Memories of St Neots' town centre

The live auction in New Street closed in 1980.

The live auction in New Street closed in 1980. - Credit: CAMBS ARCHIVES

The town grew and expanded around the medieval St Neots Priory, which was rebuilt over many centuries and then finally forced to closed under Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries in 1539.

Weekly markets have been held on the Market Square since 1130 when a market charter was created. Markets continue to this day and a fortnightly Farmers' Market also runs on the second and fourth Saturday of each month, from 8am till 2pm.

The Cross Keys Mews is on the High Street.

The Cross Keys Mews is on the High Street. - Credit: ARCHANT

Long-standing residents of the town will also remember the weekly cattle market, which was also held on Thursdays. The St Neots Livestock Market, in New Street, was one of the largest in East Anglia with more than 1,000 pigs, cattle and sheep sold by auction each week. The cattle auction closed in 1985 and there is now sheltered housing on the site.

The town has a long association with breweries. James Paine acquired Foster's brewery on the Market Square in 1831. The Priory Brewery, on the site of the old Priory, was owned by the Fowler family, but later sold to John Day of Bedford in 1814. Day is also responsible for providing St Neots with its first street lamps.

A sweet stall on the Market Square, circa 1900.

A sweet stall on the Market Square, circa 1900. - Credit: CAMBS ARCHIVES

The town even had its own bank and currency at one time. The Bank of St Neots was established in 1807 and it is believed this was situated at 16 Market Square (now Greggs).

A bank note, which was donated to the St Neots Museum, has the signature of Francis Rix in the bottom right-hand corner, and he, along with George Gorham and John Inkersole launched the venture, but by by 1824 it was bankrupt.

The St Neots one pound note turned up in a pawn shop.

The St Neots one pound note turned up in a pawn shop. - Credit: ST NEOTS MUSEUM

There have been many family businesses in the town which prospered for more than a century. Sadly, not all of them survive to this day. Brittains, at 62 High Street, began trading in 1904 and was started by Frank Brittain at a premises in Eaton Ford selling bikes and furniture. 

Brittains in St Neots began trading in 1904.

Brittains in St Neots began trading in 1904. - Credit: BRITTAINS FAMILY

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Frank's brother Archie later joined the business and at the tender age of 12 was responsible for delivering paraffin in a hand truck around the town. The family business moved to its present location in 1924 and has undergone much expansion over the years. 

Barretts was another much-loved, long-standing family businesses on the High Street, and again, from humble beginnings, the shop survived for more than 100 years before finally closing its doors in 2017.

The store was opened in 1888 by Arthur Barrett as a men’s clothing shop and in 1889, Charles Huckle, aged 12, was employed as an shop assistant. When Mr Barrett died from meningitis aged 29, Charles Huckle continued working for his widow, Kitty, and took over the business in 1908 when she died.

The old Barretts store in St Neots

The old Barretts store in St Neots. - Credit: HUCKLE FAMILY

Records show that in 1911, the Barrett’s corner shop was originally based in Victoria House in High Street. An adjacent building is boarded up, but this later became the Thomas Barnes Greengrocers. Further up is a saddler’s shop owned by Alfred Harry Bowtell. The Fox and Hounds Inn was also in this area. 

The Huckle family continued to do business in St Neots, but despite huge efforts to diversify and keep the shop open, including plans dividing the shop into several smaller retail units, opening a cafe, a bookshop and a toy department, the store finally closed in 2017. The front of the shop is now Fat Face.

Most people have fond memories of Woolworths and the St Neots store, which is now an Iceland outlet, closed on January 3, 2019.

In April, 2017, the Fishers hardware shop on the Market Square closed, but this is now the Floors By Ian business. 

Fishers owner Arthur Taylor told The Hunts Post that the hardware business had seen a sharp decline and footfall had dropped dramatically.

Mr Taylor said at the time it was "heart-wrenching to have to pack up and leave.”

“It feels like the end of an era, but we have fought this vigorously for the last two years and it has played itself out and St Neots will lose another bit of its history," Mr Taylor told The Hunts Post.