The Industrial Revolution in St Neots


Agricultural developments


During the 18th century the majority of the people in St Neots, Eynesbury, Eaton Ford and Eaton Socon were employed in the primary industry of agriculture. Agricultural labour was the most common job.


Landowners wanted to profit from new developments like iron ploughs, steam-powered equipment, seed drills, cross-breeding, mass produced clay drainage pipes and new fertilisers. This cost money so only the wealthier farmers could afford it. They also were keen on enclosing land to make larger fields and parklands closer to their houses.


There were a number of associated agricultural trades like millers, blacksmiths, slaughterers, butchers, skinners, tanners, corn merchants, bakers, maltsters and brewers.  


The main industrial process in St Neots was milling corn. The mills were powered by water wheels (e.g. Paxton Mill and the River Mill in Eaton Socon) or by wind (e.g. Duloe windmill).


In 1846 John Medlock built a corn mill in Nutters Lane (Bedford Street) after the steam-powered cornmill in New Street was burnt down. He sold it to Joshua Malden. It then belonged to Thomas Smith and in 1865 to William Paine, the brewer. £200 was spent on improvements, which included a sawmill.


Malting and Brewing


The Priory Brewery


When the first brewery was built in St Neots is uncertain. It is possible the monks at the Priory brewed their own ale. A new one may well have been built on the site of the priory when the navigation locks were completed in Little Paxton in the early 17th century. Jeffrey’s map of 1768 shows a brewery by the river. Before 1780 the Priory Brewery was owned by Francis Atwood, then Edward Arnold who sold it to William Fowler.


Between 1780 and 1782 Fowler erected a barley drying kiln (now called ‘The Oast House’), a malthouse, stables for horses, and a storehouse (demolished in the 1960s). A large maltings was set up on Cambridge Street supplying local inns and alehouses with malt to make beer.


In 1814 Richard Fowler sold the Priory Brewery to John Day of Bedford At that time Fowler owned 24 licensed premises, five in St Neots, two in Eaton Socon and one in Eaton Ford. Day expanded the brewery by knocking down the gatehouse of the old Priory and building on the site. Between 1818 and 1839 Day bought a further 39, ten of them in St Neots. Barrels of his beer were sold in London. He also erected the first cast-iron lamp post in St Neots in 1822. At first it burnt oil but later used coal gas. 


In 1824 he employed 18 men and two boys. The foreman was paid 18s. (£.0.90) a week and then men from 8s. to 14s. (£0.40 - £0.70). Day did not just brew beer. His business also included selling coal, salt, slates, barrel staves, clunch, timber, isinglass, sperm oil, Greenland oil and seal oil. A pair of whale’s jaw bones formed an arch by the entrance to the brewery yard. Day is also said to have owned the brickworks in Eynesbury.


Paine’s Brewery


The first large-scale brewery in St Neots is thought to have been established by Samuel Emery. He purchased The Bull Inn on the Market Square and the public house next door and combined their two brew-houses to brew in larger quantities. A well sunk into the gravel terrace provided ‘clean’ water. Having a wharf on Hen Brook allowed the import of barley and hops by boat. When Samuel died his daughters took over the inn and his son, Samuel, the brewery. He sold it to William Foster in 1792 who owned three licensed houses.


In 1831 William Foster sold his brewery on the south side of the Market Square to James Paine  (1789 – 1855). He too was an entrepreneur. Over the next few years Paine set up a Stone Flour Mill and an office. He invested his profits from selling beer to acquire three more ‘tied’ houses (they could only sell Paine’s beer). He set up a maltings in St Mary’s Street, Eynesbury, owned five houses on South Street, corn shops in Bell yard, a house and shop in Eaton Ford, 16 acres of farmland in Eynesbury, farmland in Great Paxton, brick kilns there, at Riseley and Gamlingay.


A beam steam engine was installed in 1840 which was there until 1935 when it was replaced by electricity. When James died in 1855 four of his sons took over the business. One of the sons, probably James, opened the Eynesbury brickyard on Potton Road.


