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The Market House Clock Tower - geograph.org.uk - 511758.jpg
Market House Clock Tower
Grid reference: TL2249
Location: 52°7’38"N, 0°12’55"W
Population: 7,789  (2011)
Post town: Sandy
Postcode: SG19
Dialling code: 01767
Local Government
Council: Central Bedfordshire
North East Bedfordshire

Potton is a town and parish in Bedfordshire, adjacent to the border with Cambridgeshire. The town is 10 miles from Bedford and the parish had a population in 2011 of 7,789.[1] In 1783 the 'Great Fire of Potton' destroyed a large part of the town. The parish church dates from the 13th century and is dedicated to St Mary. Potton's horse fairs were some of the largest in the country.


The village's name was spelled Pottun in 960 AD and Potone in the 1086 Domesday book. It is derived from the Old English for 'farmstead where pots are made'.[2]

Great Fire

The 'Great Fire of Potton' started in a stack of clover in a field in the area of what is now Spencer Close, in 1783. King Street, half the Market Square and some of the Brook End area were destroyed. It was reported to have burned for a day. Local people raised £6,000 to help those most in need.[3] Providing temporary accommodation in nearby fields for the townsfolk alone cost £25,000.[4] The 13th-century parish church, St Mary's, survived, however. Rebuilding after the fire has left the town with a number of Georgian buildings.[3]

Market and fairs

King William II granted a market in 1094; it may have been held in the churchyard before moving to the site of the modern Market Square in the 13th century.[3] Potton's market was one of the largest in the county in the Tudor and Stuart periods, but it declined after the Great Fire.[3] Corn and straw plait were the principal goods in 1831.[4]

The fair was granted by Henry II in 1227; as of 1831, fairs were held on the third Tuesday in January, the last Tuesday in April, first Tuesday in July and the Tuesday before 29 October.[4] The horse fairs were some of the largest in the country, but ended in 1932.[3]

'The Shambles' provided folding market stalls in the town square before brick buildings were put in place by Samuel Whitbread, the Lord of the Manor, in 1797. They became dilapidated in the 1930s and were demolished after the Second World War, with a modern library built in their place. The Clock House was opened on 23 July 1956 and used The Shambles' clock, illuminated dials and bell. In spring 2006 the mechanism was replaced with an automatic winding system costing £3,000.[3]


The Sandy and Potton Railway opened on 9 November 1857. It was established by Captain Sir William Peel VC, who resided at |The Lodge, and was also known as Captain Peel's Railway. When the Great Northern Railway came to Sandy in 1850, Captain Peel had a branch line built to his estate and on to Potton. The railway's locomotive was named Shannon, after the frigate Captain Peel was commanding. He never saw his railway; he died of smallpox on 22 April 1858 in India. The engine itself is in the collection of the National Railway Museum and is currently housed at Didcot Railway Centre.[5] The Potton Barbershop Harmony Club named its male chorus 'Shannon Express' after the locomotive.[6]

Potton railway station, which opened in 1862 and served the Varsity Line between Oxford to Cambridge, was closed in 1968.[7] The railway was partly to blame for the decline of Potton market but made London accessible for the district's market gardeners.[3]

Sir Malcolm Stewart, Potton's last Lord of the Manor, set up the Land Settlement Association (LSA) in 1935 and gave houses and land to cultivate to unemployed men and their families. Many were former miners from Durham before the LSA began to favour families with agricultural knowledge.[3]

Potton Manor was built in the 1860s. It was requesitioned by the armed forces[8] and used as a laboratory during the war and as a car factory by Eva Pokorova and Otto van Smekal. The Champion car built in Potton was purchased from the National Motor Museum by Potton History Society, whose aim it is to restore the vehicle to full working order. The house was finally demolished in the early 1980s.[3]


Potton is 10 miles east of the county town of Bedford and 15 miles south-west of Cambridge. It is on the B1042 road between the town of Sandy, to the west, and the village of Gamlingay, to the north.

Potton Wood, managed by the Forestry Commission, is in the south-east part of the parish.

Potton Sands is a geological formation whose strata date back to the Early Cretaceous. Dinosaur remains are among the fossils that have been recovered from the formation.


A memorial cross to Potton men killed in the First and Second World Wars stands in the cemetery, with a brass plaque bearing the same names in the parish church.[9]

Sport and leisure

Potton has a Non-League football club Potton United F.C., which plays at The Hollow.

Potton has a cricket club, Potton Town Cricket Club also based at The Hollow on Biggleswade Road. Both Junior and Senior cricket is played. The adult section runs two teams competing in the Saracens Hertfordshire League [2] on Saturdays and The Bedfordshire Cricket League http://bedsccl.play-cricket.com/leaguetables/competitions.asp on Sundays. The club also enter midweek competitions.

Potton History Society

There is an active History Society with a membership of over 100. It meets regularly in the Community Centre in Brook End. [3]

Religious sites

St Mary's Church

The parish church stands a short distance from the town centre on a small hill. It has a chancel, a nave, aisles and north porch, and a western tower with circular turret containing six bells. A separate cemetery was established in 1880, west of the town on the road to Sandy.[4]


Potton had its own brewery from around 1784[8] until 1922 when it was bought by the Bedford brewery of Newland & Nash. This company subsequently closed the brewery in Potton and sold the site to the Co-operative Society (the original buildings remain intact). In 1998 brewing returned to Potton when the current Potton Brewery Company was re-established.[10] The town is also home to Potton Homes, who specialise in mock Tudor style property developments.

Despite noteworthy local businesses, the town remains very much a commuter town; the majority of people in Potton commute daily to either London, via rail, or to Cambridge.


  1. [1]
  2. Mills, A.D. (1998). A Dictionary of English Place-names. Second Edition. Oxford University Press, Oxford. p277. ISBN 0-19-280074-4
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 Potton Town Guide (2006)
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Information on Potton  from GENUKI
  5. Didcot Railway Centre: No.5 Shannon/Jane
  6. Shannon Express History. Potton Barbershop Harmony Club. Retrieved 22 February 2009
  7. Subterranean Britannica – Disused Stations: Potton
  8. 8.0 8.1 Bedfordshire County Council: Potton Timeline
  9. Roll of Honour.com: Potton
  10. Potton Brewery

Outside links