A History of the County of Bedford: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.
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Potton is a parish and ancient market town on the borders of Cambridgeshire, about 4 miles northeast from Biggleswade. It has an area of 2,676½ acres, of which 1,595½ are arable land, and 317½ permanent grass. (fn. 1) The slope of the land is from north-west to south-east, the greatest height above the sea level (258 ft.) being in the east; the lowest point is 129 ft. in the south-west. The greater part of the east and west portions of the parish is arable land. In the south-east corner is Potton Wood, of considerable extent. The town of Potton lies on a slight slope trending south to some low land bounded by a small stream.
The market-place, which is in the centre of the town, contains three square brick buildings (the middle with a wooden tower and clock) connected by smaller buildings of wood, on the south side of which is a row of wooden booths with tiled roofs, provided with wooden shutters to let down as counters. In front of them is an open arcade, and the whole building is still known as 'the Shambles.'
From the market-place Bull Street runs northwest, and is crossed at right angles by Horselow Street; King Street runs north-east and Brookend south-east to the stream, while Sun Street leads eastwards to the cross roads where the Sandy and Biggleswade roads meet.
The town contains several stone houses, dating from the seventeenth century, and a fair number of timber-framed buildings of the same or an earlier date. These latter in several cases seem to have remained in their original use as inns. The Sun Inn is a good example of this, and in Horselow Street is a house, not at present an inn, but with a characteristic entrance leading to a garden which covers most of the space originally occupied by the courtyard. There was a fire here in 1783, which destroyed more than fifty dwelling houses.
Ancient British gold coins have been found in this parish. (fn. 2)
The earliest mention that has been found of Potton is a tenth-century grant of land by Alfelm and his wife, Affa, to Ramsey Abbey, (fn. 5) but there is no subsequent trace of the abbey holding here.
At the time of the Domesday Survey one holder of land only is mentioned in Domesday, the Countess Judith, who held Potton manor, which was assessed at ten hides. (fn. 6) She had acquired it as wife of Waltheof, whose father, Siward, slew Tosti, earl of Huntingdon, and received his inheritance from Edward the Confessor. (fn. 7) Maud, daughter of Judith, married David of Scotland, afterwards created earl of Huntingdon, and the Potton manor continued to be attached to the earldom of Huntingdon until the death of John le Scot, earl of Huntingdon, without issue in 1237. The overlordship of the three manors at that time existing in Potton was then divided among his three sisters—Margaret, Isabel and Ada. (fn. 8)
The overlordship of POTTON MANOR, also called POTTON REGIS, the principal manor, passed to Isabel the second sister, wife of Robert Bruce. Their son, Robert Bruce the elder, was exercising the overlordship in 1284, (fn. 9) but with the forfeiture of Robert Bruce the younger, the overlordship passed into the king's hands. (fn. 10)
The earliest mention of sub-tenants of this manor has been found in 1214, where Wischard Ledet and Margery, his wife, were holding twelve virgates of land in Sutton, by the service of one-fourth of a knight's fee. (fn. 11) Christina, their daughter and heir, brought the manor as dower to her husband, Henry de Braybrook, who was holding it in 1227. (fn. 12)
In 1271 this manor became the property of her granddaughter, Alice, wife of William le Latimer, (fn. 13) and followed the same descent as Sutton manor (q.v.), until its lapse into the duchy of Lancaster, (fn. 14) and like that manor was settled in 1544 on Thomas Burgoyne and his heirs for ever. (fn. 15) Potton manor, with which were subsequently united the other manors in Potton, remained in the Burgoyne family until the middle of the eighteenth century. (fn. 16) By 1774 the property had passed from the Burgoynes to George Viscount Torrington, (fn. 17) from whom this group of manors was purchased in 1795, by Samuel Whitbread. (fn. 18) They were held in 1817 by his son Samuel Whitbread, (fn. 19) and his son, also Samuel Whitbread, is at present the lord of Potton.