In 1865 William expanded the business, buying a flour mill on Nutters Lane (Bedford Street) and as well as brewing, flour milling and sawing he was buying and selling malt, hops, coal, malt calms, linseed cake, slates, bricks, tiles, building stone, salt, tar, hair, whiting, lath (single and double fir), cement (Portland and Roman) lime  (burnt, slack, and clunch), deals and battens (Petersburg, Wyberg and Memel). To help in his business he also hired a yard and wharf on the east side of Eynesbury bridge, where he put another saw mill. By 1869 he had bought St Neots Railway Tavern’.


Needing more capital he went into partnership with William Atkinson in 1872. A new malting was erected in Nutters Lane for £2,400 and the old one sold to George Taylor of the Chequers Inn who converted it into a mineral water factory. In 1877 Atkinson sold his share in the partnership and John McNish joined with the firm then trading as Paine & Co.


The building merchants side of the business was sold in 1879 to Charles Daintree and Fred Jewson. The yard behind the Dog and Duck Inn  near Eynesbury Bridge was too small so they first hired, then bought, Navigation Wharf across the street.


In 1880 the Nutters Lane flour mill was pulled down and a new mill was built on the same site. A steam engine was used which worked until 1931 when a diesel engine was installed.  When William Paine retired in 1882 the McNish brothers took it over until 1896 when the firm was launched as a public limited liability company as Paine and Co. Ltd.


The Bedford Street Nutters Mill was burnt down in 1903 causing damage valued at £15,000. It was rebuilt with more space. The brewery and Stone Flour Mill were burnt down in 1905 so the company bought the next-door premises and milling restarted. The brewery was rebuilt using more modern equipment.


In 1900 the Bedford Street maltings began production of malt extract  (e.g. Bovril, OXO cubes) and it was traded worldwide. After the first World War (1914 – 1918) larger premises were needed so Paine & Co. Ltd bought and equipped the derelict Bower’s Gas Meter Works on  Brook Street.  These works were badly damaged by fire in 1947. They were  rebuilt but burnt down again in 1955 so Paine’s used the Bedford Street premises again.


Licensed Houses


During the 18th century there were 32 licensed premises (public houses) in St Neots, 11 in Eaton Socon and at least two in Eynesbury. Many of these were coaching inns. Local brewers either built them to be able to retail their ales or converted people’s houses to make public houses.


Road transport


Only the upper middle classes could afford to keep a horse or pony of their own. Business people hired horses and carts from ‘job masters’. Most people walked. Paths alongside tracks or across fields and woods eventually became the public footpaths.


Carriers hired out their horse and cart to people wanting to take their produce to the Thursday market and bring back produce and baskets of poultry that they bought. There was not enough room for passengers.


Coaching inns.


Travelling by coach was the fastest way to travel between the 17th and early-19th centuries. The stage coach was introduced in the 18th century with teams of up to eight horses made journeys of between ten and twelve miles (16 – 19.2 kms). The addition of iron springs above the wheels made the journey much more comfortable than on horseback or horse and cart.


The first regular long-distance coach trip was from London to York in 1706.


By 1754 the journey from London to Edinburgh took at least eight days.


Coaching inns provided rest, food, drink and accommodation for travellers – especially those who stopped on their journeys up and down the Great North Road between London and Edinburgh  (e.g. The White Horse, The Cock Inn).


Some coaches made the loop into St Neots Market Square and then back onto the main road.  Passengers and mail was collected from The Cross Keys. Other inns included The King’s Head, The Queen’s Head, The Bull, The Bear, The Falcon, The Half Moon, The White Lion, The Angel, The Fox and Hounds, The Golden Ball and The Wrestlers. 


Local farmers, butchers and bakers and brewers were able to sell produce to the innkeepers. Washer women and laundresses had jobs cleaning and ironing the linen.


The inns often had stables with replacement horses for the next stage of the journey. Local horse-breeders, farriers, harness-makers, blacksmiths, wheelwrights and carpenters made a living from the trade.


