The first large-scale brewery in St Neots is thought to have been established by Samuel Emery. He purchased The Bull Inn on the Market Square and the public house next door and combined their two brew-houses to brew in larger quantities. A well sunk into the gravel terrace provided ‘clean’ water. Having a wharf on Hen Brook allowed the import of barley and hops by boat. When Samuel died his daughters took over the inn and his son, Samuel, the brewery. He sold it to William Foster in 1792 who owned three licensed houses.
In 1831 William Foster sold his brewery on the south side of the Market Square to James Paine (1789 – 1855). He too was an entrepreneur. Over the next few years, Paine set up a Stone Flour Mill and an office. He invested his profits from selling beer to acquire three more ‘tied’ houses (they could only sell Paine’s beer). He set up a maltings in St Mary’s Street, Eynesbury, owned five houses on South Street, corn shops in Bell yard, a house and shop in Eaton Ford, 16 acres of farmland in Eynesbury, farmland in Great Paxton, brick kilns there, at Riseley and Gamlingay.
A beam steam engine was installed in 1840 which was there until 1935 when it was replaced by electricity. When James died in 1855 four of his sons took over the business. One of the sons, probably James, opened the Eynesbury brickyard on Potton Road.
In 1865 William expanded the business, buying a flour mill on Nutters Lane (Bedford Street) and as well as brewing, flour milling and sawing he was buying and selling malt, hops, coal, malt calms, linseed cake, slates, bricks, tiles, building stone, salt, tar, hair, whiting, lath (single and double fir), cement (Portland and Roman) lime (burnt, slack, and clunch), deals and battens (Petersburg, Wyberg and Memel). To help in his business he also hired a yard and wharf on the east side of Eynesbury bridge, where he put another saw mill. By 1869 he had bought St Neots Railway Tavern’.
Needing more capital he went into partnership with William Atkinson in 1872. A new malting was erected in Nutters Lane for £2,400 and the old one sold to George Taylor of the Chequers Inn who converted it into a mineral water factory. In 1877 Atkinson sold his share in the partnership and John McNish joined with the firm then trading as Paine & Co.
The building merchants side of the business was sold in 1879 to Charles Daintree and Fred Jewson. The yard behind the Dog and Duck Inn near Eynesbury Bridge was too small so they first hired, then bought, Navigation Wharf across the street.
In 1880 the Nutters Lane flour mill was pulled down and a new mill was built on the same site. A steam engine was used which worked until 1931 when a diesel engine was installed. When William Paine retired in 1882 the McNish brothers took it over until 1896 when the firm was launched as a public limited liability company as Paine and Co. Ltd.
The Bedford Street Nutters Mill was burnt down in 1903 causing damage valued at £15,000. It was rebuilt with more space. The brewery and Stone Flour Mill were burnt down in 1905 so the company bought the next-door premises and milling restarted. The brewery was rebuilt using more modern equipment.
In 1900 the Bedford Street maltings began production of malt extract (for example Bovril, OXO cubes) and it was traded worldwide. After the first World War (1914 – 1918) larger premises were needed so Paine & Co. Ltd bought and equipped the derelict Bower’s Gas Meter Works on Brook Street. These works were badly damaged by fire in 1947. They were rebuilt but burnt down again in 1955 so Paine’s used the Bedford Street premises again.