Barretts Of St.Neots

For 127 years, Barretts has had a presence in St Neots, but now, director Alan Huckle has confirmed that the store will be closing. According to the Hunts Post’s 26th May Article  , he said “The decline has been dramatic, it all happened very quickly”

1900 – Market Square, St Neots, from the east showing the north side from Barrett’s corner to the Bridge & Half Moon Hotel, child in foreground with hoop. about 1900

The Store announced in late 2015 that it was considering its options, but that it may have to shut down.

According to the Cambridgeshire Community Archive Record,  Barretts was opened in 1888 by Arthur E Barrett, and Charles Huckle started working there in 1889. Arthur E Barrett  died in 1893, leaving his widow, Kitty running the business with Charles. Charles and Kitty Married in 1907, but Kitty died in 1908, and Charles inherited the store.

Coronation Celebrations in St Neots in June 1911 – View from Barrett’s Corner to the Bridge.

Barretts are doing a closing down sale open to the public on the 3rd of June.

On the left is the Corn Exchange & Clock. This photograph is held at St Neots Museum – Ref 1995.189.10

St Neots, View from Barretts Corner into the Market Square with troops and band playing in 1915

Barrett’s Shop, St Neots, in the 1930s. (This photograph has been copied with the kind permission of Alan Huckle)

Barrett’s shop was in the corner shop between the Market Square and New Street in St Neots. The shop sold clothing hats and hosiery. This shop window is full of shoes.

Floods in St Neots High Street in 1947 at Barrett’s corner

Behind the boat is Barretts shop and on the right is Freeman Hardy and Willis shoe shop.

Barrett’s shop, St Neots, in the 1950s (This photograph has been copied with the kind permission of Alan Huckle)

The shop has changed little from the 1940s apart from the shop signage above the windows. However, the sign that once read High Street to the left of the 1st floor corner window has been replaced by a sign saying Market Square – which is too large for the brickwork and actually overhangs the corner.  Outside the shop are traffic lights and their accompanying box which houses the workings for the lights. This indicates that traffic is sufficiently increased that the lights are needed at this road junction.

Barrett’s shop, St Neots in 1962.(This photograph has been copied with the kind permission of Alan Huckle)

Compared to the 1950’s photograph the whole shop front has now been painted and new shop signs have been put above the shop windows. The shop windows in some cases have been enlarged and the shop is still selling clothing.

Barrett’s of St Neots in 1966 (This photograph has been copied with the kind permission of Alan Huckle)

Barrett’s acquired a 1960s concrete facade which altered the shop front considerably. The Street sign for the Market Square was put on the building but not the sign for New Street. The shop continued to sell clothing until the 1980s.

November 2008

Clarkes shoe shop was formerly Claytons Electrical and leather shop, and also Barrett’s general store.

Barrett’s display at the History Day at St Neots Priory Centre in September 2010 (P.Ibbett)

Barretts of St.Neots on YouTube

Barrett’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ mural painted 1st November 2014



Ekins Livestock

This photograph is held in St Neots Museum – Ref SNEMU 2008.89.58
Ekins Livestock Auction in New Street, which closed in the 1980s

Ekins Livestock Auction in New Street, which closed in the 1980s, was redeveloped as Old Market Court sheltered housing. Cattle, sheep and pig auctions were still held on Thursdays in the early 1980s.

St Neots Livestock Auction 1954

“From recollections of Ekins staff from 1950s & 1960s it is believed that sitting in the centre of the front row are local butchers Joe Peck & Howard Bonham and farmer John Chapman. Others in the photo are believed to include Wally Theobalds, Johnny Bigg, Mac Boddington, Bert Sharman, Alan Cope, Archie Sewell, Harry Childerly, Wally Mumford and Mr Barnett from Fenstanton and the drover was Punch Huckle” – By Brian Storey (20/02/2016)

The Livestock Auction Market in New Street, St Neots was run by Ekins Witherow and Handley and was the largest pig market in East Anglia. It attracted buyers from a wide area and it was a weekly meeting place for local farmers. The market ran until 1985 when the site was redeveloped as the Old Market Court Residential Flats. The auctioneer in the 1950s was Victor Ekins, later joined as auctioneers in the late 1960s by his son Anthony and Brian Storey and Michael Alexander.

Selling cattle at St Neots Livestock Auction in New Street, site is now Old Market Court sheltered housing, SNEMU 2008.89.19

Prisoner of War Camps in St. Neots

In World War II, it wasn’t just the Axis powers who used prisoner of war camps. In fact, the British used to have POW camps, including two in St Neots, one where now The Crescent is located, and one called the Beeson House Camp, a labour camp for captured German soldiers.

Why you ask? Well, between 1939 and 1945 the population of prisoners in Britain increased by 400,000. Prisons didn’t have enough space to keep them, so the British government had to have lots of camps made: more than 1000 in fact, though it is unknown how many of these where completed, or used.