Coaching reached its ‘Golden Age’ in the first half of the 19th century.


Passing through St Neots in 1836 were the Perseverance  coach from London to Boston, the Regulator and the Old Oundle between London and Oundle, the Regent between London and Stamford, the Express between London and Lincoln and the Rockingham between London and Leeds. The Eagle went between Cambridge and Birmingham and the Oxford between Cambridge and Oxford. There were also several mailcoaches every day which had their maroon livery and Royal Crest painted on the doors. Eaton Socon had even more coaches. There was estimated to be one coach every twenty minutes on the Great North Road.


Eaton Socon had about 20 coaches stopping every day. As the coaches did not pass through Eynesbury its residents did not profit much from the coach trade.


It was a common sight to see water carts sprinkling the streets to keep the dust down.


Local highway men


Travelling was hazardous in those days. Coaches used to overturn when driving too fast or their wheels got stuck in ruts. Wheels, axles and springs often broke and needed repairs. Wet weather made the road very muddy and floods were common. There was also highway robbery.


Two local men named Hitchcock and Stevens, sometimes living in St Neots, sometimes in Great Paxton, used to hide in a field at Crosshall and came out at night to attack travellers as they passed over Hail Bridge on the Great North Road.


One particular gruesome event took place on the Cambridge Road in the early 18th century.


A young woman, having collected a large sum of money, was riding back to St Neots. Fearing that she might be robbed she had concealed the money bag in her hair, piling up her long tresses over it and pinning them tightly before putting on her kerchief. On her way she met another rider who offered to escort her home. As he was a neighbour whom she knew well, a local butcher and innkeeper, she accepted gratefully, but made the mistake of telling him about the money and how she had hidden it. This resulted in her death, and the murderer, anxious to escape the scene, did not stop to remove the money but chopped off her head and stowed it in his saddlebag.

A short time afterwards two other horsemen came along, a gentleman and his servant, and found the decapitated corpse. The gentleman, obviously quick-thinking, sent his servant on ahead telling him to contact the first person he overtook, who was likely to be the murderer, and accompany him wherever he was going.

This was done and the servant and butcher rode into St Neots together. Once there the servant called the local constable and the saddlebag was searched, revealing its grisly contents. What makes the story really horrific is that that the head was recognised by the constable as being that of his own wife!

(Young, R. op.cit. pp67-68)

Turnpike Trusts


The damage done to the roads by the traffic forced local landowners to improve them. They were often very dusty in summer and muddy during the winter. Turnpike Trusts were set up. By 1700 a few turnpikes had been set up across the main roads.


Daniel Defoe, writing in 1724  wrote that the stretch of main road between Biggleswade  and  Buckden  was “a most frightful way”  and that travellers often turned off onto private land to avoid “the sloughs and holes which no horse could wade through” . 


In 1725 an Act of Parliament set up a Turnpike Trust to manage the Great North Road between Biggleswade and Alconbury. The trustees used to meet in a room in The Cock Inn in St Neots. Several toll bars were put across the roads where travellers had to stop and pay tolls before they could continue.


Later they set up toll gates to collect tolls. The money was used to pay for the toll gates, toll keepers’ cottages, the toll keepers’ wages and for gravel and granite chippings to fill the ruts in the roads caused by cart and coach wheels and the hooves of cattle and sheep being taken to the cattle market in St Neots.


Mile stones were erected giving the distances to the next town.


Coach drivers had to pay tolls at the toll gates but Royal Mail-coaches were exempt. The driver blew a post-horn to warn the tollkeeper to open the gate.


They planned to erect a toll at Eaton Socon but it was placed further north on the parish boundary between Little Paxton and Southoe. The toll-keeper for most of the 18th century was Francis Losley. He was a keen gardener and member of the Cambridgeshire Hunt. He clipped a bush in the shape of a horse and rider. During the hunting season he put a red coat on the rider and it became a well-known landmark for travellers. 


In 1772 another turnpike trust was set up to manage the road between Cambridge and St Neots. One of its toll gates still stands near Weald House on the A428.


