Downham Market & Bexwell

Strip away the post-World War II housing development and it is easy to appreciate the historic cruciform structure of Downham Market with its linear extensions to each of the four points of the compass as the late 19th Century OS map shows:

The land upon which it is situated rises eastwards from the Fen onto the Cretaceous escarpment of Lower Greensand that runs north-south through West Norfolk. The settlement thus owes its origins to its location on the Fen shore and the development of routeways that followed.

Evidence of settlement from the earliest times does exist but not in great quantity. Roman finds have been made but there is a greater concentration in the Denver area because of the proximity of the Fen Causeway. There is some evidence that pre-Norman penetration by river was achieved, as with other rivers, but, since the Ouse almost certainly did not take its present course until the later years of the 13th century, a more likely explanation lies with the Well Creek. This evidence derives from the foundation of a market in Downham in late Saxon times during the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066), probably with the encouragement of the Abbot of Ramsey. References are made to ‘rights of entry and departure by water and by land’ which implies a navigable river. Later references to a hermitage at Downham Hythe during the time of Pope Gregory IX (1227-1241) imply a landing place on a sizeable river at a point near a bridge, required to cross a waterway of some size. Hermitage Hall was formerly Bridge Farm. Market towns became established in such a way as to allow people from the countryside a ‘reasonable’ maximum daily walk of around 5-7 miles to and from market along with their goods and animals. Hence Downham finds itself some fifteen miles from Swaffham, for example.

In the Domesday Book there are references to Duneham and Dunham, derived from the Anglo Saxon words dun, meaning a hill, and ham, a settlement.

In 1205, King John through the influence of the Abbot of Ramsey, granted Downham permission to hold an Annual Fair, and also the privilege of a gallows in the Town on which to hang criminals – the origin of the name of Paradise Road.

St Edmund’s Church from the south east. There is more information at

The former approach to the church (c1900) between an avenue of limes. The railings were removed as part of the war effort around 1940 and the trees on the left were removed to make way for the retaining wall when Church Lane was redeveloped in 1967. The motor car has much for which to answer. The limes on the right have been pollarded in recent years in an effort to extend their life.

The church of St Edmund dates from the 1400s in the Early English style but there have been many changes over the years. An earlier, possibly Norman, structure was probably of wood, but the material used in the present building is believed to have come from the carrstone quarry on the Howdale, whilst the corner stones and window surrounds are likely to have derived from Barnack, near Stamford. There is a small shaft set in the outside wall of the north chapel which is probably a remnant of the original Norman building. On the South side, by the priest's door, is an embedded crucifixion, perhaps a former churchyard memorial. The church is dedicated to St Edmund whose crown and arrows (from his martyrdom) can be found symbolised in the town sign. Trade directories around 1900 give the following information about St Edmund’s which then consisted of chancel, nave, aisles, south porch and a low embattled western tower of carrstone, with buttresses and quoins of freestone, surmounted by a slender spire, which, with the tower, was restored in 1896, at a cost of £340. In the tower were eight bells, rehung in 1896. The bells were again rehung in 1979 by John Taylor & Co (Bellfounders) Ltd, of Loughborough, at which time five bells, probably all dating from the later 1700s, were recast. One of the trebles (number 5) was cast by J Eayres in 1769 and the tenor bell by Arnold & Osborn (of St Neots) in 1773. In 1884 a stone reredos was erected and the chancel floor re-laid, and in 1886 a stone statuette of St. Edmund the Martyr was set in a niche over the entrance to the south porch and a brass lectern placed in the church, both at the expense of the late Henry Oakes, rector’s churchwarden, who was buried on 11 December 1886. Henry, born in 1820 in Downham and unmarried, ran a grocery business in High Street along with his younger sisters Rebecca and Ann, as did their parents, William & Mary née Smith (married Swaffham 1811), before them. William was born in Mannington, near Saxthorpe, in 1787, and handed over the reins to Henry on his death in 1855. After Henry’s death the shop became Laxon’s which continued to trade in High Street until closure, on 28 October 1972, brought an end to 162 years of continuous grocery trading under the Oakes/Laxon name. Allix Barker Laxon, who took over the Oakes’ shop, was born in March, Cambridgeshire, in 1851, son of Matthew & Ann Laxon who were living at Nene Cottage, Well End, at the time and farming 230 acres. Allix died in 1912 and is buried in St Edmund’s churchyard; his wife was Lucy Mary Barnwell whom he married in Southwell, Nottinghamshire, in 1877 – she died in 1933, aged 76, and was interred with her husband. The shop stood on the west side of High Street opposite the present Palmer’s restaurant; it was demolished after closure and the site stood vacant for many years until redevelopment for housing (Number 42) early this century. The 1841 census gives the location of William Oakes’ shop as Market Place, a move to High Street coming before the next return a decade later.

Mention of the bells prompts further comment as one of the most notable industries in the past was the bell foundry established in the town in the middle years of the 1700s. Two founders of note were Thomas Osborn and, later, William Dobson. Sounding Alley, which connects Church Road to High Street, maybe so called because it was possibly once the site of the Thetford Bell Foundry. The Foundry had been re-established in Downham before 1750 according to Bryant in his book ‘Norfolk Churches’ (but not by the Thomas Osborn who later ran it as he would have been too young) and continued casting until at least 1833. St Peter's Church in Wisbech is the only Church with a complete set of ten Osborn bells. They were cast in 1823 and are said to be the fourth oldest complete ring of ten to be cast by one foundry. Another view is that the name of Sounding Alley is due to the echoing cries of children at play and that the bells were made elsewhere. I notice that the Downham registers record the baptism of Benjamin Bayfield Dobson on 10 July 1816, son of William, a bell founder, and Martha, his wife. This was not the Martha Bayfield baptised in Downham on 26 December 1783, daughter of Benjamin Bayfield, surgeon, and Sarah his wife, née Cooper, since that Martha was buried in 1790. However, William Dobson married Martha Bell, spinster, in Downham in 1807 but why should they name their son after the surgeon who died in 1794, if that is what they did? Further corroboration is difficult since occupations did not appear on marriage certificates until 1837, although a father’s occupation was recorded in baptismal registers from 1813. An amusing link here between the husband’s occupation and the wife’s maiden name. Martha was buried in Downham on 09 April 1818, aged only 27. I further notice that William and Martha’s eldest child was given the Christian names Thomas Osborne at his baptism in June 1808, and their second, in April 1810, was named Mary Osborne, although sadly she survived only 23 days. There is a burial in Downham of Elizabeth, widow of Thomas Osborne, aged 72, on 02 April 1807. Thomas was buried on 11 December the preceding year, aged 65, and was thus born around 1740. A daughter, Maria, appears in the Downham baptismal register on 30 March 1769. Perhaps, as there was no Downham marriage, they arrived in the town about that time. I note that the tenor bell, mentioned above, was cast by Arnold & Osborn of St Neots in 1773. Was there a connection?Also worthy of note, in the 1841 census, is the entry for Ambrose Wallis living in High Street, Downham, whose occupation is given as ‘bell hanger’, as is that of his son James. He married Elizabeth Sewell in Downham Market in 1816. He was born in New Buckenham in 1794 and had moved on to Islington by 1851 where he is then recorded as a master bell-hanger.

The stained east window was placed in St Edmund’s in 1873 by John Wortley, farmer of Whitwell Hall, Skeyton in Norfolk, in memory of his wife's family. The inscription underneath reads:

In honour and glory of God and in affectionate memory of John Dixon who died 18 June 1846, aged 70 years, and of Sarah his wife who died 23 January 1858, aged 80, and of John their son who died 19 June 1872, aged 60, and of Sarah Wright their daughter who died 25 August 1846, aged 30

Sarah Dixon married Henry Wright in Wimbotsham on 26 August 1844 when Henry was entered in the register as ‘Merchant, of Trunch’. She was buried at St Edmund’s on 02 September 1846. Their daughter Sarah was John Wortley’s first wife; he married his second wife, Victoria Barber, in 1877. John & Sarah’s son, the Revd John Dixon Wortley, born 1870, was a great authority on St Edmund’s and author of “Downham Market: Its Church and History”, published in 1924. John Dixon, a butcher, had married Sarah Heading in St Edmund’s on 08 September 1812. John, their son, was born on 31 December 1812 and appears in St Edmund’s baptismal register on 18 March 1815.

Incidentally, in addition to Wortley’s book, the other great source of information on Downham is ‘The History of Downham Market’ published by the Downham Market and District Amenity Society in 1999. Although out of print, the effort to acquire a copy of this well written and informative book will be well rewarded. There is a substantial index. There are several other memorial windows and four stained-glass windows were erected during the period 1896-1900. One, in the northwest corner, is dedicated to the memory of William Pope, who began in business as a linen and woollen draper, and his wife Rachel (née Pilgrim). William was born in North Walsham in 1823 and moved to Downham High Street from Swaffham shortly before the 1861 census. Twenty years later, the census entry states ‘Government contractor, draper, cabinet maker employing 24 men, 2 boys and 47 women’. The business interests continued to grow with sites throughout the town administered from Cannon House on Cannon Square. After William’s death in 1897, aged 74, his son Augustus took over the business. The firm suffered a major blow in December 1910 when the clothing factory and adjacent warehouse were razed to the ground in a huge fire that nearly took with it the nearby Castle hotel and Wesleyan chapel. Wife Rachel was buried in Downham on 06 January 1868, aged 44.

Augustus was born in Swaffham in 1851, as was younger brother Harry two years later. Harry became chairman of the Downham Market UDC in 1905 and amassed a fortune in property, including the purchase of Crow Hall in 1905 for £3200. He was also a Justice of the Peace. Alas, bankruptcy followed in 1909 but worse was to come when he was accused of misappropriating monies from the estate of Ezra Pilgrim, who died in St Pancras in 1904, for which his reward was three years in prison. He appealed against his conviction (as reported in The Times of 05 March 1910) on the grounds that the trial judge in Norwich had misdirected the jury but his claim was rejected. Harry was buried in Downham in 1924, aged 70. Ezra Pilgrim was baptised in Church Gate Wesleyan chapel, North Walsham in 1823, the son of Richard Pilgrim, a maltster, but left for St Pancras before 1851 to work in the licensing trade. He ran a number of pubs including the Adam & Eve near the junction of Euston Road and Hampstead Road and was later a wine and spirits dealer. It is reasonable to assume that Ezra was a close relative of Harry’s mother, but this would need verification as Rachel had left home by the time of the 1841 census and was working in Norwich. Ezra, at that time, was working for his father in Reeve’s Lane, North Walsham. Another brother, William Pilgrim Mace Pope, married Caroline Bunkall in St Edmund’s on 11 September 1872. Caroline was the daughter of William Bunkall, a butcher in Downham Market High Street, born in Northwold in 1818. He had married Hannah Brown of Southery in 1843.

During the building of the church’s new organ chamber in 1873 an original Norman window was discovered, built in the wall behind the chancel arch, on the north side. The figures of the saints and angels in the roof, which had been left in a damaged state by Puritan soldiers in the 1640s, were restored in 1899. In 1886 the arms of the ancient family of Bardolph and those of Ramsey Abbey, formerly on the church, were carved in stone and replaced the arms of the sees of Canterbury and Norwich. Those of Thomas Leigh Hare, the present lord of the manor, were added at the same time. The church was extensively repaired in 1855 at a cost of £700 and then afforded 700 sittings, 200 being available for general use.

