The White Hart Inn Potton
The White Hart Inn: King Street, Potton
We know that the White Hart was an earlier name for an inn called, by 1836, the George [AD3889]. This licensed premises is, today, called the George and Dragon. The evidence points to the White Hart having been destroyed by the Great Fire of Potton of 1783 because all the references we have to it in the present tense pre-date that event. The fire seems to have destroyed all or most of the buildings at the lower end of King Street. The fire also destroyed the old George Inn on the north side of the Market Place and when the new public house was built on the site of the White Hart it seems to have taken the name of the George, perhaps because that inn had been better known and there was some commercial advantage in the name.
In 1704 John Atkinson of Potton leased the “White Heart”, Upper and Lower Close, comprising three acres, adjoining the inn and with a dovehouse, two cottages adjoining the White Heart and half an acre of pasture which had formerly been part of Upper and Lower Closes to Robert Hambe of Great Addington [Northamptonshire] [AD3324]. This lease is part of a set of documents called a lease and release in which a person leased a property to someone else for a day and released it to them on the followinf day. Sadly, this second document, the release, is missing so we do not know the nature of the transaction between Atkinson and Hambe. A lease and release was a common way of conveying land but could also be used for a mortgage.
In 1725 Atkinson and Rev. Edmund Halfhyde of Coton [Cambridgeshire] were involved in a mortgage of £400 [AD3325]. This suggests that the deed of 1704 was a mortgage by Atkinson to Hambe and that it 1725 Atkinson took out a further mortgage, for £400, with Halfhyde. There was a further advance of £100 in 1729 [AD3325]. In 1732 Halfhyde, with the consent of Atkinson, assigned the mortgage to John Ringstead of Southill, gentleman, in other words Ringstead paid £500 to Halfhyde in order to take over the debt [AD3325].
In 1759 the White Hart, described as being near the Market Place was the subject of a warrant to enter satisfaction of a debt. What is puzzling is that this building was copyhold of the Manor of Potton Rectory. People held copyhold properties from the manor and instead of conveying them to someone else had to surrender them to the Lord of the Manor at a manor court and the new owners then had to seek admission from that manor court or a subsequent one. This allowed the manor to claim a fee (or fine) for the privilege. The property is described as having been purchased from Luke Astwood of Potton, cutler, son of a man of the same name who had had it from Thomas Endersby of Potton, clockmaker in his will [AD345/3/5].
We have to assume that these two White Harts were different premises. Copyhold premises could not be the subject of a lease and release, everything had to be done by surrender and admission by the manor steward. We know that Upper and Lower Closes were in the vicinity of the south end of King Street so the White Hart of 1704-1732 was somewhere near the White Hart of 1759 which is described as near the Market Place. The best guess seems to be that the earlier White Hart closed some time in or after 1732 and the name was taken on by a new public house licensed nearby.
In 1765 Ephraim Wilson surrendered a property formerly called the White Hart to Henry Winn of Potton, grocer and tallow chandler [AD345/3/6]. Clearly this second White Hart had also closed, another reason for the new public house to be called the George (which was still extant in 1783) despite being on the site of one of the White Harts. Sadly, these tantalising documents do not tell us which building was on the site of today’s George and Dragon. Henry Winn is named in a pamphlet outlining losses in the Great Fire: he lost the vast sum of £629/15/7; his servants John Peacock lost £2/5/6 and Elizabeth Norman £4/1/-.
- AD3324: deed: 1704;
- AD3325: mortgage: 1725;
- AD3325: further advance: 1729;
- AD3325: assignment of mortgage: 1732;
- AD345/3/5: conveyance: 1759
- AD345/3/6: conveyance: 1765
List of Licensees: note that this is not a complete list. Italics indicate licensees whose beginning and/or end dates are not known:
1704-1732: John Merridon;
1759: Ephraim Wilson