BUCKDEN HIGH STREET

How it's Changed Over Time from Tudor days to Today

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THE GREAT NORTH ROAD

For many hundreds of years till the 1960s, Buckden High Street was part of Britain’s most important road, the Great North Road, later to be named the A1.  By the early Middle Ages, the Great North Road had evolved as the single unified route between London and North Britain. Mainly it followed the natural shape of the landscape and joined long-familiar routes between villages and market towns. For centuries, animal-drawn wagons and carriages took people, clergy, politicians and the gentry between London and northern towns, especially the important cities of Lincoln and York.

A picture of Buckden from The Great North Road London to York, by Charles G Harper 

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TUDOR BUCKDEN

Very little remains of what was Tudor Buckden but what there is defines Buckden as we know it today:  

  • Buckden Palace, the remains of which are the Towers and date back to 1470.

  • St Mary’s Church, parts of which date back to the year 1230.

  • A village plan, which we would recognise today, with the Great North Road forming the High Street, with Church Street off to the east towards the river Ouse.  


We can only imagine what shops would have been along what we now know as the High Street. What we do know is that there was a yeoman’s house on the site of the Lion Hotel and there is an Agnus Dei carving (see High Street pictures) dating to around 1490 in the ceiling of the current building.  


There are no records of what houses would have looked like along the High Street but one that would have been typical of the day is Bridge House, 27 Church Street.  This is the oldest house in the village and dates from 1458.  In Tudor days it would have looked much the same but with a thatched roof, and inside one large hall, with a gap in the ceiling to allow smoke to escape.  If it was a rich family then servants would have slept at one end, separated by a screen, and the family at the other end.  In this picture, taken in 2004 when it was being renovated, you can see the wattle panels between the large timber construction.  Daub, made from straw and cattle dung, would have been mixed  and applied over the wattle. When it was all dry the outside would have been rendered looking like it does today. 


In Tudor towns it was common to find bakers, butchers, fishmongers, brewer, cooks, weavers, tailors and robe makers, washerwomen, shoemakers, building workers and carpenters, smiths and metal workers. It is quite possible that some of these were along the High Street but, as it was a major road, it is likely there would be inns and public houses with facilities to feed and rest horses.  Given the importance of the High Street, the inns had fresh water wells so travellers and horses had access to clean water.  

 

STUART BUCKDEN

5-9 CHURCH STREET

There are no records of Buckden High Street in the period but 5-9 Church Street, currently under renovation, dates from 1640 and would have been typical of houses in Buckden of the time.

It started as a farmhouse but was converted to 3 dwellings in the 19th century.  The lattice-shaped wattle will be covered in daub and eventually rendered.

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In the left picture, part of the old Palace used in the original construction of the house.  Much of the old Palace was destroyed during the Civil War (1642-1651) and the stonework sold off, locals probably also helped themselves to some of the rubble. 
In the picture on the right the old daub is in a bad way and needs replacing.
The bow-fronted windows of 9 Church Street used to be the little sweet shop in the first half of the 20th century.

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GEORGIAN BUCKDEN

Probably little changed for the next 150 years in Buckden High Street.  However, by the 18th century, Buckden, by virtue of its location on the Great North Road, had become a prosperous little village thanks to improvements in road building and fast, comfortable coaches.  As a consequence, there were some major changes on the High Street.  The George Hotel was rebuilt in 1722. An impressive building of red brick it was 3 stories high and 11, but later 15, windows long, the new George Hotel became an important coaching stop for travellers going north and south.  It boasted of a new wine vault, granary, good stabling, out-houses, orchards and gardens.  Although the lion has a filled-in archway, suggesting it had a courtyard with stabling and stores, there is no evidence that it ever was a coaching inn like the George.
The George Inn taken in the early 20th century

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Travellers coming from London as they entered Buckden would have first driven past the Windmill public house, now long gone, and then the Vine.   The Vine was already an old pub by the 18th century, dating back to the early 17th century.  Although the Vine had a stable it was no competition against the George.  However, further up the High Street and past the entrance to the Towers was another coaching inn called the Spread Eagle.  Now a private house it closed as a pub in 2003, but in the 18th century it housed travellers and their horses.  Although covered over now there was  a hatch on the underside of the arch through which baggage could be passed up from the roof of the coach to the bedroom corridor on the first floor.  Unfortunately, a fire in 1803 destroyed much of the original building.
Spread Eagle in the 1980s

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The High Street in Georgian times must have been a very busy and noisy place as coaches were arriving or departing every hour day and night.  In addition there was the movement of local tradesmen as they moved goods between Huntingdon and St Neots and beyond through Buckden High Street.