The church of St Edmund dates from the 1400s in the Early English style but there have been many alterations. An earlier, possibly Norman, construction was probably of wood, but the material used in the present building came from the carrstone quarry on the Howdale, whilst the corner stones and window surrounds came from Barnack, near Stamford. There is a small shaft set in the outside wall of the north chapel which is probably a remnant of the original Norman construction. On the South side, by the priest's door, is an embedded crucifixion, perhaps a former churchyard Cross. The Crown and Arrows of St Edmund can be found incorporated into the town sign.

Trade directories around 1900 give the following information about St Edmund’s which then consisted of chancel, nave, aisles, south porch and a low embattled western tower of carrstone, with buttresses and quoins of freestone, surmounted by a slender spire, which, with the tower, was restored in 1896, at a cost of £340. In the tower are 8 bells, rehung in 1896. In 1884 a stone reredos was erected and the chancel floor relaid, and in 1886 a stone statuette of St. Edmund the Martyr was set in a niche over the entrance to the south porch and a brass lectern placed in the church, both at the expense of the late Henry Oakes. The stained east window was placed in 1873 by J Wortley of Skeyton, in memory of his wife's family, and there are several other memorial windows and four stained windows erected during the period 1896-9.

During the building of the new organ chamber in 1873 an original Norman window was discovered, built up in the wall behind the chancel arch, on the north side. The figures of the saints and angels in the roof, which had been left in a mutilated state by Cromwell's soldiers, were restored in accordance with the original designs in 1899. In 1886 the arms of the ancient family of Bardolph and those of Ramsey Abbey, formerly on the church, were carved in stone and replaced the arms of the sees of Canterbury and Norwich. Those of Thomas Leigh Hare JP DL, the present lord of the manor, being added at the same time. The curious old font has been repaired and re-set. The church was extensively repaired in 1855 at a cost of £700 and then afforded 700 sittings, 200 being free.

The register dates from the year 1551. The living, a discharged rectory, net yearly value £230, together with 29 acres of glebe, with residence, was then in the gift of the trustees of the late Revd Edward Robert Franks (rector 1850-82), and held since 1894 by the Rev. William Beaufoy Stillman of Worcester College, Oxford. A cemetery of two acres, with two mortuary chapels, was formed in 1856 at a cost of about £1600 and in 1884 was enlarged by the addition of 2½ acres, at a further cost of £500. The older of the two burial grounds is to the south of the central dividing path. A further extension became necessary leading to the purchase of the present cemetery in Rouse’s Lane in 1946.

Cemetery House and, on the left, one of the two chapels of rest, which obscures the second. The part of the cemetery in the foreground (to the north of the central path) was added in 1887 with the first interment being that of Mary Ann Fickling, aged 39, on 19 November of that year

For more information, see

The 1881 enumerator goes on to add that ‘this house stands in the cemetery and there are also two chapels, one for Church of England and one for Nonconformists’. One hopes that those resting in these separate places were heading for the same destination. The first interment in the new cemetery on 01 November 1856 was that of Adrian Erasmus Goodrick, nineteen-year-old son of Isaac Goodrick, schoolmaster, by his third wife Rebecca Gotobed. Nine other sons were christened Horatio Ajax (1811), Albert Achilles (1813 – who died in infancy) by his first wife Amey Eastall; and Charles Brutus (1821), George Cassius (1823), Edmund Augustus (1824), who was buried on the same day as his father on 30 March 1855, and Henry Octavius (1827) from his second marriage to Martha Merrington. John Albert Achilles (1834) who died aged 15 months, was the elder brother of Adrian Erasmus, Horace Paul Ulysses (1836) and Marius Leonidas, who was buried Marius Ionides, an infant, in 1838. In 1841, Isaac was running a small school with fourteen pupils on Church Lane but he had moved to the National School in Wiggenhall St Mary Magdalen by 1851. Born in Fransham, he was buried in Downham on 30 March 1855, aged 69. Rebecca outlived Isaac by more than thirty years, being buried in Downham on 28 January 1888, aged 91.

Rouse’s Lane leads to Stone Cross Lane and then to the A10 near to which junction is the memorial, in the form of a stone cross, to two victims of WWI – LH Pratt of Ryston and CD Prangley, son of the Rector of Bexwell. However, the naming of Stone Cross Lane predates this memorial and suggests one of earlier date. Some have claimed that this lane an ancient routeway between Downham and the abbey at West Dereham.

Memorial at Stonecross to 2nd Lt Lionel Henry Pratt and 2nd Lt Charles Dean Prangley at the former intersection of the Bexwell and Ryston parish boundaries

The Rectory c1910. Built on the site of a former Benedictine monastery, it was demolished c1960 to make way for the architecturally less impressive Downham Market Rural District Council offices which, in turn, were cleared in the 1990s to make way for Tesco’s and the new library.

The Batchcroft Charity dates from 1660, when the Reverend Thomas Batchcroft, Master of Caius College, Cambridge, left £100 to be invested in land and about seven acres was purchased, the rents from which being designated for charitable purposes among the poor. The Batchcrofts were a prominent Bexwell family with a long history within the parish going back well before 1600. When the fenlands were reclaimed about 100 acres, known as Hundred Acre Common, were entrusted to the Churchwardens of Downham Market, Wimbotsham and Stow Bardolph the proceeds from rents to be divided amongst the poor of the three parishes, after the drainage rates and other expenses had been met. Another bequest came from John Saffery in 1687 amounting to £2 annually from land in Wimbotsham.

Revd Dr Thomas Batchcroft (1572-1662) Master of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, in 1660 and succeeded by Robert Brady, of Denver

Blomefield outlines the following Batchcroft pedigree:

Richard Batchcroft (1562-1642) is commemorated in Bexwell Church. Ann (born c1608), daughter of Richard, married Jermyn Wright of Wangford and was mother of Sir Robert Wright (c1634-1689), a judge of the time who was promoted above his ability it would seem (see below).

The St. Winnold's Fayre, so named because it was held on St. Winnold's Day – 3rd March, used to be a prominent feature in Downham Market and was one of the largest horse fairs in the country. The fair, which originated between the villages of Boughton and Wereham, was moved to Downham in the early 1800s. Dealing would take place in the streets as well as on the Howdale. Many thousands of horses were supplied to the army during the World War I.

Downham horse fair in more recent times

The Howdale in Edwardian times. Considerable debate has taken place regarding the origins and ownership of this area of approximately six acres. One version relates to an alleged gift in 1692 by the Misses Howee and Dallee requesting that their names be remembered in return. Extensive searches have produced no evidence of this bequest. Another version says that the land was given to the town by Sir Thomas Hare, Lord of the Manor of Stow Bardolph, in 1932.

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A large butter market was held near the Ouse on Mondays in the early 19th century. Large quantities (3,000 firkins) of butter were transported by water to Cambridge, and thence to London. It is likely that the butter market ended because of agricultural changes that lead to increased wheat growing and a corresponding reduction in dairying. Both the butter market and the horse fair are to be found represented in the town sign opposite the western end of Howdale Road.

Downham Market town sign – horses, butter, Nelson (learning to sail in the streams around Downham!) & St Edmund

The remains of the town Green is still evident in Railway Road where the road has a double bend, near Barker’s builders’ merchants. Cattle were allowed to be tethered there when brought up for selling or in times of flood on their pasture lower down. Iron gates spanned the road and were closed to prevent the cattle wandering into the town – hence a former name of Cowgate Street. On the opposite side of the road to The Green stands the one of the town’s two former maltings, now a garden centre. The malthouse building, which was late seventeenth century, produced the malt from the barley coming from the Fens, which would be sent to King's Lynn for export. Maltster's House, now Dial House, joins the Maltings and the chimney-like ventilator is still evident at the end of the building. Dial House became a Quaker school in 1811, and the Quaker burial ground extended into the garden of old library, now the headquarters of the Salvation Army in the town.

The Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 saw the end of so-called outdoor relief for the able-bodied poor and facilitated the establishment of workhouses by unions of parishes, no fewer than 34 in Downham’s case, under the direction of a Board of Guardians. Workhouses already existed in some towns and villages, Hilgay for example, and, on a much larger scale, Gressenhall. The Tudoresque Downham Union workhouse was built, principally of white brick and carstone, in 1836 and 1837 at a cost of around £5,000. There was a considerable saving on monies necessary to support the poor although some people still secured parish relief without being institutionalised. These included, for example, the infirm and widows left with dependent children. In the 1851 census Downham had a population of 3236 of whom 222 were in the workhouse. It became an old people’s home before its demolition in 1967 due to escalating maintenance costs. High Haven council home for the elderly completed in the early 1970s, fronting onto Howdale Road, now stands on the site but the former entrance way to the old workhouse can still be imagined leading up from London Road with Union Terrace on the north side. Conditions were harsh in the workhouses, husbands were separated from wives and older children from parents. Discipline was strict and labour hard in the belief that too soft an option would encourage the labouring classes to seek refuge in the workhouse in preference to struggling for survival in the parishes. Nevertheless a safety net was in place, however dreaded, and conditions did moderate over time. Although Boards of Guardians were abolished in 1929, the system did not finally come to an end until the advent of the welfare state after 1945.

The Downham Union Workhouse, renamed the Howdale Home in 1907

For a wonderfully detailed history of the workhouse go to

Bird’s Mill (Heygates, since 1961) was built in 1851 with a view to making use of the railway, which had arrived in Downham four years earlier. The founder of the firm J M Bird at Station Mills was Jacob Mason Bird (1814-1894) who is shown living in Bridge Street in the 1861 census, aged 46, with his place of birth recorded as Fincham. In 1841 he was a miller at Hilborough watermill though he had left by 1850. His father, also Jacob, was born in 1789 in Thorpe and operated Fincham postmill over a period of many years, including the census years of 1841 and 1851. His mother, who married Jacob on 25 September 1811 in Stradsett, was Mary Harper.

Jacob Mason Bird married in 1838 and there were a number of children, including Frederick Augustus born in Hilborough in 1848 who went on to run the mill. Frederick was married rather late in life, in 1895, to Kate Pridgeon, born Wereham, some 24 years his junior, but there were several children including Algernon Frederick born in 1896, of whom more later. In 1901 the family were living in St Margaret’s Place, King’s Lynn.

There is a wealth of family history information in the town's cemetery (as in all cemeteries). Here are the memorials to Frederick Augustus Bird and his son Algernon

Entirely unconnected is that of John William Beck who met his end in the early stages of the Battle of Jutland on 31 May 1916 when the battlecruiser HMS Queen Mary was sunk after only two hits from the German battlecruiser Derfflinger. The British battlecruiser squadron was commanded by Admiral of the Fleet David Beatty who, after he lost two ships in the space of half an hour (HMS Indefatigable being the first), is famous for saying 'There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today'. There were only nine survivors from the Queen Mary (1266 officers and men perished) and two from HMS Indefatigable (1017 lost). A third battlecruiser under Beatty's command, HMS Invincible, was blown up two hours later with the loss of another 1026 lives following another magazine explosion; only six survived. She was sunk in 90 seconds by three salvoes from the Derfflinger and Lutzow. The British navy lost 6094 officers and men at Jutland; the German fleet 2551.

