fair for hiring workers.
A railway was built in 1857 to link Potton to the Great Western Railway at Sandy. Locally it was known as Peel’s Railway because it ran across Sir Arthur Wellesley Peel’s estate. This Sir Arthur was the son of Sir Robert Peel who as Home Secretary founded the first police force. However, the railway had the opposite effect to that desired as it allowed local people easy access to Bedford’s market. This eventually killed Potton’s market because Bedford became the centre of local business. Potton farmers were able to get their goods to London more quickly, but even this advantage disappeared when motor vehicles came on the scene.
Population statistics for Potton:
1801 - 1,103; 1851 - 1,922; 1901 - 2,033; 1951 - 2,042; 2001 - 4,476