There was another toll gate on New Street at the entrance to the Common. This was a private venture to raise money for the householders of St Neots who had Common Rights.


Anderson Pelham, the millowner at Little Paxton, set up his own private turnpike by the bridge.    


Bell Making


In 1735 Joseph Eayre bought one of the best sites in St neots, on the banks of the Great Ouse by the old priory. He built a bell foundry in Priory Lane, workshops and a navigation wharf. Its entrance was in the shape of a bell!. Old bells were brought here and recast. Some of them still hang in the churches of Huntingdonshire and other counties. He was also engaged in watch and clock making.


His profits were invested in property, He built ‘The George’ in St Neots in 1740 which had the town’s Assembly Rooms on the first floor. He also owned all the houses between Huntingdon Street and the High Street corner, and along the High Street as far as the Congregational (United reform) Chapel. There were also properties in Eynesbury and Eaton Socon.


When he died in 1770 his son, Edward Arnold, the brewer as well as  clock and watchmaker, carried on his bell-making business. In 1778 he opened another factory in Leicester and sold the St Neots business to an apprentice, Robert Taylor. Arnold rented him the premises but, perhaps because Taylor married Arnold’s daughter, he turned him out in 1789. His new foundry was in a yard behind Cambridge Street where there were engineering workshops and a blacksmiths. He cast at least 29 bells before his Cambridge Street premises were destroyed by fire in 1821.


The Paper Mill


Okestubbe Mill was a water-powered medieval corn-grinding mill by the Great Ouse in Little Paxton. It was owned by the monks of St Neots priory. It was acquired in 1799 by Owsley Rowley, rebuilt and let to Mr Hobson of Eaton Socon. 


In 1804 it was leased to a firm of paper-makers, Henry and Sealy Fourdinier and John Gamble. They spent £60,000 on machinery to change it from producing flour to a paper mill. Instead of making single sheets Henry invented a process to make rolls of paper. Unfortunately they did not patent it and other entrepreneurs used their ideas and competed with them.


The mills was powered by the waterwheel turning a spindle which turned cogs to operate the machinery..


They became bankrupt in 1808 and sold the company to Matthew Toogood. He employed experienced paper makers and used sound business methods to make a success of the venture.


The 1823 flood left the machine room five feet (1.85m.) under water and four men were trapped for four days.  He and his sons after him operated the paper mill until the 1887 when the business closed down. Steam power units were introduced in 1851 and updated in 1861 to reduce the mill’s reliance on water power.


A raised footway, called the ‘traps’, was built to allow the workforse to get to work in the winter months when the river flooded.


The closure of the mill and the decline of the Vulcan Iron Works led to unemployment and distress  among the poor. As the mill had provided employment to hundreds of local men and women some local business people (John McNish of Paine’s brewey, Joseph Wilcox, W. Emery, James Paine and W. Bowyer) set up a consortium and reopened it in 1888 as St Neots Paper Mill Company Limited. They took no money from it themselves until the business became profitable again.


They were limited by out-of-date machinery. By 1903  new turbines and steam engines were installed.


Much of the wooden buildings were destroyed in a fire in 1912 when 200 people were employed. Rebuilding started in brick and improved equipment was used. By 1913 the mill produced the finest grades of bank, writing, ledger, drawing, chart, cartridge, typing, loan and envelope papers, and cream and tinted typing and envelope papers.


Its fortunes declined during the economic depression after the 1920s and it closed down in 1939. However, during the Second World War, Wigmore Teape evacuated their paper mill at Dover and moved to the safer inland site in Little Paxton. After the war there was a trade in paper to countries like India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and the Far East that had previously got their paper from Japan.


The mill was converted to manufacture nylon but had closed down by 1948. The lease was sold in 1950 to Samuel Jones Limited.


Other mills


The River Mill in Eaton Socon was rebuilt in 1847 using better machinery. Duloe windmill burned down in 1815 and was rebuilt. Other mills were built next to the Paper Mill, in Cambridge Street and John Bull Mill on the Southwest corner of the Market Square.