JM Bird & Sons became F&A Bird and they owned two mills, the one at Downham which they renamed Eagle Roller Mills, and the Boal Mill at King’s Lynn. Frederick’s partner was his younger brother Arthur Benjamin, born in Stoke Ferry in 1852. It was Arthur who took over Eagle House on Bridge Street after his father’s death – it is now the Conservative Club. Arthur married Kate Farrer Micklefield, daughter of Stoke Ferry solicitor Anthony Micklefield, in 1895.

Manager of the mill for a lengthy period up until WWI was Edward Harrison Shackle. He was a miller’s clerk in 1881 but had become manager of the works by 1891. Shortly after the 1901 census he moved from Lynton House near The Green to Laburnum House on the corner of Porter Street. His marriage to Jemima Goodchild from Ten Mile Bank on 26 Jul 1871 can be seen in the Hilgay parish records. It was her uncle John Goodchild at Ashville House in 1891.

If Algernon Bird has one particular claim to fame it is that he survived an encounter with Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron himself! The 21 year old 2nd Lieutenant had joined the Royal Flying Corps and, on 03 September 1917, was on early morning patrol in his Sopwith Pup B1795 behind enemy lines at around 14000 feet. He was set upon by the man himself and shot down, the 61st of the Baron’s 80 ‘kills’, but survived the machine gunning and crash landing with minor wounds..... and ended up being filmed, smiling, with relief no doubt, with Richthofen and Anthony Fokker, the German aircraft designer who happened to be visiting that section of the Western Front at the time.

Algy Bird survived the war as a prisoner and returned to England to run the family business; Richthofen met his end on 21 April 1918 over the Morlancourt Ridge, near Vaux sur Somme, probably as a result of groundfire though there is much debate. One German theory even suggests that he survived the crash but, on clambering out of his aircraft, was stabbed to death by ‘colonial troops’. The medical evidence, fortunately, does not support this view.

The rollers in the mill were driven by steam until 1943 but, when a new crankshaft was unobtainable from the German manufacturers, the decision was taken to change over to electricity. Algy Bird lived at The Beeches, London Road and died in August 1957. His brother Aubrey sold the mill to Heygates four years later.

Bird’s Mill looking east along Maidens’ Walk from St John’s Eau bridge. Holly House opposite the mill bears the date 1886. The semi-attached houses adjacent are dated 1878 and the initials thereon stand for Jacob Mason Bird.

The Town Hall is late Victorian and was erected as part of the jubilee celebrations of 1887. It is a building of white and moulded brick, relieved by brown carrstone panels in the Renaissance style, and designed by a firm of London architects for the Town Hall Co, who raised by public subscription the £1700 required to cover the cost of construction.

The former county court, later a magistrates court before its conversion to a private residence, is situated on London Road between the junctions of Howdale Road and Ryston End. It was erected in the 19th century and financed jointly by the parish and the Court Treasury.

The former courthouse (built 1849), left, with Salamanca House, centre, which was the residence of John Long, stone mason, and his family in 1891. His workshop was located at the southern end of High Street where the war memorial now stands. The building on the extreme right, now demolished, largely obscures the Live & Let Live. Ryston End branches to the left, London Road to the right.

The town clock, built by William Cunliffe of London, is of Gothic design where the main construction of the base and the column above is octagonal. This supports a rectangular clock chamber having four dials. The clock, at a cost of £450, was presented to the town by a local businessman James Scott in 1878 and stands at the junction of High Street and Bridge Street on the corner of the Market Place.

The town clock c1906, with pump in the background. Erected in 1878, it was presented to the town by James Scott, draper, clothier & grocer at a cost of £450. W Cunliffe of London is credited with its construction by a plate on the structure but others were involved, in particular Benson of London made the clock itself and Warner & Son supplied the bell. Installation was by Rhoda Trotter & Son, ironmongers of Bridge Street

The Market Place in the early years of the 19th century was smaller than at present and it is difficult to imagine the possibility that up to 1500 rioters might have assembled there in 1816. Clearance work enlarged it in the 1830s and further demolition, principally of Ellen Emery’s ‘latest fashions’ shop, made possible the construction of the Town Hall in 1887-88. Ms Emery was compensated and moved to new premises in Bridge Street. The family is commemorated in the naming of ‘Emery’s Passage’, also known as ‘Scott’s Terrace’, connecting Bridge Street to Priory Terrace adjacent to this new premises. The building was later taken over by Harry Reed when he moved up from Railway Road where he had founded his business in 1906 – in what became Stuart Rust’s hairdressers.

The Town Hall was made possible by the formation of a limited company and the donation by public subscription of the monies required. William Amherst MP laid the foundation stone on 20 October 1887 with a host of local dignitaries no doubt in attendance. Bennett Bros, local builders, were the main contractors. In the early years, the Town Hall was run through its board of directors but by World War II it was in public ownership. Various improvements have been made over time with the balcony being added in 1897, for example. In the period before the Town Hall was opened it appears that public performances often occurred in Playhouse Yard, behind the buildings on the east side of High Street, accessed through an archway opposite the clock. A more recent use of the building is as a turf accountant.

Sounding Alley, which connects Church Road to High Street is so called because it was once the site of the Thetford bell foundry. It was revived in 1750 by Thomas Osborn and continued casting until 1833. St Peter's Church at Wisbech is the only Church with a complete set of ten Osborn bells. They were cast in 1823 and are said to be the fourth oldest complete ring of ten to be cast by one foundry worldwide. Another view is that the name is due to the echoing cries of children at play and that the bells were made elsewhere.

It is said that Lord Nelson attended his first school in Downham Market but the sites of the school he attended vary between sources. The former electricity showrooms opposite the town hall in Bridge Street is favoured by some, the site of the old stables at Trafalgar House by others. Bank House in Bridge Street is another choice as well as Reed’s Homestore next door, formerly Harry Reed’s, known as Nelson House. One common thread has persisted is that Mr Noakes was the name of the schoolmaster. It is said that this gentleman lived at Bank House and had at one time taught at Nelson's birthplace. Mee states categorically that Horatio Nelson attended school in the Town before going on to Norwich, but nothing in Nelson wrote to confirm this has yet been uncovered.

George Manby says he remembers Lord Nelson from his schooldays in Downham Market, and that the young Nelson used to make paper boats and sail them down the gully that carried the waste water down the centre of the street from the town pump. It is likely that the source of the belief that Nelson went to school in Downham is the various letters that Manby wrote relating to a friendship with Nelson. Assured scepticism must be expressed over these claims given the seven year age difference between the boys and Manby’s apparently rather strange personality. The town pump now stands in the Howdale having been moved from the centre of the town near the clock in 1935 by J Long and Son, the stonemasons.

The town pump near the clock shortly before its removal to the Howdale. There were also communal pumps at the Green on Railway Road, in Lynn Road near the Cock, and on London Road close to where now stands the war memorial. Nearby was erected in 1936 the ‘Pagoda’, a block housing public conveniences, public telephone and drinking fountain; it was demolished in 1973.

Three brickfields have been identified around the town, one of which now forms the Willows nature reserve and is accessed along Brickyard Lane opposite the southern end of Bennett Street. To the immediate east are the former premises of Newell’s, butchers displaying a carved wooden sheep’s head above the doorway.

Maltings Lane, parallel to the railway housed the town’s former gasworks built in 1849. By 1890 there were seventy gas lamps around the town and a gas main laid to reach most premises. Coal gas production ceased in 1964.

Nowhere has the town changed more than at the bottom of Bexwell Road. High Street, the main north-south route through the town became impossibly inadequate for road traffic in the 1960s and drastic action was needed. And drastic it was! Church Road became the new main road and a huge number of the town’s old buildings were swept away to make room in 1965. This photograph is of the south east of Cannon Square, formerly, Hogg’s Hill, below the St Edmund’s church where the buildings were replaced with the high retaining wall seen today. On the opposite side of Bexwell Road, on the corner, stood the Chequers Inn, also demolished, as were the long line of cottages and other buildings stretching north for a hundred metres or so on the east side of Lynn Road.

Of these buildings only the large house on the extreme left remained after the town planners had had their way in 1965. Many older residents still remember Hunter’s shoe shop, Andrew’s garage and Marriott’s the harness makers. Some might also have patronised The Chequers.

The Towers. Destroyed by fire in 1965 and now replaced by a small residential development. As well as a private residence it was a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers during WWI and a home for mentally handicapped Catholic children around the years of WWII. Outbuildings remain in the form of St Dominic’s Church and the billiards room, formerly a doctors’ surgery, has been converted most imaginatively to a private residence.

The Hollies car park is so named after the house with its extensive gardens that formerly existed on the site. In earlier times the house was used as a school run by the Misses Green (after they moved from Athol House, High Street – Natwest Bank/ dental surgery) and, before that, another run by the Misses Mumford. Excavations for the foundations of the Gateway supermarket revealed evidence of the tannery which existed on the site in the first half of the 19th century.

Inevitable, though perhaps sadly, fine houses come and go in any town and Downham is no exception. In addition to The Towers there was also The Retreat and The Firs as well as The Hollies.

One former resident of The Retreat was Thomas Scott. A commemorative wall plaque in St Edmund's states the following:

Sacred to the memory of Thomas Scott Esq of The Retreat in this parish formerly of the City of London, Merchant, who died the 28th April 1821, aged 58 years. Possessed of an acute understanding and a retentive memory, the extensive intercourse he had held with the world in his own and in foreign countries had enabled him to acquire a stock of information and experience which joined to a kind and amiable disposition rendered his society desirable to all who had the advantage to enjoy it. He sustained a painful illness with patience and resignation. Departing this life in possession of the Christian's sure hope and regretting only that she who raises this humble tribute to conjugal affection could no longer partake of his care.

Also of Maria Anna Scott relict of the above named Thomas Scott, who died the 6th June 1842, at The Retreat aged 76 years.

Other buildings are converted, large houses being attractive for conversion to homes for the elderly such as Clackclose House, Lion House and Ashville House. The former Breckland House on Church Road was the town’s police station (from 1859) until the new building on London Road was constructed and before that it was Dr Christopher Hunter’s hospital. Drs Wales were first recorded in the town in 1792 and were continuously in practice until the retirement of Dr EG Wales in 1937. Their extensive house and gardens – in which magistrate John Dering was alleged to have hidden during the riots of May 1816 – has since been redeveloped as Wales Court. A wall plaque near the junction with High Street attests to the Wales’ long service to the good heath of the town.

One of the oldest residential buildings in the town is the Priory but surprisingly little is known of its history and its significance, if any, in the religious life of the town:

Downham Priory - north wall

Other buildings are converted, large houses being attractive for conversion to homes for the elderly such as Clackclose House, Lion House and Ashville House. The former Breckland House on Church Road was the town’s police station (from 1859) until the new building on London Road was constructed and before that it was Dr Christopher Thomas Agrippa Hunter’s hospital. Dr Hunter is first noted in the baptismal register following the birth of his son Christopher Brooke Hunter in 1829. He died in his mid sixties in 1855. The Drs Wales were first recorded in the town in 1792 and were continuously in practice until the retirement of Dr EG Wales in 1937. Their extensive house and gardens – in which magistrate John Dering was alleged to have hidden during the riots of May 1816 – have since been redeveloped as Wales Court. A wall plaque near the junction with High Street attests to the Wales’ long service to the good heath of the town and surrounding area.

