8 facts about Downham Market for the heritage centre

PUBLISHED: 12:00 13 October 2015 | UPDATED: 12:10 13 October 2015

Downham Market view  pic taken nov 1965  m1639-36  pic to be used in lets talk nov 2013

Downham Market view pic taken nov 1965 m1639-36 pic to be used in lets talk nov 2013


Now the major renovation works are complete at Downham Market’s new heritage centre, here are eight unique facts about the town that could be used to tell its remarkable history.

The centre – called Discover Downham – is set to open in spring 2016. The heritage society raised £650,000 for the works mainly through grants from organisations including the Heritage Lottery Fund and WREN.

Kathleen Wiseman, trustee of the Downham Market and District Heritage Society, said: “Our next step is to actually decide what should go on display in the building, and how to tell the town’s remarkable story.”

To help, here are eight unique features from Downham Market’s history that could be included on the centre’s new interpretation boards.

1. Downham Market is one of the oldest market towns in the country. The market – which achieved market status in 1050 – is still thriving today. Downham Market possibly also had its origins as a Saxon settlement, which formed around the elevated ground on which St Edmunds Church was built.

2. In 1816, 2,000 people marched to Downham Market for one of the “Bread Riots”. The hungry agricultural labourers kept the local Justices of the Peace ‘prisoners’ inside the Crown Hotel until the milita arrived. Afterwards, two of the rioters were hanged in Norwich.

3. On May Day in 1646, King Charles I hid in one of the town’s inns to evade capture from Parliamentary forces. He stayed in an inn which once stood where the Swan Inn is located today on the High Street. While there, he was in disguise.

4. The town’s attractive black and white clock has only had one major refurbishment. The Grade II listed piece, which overlooks the Market Square, was presented to the town in 1878 by Mr James Scott, a grocer and draper in the town. It cost £450, which is said to be the equivalent of £34,000 today.

5. Downham Market Town Hall was built from carrstone quarried in the town. Many homes were built of the stone and its distinctive use led to the town being referred to as the ‘Gingerbread Town’.

6. Queen Mary, the Queen’s grandmother, was a regular customer at the department store Reeds. She would shop there during her visits to the Sandringham Estate. Reeds Homestore stands in its original building in Bridge Street today.

7. Captain Richard Woodget lived in Bexwell Road whilst in command of the Cutty Sark. He was the master of the famous sailing clipper during her most successful period of service in the wool trade between Australia and the United Kingdom. Born in Burnham Norton, the 1891 census shows he lived in Downham Market with his wife, mother, niece and his three sons.

8. RAF Downham trialled a state-of-the-art fog dispersal system during World War II. Fog is a constant hazard to aircraft and the station was equipped with the specialist equipment which was eventually installed at 15 UK airfields.

What other historical facts about Downham Market should be included in this list? Email

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