A second manor in this parish is that of POTTON MUCH MANURED. (fn. 20) This sub-manor was split off from the main manor of Potton on the death of the earl of Huntingdon without male heirs in 1237. The overlordship of this part went to Margaret, the elder sister of the earl of Huntingdon. Her daughter, Devorgilla, married John de Balliol, and through the marriage of her daughter Ada the overlordship passed to the Clavering family, who held it as of the honour of Huntingdon. (fn. 21) The descent of the under-lords of this manor can be traced from 'the heirs of Nicholas Quatremars' who in the thirteenth century held half a fee in Potton of this honour. (fn. 22) By 1284 it had passed to Fulk of Bath and Joan his wife, who at that date held a rent of £14 16s. in Potton. (fn. 23) Their daughter Joan married John d'Eyville, who held the manor in 1306. (fn. 24) He transferred the manor to Walter Langton, bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, (fn. 25) before 1316, at which date Walter was rendering feudal service for it. (fn. 26) From 1316 until 1564 this manor follows the same descent as Everton manor (q.v.). (fn. 27) In the latter year Clement Tanfield alienated Potton Much Manured manor to John Burgoyne, (fn. 28) and it thus became united with the principal manor of Potton (q.v.), and has since followed the same descent.
A third manor, that of POTTON BURDETTS, derived its name from a family called Burdett, who held in Potton during the thirteenth century. It was split off from the main manor of Potton in 1237, and the overlordship passed to Ada, youngest sister of the earl of Huntingdon. She married Henry Hastings, whose direct descendant John Hastings (1347-96) became earl of Pembroke. (fn. 29) The last reference found to this overlordship is in 1507, when Potton Burdetts manor is stated to be held of the honour of Huntingdon. (fn. 30)
The earliest sub-tenant of whom mention has been found is William Burdett, who held land in Potton in 1214. (fn. 31) He was followed by Nicholas Burdett, who held here by service of half a knight's fee, (fn. 32) which in 1284 had diminished to one-fifth held by William Burdett. (fn. 33) In 1291 the connexion of this family with Potton Burdetts was severed when William Burdett granted his 'capital messuage' by charter to William le Latimer, at that time holding Potton manor. (fn. 34) Its history is identical with that of Potton and Sutton (q.v.), until these manors lapsed to the duchy of Lancaster at the close of the fourteenth century. It did not fall to the duchy, for in 1404 Elizabeth, suo jure Baroness Latimer, died seised of 'Bordelette's Fee.' (fn. 35) It next reappears in 1507 as Burdetts manor in Potton, the property of John Taylor and Anne his wife, to whom it had been granted by Thomas and Richard Burgoyne. (fn. 36) John Taylor left a son Roger, who died the same year as his father, (fn. 37) and Burdett manor passed to his brother Humphrey, who, on his death in 1511, was succeeded by a second cousin William, (fn. 38) who only survived until 1516, when his brother Laurence became his heir. (fn. 39) In 1575, on the marriage of Catherine Taylor to Robert Brudenell, the manor passed to the latter family, (fn. 40) and in the year 1657 Robert Lord Brudenell alienated Potton Burdetts to Sir Roger Burgoyne, (fn. 41) since which time its history has been the same as that of Potton manor (q.v.).