While on matters medical, mention should be made of the pioneering work on the fresh air treatment of tuberculosis undertaken by Dewsbury born Jane Harriett Walker (1859-1938). Dr Walker qualified in 1884, being only the 45th woman to be entered on the General Medical Register. Walter Koch had discovered the highly infectious TB bacillus in 1882 but no cures were initially available. In July 1892 (or 1896 according to the National Archives) Dr Walker set up a sanatorium in Downham Market for the treatment of TB cases and, in 1898, adapted College Farm house in Denver with ten beds for the same purpose. The experiment was successful and led, in 1901, to the establishment of the East Anglian Sanatorium at Nayland, Suffolk. Treatment included sleeping in the open air. A member of the extended family joked that if TB did not finish off Dr Walker’s patients then pneumonia surely would!

Of the clergy who have served Downham over the years mention should be made of James Dashwood (born 1740), who died in Edmonton but was buried in Downham on 16 October 1815, aged 76, and his son George Henry Dashwood (born in Downham on 21 October 1800). George became curate at Stow Bardolph in 1840; being appointed to the living of the parish combined with Wimbotsham by Sir Thomas Hare in 1853. He was a renowned and respected fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and published numerous works, including many articles for the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society. Dashwood died at Quebec House, East Dereham, on 09 February 1869 while visiting Capt William Earle Gascoyne Lytton Bulwer (1829-1910). He was buried on 16 February, aged 68, next to his wife Marianne (née Turner, and the widow of Dr Henry Job of the 13th Light Dragoons), who had died in 1855, in Stow Bardolph church. Capt Bulwer, later General, of the Royal Welch Fusiliers served with distinction in the Crimea and was also present at Lucknow (see above). His father’s brothers were Lord Dalling and Bulwer, diplomat, and Baron Lytton, the novelist, who lives are recounted in considerable detail in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Near this place in hope of a joyful Resurrection lie the remains of the

Rt Hon Lady Martha Dashwood Wife of the Revd James Dashwood AM

& daughter of the Rt Hon Revd Charles Earl of Banbury of Burford

in Oxfordshire. She departed this life on ye 16th of Nov 1799, aged 63 years

Vivit post funera Virtus


of Mary Knollis eldest daughter of the

Hon Revd Fra Knollis & granddaughter

of the said Earl of Banbury, who died Aug 10th1804, aged 28 years. Also of Lady Mary Knollis eldest daughter of the said Earl of Banbury who died May 12th 1810, aged 81 years

Mary Knollis was witness to John Thurlow Dering’s first marriage to Rebecca Kirby in Downham on 24 November 1786. Her burial entry in the register reads ‘Mary Knollis, Daughter of the late (blank) Knollis commonly called Earl of Banbury’ which may have been an oblique reference to the disputed title of the said Earl.

The Earldom of Banbury was created in 1626, but doubts were cast from the outset on the paternity of the 1st Earl's sons, Edward and Nicholas, the 2nd and 3rd Earls. The octogenarian 1st Earl was the father or was it the much younger Lord Edward Vaux, born in 1588, in whose house at Harrowden Nicholas was born? Edward died in an argument in France in 1645 and was buried in Calais. Nicholas (1631-1674) sat in the Convention Parliament in 1660, but thereafter neither he nor his successors received writs to attend, despite a series of appeals. These culminated in a long and expensive case brought by the 8th Earl in 1806, at the end of which it was resolved in 1813 that he was not entitled to the earldom. The title was accordingly not used after this date. At the same time the family adopted the spelling Knollys in place of the earlier Knollis for their surname. An extract from the National Archives goes on to explain how the 6th Earl Lt Col William went mad and periodically escaped from his custody; a major concern was that he would marry a 'low woman' on one of these occasions. He died unmarried, aged 49 and was succeeded by his brother, Thomas Woods Knollis (1727-1793) in 1776. Both were sons of the Revd Charles Knollis (1703-1771), the 5th Earl (see memorial inscription above). Charles was buried at Burford, aged 67, his wife was Martha Hughes. There were disputes with his two younger brothers, Revd Francis Knollis and Major Samuel Knollis, arising from this and other matters, and also concerns about the unreasonable and extravagant behaviour of their sister, Lady Mary, who is also mentioned in the memorial.

There are two other Dashwood memorials in the church. One to Francis James, son of James & Sarah, who died, aged twelve, in 1813 and the other to Sarah herself, who died at Sevenoaks but was brought back to Downham for burial on 30 April:

To the memory of Sarah Dashwood,

daughter of the Revd David Lloyd LLD

second wife and relict of the Revd James Dashwood,

formerly Rector of Doddington in the Isle of Ely,

(second son of George Dashwood,

of Peyton Hall in Suffolk Esq)

This monument was erected by George Henry

her only surviving son.

After years of suffering borne with exemplary fortitude

she departed this life (in humble confidence

of a joyful resurrection) on Sunday the 27th of April 1839, in the 65th year of her age.

Vive Memor Lethi

The first known rector of St Edmund’s was William in 1202 but the record of appointees is substantially complete from 1304. In 1539 Ramsey Abbey was dissolved and since then the rectors of St Edmund’s are listed below. The extraordinary length of service of some of the incumbents suggests that there are some gaps in the records. The parish was transferred from Norwich diocese to Ely in 1914.

1540 Hugh Hall, appointed by Thomas Gawsell

1541 Baldwinus Dereham, presented by the Henry VIII; deposed by Queen Mary in the Catholic Revival

1554 Thomas Fretwell, presented by Robert Miller to whom King Henry VIII had granted the patronage in 1545

1558 Hugh Taylor, on Fretwell’s resignation, by Robert Miller, who died the same year

1558 John Butler BA, presented by Francis Gawdy of Wallington Hall, Sergeant-at-law. Robert Miller conveyed the patronage to John Walpole, and William Walpole, in 1563, conveyed it to Gawdy. Butler was buried 18th February 1640. In 1603 there were 200 communicants.

1640 John Gilbert MA, on Butler’s death, by John Dusgate, of Cockley Cley

1656 William Thetford, by Sir Ralph Hare

1688 John Butler MA, by Sir Thomas Hare

1733 Richard Eaton, by Sir Thomas Hare (Richard was buried in Downham on 29 September 1779)

1779 Henry Spelman, by Elizabeth Moore

1804 Gilbert Parker, by Thomas Berners Plestow and John Creasey

1810 John Richard Thackeray, by Marianne Franks. Thackeray was born in Hatfield in 1776 and married Marianne there on 13 December 1810. A daughter Georgiana was christened in Downham on 20 February 1814; a son Richard William followed in 1815

1847 Charles Boutell, by William Franks. William Franks was baptised in East Barnet in 1788

Charles Boutell (1812-77) was rector from 1847-1850. He was also a renowned writer on heraldry and antiquities. Boutell’s Heraldry, as it became popularly known, was first published in 1863 and appeared in many revisions right up to 1983. Boutell moved on to be vicar of Wiggenhall St Mary Magdalen until 1855 and also briefly assisted his ailing father, who died in 1855, in his living at Litcham. He became a founder member of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society in 1855 and its secretary two years later. He was forced to leave this position under a financial cloud; bankruptcy followed in 1858. It is interesting to note that his wife was an aunt of Lord Kitchener. Boutell and Mary Chevallier married in 1838. She was the daughter of the Revd Dr John Chevallier, of Aspall Hall in Suffolk, and his first wife Caroline Hepburn of Wisbech. By his three marriages he had eight daughters and seven sons. Mary’s stepsister, Frances Ann, daughter of John and his third wife Elizabeth nee Cole, married Henry Horatio Kitchener, father of Horatio Herbert, Lord Kitchener of Kkartoum and Aspall (1850-1916). Father retired from the army and bought land in Ireland. He was, according to the Dictionary of National Biography, ‘an unpopular, tenant-evicting, improving landowner, a domestic martinet and an eccentric who used newspapers rather than blankets in bed’. Son became one of the great Victorian imperial soldiers who died in 1916 when the cruiser HMS Hampshire struck a mine en route to Russia from Scapa Flow. It appears likely that Caroline Hepburn was the sister of the Elizabeth Hepburn who married Henry Saffery in Downham in 1802 (see above).

Alfred Leete’s famous poster of Lord Kitchener asking for volunteers. Conscription was introduced in 1916.

Seedsmen will recognise the name of Chevallier in connection with a fine malting barley that was developed by the Revd John that was popular in the second half of the 1800s, in particular.

1850 Edward Robert Franks, by William Franks (his father).

Rector Franks was born in London on 18 August 1823 and never married. He died in 1897 in Hatfield.

1882 Arthur Simon Latter, by the Revd E R Franks. Rector Latter was born in Stepney in 1823 and moved on to be the rector of Outwell

1890 Edward Douglas Lennox Harvey, by the Revd E R Franks, was born in 1859 in France.

1894 William Beaufroy Stillman, by the Revd E R Franks. Rector Stillman was born in Southam, Warwickshire in 1859.

1902 Thomas Jarvis-Edwards, by Florence Rachel Franks – niece of Revd E R Franks who died at Hatfield in 1908.

1908 Edward Pountney Gough MA, by the Revd Herbert Edward Jones

1914 John Wynard Capron, by the Revd Herbert Edward Jones

1917 Arnold Haskins Wells, by Mrs H E Jones. The avowdson then passed to the Bishop of Ely

1924 Wilfrid Bertram Salisbury Dorman

1958 Walter Leslie Jonathan Dunkin

1961 Raymond Sidney Richard Patston

1972 Brian Hamilton Cooper

1983 Peter Frank Keeling SSC

2001 James William Mather SSC

Not that religious observance has always been without controversy in the town.....

From The Times 29 August 1975

When, in 1976, the diocese of East Anglia, covering the counties of Suffolk, Norfolk, and Cambridgeshire, was carved out of that of Northampton, Alan Charles Clark (1919-2002) became its first bishop. The Dictionary of National Biography writes “It was not an easy time to be a Catholic bishop. The changes consequent on Vatican II were barely tolerated by many Catholics, and actively opposed by a vociferous minority. Because of his translation of Humanae vitae Clark was something of a hero to the latter, and he misguidedly became president of an association of ‘traditionalist’ priests, a post he rapidly resigned. He had an open confrontation with one such clergyman, in Downham Market, who continued to say mass in Latin, and, when sacked, for a time refused to move out of his presbytery. For some time afterwards, to the intense irritation of Clark, who had a short fuse, he continued to perform a traditional liturgy in various locations around Clark's diocese.”

Father Oswald Baker (1915-2004) was parish priest at St Dominic’s in Downham from 1949-1975. His obituary, published in The Daily Telegraph on 15 July 2004, is worth reproducing in full:

Father Oswald Baker, who has died aged 89, attracted national attention in 1975 when he insisted on using only the traditional Tridentine Latin Mass in his Roman Catholic parish of Downham Market, Norfolk, instead of the new liturgy imposed following the Second Vatican Council.

A significant number of priests was distinctly tepid about the pedestrian modern English substitute for the rite which had been introduced by Pope St Pius V in 1570; and some discreetly obtained permission to continue using the traditional Latin on the grounds that they were too old to change.

But the authorities in Northampton diocese felt that they had to act against Baker because he declined to offer the new Mass in a rural area where it was otherwise unavailable; they found themselves confronted by a steely rebel.