Spa water


In 1895 St Neots Spa opened. A spring of mineral water was found by the Paper Mill Bridge. A company was formed to exploit it. Hoping to develop St Neots as a spa town, a tap was fixed and bottles of water, marketed as ‘Neotia’, were sold. A procession of decorated boats sailed from the bridge to St Neots to advertise the water. It was said to have a foul taste which may explain why the business did not take off. 


The Gas Works


The technique of heating coal slowly so that it did not burst into flames created coke. It also allowed the coal gas and coal tar (bitumen) to be collected and stored. In 1845 the St Neots Gas and Coke Company was set up with capital of £2,500 in £10 shares. Its contract was supply the gas for St Neots’ street lighting.


In 1846 a gas plant was erected.


By 1889 the shares were worth £18. By 1897 they peaked at £20. Gas making continued into the 20th century but in 1948 the industry was nationalised  and placed under the Eastern Gas Board. It was closed down in 1958.





In 1850 George Bower (1826 – 1911) bought John Carrington’s ironmonger’s business at 22 Market Square. He already had a foundry in West Hartlepool and had patented a coal gas apparatus so wanted to set up an engineering works in the back premises.  As he found it difficult to get castings, in 1858 he sold the ironmongers to Walter Lanning, keeping the yard. He used the money to buy no. 24 Market Square and set up his St Neots iron foundry.


It became known as the Vulcan Iron Works, which at the height of his prosperity, employed 150 men. He made farm machinery, Ransom ploughs, gas making equipment, gas lighting equipments, gas cooking stoves and boilers.


By 1854 he had contracts to supply gas lighting to over 1,000 towns and built a gasworks in Kimbolton. He also patented a portable building that he sold to gold-diggers in Australia.


He invested the profits from his business in 1856 by buying George Squire’s premises on the west side of Eynesbury bridge and began to manufacture gas meters. They were sold in Britain and overseas, including Russia and Brazil.


In 1857 Bower was appointed Town Commissioner, a post he held until 1878.  He then was elected Chairman of the Local Board for 12 years. He wanted the town to install a public water supply and improve the sewage disposal.


By 1874 he was director of the Rio Grande du Sul Steamship Company Limited in which he had invested £150,000. They had a contract to build four steamships and carry 37,000 emigrants to Brazil. However, a shipwreck, losses on contracts to Russia, a revolution in South America and not being paid for a shipment of gas appliances to Brazil made him bankrupt in 1872. He had lost more than £100,000.


His creditors (people who he owed money to), allowed him to remain in business, helped by some more inventions that he patented. In 1883 his patented Bower-Wharf process to coat iron and steel surfaces with a magnetic oxide was a success. He set up companies in other parts of Britain, the continent and America.


With a capital of £30,000 he set up Bower’s Gas Lamps Ltd.  in 1887  but his creditors demanded repayment of their loans. He managed to stay in business and in 1888 he won a contract to light a town in Queensland, Australia.


In 1895 he only employed 11 men at his Iron Works. His creditors complained that he still lived in a large house, the ‘Shrubbery’ with servants, a butler and several gardeners but had not paid them their money.   


He patented a new gas plant in 1899. During his life he paid for a Working Man’s Club in New Street which became the Constitutional Club. He also paid for medals to be given to every child in St Neots and Eynesbury to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. When he died in 1911 his son continued his business.


Bower’s Gas Meter Works on Brook Street lay derelict until after the First World War when the site were converted for producing malt extract.


River transport


The river Great Ouse was navigable by shallow-bottomed sailing boats (lighters) which allowed the trade of cereals, malt, timber, wine, iron, coal and stone up the Great Ouse to Bedford and downstream to King’s Lynn, the Wash and the North Sea coast. Sails were used during windy weather but horses were often used to tow the boats along the river. With the development of coal-fired steam engines boat owners invested in this much quicker and more reliable power source.


