10 things you did not know about Downham Market
- Credit: Archant Library
This quiet market town has had its fair share of activity and royal visits. Here are ten things you may not know about Downham Market.
Information provided by Kathleen Wiseman, trustee of the Downham Market and District Heritage Society.
1. St Winnold's horse fair was the third largest in Europe in its heyday.
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The horse fair, which was held in Downham Market on the first Thursday, Friday and Saturday in March, was also the largest in England. Thousands of people would flock to the town to buy and sell horses on St Winnold's Day.
At the time if you wanted to buy a good horse, it was the place to come to.
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Mrs Wiseman said: "Napoleon had a horse that was apparently bought from Downham Market."
2. The town was renowned for its horticulturists
The town was a centre of horticultural activity in the 19th century. It was noted for the number and quality of its large private gardens and nurseries.
In Victorian times Joseph Bird's American nurseries imported plants from across the Atlantic and he was recognised as an expert on trees.
Joseph Harrison, another renowned horticulturist produced one of the first gardening magazines, named The Floricultural Cabinet.
3. Golding Bird was born in Downham Market
Mr Bird was a medical doctor and pioneer of electrotherapy. He was a member of the London Electrical Society and designed a lot of his own equipment. He is thought to have be instrumental in bringing electrotherapy into the mainstream.
4. Downham Riots
In 1816, hundreds of people were involved in angry protests against failing wages, lack of food and jobs for farm workers.
Around 42 people were arrested, after appeals all but two rioters had their sentences cut to either transportation or hard labour.
5. Bird's Mill
Heygates Mill used to be known as Bird's Mill as it was owned by the Bird family. An eagle, which was used to represent the Bird name, can be found over the main door of the mill and an eagle can also be found on the Conservative Club on Bridge Street, where Mr Bird lived. The mill was originally steam driven and converted to electricity in 1943.
6. The town clock was originally bronze with prominent features highlighted gold.
The black and white structure that stands in the town square was originally bronze with gold highlights. It was gas lit and wound weekly. The clock now illuminates during the night and is run electrically.
7. Downham Market was known as the 'Gingerbread Town'
Many homes and the Town Hall were built from carrstone that was quarried in to the town. Its use led to the town being referred to as the gingerbread town.
8. A respected scientist and flat earther stayed at the Castle Hotel
Alfred Wallace and Parallax stayed at the Castle Hotel prior to a competition to prove whether the earth was round or flat. The two went out to Welney as part of the Bedford level experiment and each carried out an experiment to prove the earth was round or flat. Adjudicators awarded the competition to Wallace for proving the earth was round, which resulted in the two falling out. The matter escalated and was taken to High Court.
9. King Charles I stayed at an inn in Downham Market and had his hair cut in the town
The king stayed at an inn (where The Swan Hotel now stands) for three days after escaping Parliamentarians in 1646. He fled from Oxford disguised as a servant, which resulted in his hair being cut.
To tidy himself up the king had his hair cut again in Downham Market. A barber apparently commented on the condition of the previous cut saying it was cut with a knife and the last barber had done a bad job.
King Charles I is also thought to have bought a hat in the market town to disguise himself as a clergy man.
10. The town at one point had two bridges that were in use
An iron and temporary wooden bridge were both in place at one point after the iron bridge was condemned in 1927.
Concerns about the temporary wooden bridge and an increase in heavy traffic flow meant the old iron bridge was reopened in 1962.
During the use of the two bridges children apparently had to get off the bus to lighten the load so it could go over the bridge, once the bus was over the children could get back on. A new bridge was opened in 1964 that is still in use today.