It quickly became clear that Baker enjoyed strong backing from the majority of his parishioners, who formed a "1570 Society" to support him. Catholics started coming from all over the country to hear his Sunday Masses; and lay people throughout the English-speaking world wrote in their hundreds to assure him of their wholehearted agreement with him.

At a time when toleration was supposed to be in vogue, the Catholic Church was particularly embarrassed to find itself looking both narrow and tyrannical.

As the situation developed Baker showed every sign of enjoying himself. He made barbed remarks about Masses which made use of pop music and "sensuous dancing girls". The Daily Telegraph, which often had a reporter in the congregation, recorded one sermon in which he pointedly referred to St John of the Cross, who was jailed by his superiors for his beliefs in the 16th century, then was released to become Vicar General of Andalusia.

To general laughter from his parishioners, Baker continued: "There is something about them, these priests who gain a misleading reputation for disobedience." He then added: "These bishops. They will have their little joke." Meanwhile, the new parish priest dispatched by Bishop Charles Grant was celebrating the new liturgy for a minority of Downham Market Catholics in the town hall.

After politely refusing twice to obey his bishop's orders to celebrate the new rite or to resign, Baker was formally suspended as parish priest of St Dominic's by a decree of removal. The couples he married from then on had to have a civil service before they came to his chapel, but there was no attempt to deprive him of his faculties to celebrate Mass.

Baker eventually gave up the church, too, though he was allowed to keep the presbytery; and benefactors bought, for £15,000, a house in the town to serve as his chapel. From there he continued his ministry, which intensified his fight against the Vatican II reforms.

Oswald Charles Baker was born on 01 May 1915 in the Angel Hotel at Clowne, Derbyshire, where his father was the landlord. The family moved to Great Yarmouth, where he attended the grammar school.

Young Oswald soon lost his provincial accent. He went to the Jesuits' Campion House in Middlesex before going to the prestigious French seminary to become "a gentleman of St Sulpice" but, in 1938, he was asked to leave after publishing an article suggesting that the Treaty of Versailles had been too severe on Germany to be the basis of a lasting peace. "I was always a rebel," he later recalled. On returning home Baker offered himself to the Jesuits, but this was in the days before the Society of Jesus looked kindly on rebels; and Baker was earning a living selling books in Glasgow when a Dominican he met suggested that he become a friar.

But that did not work out either, and he eventually met a secular priest at Hyde Park, who recommended he go to Oscott seminary at Birmingham. After being ordained priest in 1942, Baker served as a curate at Luton, High Wycombe and Wymondham, Norfolk, before going to Downham Market in 1949.

After the battle with his bishop, he initially rejoiced when Archbishop Lefebvre's Society of St Pius X sent young priests to England. Like Baker, these die-hards considered that in refusing the new Mass they were following in the footsteps of the Reformation martyrs who had refused to accept the introduction of Protestantism.

But when Lefebvre visited Baker, the latter thought that the nominal recognition granted the Frenchman by Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II was a sign of weakness. Firmly adhering to Cardinal St Robert Bellarmine's teaching that a heretical pope automatically loses his office, Baker found himself branded a "sedevacantist" (one who believes that the see of St Peter was vacant).

In 1984 he explained to an astonished reporter that the present Pope was "no more a Catholic than Ian Paisley - and no more a pope than Billy Graham". He added that "the new Mass is a sacrilegious parody of the true Mass: it is sinful to take part in it."

He maintained to the end that, despite what any bishop might say, he still occupied his office of parish priest.

As an assiduous reader of The Daily Telegraph, he would write letters to correct what he judged to be faulty grammar or faulty theology. He was convinced that the one led to the other. One letter, which attacked an article about the Pope and contraception, informed the editor that this had contained the paper's most erroneous statement since it had criticised Catholic objections to a visit to Britain by President Tito of Yugoslavia in 1953.

Gradually Baker's congregation dwindled to about 20, though it would swell when the film producer Mel Gibson, who bought a house nearby, appeared for Sunday Mass and stayed for coffee afterwards. Seven years ago, Baker vacated the presbytery; and though crippled by spinal trouble, he continued to stagger to the altar to mutter a rapid Mass.

A quiet, kindly man who had been a practitioner of martial arts in his younger days, on July 2 Father Oswald Baker declared: "I am ready to die" - which he then did.

Father Vendé, parish priest for Swaffham claims that he said ‘the first mass since the Reformation’ in Downham Market on 19 March 1915 but it was not until after 1937, when Miss Elsie Wall purchased The Towers, that St Dominic’s could be opened on the site of the former stables in 1941. Consecration, in the absence of a stone altar, was not, however, possible until 2006.

This part of West Norfolk has a strong Methodist tradition with several chapels still in existence, as private residences in some cases, while others have been demolished. The Baptist church is less well represented.

Methodism was founded by John Wesley (1703-1791). In 1807 the Methodist lay-preacher, Hugh Bourne, from Stoke-on-Trent, was expelled from the movement and, along with 200 followers, set up the Primitive Methodists. They differed from the Wesleyan Methodists in several regards including the encouragement of women evangelists. The Wesleyan Reformed branch of the Methodist movement was set up in 1849 and it became part of the United Methodists Free Churches. They joined with the Methodist New Connection to form the United Methodist Church in 1907. The United Methodists joined with the Wesleyans and Primitives in 1932 to form the present Methodist Church in Britain.

John Wesley passed through Fordham, Hilgay and Southery in October 1785 en route from King’s Lynn to London. He travelled overnight to make an appointment in London, an undertaking that was particularly hazardous given the state of the roads and bridges at the time and the lack of moonlight on that particular night.

Thus, Methodist chapels built in the 19th century were either Primitive or Wesleyan. Hilgay, Southery and Ten Mile Bank had one of each and there were further Primitive chapels at Feltwell Anchor, West Dereham, Salter’s Lode and at Suspension Bridge in the parish of Welney. Denver had a small Wesleyan chapel.

Nonconformists have for long been strong in Downham. There have been Wesleyan, Baptist, Strict Baptist and Primitive Methodist Chapels. Mount Tabor Free Methodist chapel, Bridge Street, erected in 1859 by William Bennett snr, was capable of seating about 260 persons. The Wesleyan chapel, in Lynn Road, was thoroughly repaired and two vestries built in 1864, and in 1876 a new organ loft was added: it had 450 sittings; the school-room was rebuilt in 1895. The Strict Baptist Zion chapel, in Priory Road, formerly Parson's Lane, having been founded in 1849 was rebuilt by Robert Gage in 1874 to seat 170 persons. Now in private commercial use it has formerly been used as a school and by the Salvation Army prior to their move to the Old Library on Bridge Street. The Masonic Hall, on Ryston End behind Salamanca House, was formerly a Baptist chapel, though quite when this was built is unclear since the site appears to be occupied by a corn mill in 1841 (see below).

Primitive Methodist chapel built in 1871, to replace an earlier chapel on Church Road, and minister’s house (left) added in 1874. Seating was for 400. The buildings were demolished and replaced by an arcade of shops following the opening of the new Methodist Church. The building to the right of the chapel is the post sorting office, opened with a full range of postal services in 1935 following the demolition of the former post office premises in High Street to make way for the Regent cinema (which closed in 1967 with a final showing of The Sound of Music).

The war memorial, shown here, has since been relocated slightly to the north. For further information please see

The various branches of Methodism were destined to merge and the new Methodist Church was opened on Paradise Road in 1966. This lead to the closure of Mount Tabor and the Wesleyan chapel on Cannon Square (pictured below) while the Primitive chapel (above) was demolished, in July 1966.

Wesleyan Methodist chapel, Cannon Square - looking north, with Bexwell Road on the right

Bridge Street looking east towards the centre of town. Mount Tabor chapel with its splendid facade, now a furniture store, is on the right beyond the former public library which is now the headquarters of the Salvation Army. Behind this carstone building, which was formerly the Quaker meeting house, can be found the Quaker burial ground where headstones can be found to commemorate the Doyle family of Crimplesham Hall. For a superb look at Bridge Street in the 1841 census please look at Elizabeth Howard's detailed work at

Further links with Crimplesham are found in the biography of William Tiffin (1695-1754), phonetician and stenographer, who was born in the village, son of Roger Tiffin, and educated initially at Mr Robinson’s school in Downham before continuing his studies in Norwich and moving on to Gonville & Caius. He was ordained in 1718 and was, for a while, curate in Wereham and Wretton before moving to Leicester. In 1751 he published a book on the Art of Swift Writing which, although not successful, was regarded as a forerunner of the work of Sir Isaac Pitman in the 1830s.

Other passing connections with Downham include the novelist Amelia Edith Barr née Huddleston (1831-1919) who taught briefly in Downham at the age of sixteen. She married in 1850 and emigrated to the United States in 1853. She found a successful formula and wrote over sixty books, mostly historical romances. Remember the Alamo (1888) gave rise to the 1960 John Wayne film. She is buried in New York.

Another novelist who spent a little time in Downham Market in the 1850s was Ada Cambridge (1844-1926). She was born at Thorpland near Runcton Holme, where her father Henry farmed (174 acres in 1851) but he fell upon hard times and became a commercial traveller in Great Yarmouth before moving to Ely. There, in 1870, Ada married the Revd George Frederick Cross, the son of an Ely grocer, and the couple then left to minister in Australia for the next forty years while Ada wrote some eighteen books and several volumes of verse.

In 1871, Ada’s cousin Walter was attending James Watson’s private school in High Street, Downham Market, along with Clement King Shorter (1857-1926) who later became a celebrated journalist and magazine editor who also founded various publications including The Tatler in 1901. Clement’s father Richard was a liveryman on the London-Cambridge route whose career was ruined by the arrival of the Great Eastern Railway.

Lord Henry William Cavendish-Bentinck (1774-1839), army officer, diplomat and Governor-General of India (1828-1835), spent much of the period 1816-1828 at his estate at Downham Market spending time facilitating drainage work in the Fens. Where was this? He was MP for King’s Lynn in 1826-27.

Travellers leaving Downham towards the east along Bexwell Road would, up until 1881, have encountered a four-sail postmill on the north side opposite Stonecross Road. It is shown on both Faden’s and Bryant’s maps. From details available in a notice of sale (to be held at the Castle) in 1833, when it was described as ‘very lofty and stands well in all winds’, it appears that the mill standing in 1797 had recently been rebuilt. The Lynn Advertiser in 1866 carried an advertisement saying the mill was to let, having a ‘good country trade, doing 14-20 sacks per week’. Bryant’s map shows a second mill on Broomhill opposite the entrance to Mill Lane, which is also shown by Faden, but the excellent Norfolkmills website has details of no less than six flour mills in Downham over time. In addition to the two mentioned here and Bird’s mill there were also mills at the top of the Howdale and on Denver Road. The Denver Road postmill blew down in a gale in early 1809 when both millers, John and James Poll, escaped injury despite both being inside at the time. It was then rebuilt and the 1841 census shows it situated next to Salamanca Place. James Poll was buried on 21 May 1837, aged 51, while John was interred on 25 March 1838, aged 71. The age difference suggests they were father and son, rather than the brothers as has been supposed, and their respective wills clarify the relationship, together with that to Susan who took over the running of the mill for a brief period. I note that James Poll married Clarissa Dearsley (baptised in Hilgay on 31 March 1796 – daughter of George Dearsley and Jane Robson who were married in Hilgay on 31 August 1791) on 27 March 1817 in Downham and that, in the 1851 census, Clarissa is the widowed mother of James Poll, aged 31, a master baker in Hilgay High Street. Clarissa and James’ other children were Harriet Susan and John, whose entries in the Downham baptismal registers confirm that their father was a miller. Clarissa and her children were still in Denver Road in 1841; James and John being millers, and Harriet a dressmaker. James was listed as a miller and baker in Ely Road, Hilgay in 1871 – the mill being next to Lime Tree House; Clarissa was still living with them, dying the following year. The mill in Denver Road was demolished not long after 1841 and replaced by a Baptist chapel, later the Masonic Hall.