Hen Brook was wide enough for boats to come a little upstream. Traders and manufacturers made use of the river. Private jetties were built behind their properties backing onto the river. There were wharves alongside the river at Priory Brewery, on either side of Hen Brook and by the River Mill in Eaton Socon. There was a public wharf on Brook Street.


Builders merchants


From 1865 Paine and Company had a building merchants business in the yard behind the Dog and Duck Inn near Eynesbury Bridge. They sold tools and materials to local builders and skilled craftsmen. In 1879 the business was sold to Charles Daintree and Fred Jewson. The yard was too small so they first hired, then bought, Navigation Wharf across the street. It used to be the wharf and depot of the Ouse Navigation Company but the coming of the railway in 1850 had caused serious decline in the canal trade.


More storage sheds were built and the 1850 steam engine from Paine’s Bedford Street mill was brought up to power a new sawmill. It was replaced by diesel in 1931 because of the high cost of coal.  The old limekiln was re-used for making cement and mortar.


In 1881 they advertised as ‘Deal Timber and Slate Merchants

Dealers in Malt, Hops, Flour, Meal, Pollard, Bran, Lime, Poles, Staves, Lath, Chimney Pots, Wind guards, Glazed socket pipes, Tiles, Slate, Stone, Whiting, Tar, Hair, Reed, Coke, Charcoal, Salt, Grindstones, Fire Lumps, Sewerage Pipes, Cement etc. Proprietors of the New Sawing, Planing, and Moulding Mills.’


Richard Jewson took control of the business in 1887 after Daintree’s family emigrated to Australia. He sold the yard, stock and goodwill of the business in 1889 to Charles Tebbutt, who became very involved in local sports clubs.


During the First World War Tebbutt bought the Felmongers Yard on the south side of Eynesbury bridge. He installed a rack bench driven by a portable steam engine to produce timber from local trees.


In 1938 the Tebbutt brothers bought A. W. Atkinson & Company’s merchant business which dealt in timber, builders’ materials and coal.


During the Second World War they set up a saw mill in the yard of 45 High St to cut local timber but, a year after a fire in 1965, they sold their office and the yard.


Railway transport


Robert Stephenson’s Locomotive and other railway engines led to the building of railways across Britain in the 1840s.


Coal-fired steam trains could haul much greater amounts of freight than canals and riverboats so merchants and traders were keen to switch their transport to the railways. The Iron works were able to produce lengths of iron rails for the trains to run on. Ships were importing hardwood like mahogany which could be sawn up using steam-driven industrial saws to produce sleepers. Passenger traffic was introduced with the development of covered wagons. Over the next few decades a network of new iron railway lines were laid down, mostly by Irish ‘navvies’.


In 1850 the Great Northern Railway Company decided to buy land to the east of St Neots and Eynesbury and built the railway line joining London with Edinburgh. A railway station was built, sidings, a coal yard and a goods yard. Eaton Socon landowners were keen for a station but the line was not built through their parish.


The trains took much of the traffic from the rivers and canals as well as from the coach companies. Some coaches supplied the routes from the town to the railway station but eventually horse-buses were introduced which could carry more passengers than the coach. The innkeeper of The Cross Keys in St Neots ran a bus service for his customers to the station claiming that it met every train. 


Adverts appeared in local newspapers advertising special railway outings to the seaside and various annual events in other parts of the company. Those who could afford the tickets could go to Skegness, Cromer, Great Yarmouth and other east coast resorts. By the 1890s they could go to Scarborough and Brighton. There were trips to London, Royal Ascot and Epsom for the horse racing. Many local groups took advantage of special offers as well as works outings there were excursions by local choirs and Sunday Schools outings. 




The first bicycles were seen in St Neots in about 1870. In 1874 H. W. Pearson rented out bicycles and velocipedes from his shop on the High Street. These were probably the ‘bone-shakers’ and ‘penny-farthings’. A thriving bicycle club was set up by 1899.


Motor cars


The first motor car seen in St Neots was probably in 1896. ‘A motor car, en route from Cambridge to Bedford, stopped for a short time at the Post Office [in the High Street] and a small crowd assembled. The motor power was benzine. It travelled at a good pace and appeared to be well under control, but, we are told, the smell was objectionable. How long will it be before we have to record the appearance of a horse as a strange event?’


