Looking back at the history of
|Station Road opened in 1850 when the Great Northern Railway came to Biggleswade
At a meeting at the Swan Inn in 1844,William Hogg, Robert Lindsell and John Nathaniel Foster were active supporters to enable the railway to pass through the town with an accessible railway station. The station owned by The Great Northern Railway opened on 5th August 1850 when there were celebrations in the town and local market gardeners decorated the station with vegetables. Passengers were conveyed to London and to Peterborough and the North and market gardeners were able to send their produce to markets at London & Sheffield.
East Side of Station Road
The GNR purchased land from the Station to The Market Square and demolished The White Hart Maltings, leaving the ancient public house intact.
There was a fire in the large barn between the White Hart and the newly built Regal Cinema on 23rd October 1936 at about 5pm. The audience were watching a film show and only one person went outside to see what was going on. The remainder were too engrossed in the film. Staff from the Regal and NURO films opposite used their hoses until the Fire Engine arrived. The barn was destroyed. The site was cleared and Station Chambers comprising three shops with offices above opened at the end of 1937.
Next was The Church of England National Schools, built in 1843 for 150 boys and 150 girls. The old building was sold in November 1909 to Frederick Maythorn the coachbuilder to add to his factory opposite. Then in 1935 it became the site for The Regal Cinema opened in 1936. New Church Schools were built in Church Street and Shortmead Street.
The Regal Cinema opened on Monday 27th July 1936 when large crowds of sightseers awaited the arrival of comedy film star Will Hay at the opening by Admiral Sir Lionel Halsey who lived at Old Warden. The proprietors were Arthur Hill and his two sons Ernest and Herbert; they also owned The Empire Biggleswade, Victory at Sandy and The Riverside Lido. The architect was Arthur Singleton and the town centre site chosen was part of the Maythorn factory on rising ground in Station Road.
Maythorn & Son Ltd who closed in 1931 had purchased the Church of England National School in 1909. Part of the original wall still forms part of the present building facing the car park. There were 744 seats. There was a short-lived café upon the mezzanine floor under the balcony, converted into offices in 1937. The first film was Will Hay in “Where There’s a Will” and Biggleswade Silver Prize Band provided the music. The Regal was an immediate success, but was sold to The Cox Cinema Co Ltd in 1937.
There were only four managers Guy David, Emile Morgan, Brian Walters and Tom Maguire. Mr Canfield was the first commissionaire soon followed by Bob Clements wearing maroon uniform and white gloves. One of the two pages was Charlie Cook. Mr J Clements was the projectionist with two assistants.
In 1938, Mr Cox invited all Biggleswade Pensioners to matinee performances free of charge. This was very much appreciated.
A series of Sunday Concerts, with proceeds to charity started in 1939 and continued from time to time during the war years. Live entertainment featured among others, Jack Payne, The Squadronaires, Troise and his Mandoliers, Ivy Bensons Girl Band and Big Bill Campbell and his Rocky Mountaineers. Amateur talent contests were very popular, with many enthusiastic performers.
Land for the car park in Victoria Place was purchased in June 1940 where a row of cottages had stood and later in September, a further piece of land behind The White Hart.
There was a demand for Sunday evening films in 1946 and as the Regal was not licensed for Sunday opening the Urban District Council initially turned down the request, but following a town vote the following year, the extended licence was granted.
A wide screen was fitted in 1956 and Cinemascope came in 1962
In 1972 the Regal Cinema was sold to the Star Group and in 1974 to the Regent Leisure Group. They began to run regular bingo sessions in addition to showing films.
With more people watching television at home, audiences at the Regal declined and the owners proposed to close the cinema, as they said it was not financially viable. Early in 1976, more than 2,000 people signed a petition against closure. But fewer than 60 people attended a public meeting, when various schemes were put forward. These schemes did not materialise and the Regal closed after Easter 1976. The last film was “Return of the Pink Panther” starring Peter Sellers.
The very last manager of the Regal Cinema, Tom Maguire retired in 1983 after 17 years, of change. However, a new era had started in 1982 when Don Tyler purchased the building.
Don Tyler had been in the cinema business since 1968. With many years’ experience as an executive with Granada Cinemas he had converted many cinemas into bingo halls. “Flutters Bingo & Social Club” Biggleswade heralded a new grouping expanding to five venues. Don, who with his pleasant personality, had worked very hard to make this enterprise a success, sadly died of a heart attack in 1995 when he was only 62. Luckily his sons Andrew and Ian Tyler carried on with the venture.
Flutters continue to provide family entertainment to a large number of local patrons. There are presently three other “Flutters” in the group at Coalville, Hinckley and Rushden.
The original Post Office and Postmasters house opened in 1899 built on the corner site Rose Villa purchased from Thomas Purser. This replaced the Post Office in High Street. A new larger Post Office and Delivery Office behind in Back Street, built at a cost of £408,000 opened on 11th November 1982. The reason given was that the population had doubled to 10,000 in 83 years.
Just over 9 years later in January 1992, the Post Office moved to part of Budgens Supermarket in Bonds Lane!