This parish also contained a fourth manor, that of POTTON RECTORY, which appears to have originated from a grant made about 1094 by Simon de Senlis to St. Andrew's Priory, Northampton. (fn. 42) In 1267 John de Sudington successfully claimed view of frankpledge in Potton for the prior, (fn. 43) and in 1316 one of the same name was rendering feudal service here. (fn. 44) In 1392 the prior enfeoffed the Friars Minor by Aldgate with the glebe and advowson of Potton, (fn. 45) for which the latter paid a yearly pension of 66s. 8d. (fn. 46) At the Dissolution the value of the property of the Friars Minor in Potton was £13 6s. 8d. (fn. 47) During the sixteenth century Potton Rectory manor was leased by the crown to various tenants. Elizabeth leased it in 1579 to Richard Williams, (fn. 48) and in 1591 sold it to Rowland Litton for £679 12s. 6d. (fn. 49) By 1608 it had passed to John Burgoyne, (fn. 50) who held the other manors in Potton, and it has since followed the same descent. (fn. 51)
The right of holding a weekly market and fairs belonged to the lord of Potton manor from the earliest times. Before the reign of John it was held on Sundays, but in 1203 the day was altered to Saturday, (fn. 52) on which day a market is held at the present time. In 1287 William le Latimer claimed a weekly market in Potton. (fn. 53) In 1501 the king granted to John Burgoyne the profits of tolls of market in Potton for fourteen years, (fn. 54) and in 1544 Thomas Burgoyne received a perpetual grant of a Saturday market, (fn. 55) and it is subsequently found attached to the manor. (fn. 56) Lysons, writing at the beginning of the nineteenth century, says the market, though not so great as formerly, was still well supplied with grain, particularly wheat and barley. He attributed the decline of the market to a great fire at Potton in 1783, when damage estimated at £25,000 was done. (fn. 57) In 1227 Henry Braybrook, lord of Potton manor, received a confirmation of his right to hold an annual three-days' fair on the feast of St. James in July. (fn. 58) Four yearly fairs were confirmed to Richard Burgoyne, then lord of the manor, by Charles II in 1670, viz. on the third Tuesday in January, the Tuesday before Easter, the first Tuesday in July, and the Tuesday before St. Luke's Day, (fn. 59) and fairs are still held at times corresponding to the first, second, and fourth of these dates.
There is mention of a mill in Domesday belonging to the Countess Judith and worth 5s. (fn. 60) When the larger manor was subdivided the mill appears to have formed part of Potton Much Manured, for in an inquisition of this manor, taken in 1332, a windmill is mentioned, and had increased in value to 10s. per annum. (fn. 61) Its site can still be seen, on the left of the road approaching Potton from Sandy.
The right of holding a view of frankpledge belonged to the three manors of Potton, Potton Much Manured, and Potton Rectory. (fn. 62)
The church of OUR LADY consists of a chancel 32 ft. 6 in. by 14 ft. 6 in. with a south chapel 12 ft. wide of equal length with the chancel, nave 62 ft. by 20 ft. with north transept 22 ft. 6 in. by 13 ft., north aisle 10 ft. 9 in. wide, south aisle 9 ft. 6 in., north porch of two stories 15 ft. 6 in. by 11 ft. 10 in., and west tower 12 ft. 6 in. square, all measurements being internal.
No part of the present building appears to be older than the first half of the thirteenth century, to which date parts of the chancel and north transept belong. From the position of a window of this date in the west wall of the transept it is clear that the north aisle has been widened early in the fourteenth century, to which date the main structure of the present nave belongs. The tower and north porch are fifteenth-century additions, the chancel arch showing the same detail as the tower arch, and being doubtless of the same date. The south-east chapel, c. 1500, is the latest addition to the plan, and the external features of the church are almost entirely of the latter part of the fifteenth and the early sixteenth centuries. The church underwent repair and refitting in 1889.
The chancel has a modern three-light east window, above which are the arms of Winch and the date 1638, and on the north side is a late fifteenth-century window of three lights, part of its sill being cut down to within 2 ft. 6 in. of the floor, perhaps for the fitting of a locker or for the sepulchre. It overlooked the roof of a now destroyed north-east vestry, the door to which still remains just west of the window, and has over it on the outside a small thirteenth-century light, which must have been blocked when the vestry was built. Of the vestry itself the only surviving feature is a fifteenth-century piscina below the north window already described. Its west wall abutted on the north wall of the chancel, just west of the doorway, and a second doorway, now blocked, also of the fifteenth century, has been cut at a slant through the chancel wall just west of the vestry door in order to clear the west wall of the vestry.
At the north-west of the chancel is another fifteenthcentury window of three lights, with tracery in the head, and adjoining its west jamb is a single cinquefoiled light, which is fitted awkwardly into the extreme angle of the chancel, and seems to have been intended, like a similar window at the south-west angle, to throw light on the seats at the back of the rood screen.
