From The Archives: The history of the old buildings in St Neots

The Bellany family in St Neots concentrated on building domestic housing.

The Bellany family in St Neots concentrated on building domestic housing. - Credit: ST NEOTS MUSEUM

January is often a time of new beginnings, new projects and since the covid-19 pandemic struck we have been talking about ‘building back better’, a phrase apparently coined by the United Nations in relation to disaster relief in 2015.

Thinking about this phrase reminded me of all the building work currently going on around St Neots and the amazing mixture of buildings and building styles that we can see if we walk or drive around the town.

The oldest buildings still standing are timber framed buildings such as 42 High Street (currently the Kodak shop) and the Parks Therapy Centre at 12 Huntingdon Street, and there are many others across the area in Eaton Socon, Eynesbury and in local villages.

This timber-framed building in the High Street is the oldest building in St Neots.

This timber-framed building in the High Street is the oldest building in St Neots. - Credit: ST NEOTS MUSEUM

Some periods in history are well known for the building booms that took place, for example a ‘great rebuilding’ of domestic housing was said to have taken place in England between 1570 and 1640, replacing old medieval buildings with sturdy new timber ones.

Another period of major rebuilding and refurbishment then took place during the 1700s, the Georgian period, and again this can be clearly seen in St Neots: stand in the Market Square and look round and many of the buildings you can see were either built or re-fronted in the Georgian period.

Their smart red bricks and large windows tell us that people could afford to rebuild in a new style to celebrate their new prosperity. Both the Cross Keys Inn (now the shopping mews) and Lovett Estate Agents (24 Market Square) are older building which were re-fronted in new red brick in the 1700s.

We know nothing about the builders who transformed these properties, but as we come forward in time we know far more about more recent local builders.

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One very well-known local firm who helped to shape the town between the 1860s and 1980s were Wrycroft & Sons. They were responsible for the Flour Mill in Bedford Street, rebuilt after a fire in 1909 and the new St Neots Post Office completed in 1913 and now the Weeping Ash public house.

The Bedford Street Flour Mill.

The Bedford Street Flour Mill. - Credit: ST NEOTS MUSEUM

Other local builders such as the Bellamy family concentrated on domestic housing and the house they built for themselves at 16 Kings Lane is a good example of a 1930s family home.

More recently, Mr Twigden created a highly successful building company and built many local homes in the 1980s and 1990s.

Today we are experiencing another building boom, although the link with local builders has been lost and new housing estates at Loves Farm and Wintringham are being built by national companies. However, eventually they too will become part of the history of the town.