The April 2013 Newsletter from the excellent Downham Market and District Heritage Society has more to say on this subject......

''The ‘Norfolk Windmills’ website has been regularly used in the past for information on those situated in Downham Market, but it seems that it could be challenged over the existence of a nineteenth century mill in Denver Road (now London Road). The Norfolk Chronicle reported in December 1808 that a Post Mill in Downham Market, operated by John Poll and his brother, had been blown down in a gale, leaving them and their ‘aged mother’ without financial support. However, the news stories about this event do not say exactly where this mill was situated.

The 1822 local directory, the next to be published after the accident, shows that the Poll brothers were back in business, and subsequent directories give their address as ‘Denver road’, and it would seem that the compilers of the ‘Norfolk Windmills’ website may have assumed that the original mill was rebuilt, and that both mills stood in Denver Road.

This does not follow; for example, Edmund Andrews who operated the Howdale Mill for thirty years did not live in the Mill, but lodged either in Priory Road or in Bexwell road. It is true that the members of the Poll family lived in Denver Road until 1841 or later, but this does not mean their Mill was located there.

What seems to clinch this argument is that, when John Poll made his will in 1824, he left to his half brother James, his piece of land in Downham Market “In a certain place there called ‘The Howdale’, together with the Windmill, Stables, Sheds and outhouses thereon, subject to the payment of the mortgage debt thereon.” As James predeceased his older brother, this legacy passed instead to James’ widow, Clarissa Poll, who in the 1840/41 Tithe Settlement is listed as the owner/occupier of the Howdale Mill, but who lived with her daughter and two sons, both millers, in Denver Road.

It may be that the Poll’s earlier mill stood in Denver Road, but that it was never rebuilt after 1808, and the site was used for the Baptist Chapel, now the Masonic Hall.''

School Boards came into existence following the Education Act of 1870, drafted by Gladstone’s minister with responsibility for education, William Forster. The Boards made possible the establishment of schools, principally catering for the 5-10 age range, in areas where no church schools currently existed. They lasted until the Education Act of 1902. Church schools set up by the National Society already existed in the area and a school in Fordham had been established by the Pratt family. The National Society was Anglican but Nonconformists also established schools at home and abroad through the British and Foreign School Society.

In Downham Market there have been many private schools over the years – a number as high as eight in 1854 - some of which are mentioned elsewhere but the first major move towards education for the children of ordinary folk came with the establishment of the National School near the bottom of Howdale Road in 1841. Later it became St Edmund’s Church hall and then the Montessori School before the latter’s move to larger premises in Stow Bardolph in the 1990s. Attendance appears to have fluctuated in the region of 140-180 with more boys in attendance than girls. No such firm details exist for the site of a nonconformist British School although there is an entry in White’s 1864 directory recording one in Bridge Street for 120 pupils.

The creation of local School Boards after 1870 led to the building of the Board School in Paradise Road, more recently known as Nelson First School after primary age children were moved into new purpose-built accommodation at Clackclose School. Capacity was established at 280 children and 200 infants, an amazing number considering the size of the site, and attendance in 1892 was 96 boys, 85 girls and 153 infants. Around fifty more children were on roll four years later bringing the total to some 380. Buildings at one time extended to the other side of Paradise Road where the health centre now stands.

Downham Market Grammar School was built in 1931 with LA Lamport-Smith as the first headmaster. In 1946 there was a sixth form of a dozen or so pupils, rather fewer than the present number which exceeds 250. The school, originally designed to accommodate 150 pupils, was built in the grounds of The White House which fronts on to Ryston End. This house has had many notable residents, not least the Quaker and philanthropist Zacchary Clarke who died in 1815. Around 1810 he founded a charity school at Dial House using the monitorial system pioneered by Joseph Lancaster. The teacher would instruct a few chosen monitors who would then be assigned to pass on their knowledge to smaller groups of pupils. The school survived the death of Clarke and was still in existence in the 1820s with around 65 boys attending. The Misses Doyle, Quakers from Crimplesham Hall, gained employment there.

The purpose behind the small chapel-like structure in the grounds of The White House close to the road in Ryston End has been a matter of some debate over the years. An ice house or resting place for pilgrims on their way to Walsingham are two views expressed but a place for Mr Clarke’s private meditations also bears consideration. The house was used as living accommodation for the Headmaster of the grammar school and, in later years, for the teaching and recreation of sixth form students. It became surplus to requirements in the 1990s and was sold back into the private sector for housing.

Apart from the efforts of Clarke and the up-to-three Misses Mumford at Dial House then, later, The Hollies where they were followed by the Misses Green, other notable contributions to private education in the town came from James Watson and Mrs Mary Markham. James Watson’s school was last sited at Holmeleigh, 37-39 London Road, up to 1912 and Mrs Markham’s school was at Hill House on Bridge Street next to, and at one time including part of, the Crown. The latter was in existence from about 1883 to 1928.

The post 1945 expansion of education in Downham has been dramatic. The separate boys’ and girls’ secondary modern schools (you were only allowed to mix with the opposite sex if you passed the 11+) were opened in the late ‘50s on Bexwell Road and in 1980 they were successfully merged together with the grammar school under the admirable stewardship of headmaster John Ingram (1935-2009) to create Downham Market High School. DMHS today serves a catchment area in excess of 100 square miles and its total number on roll reached almost 1800 in 2007-08 making it the largest school in the county.

Clackclose School was opened in the 1970s and Hillcrest School shortly afterwards in 1980.

A mile or so further east from the Bexwell Road postmill, in the small hamlet of Bexwell, stands St Mary’s Church.

St Mary’s Bexwell. Further information can be found at

The round tower of St Mary’s and other features suggest that its origins go back to Saxon times in the 10th century. The original tower would have been topped with a conical thatched roof and the outline of the steeper pitch required for the thatching over the nave is still visible on the east side of the tower. The octagonal top is Perpendicular and was added later. The list of rectors goes back to 1290 and the registers commence in 1558. The Batchcroft family have long-standing connections with Bexwell as well as Downham and Denver.

The will of William Bachecroft, who was lord of the manor in the early 16th century, provided 13/4d for the repair of the tower in 1517.

The early history of the parish is very much tied up with the Bexwell family, as Blomefield's pedigree demonstrates:

Henry Bexwell (1581-1654) is commemorated in the church as is his daughter Susan (1645-6) and cousin Gregory (1577-1644)

The rectors of Bexwell from 1791 have been Robert Sole; 1814 Francis Daubeny; 1823 Henry Fardell (son in law of Bishop Bowyer Edward Sparke of Ely and married to his daughter Eliza); 1823 Francis Hungerford Daubeny; 1829 John Henry Sparke (son of Bishop Sparke, and brother to Edward Bowyer Sparke, long time Rector of Feltwell. He was baptised in Blandford Forum in 1794 and later became Rector of Gunthorpe and Canon of Ely Cathedral); 1831 Edward John Howman; 1874 James Henchman Clubbe; 1890 Robert Rogers; 1911 Charles Wilton Prangley. Since 1928 Bexwell has been united with Downham.

In the years before 1791, several notables have been involved with Bexwell. Hugh of Balsham (d1286) was elected Bishop of Ely in 1256 amidst much controversy, probably inspired by his lowly roots. He acquired the Bexwell advowson, along with those of Conington and Cherry Hinton in Cambridgeshire, plus the manor of Tydd St Giles, to help fund his good works in the diocese. There is a full account of his life in the Dictionary of National Biography. Sir Robert Wright (c1634-1689) was a high-profile judge of his time and son of Jermyn Wright of Wangford in Suffolk who married Anne Batchcroft (born c1608). There are question marks against his competence and he died of fever in Newgate prison. His son, Robert, emigrated and became Chief Justice of South Carolina and his grandson Sir James Wright (1716-1785), was Governor of Georgia. Again, for a fuller account see the ODNB.

Robert Cannon (1663-1772) was rector of Bexwell in 1707-08. He married, in 1709, Elizabeth Moore, daughter of John Moore, Bishop of Ely, becoming later dean of Lincoln and was buried in the south aisle of Westminster Abbey. Missing from the above post-1791 list is George Musgrave Musgrave who was rector of Bexwell 1835-1838 from where he went to be vicar of Borden in Kent. He was extensively travelled and widely read (see ODNB for more). Thomas Pyle (1674-1756) was rector of Bexwell in 1708-09, Outwell 1709-18 and Watlington 1710-26. He is described in the ODNB as Church of England clergyman and religious controversialist. He exchanged his livings for the vicarage of St Margaret's in King's Lynn in 1732 which he retained until his 1755, the year of his death, in Swaffham. He was buried in All Saint's, King's Lynn.

The splendid former Rectory at Bexwell is Victorian (photo by Evelyn Simak)

In the middle years of the 19th century the principle owners of the 1104 acres of land in the parish were Sir Thomas Hare, E R Pratt, and Mrs Doyle of Crimplesham. In 1845, William White’s Directory states that there were 70 inhabitants living in three houses and six cottages – large families being typical of the times. In 1854, 15 houses and 87 souls were said to make up the community. The rector was the Revd Edward John Howman, already mentioned, who had 40 acres of glebe. His ‘pleasantly situated residence’ had been enlarged in the early years of the century and again in 1842.

The population of the parish in 1881 was 79. Although comparatively small, the parish was three miles long with two of the farm houses and several cottages lying some 2.5 miles south east of the church. Not surprising then that their local school was Denver, rather than Downham. There were six acres of land that was let out to raise £10 per year to enable coals to be distributed amongst the poor at Christmas. The occupant of Bexwell Hall at that time and farmer of Hall Farm was William Sexton Proctor (1825-1913) whose parents are interred at Hilgay, just west of the church tower. The parish clerk and sexton was Jacob Newell, born in Downham in 1820 and son of Edmund Newell, also born in Downham in 1794. The population had fallen to 61 by 1901.

RAF Downham Market, actually in the parish of Bexwell, was an operational bomber base from April 1942 to1945. During that time some 800 aircrew flying out of the base lost their lives, many more were injured and/or became prisoners of war. During this time 160 aircraft were lost; in 1942, the worst year for losses, around one in fourteen sorties failed to return.