At the south-east angle of the chancel is part of a small trefoiled piscina, apparently not in position, the rest of the south side being occupied by an arcade of two bays opening to the south chapel and contemporary with it. This chapel has one east window and two on the south, each of three cinquefoiled lights under flat-pointed heads, and between the two south windows is a doorway in modern stonework. East of this doorway, on the inner face of the wall, is a recess 12 in. deep, with a four-centred head, the sill being about 6 ft. from the floor, and below the southcast window is a piscina.
The chancel arch is of the full width of the chancel, with moulded capitals of slight projection, and an arch of two moulded orders, the jambs having the curious local detail of the rounded member running up to the capitals and stopping abruptly under the abacus.
The nave is of five bays, the south arcade being of slightly earlier detail than the north. It has piers of four engaged shafts with small keeled rolls in the angles, moulded capitals and bases following the plan of the shafts, the bases being raised on square plinths, and pointed arches of two hollow-chamfered orders. The north arcade has octagonal piers with moulded capitals and bases, and pointed arches of two chamfered orders. The bases of the western pier and respond of this arcade are of a distinctly later type than the others. The date is about 1330, and the south arcade is some twenty years earlier.
At the west end of the south arcade the nave wall is thickened on the inside, a feature which is difficult to explain. It may be the remains of an eastern tower buttress such as are common in the churches in the district, or part of an older nave wall.
The north transept retains of its original features only a small blocked lancet in the west wall and the quoining of its northern angles. Its north window is modern, of three lights, and the east window, also of three lights, is of the fifteenth century. At the southeast angle a fifteenth-century rood stair has been inserted, the turret containing it projecting beyond the wall on both sides; its entrance doorway is at the west, and on its north-west face is a niche for an image. The transept opens to the north aisle by a modern arch. The windows in the north aisle are all of late fifteenth-century date where not modernized, but the doorway is of plain fourteenth-century work, with continuous moulded outer arch.
The north porch has entrances on the north and west, the latter being probably not part of the original arrangement. In the west wall, near the entrance to the church, are two recesses, both plastered and of uncertain origin, though one may have held the holy water stone. At the south-east is a vice in a turret of irregular plan leading to the parvise above, and in the east wall is a fifteenth-century lozenge-shaped panel of stone, with indents of a brass, clearly that of a priest, the central object having been a chalice and host. The parvise is lighted by square-headed windows of two cinquefoiled lights.
The south aisle has three-light windows on the south and one at the west, of fifteenth-century style, of which that east of the south doorway appears to be of somewhat earlier date than those on either side of it; the west window is modern. The doorway, which is externally of modern stonework, has a four-centered arch under a square head. There was formerly a south porch here, but it was destroyed in 1848, and in consequence part of the south wal. fell for lack of its abutment.
The nave clearstory has five square-headed windows on each side, all being of two cinquefoiled lights except the east window on the south side, which is of three lights in order to throw more light on the rood.
The west tower is of four stages, with an embattled parapet and belfry windows of two trefoiled lights with a quatrefoil in the head. The third stage is shallow, and lighted only by slits on north and south. In the second stage is a three-light west window, and in the ground stage a small blocked west doorway, the stonework of which appears to be modern. At the north-east is a stair in a turret, which projects as a semicircle from the outer face of the north wall. In its lowest stage it has vertical stone ribs at intervals, which stop at the first set-off and have a curiously early look. On the exterior of the north wall, about 12 ft. from the ground, is a stone lamp-holder, having a weathered head, and two corbels below, the space between which is now filled by part of a modern gravestone.
All the roofs, in spite of much repair, retain a certain number of their old timbers of fifteenth and sixteenth-century date; the nave roof having moulded purlins and ridge with bosses at the intersections and traceried spandrels below the tie-beams. In the south aisle, however, some of the timbers may be of fourteenth-century date.
The first book of the registers begins in 1614, being a copy made in 1635, and goes to 1747. The second contains the entries from 1747 to 1801, and the third those from 1802 to 1812. There are overseers' accounts from 1614.
