North Laurels House is located in Eaton Socon, a village originally founded in Saxon times and recorded in the Domesday book. The guest house is situated on the Great North Road which, from the early 18th century, became a major stagecoach route from London to York. The village prospered as a large number of hostelries became established along this road providing accommodation and catering to the needs of weary, wealthy, and (in some cases) note-worthy travellers.
It was during this period that Samuel Pepys and Charles Dickens both came to visit (the former complained about the ‘plainness of the maids’ whereas the latter made reference to it as ‘Eaton Slocomb’ in Nicholas Nickleby). In later times Princess (later Queen) Victoria was another notable traveller to have visited the village.
North Laurels House was built in the early 19th century towards the end of the coaching era. It is a classic example of a rectangular-fronted, multi-storey Georgian house with its geometric sash windows and parapet above (designed to conceal the pitched roof). In the 1960s the village of Eaton Socon was incorporated into the town of St Neots. Not long afterwards the Great North Road was by-passed by the A1.
In 1971, North Laurels House was given Grade II protected building status to mark its historical and architectural significance. The guest house now stands within a conservation area set up in 2005 to link and protect areas of architectural interest within St Neots.
North Laurels House dates from around 1831-1838, though there was an earlier building on the plot before then. An enclosure map of 1799 (click on picture to view) shows the original house which had frontage directly onto the Great North Road at the western end of a plot belonging to 'J. Livett'.
A later map, dating from 1838, shows that by this time the original dwelling had been replaced by a building that was set back from the road and had a long wing behind its northern end - this is much like the position and footprint of the current North Laurels House.
It is likely this house was built by John Livett (grandson of 'J. Livett' on the 1799 map) at sometime after 1831 following the death of his parents. The 1838 map indicates there was a ladies seminary on the plot though it is not clear if this was the original purpose of the house. It does not appear to have existed for very long since there is no mention of it in the census of 1841.
By 1852, the house had passed to the Howkins family who lived here for nearly 40 years.
Around 1891 the house changed hands again, this time being purchased by local St Neots farmer, George Ingle, who had previously owned and worked the Duloe Windmill. It is said that, in his younger days, George often liked to entertain people by grabbing onto the sails and travelling around with them! The windmill still exists (next to the Co-op) and was converted to a private residence in 1948 though the sails no longer remain.
Later, George also purchased the neighbouring house, 202 Great North Road, and with it the coach-building business that operated in its backyard. The business was run by his son, George Arthur Ingle, having served an apprenticeship at Wendover’s in Huntingdon. George Arthur later married and moved into 202.
After George Ingle’s death, ownership of the house passed to the family that owned Paine’s brewery in St Neots market square. The photograph on the left shows the house during this period (circa 1911-12). Close inspection of the nameplate on the gate post indicates that the house had now been named “The Laurels”.
In 1923, this family moved to the Manor House (formerly at 172 Great North Road) and the next owner of The Laurels was the manager of the bank in St Neots market square and his family.
The land valuation of 1925 noted that the downstairs accommodation comprised 'two rooms, a kitchen, a scullery, a hall, a lovely drawing room' and upstairs accommodation included '6 bedrooms, 1 bath, with 4 rooms and a lumber room on the 2nd floor'. Outside there was 'a gardener’s shed, an old stable used as a piggery and store, a store place, a wood barn, a hen house, a garage with a concrete floor, a hovel used as a hen house, a large kitchen garden, an orchard, 2 grass tennis courts and a summer house'.
In 1932 the house was sold to Thomas Hartop, a local St Neots builder. At that time he was rebuilding the bakery for the Budd family (now Regis House, in front of Tesco Express) and while this was ongoing the Budd’s temporarily moved into The Laurels. They were the last family to live in the house while it still remained a single dwelling. When the Budd’s had moved back to their accommodation in the bakehouse, Hartop divided The Laurels into 2 separate dwellings, which are now 204 and 206 Great North Road. Among the alterations carried out was a large 3-storey extension added to the rear of what is now 204.
Hartop was also renovating the Eaton Socon parish church after it had burnt down in 1930 (St Mary’s, located by village green). An exposed beam in the breakfast room of 204 is one of the timbers he salvaged from the church. Hartop also separated the land at the rear of the plot, building several houses there, so beginning the development that now forms The Crescent.
Around this time electricity and piped water arrived in the village, and the first owner of 206 (in 1933) was at the vanguard of this revolution. He was an electrical engineer who rose to a high executive position within the BCH Electricity Company (serving Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire). He also acquired the neighbouring house (now October Cottage, 208), which until 1904 had been a public house (The Black Horse, shown on the left) and at the time was still owned by the Newland and Nash Brewery.
In 1936, after completion of the new rear extension, Hartop sold 204 and the new owner renamed it Terrington House, though this name was not taken up by subsequent owners.
In 1971, the building was given Grade II listed building status. However, not long after this, another part of the grounds was developed when the flats that are now part of the Crescent were built. Less than ten years after being listed, 206 fell into disrepair when the property was repossessed and then remained unoccupied for the next 2 years.
Subsequent owners carried out much renovation work and this included the incorporation of a single storey outbuilding, previously a workshop, into the rear of the north wing creating a music room. Later, the second-storey accommodation was added to this creating an additional bedroom.
At one time during this period, 204 served as the headquarters of the local Conservative party during elections. Among prominent visitors on election night in May 1997 were the prime minister (and local MP), John Major, and his wife, Norma. Unfortunately, this was not a happy occasion as it soon became clear when the results came in that Labour was sweeping to victory under Tony Blair, ending many years of Conservative government.
Finally, in 2002, the 2 halves of the building once again came under the same ownership, and a new extension was added across the rear of the entire guest house. This replaced the old flat-roofed kitchen of 204 (dating from 1930’s) and incorporated the old external washhouse and boiler-house within in a new kitchen/conservatory/sitting area.
With acknowledgments to Sue Jarret and the Eatons Community Association. Thanks also to Guy Boocock for the old photograph of The Laurels.