Bexwell Hall was requisitioned as the officers’ mess. Scattered around the airfield was less fine accommodation for around 2000 personal, 350 or so being female. Life in the Nissen huts was harsh, especially by more modern standards. They were difficult to keep cool in the summer and desperately cold and damp in the winter. Latrine blocks and muddy paths, particularly in the early days, added to the pleasures of service life yet men, often in their early twenties, took off daily to risk their lives in the most demanding of circumstances. Other buildings were of precast concrete and more substantial. Some of these, as were some of the Nissen huts with windows added, were taken over for domestic use to help relieve the post-war housing shortage, forming what was known as the Stone Cross estate. Construction was similar to what became known as Horsa huts when the school leaving age was raised to fifteen from 01 April 1947 bringing with it demands for expanded school accommodation (‘Hutting Operation for Raising of the School-leaving Age’). The school leaving age was further raised to 16 in 1973. Some of these concrete buildings are still in use – by RGD Engineering, for example, alongside the A10 at Stonecross and by Bexwell Kitchens opposite Bexwell Lane.

The map below from John Hilling’s excellent book shows the layout of the base in 1944 and many of the buildings and other features can still be identified. The new route of the A10, built in the early 1980s, runs through the western part of the former airfield and many of the buildings were to the south of the A1122 Downham-Fincham road. The same book has an aerial photograph from 1946 for additional comparison. The main east-west runway was 1900 yards long by some 50 yards wide and ran parallel to the main Fincham road; the other two runways were 1400 yards in length. That’s a lot of concrete, the aggregate coming from pits at Tottenhill. The western end of the main runway was less than half a mile from Downham itself so there was an obvious danger from aircraft crashing onto the town or from enemy bombing raids that, thankfully, in the event, were avoided. Some enemy bombing did take place, such as on the night of 02 June 1942, but open fields around West Dereham and Crimplesham were the main beneficiaries. One bomb on that occasion did land in the village of Crimplesham itself but failed to explode. RAF Marham had been re-opened in 1937 but, with grass runways, was unsuitable when the Short Stirling, the RAF’s first four-engined heavy bomber, was introduced. Thirteen Stirlings of 218 Squadron flew into Downham from Marham on 07 July 1942 and began operations a few days later. The Stirling has a relatively short front-line life before it was relegated to secondary duties, such as mine-laying, by the superior Lancaster, the Mark III, introduced in 1943, having a top speed of 270mph. The Avro Lancaster could carry a greater bomb load, was 40mph faster and could operate to a service ceiling some 4000 feet higher. The Short Brothers’ Stirling - 2383 were built; active service ended in 1946. The Lancaster, on the other hand, first saw operational service in 1942 and over 7300 were built with active service lasting until 1963. Readers are more familiar with the Lancaster as it forms part of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.

RAF Downham Market 1944 (courtesy John B Hilling in ‘Strike Hard. A Bomber Airfield at War’ – see References)

More information can be found at

Two airmen flying from RAF Downham Market were awarded the Victoria Cross, both posthumously. Arthur Louis Aaron was born in Leeds on 05 March 1922; he died of wounds, sustained in a raid over Turin, in hospital in Bone, Algeria, on 13 August 1943. F/Sgt Aaron was pilot of one of 13 Stirlings of 218 Squadron that took off from Downham the previous day. As they approached the target at 9000 feet the aircraft was raked with machine-gun fire, killing the navigator and wounding several of the crew, including Aaron, who sustained horrific injuries. They were unable to jettison the 4000lb bomb they were carrying and, given the severe damage sustained by the aircraft, were left with no alternative but to fly south rather than attempt to gain sufficient altitude to re-cross the Alps. They arrived in Algeria five hours after leaving the target. Three times Aaron attempted to land the plane without success so Allen Larden, the bomb-aimer, took over and managed a wheels-up landing with the bomb still on board. It was later established that the damage inflicted on Aaron’s aircraft came from another Stirling, though not one from the same squadron. Arthur Aaron was just twenty one when he died.

Ian Willoughby Bazalgette was born to British parents in Calgary, Alberta. His family moved to Ontario in 1923 and then to England where he completed his education. In 1940 he received a commission in the Royal Artillery before transferring to the RAF Volunteer Reserve. He completed a tour of 30 operations with 115 Squadron before transferring to the elite Pathfinder 635 Squadron.

"On 4th August 1944, Squadron-Leader Bazalgette was master bomber of a Pathfinder squadron detailed to mark an important target at Trossy St Maximin for the main bomber force.

When nearing the target his Lancaster came under heavy anti-aircraft fire. Both starboard engines were put out of action and serious fires broke out in the fuselage and the starboard main-plane. The bomb-aimer was badly wounded.

As the deputy master bomber had already been shot down, the success of the attack depended on Squadron Leader Bazalgette and this he knew. Despite the appalling conditions in his burning aircraft, he pressed on gallantly to the target, marking and bombing it accurately. That the attack was successful was due to his magnificent effort.

After the bombs had been dropped the Lancaster dived, practically out of control. By expert airmanship and great exertion Squadron-Leader Bazalgette regained control. But the port inner engine then failed and the whole of the starboard main-plane became a mass of flames.

Squadron-Leader Bazalgette fought bravely to bring his aircraft and crew to safety. The mid-upper gunner was overcome by fumes. Squadron-Leader Bazalgette then ordered those of his crew who were able to leave by parachute to do so. He remained at the controls and attempted the almost hopeless task of landing the crippled and blazing aircraft in a last effort to save the wounded bomb aimer and helpless air gunner. With superb skill, and taking great care to avoid a small French village nearby, he brought the aircraft down safely. Unfortunately it then exploded and this gallant officer and his two comrades perished.

His heroic sacrifice marked the climax of a long career of operations against the enemy. He always chose the more dangerous and exacting roles. His courage and devotion to duty were beyond praise."

Ian Willoughby Bazalgette VC DFC (1918-1944)

Bazalgette’s crew photographed sometime in the summer of 1944(l-r) Ian Bazalgette, Geoff Goddard (navigator, survived), Ivan Hibbert (bomb-aimer, died), Charles ‘Chuck’ Godfrey (wireless operator, survived), Bob Hurnall (not on the 4th August flight), Douglas Cameron (rear gunner, survived), George Turner (flight engineer, survived). Flight Sergeant VVR Leeder, from Victoria, Australia, was the mid-upper gunner (not pictured) and third crew member to die in the crash. The four crew who successfully parachuted from the Lancaster were hidden by the Resistance until the liberating forces arrived later in the month. Godfrey and Turner were able to attend the dedication of a Lancaster in Ian Bazalgette’s name at Nanton, south of Calgary, in 1990, along with his sister Mrs Ethel Broderick.

Ian Bazalgette is commemorated in Calgary where a junior high school is named after him. In 1949, Mount Bazalgette (2438m – 8000 feet) in Alberta’s Jasper National Park was named in his honour. He is buried in Senantes churchyard, Oise, about 12 miles WNW of Beauvais. His Victoria Cross is to be found on display at the RAF Hendon Museum and he is commemorated on the RAF memorial at Bexwell. It is interesting to note that Deryck Bazalgette, Ian’s brother, was a conscientious objector and spent some time in prison before contributing to the war effort as a market gardener in Wales at which time he was married to the novelist Margaret Bonham (1913-1991). A cousin, Rear Admiral Derek Willoughby Bazalgette, whose extensive obituary appeared in the Times on 06 September 2007, first saw active service in 1941 as a midshipman, aged 17, on the cruiser Kent taking part in the convoys to Murmansk.

‘Beyond Praise’ by Len Krenzler. Artist’s impression of Squadron Leader Bazalgette’s Lancaster over Senantes on 04 August 1944

There are two additional reasons to include extended mention of Ian Bazalgette’s gallantry back in 1944. Firstly, he was the great grandson of Sir Joseph Bazalgette, one of the great engineering heroes of Victorian England. And, secondly, his cousin John Louis Bazalgette struggled, with almost equal valour, to teach the author economics in the 1960s. The available descriptions of Ian Bazalgette’s character point to a personality and leadership qualities that were exceptional.

Sir Joseph William Bazalgette (1819-1891). His main achievement was the creation of a network of 83 miles of sewers under central London which helped to bring to an end London’s increasingly frequent cholera epidemics (such as the one in 1853-54 that killed over 10,000 Londoners) and began the cleansing of the city that reached a nadir with the ‘Great Stink’ of 1858. So dreadful was the smell that Parliament had to be closed for a day. The Victoria (north bank) and Albert (south bank) Embankments were his creations. There is a bronze bust to his memory on the former, at the southern end of Northumberland Avenue.

One cannot pass up the opportunity to mention another relative, Peter Bazalgette (born 1954), television producer of reality TV and Big Brother fame. Nor can one resist quoting Stephen Fry who remarked that Joseph Bazalgette cleared sewage from the streets of London while his great great grandson was doing his best to pump it back into people’s living rooms.

Two other buildings in Bexwell are of interest. Pevsner believes the impressive barn standing by the main road is a former gatehouse to Bexwell Hall and dates from the 1400s.

Measuring 75x30 feet externally and built in the later 1400s, it is believed that Bexwell gatehouse formed the entrance to a former Bexwell hall, long since demolished. The southern end has been rebuilt but the northern end (on the right) shows many original features. Was it not a hall in its own right? The hall would have been a grand affair if this is merely the gatehouse yet Pevsner and Blomefield have no further information to offer.

Bexwell tower, demolished in March 2009, stood 270 feet high and was part of the early warning defence system developed during the Cold War. Such towers formed a chain across the country (North Pickenham and Crowland were either side of Bexwell) and linked in with Fylingdales in North Yorkshire. The structure, erected around 1950, was built to a very high specification to resist blast damage, as the demolition team discovered, and the compounds were heavily guarded during times of maximum east-west tension. The system became redundant in the 1980s and this tower, along with others in the chain, was used for microwave communications.

The Pubs and Beerhouses of Downham Market

A separate section is called for to cover the forty or so pubs and o breweries known to have existed in the town. For more information please see the excellent

The Maltings

An aerial photo looking north east with Bridge Street in the bottom right. Demolition of the maltings – the long building centre left – which were last used in the mid 1950s made way for a supermarket. G W Phillips bought the Paradise Road Brewery in 1894 and Percy Herbert Phillips traded as Phillips & Co for many years. The St Edmund’s brewery was subsequently occupied by Sherwood’s motorcycle showroom and workshop, now a health & beauty studio. Also on Paradise Road, higher up on the north side, was Lovell’s Garage and now the Town Council offices. The car park was formerly the site of the cinema in the times of silent films.

Downham Garden Centre and Dial House were formerly the business and residential premises of Thomas Hooton Wenn, maltster. Although Wenn was born in King’s Lynn in 1843, his parents Thomas and Elizabeth (née Hooton) had settled in Bridge Road in Downham before the 1851 census when his father was described as a merchant – a corn merchant, presumably, since Thomas junior entered the same business before adding malting to his commercial interests. Elizabeth was born in Stow Bardolph around 1819. Thomas senior was described as a waterman when he married Elizabeth in St Edmund’s on 08 November 1837; Elizabeth’s father is given as James Hooton, farmer, but no father’s name is entered in the register for Thomas.

Next to the garden centre is the stone mason’s premises of William Emmerson which dates back to before the 1881 census. William was born in Toftrees in 1850, left the family home where his father Henry was an agricultural worker in Raynham Road, later a farm steward, and married Sarah Morley in St Edmund’s on 25 April 1870. Henry, born in Toftrees in 1814, lived all his life in the village.

A third, recently demolished, maltings was to be found in Maltings Lane running parallel to the railway on the south side of Railway Road and was also once owned by T H Wenn.