The cars travelled at about 20 m.p.h., Using one gallon of fuel at a cost of 8d. (£0.04) they took two hours to travel the forty miles.


The first car bought by a local man in the early-1900s was Alfred Jordan’s steam-powered car.




With telegraph wires connecting the Post Offices across the country, by 1870 people could send telegrams. The telephone was not advertised locally until 1892 when the Post Office was given the monopoly of trunk lines between towns and cities. Private telephone companies like the National Telephone Company could provide lines in the rural areas. They had difficulty getting subscribers in St Neots until the early 1900s.


Hiring Fairs


 Every year there was a Hiring Fair held in the Market Square. Men and women stood in groups according to their occupations. People who needed employees would go up to them and discuss wages and working conditions. They used to wear items in their lapels like scissors, needle and thread, or woven straw to identify their skills as domestic servants or agricultural workers. .


Brick and Tile Works


With the demand for new buildings during the 18th and 19th century entrepreneurs exploited local resources like the London Clay.


In 1770 there were brickworks on Dark Lane, (between Duck Lane and Howitts Gardens) belonging to Stephen Gorham. In 1809 his son, G. J. Gorham, owned the brickworks producing 500,000 grey or yellow bricks a year. They were valued at 2s.6d. (£0.125) per 100. In 1892 the site was called the ‘old brickilns’. 


According to Rosa Young, in her book St Neots Past, Mr Day, the brewer, owned a brickworks in Hail Weston and between 1842 and 1860 bought the brickworks in Eynesbury, between Barford Road and Potton Road (Where the Ridgeway is today). C. F. Tebbutt however, claims that between 1855 and 1865 James Paine, the son of James Paine the brewer, took over his father’s brickworks in Riseley, moved into Elm House on Potton Road, Eynesbury and used his inherited capital to start the Eynesbury brickworks.


Many men and boys were employed to dig out a large clay pit. The topsoil was piled up in a bank. The clay was dug out, put into wheel barrows and then emptied into an iron trough with cast-iron bladed which churned it up and squeezed it out into a long rectangular slab. This was cut into roof tile or brick-sized blocks using a metal wire. Labourers piled these onto trolleys and wheeled them into a drying shed. From there they were wheeled into a kiln where they were fired. Once baked they were taken out and piled up, ready to be sold in the thousands. Loaded onto a cart, a horse would haul them to the building site.


As Mr Day also had the brewery, all employees were entitled to free beer. Even visiting workmen got a pint when they came to borrow a ladder and a pint when they returned it!


When Frank Day died in 1919 the brickworks and Priory Brewery were sold to two millers, Messrs. Jordan and Addington.


Gravel Works


The River Great Ouse used to flood almost every year and vast quantities of small stones and pebbles built up on the inside banks of the meanders. Before Tarmac, gravel was needed for filling in the ruts of roads, covering the market square, for drives and paths. It was also added to cement to make concrete.  Entrepreneurs bought land on these beds of gravel (e.g. The Gingerbread Lakes, Wyboston Lakes, Paxton Pits) and hired men and boys to dig it up, wash and sort it (grade it for size) and cart it away.


Other local occupations


Cattle sold at market were slaughtered, skinned and butchered. The skins were used to make leather at the Tannery in Eynesbury, There was also Parchment Works.  It used the skin of baby pigs (vellum) to make good quality document paper.  

Apart from these occupations Eynesbury and St Neots had butchers, bakers, shopkeepers, tailors, dressmakers, drapers, grocers, carpenters, blacksmiths, ink-mixers and umbrella makers.

In Eaton Socon and Eaton Ford there were also coach-builders, saddlers and harness makers for the stagecoaches that used the coaching houses on the Great North Road.


(Sources: Young, R. (1996), 'St Neots Past', Phillimore; Tebbutt, C.F. (1978), St Neots – History of a Huntingdonshire Town, Unwin Brothers)