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Potton Manor

Potton Manor about 1920 [Z1306/91]
Potton Manor about 1920 [Z1306/91]

Former Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service staff member Norman Parry did some research on paintings of the old manor in 1992 [CRT130Potton30]. He discovered that this building, which had stood in Horslow Street was pulled down around 1874.

The Bedfordshire Historic Environment Record [HER] contains information on the county’s historic buildings and landscapes and summaries of each entry can now be found online as part of the Heritage Gateway website. The entry for Potton Manor [HER 4334] notes that it was built about 1870. This is confirmed by directories for the period. The Post Office Directory for Bedfordshire of 1869 has James Wagstaff living in Royston Street. By 1876 Mrs. Wagstaff is listed as living at Potton Manor.

The entry describes that mansion as Italianate and built of brick with a patterned slate roof. The brickwork was coloured, partly yellow and partly white. The building comprised two storeys and attics with a central three storey tower beneath a roof in a pyramid shape. Around the north and west sides was a cast iron and glass conservatory which later had a corrugated roof. East of the house was a complex of one storey additions which were painted white.

A snapshot of the building comes in 1927. The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 specified that every building and piece of land in the country was to be assessed to determine its rateable value. Potton, like much of the county was assessed in 1927 and the valuer visiting Potton Manor [DV1/C12/26] found it owned and occupied by William Smith. The property stood in huge grounds – 27.422 acres.

The ground floor comprised: an office measuring 16 feet 6 inches by 11 feet 6 inches; a kitchen; a large scullery; a dairy; a boot room; a butler’s pantry; a lavatory basin and W. C.; a billiard room measuring 32 feet by 17 feet; a ball room (“disused”) measuring 42 feet by 25 feet with two additional bays measuring 18 feet 3 inches by 25 feet 6 inches and 13 feet by 7 ft 6 inches; a drawing room measuring 15 feet by 23 feet; a conservatory measuring 70 feet by 16 feet 6 inches and 17 feet by 20 feet; a dining room measuring 21 feet 3 inches by 15 feet and a disused cellar.

The first floor comprised: a bathroom and adjoining lavatory area (in the sense of a place to wash); two dressing rooms; a bathroom, lavatory and W. C.; a sitting room measuring 11 feet 6 inches by 14 feet; a housemaid’s pantry and four bedrooms measuring 21 feet 6 inches by 15 feet, 15 feet by 13 feet 9 inches, 16 feet 6 inches by 12 feet and 14 feet square. The second floor comprised three maids’ bedrooms in the room, which intercommunicated and four box rooms.

Outside were two heated glasshouses and a wood and tiled barn used as a large cow shed. There was a gardener’s cottage built as a lodge bungalow and comprising a scullery, kitchen and sitting room as well as two bedrooms and a groom’s cottage comprising three bedrooms, a living room and a scullery. Brick and slate stabling included a coachhouse, a garage for two cars, three loose boxes and a engine room with a Crossley gas engine and pump. The valuer commented: “grounds extensive, wooded, large lake with boat house”. Another 3.742 acres used as a grass field stood opposite the house.

The valuer noted that the modern brick and slate electric light plant was disused. There was hot water for heating and gas was laid on. Overall, though, the property was in “poor condition”. Another hand has written: “Not used to its proper uses. Electric light disused. Grounds going derelict. Might be a lovely place. Wire netting opposite front door to stop fowls!!”

Potton Manor about 1900 [Z50/91/44]
Potton Manor about 1900 [Z50/91/44]

Directories list James Poole Wagstaff as living at the Manor from about 1877 to about 1906. The directory of 1910 lists Frederick Gouldthorpe Smith as living there. Norman Parry noted of the Smith family: “Originally living at Home Farm the family moved to the 1870 Potton Manor when William purchased it in 1915”. His daughter, Emilie Gladys lived to be 103, dying in 1991 and was the last member of the family who had been landowners in the area since the 18th century. Directories record William at Potton manor in 1920, 1924, 1928 and 1831 and Emilie herself in 1936 and 1940, the last directory for the county. The family is commemorated in the Henry Smith Playing Fields.

In 1963 Potton Manor was put up for sale: the sale catalogue [AD1147/44] stated: "Built partly of brick and partly of wood framing with stone foundations, roofed partly with 1/4" lead, partly slated and partly felted, this large country mansion stands completely in its own grounds, about 20 acres in all. The accommodation is planned on three floors, and has a superficial floor area of approximately 8,000 square feet. The property is at present commissioned for light industrial research research and the owners are prepared to sell the cranes, hoists, apparatus, machines etc. at valuation to the purchaser. This is a property suitable for use as a laboratory, or when fittings have been removed, as a private dwelling. Planning Permission has been granted for one 5,000 square feet extension to the building, and for 15 houses to be built in the grounds for research and residential purposes, in connection with the owner's use of the building. This is also valid for allied companies (purchasers)". The purchase price was £22,000.

The house was pulled down in the 1980s and the grounds used for a housing development by Potton Timber Company . Two roads of houses now lie on the southern part of the grounds – The Manor (more or less on the site of the house itself) and Judith Gardens, named, presumably, after Countess Judith, owner of Potton in 1086.

A detailed history of the building was written by T. C. M. Ball in 1997. It was published by Potton History Society under the name: Potton Manor, an Enigma.

The junction of The Manor with Gamlingay Road August 2013
The junction of The Manor with Gamlingay Road August 2013