The Bell Inn on Lynn Road, looking north. The Bell Inn is on the right with gable end facing the road by Sandfield House. The terrace on the left remains in place just north of Hawkins’ offices

The Nelson, Lynn Road. A former landlord of the Bell in the 1850s was Samuel Nelson so perhaps that led to an alternative name for this particular beerhouse. Samuel had married Lucy Glasscock in Denver in 1816 and was formerly a gardener. The Glasscocks have a long history in Downham: Lucy’s grandfather Edmund Glasscock married Mary Kidd in Downham in 1741. A Thomas Glasscock, possibly Edmund’s father, was buried in Downham on 12 Jul 1746. Lucy’s brother Samuel was buried in Downham on 17 January 1885, aged 97. Her uncle, George, lived to 89, being buried in Downham in 1851.

The Black Swan was probably a separate hostelry from the Swan and close to, or even predating on the same site, the Crown

The Black Bull (see the Queen’s Head)

The Bridge House Inn was located at the eastern end of the bridge over the River Ouse and closed in 1967. The landlord in 1881 and 1891 was William Kenney who was previously running the nearby Spade & Becket in 1871. He was the stepson of a previous landlord, Henry Barton (see the Great Eastern below). William was buried in Downham on 23 March 1896, aged 63.

The British Rifleman, closed in 1962 and is now Chimes, the jewellers

The Bull Inn was also formerly known as the Red Bull and probably closed around the time of World War I. It was already in existence by 1781 when a sale notice appeared in the Norfolk Chronicle. It was located on the east side of High Street next to the Rampant Horse. This area of High Street south of the Clock was for a time in the 19th century known as Regent Street.

The Castle in a photograph dated 1909. It appears mainly 18th century but incorporates older buildings. Town legend recalls how Martin King of stature less than four feet tall and employed as a bootboy at the Castle drank himself to death in 1807.

The Castle Tap (centre) was downhill from the Castle. On the far left is the old silent cinema, built in 1913 and later occupied by Lovell’s garage after closure in1934. The site was redeveloped after 1983 to accommodate the town council offices

The Chequers Inn was closed in the 1960s as part of the redevelopment of the road system to bypass High Street. This photograph faces north along Lynn Road with Bexwell Road on the right.

The Chequers at the junction of Lynn Road and Bexwell Road

The Cherry Tree at 44 Bridge Street was just east of AT Johnson’s premises.

The Cock, at 43 Lynn Road, appears to have had two longstanding landlords in the 19th century who also dealt in marine supplies: John Stevens (1836-1858), who was also farming seventeen acres according to the 1851 census, and William Carter (1858-1900). John Stevens, born in 1798, was part of a well-established Downham family – his grandparents, Francis Stevens and Martha Smith, were married in Downham on 04 Jan 1745

The Coffee Pot, on High Street just north of the Swan, was closed in 1983 when Jack and Phyllis Woodard were in residence. Coffee Pot Mews now recalls its existence.

The Country & Provident possibly stood on the east side of High Street (north of the Clock) close to the Natwest Bank and appears only to have existed in the mid 19th century. Presumably it occupied one of the buildings that still exist

The Court Hotel on Denver Road was probably close to the Live & Let Live but records exist only from the mid 19th century

The Crow. Tradition has it that Crow Hall was once a coaching inn called the Three Crows

The Crown is on the right of this photograph taken c1911. An earlier building was incorporated when substantial alterations were made in the 1600s. A mounting block is still to be seen in the cobbled entrance arch. The Crown featured in the Riots of May 1816.

The Fox & Geese was in premises currently occupied by Palmer’s restaurant on the north side of High Street.

The Fox & Hounds was located on Railway Road diagonally opposite the Queen’s Head. It was a general grocery store in recent years before demolition came as part of the Wade-Wright Court development that replaced the engineering works that once stood on the site. Was this a separate pub from the Huntsman? Wade-Wright were ice cream makers on the site before the engineering works – they also had a retail outlet next to the arch through to Playhouse Yard.

The Huntsman & Hounds, also referred to as the Hare & Hounds and The Huntsman, was located on Railway Road.

The Great Eastern stood at 62 Railway Road next to Knight’s bakery and was closed in 1962. The census does not indicate the precise location but the landlord in 1891 and 1901 was George Dungay, formerly at the Cricketer’s Arms, in Denver. His wife Louisa, née Welch, took over after George died in 1912. Subsequent licensees included William Walter Jefferson from1919, who had married the Dungay’s daughter Effie in 1902, and Effie herself who took the licence in 1928. An Arthur Dungay became the licensee in 1934, presumably Effie’s older brother. The 1851 census lists these premises as the Railway Tavern - the Great Eastern Railway was not formed until 1862 - when Henry Barton was shown as the landlord. He was also listed as a brickmaker employing six men but this should have read ‘baker’ judging by all other readily available information about his occupation - such as in the marriage register when he remarried in 1847. He was landlord of the Bridge House in 1861 but a baker again in 1871, living in Paradise Lane.

The Green Dragon beerhouse at 30 London Road, in Watt’s Cottages, seems to have closed in the early 1960s. One landlord in the 1830s was Henry Glasscock, later a maker of whip thongs, who was a cousin of Lucy Nelson at the Bell.

The Hat & Feather was located immediately west of the HSBC Bank in premises now shared by William Brown, estate agents. William Lack, landlord in the 1850s, was a grandson of Thomas Lack and Susanna Bunkall who married in Downham on 13 Oct 1790.

The Jolly Boy was in Priory Road in premises believed now to be the dental surgery of Martin Stewart.

The King’s Arms seems to have existed in the late 1700s when it was run by John & Miriam Negus. John was also a carrier and linen weaver. Three children were christened in Downham in the 1780s.

The Live & Let Live still stands on London Road opposite Ryston End. Charles Long who died in 1871 aged 54, also a tailor, was one past landlord. His grandparents, Henry Long and Elizabeth Asplan married in Downham in 1780. His wife was Rachel Vince, a member of another long-established Downham family. Her father Robert was a blacksmith, as was her brother John Zadock (as spelt in the burial register and on his 1888 headstone in Downham cemetery – though his middle name does not appear in the baptismal register) who extended the business into coachbuilding. This house has also been known as the Kingham Arms.

The Maltster’s Arms is more recently known as Eagle House, 30 Railway Road. The premises of Lawnboy, opposite, are built on a field formerly owned by the Maltster’s Arms. Closure had occurred by the mid 1960s.

The Market House Inn was demolished to make way for a car park. Its location can be readily appreciated by the proximity of the Town Hall, behind, and the Town Clock. Closure came around the time of World War I. The landlord in the 1851 census was William Jaques, though at other times his name was spelt ‘Jakes’.

The Oddfellow’s Arms, Market Place, has only been found in the 1861 census (when the Market House was listed separately).

The Queen’s Head, on the eastern corner of Bridge Street and Paradise Road, was formerly the Black Bull which goes back to before 1708, at least, and may well have incorporated more of the site than the present Lighthouse Electrical. The change of name appears to have occurred before 1793. William Lack, the landlord for most of the 1860s, was previously at both the Hat & Feather and the Swan. Queen’s Head Yard appears to have contained a number of cottages in the past.

An unsavoury incident occurred after a dance at the Queen’s Head in the early hours of 24 September 1823 when Mary Relton, a servant girl, according to The Times, was brutally raped. Five were accused of the crime: James Reeve, William Thurlow, James Roberts, Robert Roberts, presumably his brother, and Edward Lack, presumably the uncle of William Lack, above. Mary left the dance, according to the report, and, as a result of a disturbance in the street, became detached from her sweetheart. She was followed by a group of men and fled in the direction of Outwell; after about 1.5 miles they caught up with her and ‘immediately proceeded to the greatest acts of indecency’.... the reader is spared the full details that The Times saw fit to publish. The case was presented at Thetford Assizes on the 28 March following and ‘The learned judge summed up the evidence with great perspicuity, and the jury returned a verdict of guilty against all the prisoners, recommending Lack and the two Roberts to mercy on account of their youth. His Lordship immediately proceeded to pass the awful sentence of the law on Thurlow and Reeve and gave them no hope of mercy, but exhorted them to prepare for eternity. The other prisoners were then called up and admonished by his Lordship, who stated, that it was merely on account of their youth that their lives were spared’.

A report in the Ipswich Journal dated 17 April 1824 stated that James Reeve had been executed ‘on Saturday last’ at Thetford for rape but William Thurlow is not mentioned. Neither of the bodies, in the absence of any entry in the parish register, was brought back to Downham for burial. Edward Lack called a witness at the trial to prove his age, ‘which was not 14 when the fact was committed’. This would make him the son of Thomas Lack and his wife Susanna (formerly Bunkall) who were married in Downham on 13 October 1790. He went on to become a sawyer, married twice and died in Downham, aged 62, in 1868. Robert Roberts was even younger, being the son of Edward & Hannah Roberts and baptised in Downham on 23 Jun 1811; James was slightly older. He married Mary Edge in Downham in 1831 and is recorded as a fishmonger when their daughter Hannah arrived in 1835.

The Railway Hotel, also called the Station Hotel, was on the south side of Railway Road and closed c1980

The Rampant Horse at the southern end of High Street closed just after World War II when the licence was transferred to the Great Eastern in 1946. The landlord in the 1871 census was Edward Ebenezer Barrow who later served as grocer, draper, pork butcher and postmaster in West Dereham for thirty years until his death in 1908. Edward and Mary Barrow, Edward’s parents, were living in Bridge Street in the 1871 census. Edward, then a retired builder, aged 75 and born in St Ives (Huntingdonshire), had married Mary Porter in Southery in 1817. They had been married for 58 years when Mary died in 1875; Edward died aged 86 in the autumn of 1881.

The Rampant Horse, High Street (south) c1905 -

The Ship Defiance was in Downham West, on the western side of the road before the bridge over the River Ouse.

The Spade & Becket (not Bucket) was on the opposite side of the road to the Ship Defiance. The landlord, and also a corn porter, in 1871 was William Kenney, aged 38, who later went on to run the Bridge House. It appears to have closed after World War II.

The Swan is in the far left corner of this view across the market from the Town Hall

The Swan Hotel is alleged to have hosted Charles I when travelling incognito around the end of April 1646 from whence he transferred to Snore Hall before his escape across the Fen to arrive at Newark on 5th May. This is not the same building as existed in the mid 17th which was undoubtedly more extensive. The present front dates from c1880 though the buildings behind are certainly older. Local tradition has it that King John also stayed here in 1216. As already mentioned, the Swan was the booking office for the station when the railway opened in 1846.

The White Hart on Bridge Street, incorporating The Whalebone, is plainly a building of two differing ages. The eastern, uphill, part appears mid Victorian. The landlord for over twenty years up until his burial in Downham on 01 May 1882, when he was 52, was Porter Barrow. He was also a blacksmith and an older brother of Edward Ebenezer Barrow (see the Rampant Horse). He had taken over the licence of the White Hart before the 1861 census; in 1851 he was landlord of the Windmill at Ten Mile Bank. The Whalebone, was formerly the western, and older, part of the White Hart.

There have been several other licensed premises in existence, perhaps briefly, in the past. The Quebec Castle, the Three Horseshoes on Bridge Road, the Butcher’s Arms also on Bridge Road, and the Wheatsheaf in Market Place are four such. One cannot rule out the confusion of an establishment being known by more than one name.