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Relics of the old roads

Wednesday, 3 November 2021 at 21:37

St Neots Market Square on Dr John Dunn. An early 19th C. painting of the Cross Keys Inn, St Neots (© the copyright holder. Photo credit: St Neots Museum)

Relics of the old roads

I will soon be publishing a YouTube production which covers some of the road history discovered whilst out on my Royal Enfield motorcycle in the St Neots area. The following is a work in progress, but will eventually be the spoken-word commentary to the video.

I’m now leaving the Great North Road to head for St Neots

The cluster of buildings behind the wall on the left, in the trees, is the old workhouse. Those same buildings now converted into flats.

Crossing the bridge over the River Great Ouse takes us from Bedfordshire into Cambridgeshire.

The site of The Bridge House dates back to at least the 16th century. Situated on the banks of the River Great Ouse the building was formerly known as The Half Moon Inn before it became The Bridge Hotel in 1914.

And so to the wide open space of St Neot’s market square.

That brick building on the left was the old Cross Keys Inn.

The Cross Keys was situated on Market Square. This old coaching inn was closed in February 1989 and has now been converted to shops and offices.The staging bell above the arch, which once announced the imminent departure of the coach disappeared in the development.

The Cross Keys served travellers to Cambridge on the St Neots to Cambridge Turnpike of 1772, later designated as part of the long A45 before St Neots was by-passed in the 1970s.

Back of the Cross Keys

There’s a pub name which speaks for itself on the right, ‘The Coach House’. It was the New Inn until its name changed in 2011, but there were good intentions behind the name-change, which aimed to emphasise its history as a coaching inn.

We are now approaching the former eastern edge of St Neots, passing through the immediate pre and post-war housing developments of the thirties, Forties, fifties and sixties.

I say former edge, because a new suburb is being added to the eastern side called Wintringham, and it's in this suburb that I hope to find a relic of the turnpike era.

A stop to check the map, but my researches tell me that it should be just at the other side of the railway bridge.

This is Wintringham, and there’s the relic, just there on the left on the grass verge - a milestone from the turnpike era. I’ll pull over to take a look.

It’s back to the bike now to seek out another relic of the old coaching days.

I’m now joining the current main road to Cambridge, which these day by-passes St Neots.

I know that it’s not far ahead.

And there it is on the left. I’ll have to do a U turn to take a look.

And there you have an old Toll House on the St Neot’s to Cambridge Turnpike. A gate would have stretched across the road at this point, and the toll house keeper who live in the house would only let you through if you paid the appropriate toll, which was dependent upon the manner in which you might be travelling, by horse, by coach, by waggon, with a herd of sheep etc.

This house was built by the turnpike trust in the nineteenth century, which used the funds to maintain this road. The trusts were all disbanded by the end of the 1880s, the task of maintenance being picked up instead by local councils and rate payers.

It’s now back to the bike to seek out another relic of the turnpike era.

It should be here at the Croxton crossroads. I’ll pull of this busy road to look for it.

And here it is, small, rusty and seemingly insignificant, another turnpike milestone.

But it’s what’s on it that makes it so fascinating, to me anyway.

As you might expect, the miles to St Neots and Cambridge are shown, but on top is the distance in miles to Oxford 73: why?

Because in the turnpike era, this road was considered to be on the route between Oxford and Cambridge.


I have to acknowledge that this commentary is incomplete, but will be polished for the YouTube production, the publication of which will be announced on this website.

© John Dunn.

All hail Aeolus

Tuesday, 2 November 2021 at 22:21

The four winds on Dr John Dunn. All hail Aeolus

Tussling with the elements today on a cold, bright and breezy day, whilst cycling in Buckinghamshire near Quainton, brought to mind James Arnold, author of my favourite cycling book, The Joyous Wheel. The Quainton area, especially around Denham Farm, was a special delight to him.

Even more particularly, my two wheeled excursion brought to mind the frontispiece to Arnold’s book (the illustration shown), which in the finest calligraphy and graphic art represents the four winds under their divine keeper, in Greek mythology, Aeolus.

All hail Aeolus, we cyclists are beholden to you.

© John Dunn.

Inns on the Great North Road, Eaton Socon

Monday, 1 November 2021 at 18:03

Inns on the Great North Road, Eaton Socon

What follows is a draft commentary to a projected YouTube production covering a motorcycle ride through Eaton Socon on the Great North Road.

The Victoria County History, London, 1912. describes Eaton Socon:

The village itself is situated in the east of the parish on both sides of the main road to York, through which at one time thirty-six coaches ran daily to and from London. It is of some importance, and presents rather the appearance of a small county town, with good shops and modern residences, though a few thatched cottages are still to be seen. It is provided with numerous inns, as is indeed the whole of this parish, probably owing to its position as a thoroughfare in coaching days.

“Numerous Inns” is the operative terminology to describe this place.

I started off at The Crown, on the Great North Road, now well and truly by-passed.

This was once Biggleswade to Alconbury Turnpike of 1725 until the 1880s, one of the earliest. turnpikes.

The Bell once stood where this new development on the left now stands.

Timber framed building was a Tea House in some 1939 film footage I’ve seen. It’s now an Indian Restaurant.

Ye Olde White Horse Inn on the left is celebrated with this blue plaque.

Opposite Ye Olde White Horse Inn is Hobbit Cottage, which was used by the North Road Cycling Club in the late 1800s as a stop-off point on rides between London and York.

Here is a wonderful photograph taken around 1900, looking back on the route I have just followed. Ye Olde White Horse on the right and Hobbit Cottage on the left are prominent.

The White Horse promotion to cyclists and motorists captures the era in which the roads were beginning to recover from the doldrums after steam railways had killed off the old coaching trade. Note the Shell and Pratt’s petrol for sale. The condition of the road should be noted, before the tarmac era.It offers a representation of what a good, well-maintained, turnpike road would have looked like, shortly after the closing of the turnpike trusts.

On the left, just before church on the right, is the former Wheatsheaf public house, now a residential property.

The Old Sun follows on the left, the Waggon and Horses on the right.

Soon after those, the George and Dragon on the left, immediately followed by a bridge over the Duloe Brook, a tributary of the River Great Ouse.

I leave the Great North Road, turning left to St Neots.

© John Dunn.

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