Picture of German Prisoners being taken to Kempton park holding camp for interrogation. From German Prisoners of War in Britain

There are no pictures of Beeson House Camp, as no one is sure where it is, but a National Grid Reference has been provided, and it was somewhere between these points: POW

Little Paxton Health Spa & ‘Neotia’
View of the Paper Mill at Little Paxton when the health spa was opened in 1895

Taking the waters at St Neots Spa in Huntingdonshire

The spring originated near or under the paper mill and an idea arose to popularise St Neots by promoting it as a spa town. A small committee was set up in 1895, they leased the mineral spring, believed to be chalybeate similar to Hail Weston springs, and allegedly dug a 90 foot deep well. The idea appears to have gained momentum with dreams of an East Anglian version of Tunbridge Wells. Later that year the grand opening was arranged for Whit Monday, with a procession of boats rowed from the town bridge to the spa, complete with floating band.

This photograph is held in St Neots Museum – Ref  SNEMU 1996.67.266
Celebrating Opening of the Spa 1895. Hotel & Public Rooms in the background

The company Messrs. Jordan & Addington were ready, prepared to produce bottles of ‘Neotia’ for sale, examples were used in quantity as decoration for the opening ceremony. The water now piped from source had been plugged, with Mrs Fydell Rowley officially unplugging and declaring the spa open. A ceremonial round was drunk from the Fellow Football Cup, recently won by St Neots Town Football Club.

Local enthusiasm at its height a company was created in 1896 with press

Spa Water Spring at Little Paxton in 1952

speculating on the building of a baths, claims being made of a dog being completely cured of sores by bathing in the spas curative waters. However it was all very short lived, with no land available for even just a pump house to be built, and the market for ‘Neotia’ apparently not materialising. By the turn of the last century, just five years from conception there were complaints that the spa was a neglected eye sore.



St. Neots Corn Exchange

St Neots’ Corn Exchange, now demolished and replaced by the shops opposite what was then Midland Bank now Santander on south street as it joins the High Street, is pictured below on the right. It was a very beautiful building with a Cupola (shown) built in the 1860’s.


“In 1915 the building was purchased by C.A.James landlord of the Bridge Hotel who opened it as a Cinema. The building caught fire in 1929 and the Cupola fell down. It was refurbished and renamed the Pavillion Cinema until 1969 when the whole building was demolished.” – St. Neots Through Time (on sale at the St.Neots Museum)

corn21This is what the corn exchange looks like now:DSCF1121


This 1905 postcard for Cinderella, posted to Ms. Trundley Hail Western, presumably a publicity post card.

Fire at St Mary’s Church
The inside of Eaton Socon Church – before the great fire of 1930

The carved poppy heads on the pews were very well known and people from far and wide would visit the church to see them. The church was badly damaged in the great fire of 1930.

The original 15th century church burned to the ground on February 8, 1930, after a fire started in the stoke-hole filled with coke to heat the building.

'Inside' after the fire
‘Inside’ after the fire
Inside the church after the renovations (2014)
Inside the church after the renovations (2014)

“Ron and Peggy Barringer, of Great North Road, Eaton Socon, who were children at the time, witnessed the events that evening – in particular, an act of bravery by Mr Barringer’s father, Jim.

Mr Barringer, 92, who lived opposite the church in Ackerman Street, recalled the moment his father first saw the flames: “He went downstairs and put his coat on. Then I remember dad saying ‘quick, quick – the church is on fire – all put your coats on.”

Later he went into the burning building.

Mrs Barringer, 85, who witnessed the fire from her house on the Great North Road, continued: “They were standing under the trees watching the fire when one of the church workers came running out saying the Bible had been left inside. Jim ran into the fire, fetched it, and took it to the vicarage for safe-keeping.”

To this day the Bible remains opened on the same page it was on when rescued from the church.

Two fire crews, who pumped water from the River Great Ouse, battled the flames which melted one of the church bells and cracked the others.

“I remember the sound of the bells falling,” Mr Barringer added. “I was only a little boy at the time, but I remember.”

The blaze was eventually brought under control at 3am on Sunday, February 9, and the true extent of the damage was revealed. The church was completely destroyed inside. The stained glass windows disintegrated and the organ was reduced to ashes.

Unperturbed by the previous night’s events, 2,000 parishioners gathered for an open-air service later that day.”[1]

“Following a meeting between the vicar, Rev Edgar Higham, and church officers, it was decided the church must be rebuilt.

At a cost of £18,500, the new building took shape over the next two years and the re-dedication service – described as “unforgettable brilliance” – took place in June 1932.

It really was a sign of the times they actually decided to re-build the church after it was burned down – a definite act of faith,” St Mary’s vicar Tim Robb told The Hunts Post. “[1]

Reminders from the fire…
Eaton Socon Church – Medieval painted glass that survived the 1930 fire
Burnt bible retrieved after the 1930 fire

1930s sculpture in the church showing the architect and builder involved in rebuilding the church after the 1930 fire
Austin James Barringer in the garden at River Cottage, 32 Ackerman Street, around 1935. Note the carved stone from Eaton Socon Church after the fire.
Bringing down the bells after the great fire
New bells sitting in the churchyard ready to be hung, after the 1930 fire


May Day

Happy May Day! May Day is a holiday on the first of May, and in Great Britain it used to be commonly celebrated with Morris dancing and crowning a May Queen, as shown in this picture taken between 1900-1914:

Image3We are not sure where this one was taken, but it shows the May Queen wearing a white gown and a flower crown, and leading the parade. She would then give a speech, and the Morris Dancing would begin, as shown around this maypole:Image2This was taken in Eaton Socon Green, and this is what it looks like today:DSCF1134