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VICTORIAN BUCKDEN

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The development of railways had a dramatic impact on Buckden.  As you can see from this map from the mid 1800s, Buckden is served by 2 railway stations.  In the east the Offord and Buckden Station, where the current level crossing is, on the London to Edinburgh line.  To the north, Buckden station, roughly where the new A14 crosses the Buckden-Brampton Road, connected Huntingdon to Kettering.  The coaching trade, which was the reason for Buckden’s prosperity in Georgian days, was now in steep decline.  By 1854 there was hardly a coach to be seen in Buckden High Street.

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There was also a drop in population of about 200 people in the village, which remained at approximately a thousand for the next 100 years.  Nevertheless, there were still lots of shops and trades in Buckden with 4 butchers, 2 builders, 6 blacksmiths, 3 basketmakers, 3 bakers, 2 carriers, a coachsmith, 7 bootmakers, 6 carpenters, a coal merchant, 2 drapers, 6 dressmakers/seamstresses, a dairywoman, 5 grocers, 2 general dealers, 4 gardeners, a greengrocer, a higgler (travelling merchant), 2 lacemakers, 5 laundresses, 2 maltsters, a miller, 4 pot makers, 2 pedlars, 3 painters, a plumber and glazier, a saddler, a thatcher, 5 tailors and a wheelright.  Of course, not all of these were on the High Street but it gives you an idea of how busy the High Street must have been in Victorian Buckden.  In addition, there were the Inns already mentioned plus the Falcon a few yards beyond the Spread Eagle.  The miller would have worked in the windmill until 1888, which was located near the Great North Road in the southwest angle of Perry Road.  It was later converted into a cottage.
Women spinning and carding, 1820

 

Victorian Buckden saw a number of changes on the High Street.  On the site of what is now One Stop, it was a grocery and drapery business.  In 1902 it changed hands and was bought by Mr Percy.H Bowtell, which became a very important shop in the first half of the 20th century.  The conversion took place of the palace into the Towers - the moat was filled in, the old building demolished and a new house, that we see today, built in the grounds.

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20TH CENTURY BUCKDEN

Buckden marked the Coronation of King George V in 1911 by improving the green opposite the school.  This site had formerly been a pond and the village stocks.  The trees planted at the time, lime, chestnut and plane, have grown into splendid maturity, although the chestnut was replaced by an oak after it was damaged in a storm.

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The High Street underwent some major changes.  Private telephones were now in common use and along the length of the High Street telegraph poles carrying numerous wires were erected.  Horses and carts would have still been used but the common public transport was the motor bus, and in 1920 regular services began to run.  In 1921 Hinsby of St Neots began a service 2 days a week between Huntingdon and St Neots on Thursdays and Saturdays.  A year later it was 4 days a week and by 1926 it was daily, with 5 busses each weekday and 3 on Sundays.  The single fare to either St Neots or Huntingdon was 6 old pence (approximately £1.50 in today’s money).

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20th Century Buckden

As you might expect, the shops on the High Street have changed a lot throughout its history.  If you stand at the junction of George Lane and the High Street, this is known today as Furbank’s corner but in earlier years it was known as Papworth’s corner, Gales corner or simply Watkins.  Opposite, the corner now occupied by the Lion bar, there was a butcher's shop.  Looking southwards towards the roundabout there was a tailor in what is now the Lion car park.  On the south side of the entrance, 40 High Stree, is now Elouise Lingerie but from early in the 20th century this was Buckden’s own department store, Bowtells and later a post office.