The advowson of the church of Potton followed the same descent as that of the Rectory manor (q.v.) until the Dissolution, (fn. 63) when it fell to the crown, by whom the right of presentation has since been exercised. (fn. 64)
The rectory of Potton follows the same descent as that of the Rectory manor (q.v.) until its purchase by Rowland Litton in 1591, (fn. 65) who in 1602 alienated it to Henry Godfrey, (fn. 66) who in his turn transferred it to Sir Humphrey Winch, justice of the King's Bench in 1618. (fn. 67) The Winches retained possession of Potton Rectory during the seventeenth century, (fn. 68) and in 1698 it was purchased under a decree in Chancery by the parish of Thaxted with a sum of money bequeathed to the parish by William Lord Maynard for charitable uses. (fn. 69)
The Town Lands (Deeds, 1666, 1699, and Inclosure Act of 54 Geo. III, cap. 38), now consisting of 46 acres of land in Potton, known as the Roundabout Allotments, let to various holders, and producing about £70 a year:
Charities of Robert Smith (will, 1738), Mary Tottman (will, 1727), Henry Ward (will, 1739), William Hankin (will, 1782), and Alexander Atkinson (will, 1712) now represented by 6 acres of land in Windmill Field, Potton, purchased with moneys left by these donors, and land in Mill Road let at £12 and £2 a year respectively.
The Official Trustees of Charitable Funds also hold £228 10s. 7d. consols in respect of the Town Lands and the charity of John Snitch (will, 1687), £202 consols in respect of the charity of Thomas John Burgoyne (will, 1826) for organ and psalmody and £56 9s. 11d. consols in respect of James Underwood's charity (will, 1863). The income received from the real and personal estate amounts to £160 a year or thereabouts.
By the scheme above referred to the sum of £202 consols constituting the endowment of the charity of Thomas John Burgoyne and a yearly sum of £2 18s. 4d. out of the income of the charities are separated from the rest of the endowments under the title of the United Ecclesiastical Charity, of which the vicar and churchwardens are constituted the trustees, the vicar to receive the said yearly sum of £2 18s. 4d. for preaching sermons, and the remainder of the income of the Ecclesiastical Charity to be applied towards keeping the organ of the parish church in good repair, organist's salary, and providing suitable vocal music in the church.
Provision is made for the appointment of trustees of the remaining charities under the title of the Consolidated Charities, of which the vicar is constituted the ex-officio trustee. The trustees are authorized to expend a yearly sum of £45 for education at public elementary schools and technical classes and a yearly sum not exceeding £50 in apprenticing, and to apply the remainder of the income for the general benefit of the poor, in aid of the funds of any hospital and any provincial club; also towards the provision of nurses for the sick and infirm, and in the supply of articles in kind not exceeding £40 in any one year for the last-mentioned object.
This parish is also possessed of 23 a. 2 r. 28 p. of land known as the 'Poor's Common', acquired under an indenture dated 1859, let to various holders producing £18 a year or thereabouts; 4 acres of land constituting 'The Recreation Ground,' purchased in 1869 with moneys arising from the sale of a portion of the Poor's Common; and 5 acres of land known as the 'Sand Pits,' otherwise 'The Pest House Pieces,' let for £1 12s. 6d. a year.
In 1877 Samuel Emery Barnes, by will, gave £600 to be invested, and the income to be divided into six equal portions yearly on 1 January among six poor aged and infirm persons who had resided during five preceding years in the parish irrespective of religious belief. The legacy (less duty) was invested in £548 4s. 6d. consols, and the annual dividends, amounting to £13 14s. are applied by the vicar and churchwardens in accordance with the trusts.
In 1885 Miss Catherine Payne by will left £200 to the minister and churchwardens, the annual income to be distributed on 21 February in every year among the poor of the parish. The legacy is represented by £200 15s. consols, the annual dividends amounting to £5 0s. 4d., are distributed in sums of 5s. to each recipient.