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Downham Market in 10 objects

PUBLISHED: 15:19 11 March 2020 | UPDATED: 15:27 11 March 2020

Dave Flower, volunteer and former chairman at Discover Downham, holding an eel trap. Picture: Sarah Hussain

Dave Flower, volunteer and former chairman at Discover Downham, holding an eel trap. Picture: Sarah Hussain

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The west Norfolk market town was renowned for its horse fair and butter market and items reflecting the town’s history are preserved by Discover Downham Heritage centre.

The pagoda  toilets were located on the Town Square before being demolished during the town's regeneration project. Picture: Discover Downham Heritage CentreThe pagoda toilets were located on the Town Square before being demolished during the town's regeneration project. Picture: Discover Downham Heritage Centre

Information has been provided by Kathleen Wiseman, trustee of the Downham Market and District Heritage Society.

1. Butter Market


The butter market was a significant part of Downham Market life. Farmers' wives would make it and get together to sell it by the river.

Downham Home Guard. Picture: Discover Downham Heritage CentreDownham Home Guard. Picture: Discover Downham Heritage Centre

Butter went by barge to Cambridge and sold under the name of Cambridge butter.

The centre has a Victorian butter churn that was previously owned by Jim Sharpe who lived in Denver.

Mr Sharpe collected local memorabilia and after he died his wife moved closer to her family and donated some of his collection to the centre.

Mrs Wiseman said: 'There was a lot of transport by river but that stopped after the railway came in, probably around the 1940s and some time after that the butter market and fair disappeared.'

Floricultural Cabinet was one of the first gardening magazines in the UK. Picture: Sarah HussainFloricultural Cabinet was one of the first gardening magazines in the UK. Picture: Sarah Hussain

2. Fen Skaters

Skating on the frozen fields and meadows in the Fens was a common practice during winter periods.

Part of the pagoda toilet that was placed on either end of the toilet ridge tiles. Picture: Sarah HussainPart of the pagoda toilet that was placed on either end of the toilet ridge tiles. Picture: Sarah Hussain

Talented speedskaters came from the area and the 1980s was considered a golden age for Fenland skating, seeing thousands of people gather to watch ice-skating competitions.

'It was a regular feature every winter.

'Neighbours would skate across frozen canals to visit one another and you talk to the older generation and they say they used to hold skate parties.

'The old brick pits at the Willows, now the Willows Nature Reserve, is where Downham people would skate.'

The old Regents cinema clock, that was displayed in the auditorium in the former cinema on the High Street,  is now hung above the reception desk at Discover Downham. Picture: Sarah HussainThe old Regents cinema clock, that was displayed in the auditorium in the former cinema on the High Street, is now hung above the reception desk at Discover Downham. Picture: Sarah Hussain

Mrs Wiseman added that the tradition dated back to the Romans, who used sheep bones to tie to their shoes to get around in frozen conditions.

The centre dedicates a display to Fen Skaters, including a pair of ice skates with black leather shoes and stainless steel blades and leather covers.

3. Town clock penny

The Ram's Head that was on the front of Newall's Butchers shop on Railway Road. Picture: Sarah HussainThe Ram's Head that was on the front of Newall's Butchers shop on Railway Road. Picture: Sarah Hussain

School children were given a coin on the day of the official opening of the town clock in 1878.

'They had a street celebration and the great and the good had a dinner at the Crown Hotel.'

A Victorian penny from the day sits in a clock display on the wall of the heritage centre's reception.

Downham Market commemorative china donated to the centre by different people. Picture: Sarah HussainDownham Market commemorative china donated to the centre by different people. Picture: Sarah Hussain

The black and white clock, which stands in the town's market square, was originally bronze and gold.

It was painted bottle green in the 1970s and then green, black and white, before recent restoration saw it painted again.

4. Eel traps

Butter churn donated to the centre, which was previously owned by Jim Sharpe. Picture: Sarah HussainButter churn donated to the centre, which was previously owned by Jim Sharpe. Picture: Sarah Hussain

The traps were made and used by Peter Carter 'the eel man' to catch eel which were transported and sold in London.

Mr Carter designed the wooden traps with a narrow opening at one end and spikes at the other, so the eels were unable to get out.

'He was the last eel man in the Fens.

School children were given a coin on the official opening of the town clock. Picture: Sarah HussainSchool children were given a coin on the official opening of the town clock. Picture: Sarah Hussain

'You would put rotten meat in the trap and the eels would go in and couldn't get back out.

'They would lay them in the Fens by going around in a punt or a boat and dropping them in relatively low water.

'Thousands of eels were sent to London by train.'

A display titled 'The Fens' showcases two of the wooden traps.

The plaques were produced nationally as part of the War Savings campaign. Picture: Sarah HussainThe plaques were produced nationally as part of the War Savings campaign. Picture: Sarah Hussain

5. Regent Cinema clock

The old town cinema clock, which was displayed in the building's auditorium on High Street, now hangs above the Discover Downham reception desk.

Regent Cinema closed in the 1970s with a final showing of The Sound of Music and the clock was moved to a museum.

It belonged to a man living in Stoke Ferry, who later donated the timepiece to the heritage centre.

'It still works and we make use of it here as the main clock in the building.'

6. Commemorative Downham Market china

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A display full of commemorative Downham Market china was donated to the centre by different people.

Plates, cups, candlesticks and other china depicting significant landmarks of the town sit proudly next to each other.

Some of it dates back to the early 1900s.

7. Ram's Head

The centre houses a black-and-white-painted ram's head which used to be displayed on the front of Newell's Butchers shop on Railway Road.

Mrs Wiseman said: 'As it was a butcher's they had this ram's head above the shop display at the front.

'It was one of several butchers in town and as there was quite a community down at Railway Road it probably served many people.

'The ram still has its original paint but unfortunately it lost one of its horns.'

8. Pagoda toilets

Pieces of the old public toilet, which was located on the town square, can now be found at the heritage centre.

The 'pagoda' toilets replaced the town pump in the square but were later knocked down and moved to the town hall car park as part of the town's regeneration scheme.

'It was locally known as the pagoda as it was reminiscent of the Chinese pagoda.

'The pieces we have were placed on either end of the toilet ridge tiles.'

9. War Savings plaques

On Discover Downham's walls are two War Savings campaign 1943 plaques.

The 'Wings for Victory Week' plaque was presented by the Air Ministry and the 'Salute of the Soldier Week' plaque was presented by the War Office.

The plaques, which were originally displayed in the Town Hall, were given to the centre following the town's redevelopment project.

'These were produced nationally. At the time you had to collect a certain amount of money to get them. Enough money was raised to get the Air Force and Army plaques but they didn't raise enough for the Navy.

'During the Second World War, the Air Force and Army predominated in the area.'

10. Joseph Harrison's Floricultural Cabinet

The centre purchased a copy of Joseph Harrison's magazine when they initially set up the exhibition in 2016.

Downham Market was renowned for its horticulture in the 19th century and was noted for the number and quality of its large private gardens and nurseries.

Mr Harrison was well known in the area and had a garden and nursery on Lynn Road.

His magazine was published in 1848 and is one of the first gardening magazines in the UK.

'He came from somewhere up North and his nursery was where the memorial playing field is now.

'The magazine is packed with gardening hints and has these beautiful illustrations, they're quite striking.'

READ MORE: 10 things you did not know about Downham Market

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