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Built in 1902 Bowtells thrived until the 1960s.   In 1952 Bowtells celebrated 50 years of business on the High Street and their anniversary brochure listed many departments offering grocery and provisions, china, glass and earthenware, ironmongery, general drapery, ladies, gents  and children’s clothing, footwear, flooring, carpets and furniture.   Mr Bowtell expanded the shop greatly, building its Elizabethan style front in 1923 that we can still see today.

See some pictures of Buckden High Street then and now

 

20th Century Buckden

When it closed, Bowtells department store was split into 3 parts, comprising what we see today:  One Stop, Susan Peters shoe shop and Annafields Estate agents.  The butchers shop at number 28, was originally G Day and Sons, but briefly Scotts Rare Breed Meats Ltd, but is now back to Days, and is built on the site of a terrace of cottages.  Continuing down towards the roundabout, past the houses, is the Shell garage, which used to be Robinson’s Garages, owned by Thomas Robinson.  Moving to this site in the early 1930s from his bicycle shop further up the High Street, Robinson hired out ex army lorries from the First World War and became a thriving business.  In 1957 the name was changed to the Buckden Garage and survived as a garage repair workshop and petrol station up till the 1980s.
Robinson's Garage, right.

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On the opposite side of the High Street going North, the Vine public house also housed a tailor and Buckden Farmers Butchers cooperative venture.  Next to that was the old forge, formerly a flower shop now Nails at the Forge.  This was once owned by the George Hotel and would have been used when it was a coaching inn to provide services to the coaches and horses.  The ground floor of the George after the archway was a newspaper, books and antiques shop.  On the corner of George Lane was John James Papworth’s Bakery, which later became Watkin’s Newsagents.  For a short time Watkin’s incorporated the Post Office , where Buckden’s incoming mail was received and sorted before delivery.
Right, Watkin's Corner.

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20th Century Buckden

A hundred metres norwards, past the entrance to the Towers, are 61-63 High Street and what was the beauty salon Equilibrium.  These began life in the early 18th century as cottages, then in the 20th century became a private school and then Robinson’s bicycle shop before he moved to the site of the Shell garage.  It then became a cafe for about 50 years and was much used by lorry drivers driving down the Great North Road.  So busy was trade in the cafe that residents complained about the parked lorries and the layby was built opposite.  Continuing north up the High Street the last businesses were the Spread Eagle pub, which  closed in 2003 and the Old Falcon pub which closed in 1840,  with houses (87-91 High Street) now on its site built in the 1960s .
Right, number 77 High Street, Jessamine House, began as 2 cottages knocked into one in the early 1700s. It was owned by the Bowyer family who were one of the leading landowners in the Parish.

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Throughout the 1950s the speed and volume of road traffic down the High Street steadily increased with parking being a constant issue.  By 1960 there was demand for a Buckden bypass for the Great North Road/A1.  Despite strong opposition to a bypass close to the village (which is the current route of the A1) as it was considered hazardous and would cut the village in two.  Nevertheless, most of the local councillors involved in the decision making also  owned businesses in the village and feared that rerouting the A1 too far from the village would adversely affect their passing trade.  Consequently, the current route was chosen and in October 1962 the new bypass opened.  Ironically, if local councillors followed public opinion in 1960 and built the preferred route, the current problems with Buckden roundabout would not be an issue.

See More pictures of Buckden High Street

 

SHOPS AT HUNTS END

The shops at Hunts End were built in the 1960s on the site of a farmstead and barns, including a thatched barn.

SHOPS 1 AND 2

The shops at Hunts End were built in the 1960s on the site of a farmstead and barns, including a thatched barn.  The first shop has always been a grocers and general store.  Nowadays it is Londis.  The second shop has been used by a variety of trades.  Currently it is a hairdresser and barber but it used to be a haberdasher (knitting and sewing) and kitchen installer.  In 1992 it was a greengrocer called Top Banana and was awarded the best Independent Retailer by the Huntingdonshire Food and Drinks award, 2008.
July 2011

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SHOPS 3 AND 4

The third shop is a Chinese take-away and the fourth shop used to be Knit-Knax, a newspaper, sweets and stationery store before it became a pharmacy in 2009.
May 2021

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