Heritage centre wants your memories of life in the area

PUBLISHED: 09:19 29 June 2020 | UPDATED: 09:19 29 June 2020

Potato picking in the Fens at Ten Mile Bank. Picture: Discover Downham Heritage

Potato picking in the Fens at Ten Mile Bank. Picture: Discover Downham Heritage


A Norfolk heritage centre is collecting and archiving people’s memories and experiences of life in the local area.

Potato picking in the Fens at Ten Mile Bank. Picture: Discover Downham HeritagePotato picking in the Fens at Ten Mile Bank. Picture: Discover Downham Heritage

Discover Downham is asking people to share their reminiscences of life in Downham Market and the surrounding villages of the Old Clackclose Hundred and the Downham Rural District Council area.

The heritage centre, located on Priory Road, hopes that during lockdown residents will have time to write down or record their memories, which can then be stored in their archive for future research or publication.

Those already in the archive include memories from Buster Rowell and Victor Charles Coppin, who have recounted their lives growing up in the area.

Mr Rowell, who was born in 1936 in a tied cottage, recalled the cold and damp conditions he used to live in and the ways people used to keep warm during winter.

Discover Downham Market is located at the Old Fire Station on Priory Road, Photo: Emily PrinceDiscover Downham Market is located at the Old Fire Station on Priory Road, Photo: Emily Prince

He said: “They would put a brick in the fire and take the bars out of the oven and wrap them in newspaper and place them in the beds. There would be usually two or three children per bed so they kept warm.”

Mr Rowell also said washing clothes for a large family was a “big chore for the women of the household.”

He added: “This started on Mondays with the men starting up the fires under the big copper, which held a lot of water, as they needed it as all the washing was scrubbed by hand.

“Any left over water was used to bathe the family in a tin bath tub placed in front of the fire. The used bath water was then used to scrub the steps and other things.”

Mr Coppin shared his experience during the 20’s and 30’s when there was a “depression and poverty.”

He said: “Some of the children had patched up clothes and we all had hobnailed boots on that were patched up,

“When you got a kick on the shins when playing football you forgot what you were taught on your scripture lessons.”

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As a child, Mr Coppin used to help with work on the land, pulling up surplus plants during his holidays.

He said: “I remember a farmer coming to school when I was eight years old, wanting a gang of kids to single sugar beet out.

“They were first chopped out so there was a bunch every six inches, our job was to pull the surplus plants out leaving one every six inches.

“Well those days if you wanted to get a good job when you left school you had to go to grammar school. To get there your parents had to pay or you had to pass the II plus.

“I remember going to the rectory to sit for it and to my surprise I won a place at King Edward at Lynn. But just as I was preparing to go my dad had an accident, smashing his leg and they made a mess of mending it, he didn’t go back

to work for nine months and was in misery for the rest of his life.

“His boss got impatient waiting for him to go back to work, he threatened to turn him out of his house.

“Well there was no social security those days and the money you got from the club you paid into hardly kept you.

“So bang went my chance to go to Lynn as you had to buy all books and travelling and uniforms.”

Discover Downham has said these accounts give a glimpse of a “very different way of life in the not so distant past” and are keen to hear more stories from the local community.

A spokesman said: “It is fascinating to realise how much the town and the times have changed in a lifetime.”

A new exhibition with some of these memories will be displayed when the heritage centre reopens, alongside archived photographs and artefacts already stored there.

Send your stories and pictures to or post it to Discover Downham, The Old Fire Station, 30 Priory Road, Downham Market, PE38 9JS

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