Historical notes about Houghton

Historical notes about Houghton, a village in Huntingdonshire, Cambridgeshire, UK


St Mary’s Parish Church Houghton

Although a church was probably on this site from Saxon times onwards, no visible trace is left in the current building. The earliest parts date from the late 13th Century, early 14th Century, with the rest of the building being built at a later date. The pulpit was carved from a single tree felled in Houghton Park. The small parish churchyard was closed to burials in 1905, with a new site on the outskirts of the village now being used.

Houghton Union Chapel

Was once the Baptist and Congregational Chapel then went on to be the United Reformed Church, and now also Houghton Chapel Retreat.

It was built in 1840 by Potto Brown and Joseph Goodman. It contains a brass plaque with the inscription

"In memory of Potto Brown and Joseph Goodman whose faith in God and zeal for religion inspired the erection of this Meeting House in 1840 and who laboured unceasingly to further the cause of civil and religious liberty in the towns and villages of this county"

Houghton Water Corn Mill

There has been a mill on this site for at least 1,000 years. The present structure was originally 17th Century replacing an earlier one destroyed by fire.

The mill ceased commercial production in 1930. It was converted to a Youth Hostel in 1934, and in 1939 with fundraising organised by Col L Tebbutt and other local supporters, it was brought and presented to the National Trust (enter opening times), who leased it to the Youth Hostel Association.

The water mill which stood here in 974,was given to Ramsey Abbey by Ealdorman Ailwyn, and reference is made to this in the Domesday Book. In 1500 the villagers were outraged and rebelled against the Abbot of Ramsey Abbey, after the barrage he had erected to increase water flow to the mill flooded their lands.

From the Dissolution of Monasteries it remained crown property until King Charles I sold it in the 1620s. It passed eventually to Lady Olivia Bernard Sparrow in the 19th Century. She leased the mill to William Brown, then his son Potto Brown from 1822 until he retired when his son Bateman Brown carried on for another 14 years.

Potto Brown Esq.

A local celebrity of his time over a wide area, whose remarkable generosity and good deeds has been lost in the mists of time.

Potto’s grandfather was William Brown, the son of a Northamptonshire Quaker family, from Podington. William was born in the late 1600s and moved to Earith circa 1720, where he was a maltster. In 1726 his eldest son John was born, whom married and lived in the village of Earith, raising a family, his youngest son William was born here in 1769.

William married in 1792, and moved to Houghton in 1797 to manage the water flourmill for Messrs Stafford, Pasheller and Lindsell. When this firm ceased to trade William continued to work the mill as a partnership. And later on leasing the mill on his own and running his own business. He moved into Mill House, (later called Millers Mead) in Thicket Road, where on 16th July 1979 his oldest son Potto was born. Potto was not only his mothers maiden name, but also the name of the village in Yorkshire from where her family originated probably in the 13th –14th Century.

Potto’s upbringing was very strict with a strong religious grounding, which deeply affected him throughout his life. Despite attending Huntingdon Grammar School he was not a gifted child, being slow to read and write, and never being competent at multiplication. But despite the challenge posed by education, this was no hindrance to his gift of business sense, and his moneymaking abilities.

Obsessively honest, and believing money came from hard work, his daily prayer was, according to his son, that he be "acute in business, successful at market, and able to make money". Even taking his ledgers to Chapel, seeking guidance from the Lord on his bad debtors.

1822 was an eventful year for Potto Brown, he married for the first time, and his father retired, so he took over the milling business at Houghton water flourmill. In 1828 he expanded into farming, renting Wyton Manor Farm from Lady Olivia Bernard Sparrow of Brampton Park, despite their differing religious views (she was an evangelical), she was happy to rent to honest, reliable Potto Brown, she had already transferred the lease of the flour mill to him on his fathers’ retirement.

He departed the Quakers in 1837, becoming first an Independent, and eventually a Congregationalist. He built the chapel at Houghton 1840, he also donated 4,000 a huge sum of money at this time to fund the building of St Ives Congregational Church and the now sadly demolished Trinity Church in Huntingdon.

He was a Liberal, and despite his own experiences, was a strong believer in education. Refusing Government aid he created a British School to serve the villages of Houghton and Wyton, going on to build a larger school in St Ives, and elsewhere. He oversaw the provision of allotments to enable the poor to help support themselves. A Founder of the St Ives Friendly Society, he went on to become a magistrate, a promoter of temperance, a Director of the Peace Society. His generosity was always directed where it was compatible with his strong religious views. He also gave Houghton its fine gothic iron water pump situated in the village square.

His religion did not hinder his ability to embrace new innovations. He brought over from France steam flour milling machinery, building the large mills at St Ives and Huntingdon.

His first wife sadly died, but he remarried in 1859 and retired in 1862, his son Bateman Brown carrying on the business. He married for a third time in 1869, and to the great lose of the community and surrounding area died on 12th April 1871, aged 74, dying in the house where he was born.

Houghton County Primary School

Is in Chapel lane next to the Chapel built by Potto Brown. This was originally a British School founded by Potto Brown in 1840. It was not a church school, or supported by government funds that Potto refused to accept, it was supported solely by the villagers. The children themselves also contributed to its income in the early days by selling needlework produced in the school, and undertaking requests for work for which they would be paid.

There was not the set holiday pattern in the beginning that a modern school has, school carried on all year except at harvest time, when the school was closed as every hand was needed to gather in the harvest.

1870 saw the introduction of the Elementary Education Act, which required every young child to attend school. The rules then applied not only to the newly created state schools, but also to the voluntary ones like Houghton. A standard curriculum covering the whole of England was introduced to standardise the level of education being taught reading, writing and arithmetic being the main subjects.

A new school was built in 1889, replacing the existing building. The existing building was introduced in 1960-1961 to cope with the increased number of pupils.

Houghton Grange

Is a large red brick house built in the Tudor style for C H Coote in 1897, standing in 80 acres with a lovely long sweeping tree lined drive from the main St Ives to Huntingdon road, from which the front of the house can still be glimpsed.

In 1948 it was brought by the Animal Health Trust as a poultry research station, the trust was founded by Dr W R Woolridge specifically to research into poultry diseases.

Changes had to be made to turn this from a domestic dwelling into a research centre. Extensions were made at each end of the original building, one end to facilitate the administrative offices, and the laboratories at the other end. The interior of the existing house was adapted into offices, a specialised library, and a conference room.

In the grounds various poultry sheds and support buildings were erected, in a garden that once boasted extensive tree lined lawns, an ornamental fishpond, and a topiary maze.

Now its future is undecided, no longer a research unit, it was put forward as a possible site for our British athlete’s to train, but the government did not pick up this option. Various planning applications have been submitted, but rejected, and now it is currently for sale again.