Thomas Purser retained Holmeside House on a large site next door where he lived with his family. After his death in 1922 his widow and sons continued until they sold the property for the Boys’ Home in 1928. The Boys’ home moved to Hillcote in London Road when the site was required for the new Police Station that opened in 1938. Holmeside can be seen as number 2 in this map from 1924.
Station Road looking towards the Railway Station1925.
Next was a large garden (possibly had belonged to Holmeside House) where the new Catholic Church was built and opened in 1973 with a house for the incumbent priest. This replaced the old church previously in Sand Lane.
No 9 Station Road was built on another large site where Dr Welsh lived 1898 until 1924. Dr Bolster followed him until1941 when Dr Alan Lane Connold took over the practice. The last doctor in residence was Dr William Robertson who died in 1993. The house is now converted into flats.
There are two more imposing Villa residences no 11 and no 13.
The railway station forecourt included the Stationmasters Villa emphasising his status. This was demolished in 1972, sadly with no evident photographic record except for aerial images, and replaced by a filling station later converted into offices.
The Great Northern Railway was incorporated into The London & North Eastern Railway Company in 1923. The railways were nationalised in 1948 and became British Railways. Network Southeast was a great improvement for local services rebranded as Great Northern in 1986 leading to electrification in 1887 and alterations to the Station but the original frontage and booking office are hardly changed Five houses were built in Railway Bank to house key workers. One of these was John Boothey who came to Biggleswade in 1889 as a signalman and retired at the age of 70 in 1927. He was known as “Honest” John during his years of service in local government.
At end of the road was the capacious goods yard.
The railway was successful and as traffic was increasing the original two tracks were increased to four and a new station built in 1901.
The Great Northern Railway was incorporated into The London & North Eastern Railway Company in 1923.
The railways were nationalised in 1948 and became British Railways. Network Southeast was a great improvement for local services rebranded as Great Northern in 1986 leading to electrification in 1887 and alterations to the Station but the original frontage and booking office are hardly changed
West Side of Station Road
The George Hotel 20 Station Road was substantially built at the station entrance in 1856 with bar & taproom and five bedrooms, also large yard with stables, cart sheds pigsties etc. Successive licensees were also coal merchants. The hotel closed in 1965 and was converted into flats. The building was demolished and George Court built in 1982.
Then, three cottages where Taylor & Co ran a saddlery and harness business from the 1880s and in 1923 the business passed to John Woodward who had worked for them for 32 years. His grandson Derek Woodward actively sold leather and travel goods there until 2008.
Fairfield Care Products took over the premises and warehouse behind in Bonds Lane. Next were Fairfield Care Products moving to Albone Way. Currently, (May 2015) the premises are vacant pending development.
From Bonds Lane to The Market Square was the main Maythorn factory, now three shop units and a car park
John Maythorn, ‘Journeyman’ founded a each shop in Fox’s Yard, Sun Street, Biggleswade in 1842. The stage-coaching era was coming to an end, but he found plenty of work building coaches for gentry and commercial carriers. In 1854, he was described as a ‘Coach Builder and Harness Maker”. By 1862, he moved his growing business to the corner of Station Road and the Market Square. In 1885, Kelly’s Directory described the business as ‘John Maythorn and Son, High Street, Station Road, Palace Street, Cemetery Road (The Baulk) and Market Place’. The firm manufactured every type of horse-drawn carriage and was renowned nationally. John Maythorn took part in public life, being a member of the Board of Guardians, Lighting and Burial Committees. He became a Director of Biggleswade Gas Company in 1876, helping to make it profitable after a period of stagnation. John Maythorn died in 1897 aged 75.
His son, Frederick Alfred Maythorn, took over the business and expanded into building motorcar bodies. He purchased the old National School in Station Road in 1909 (now Flutters Bingo Club) and a dozen old cottages in Palace Street in 1914, to extend the factory that covered a large area in the town centre. When he held a party to celebrate completion of the new workshops, there were about 200 employees. Maythorn & Son built high quality wooden bodies of ash.
Frederick Maythorn entertained 110 employees of Maythorn & Son Ltd at his retirement party on 30th January 1920.
There was a dreadful fire in 1923, when a large part of the factory was destroyed. An even larger works was completed by 1925 with a handsome building dominating the Market Square causing more cottages in Palace Street to be demolished. The other works in Palace Street and Station Road were not affected and production continued, albeit with difficulty.
Frederick Maythorn died in 1928, when the Company was still flourishing. The Pressed Steel Company of Great Britain Ltd opened their factory at Cowley; Oxfordshire beside Morris Motors works in 1926. This resulted in a limited trade for wooden bodied limousines’ and as Hooper’s now had surplus capacity, the Biggleswade factories closed and Maythorn & Son Ltd was liquidated in 1931. Many employees found work at Vauxhall Motors, Luton finding that their expertise was not required in mass production.
Redevelopment in 1990 saw the site used to build three large shops; two of these are now Iceland Frozen Foods and the third, Lloyds Chemists. They were designed to look something like the original premises. Part of the original Maythorn factory remains in Bonds Lane.