West Norfolk town finally gets its own heritage centre

The Heritage Centre in Downham Market is now open. Pictured with learning officer Meg Barcley are fi

The Heritage Centre in Downham Market is now open. Pictured with learning officer Meg Barcley are firefighters (from left) Glyn Law, Kim Scotney, Justin Lewis and Jay Coffill. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

Whether you've been a resident all your life or are a newcomer to the town, you'll find out something you did not know at Downham Market's new heritage and learning centre.

Hundreds of years of history are brought to life at Discover Downham, which opened to the public yesterday.

Following months of refurbishment and countless hours of research by volunteers, the new centre is up and running at the town's former fire station in Priory Road.

Hundreds of people took time on Easter Monday to visit the centre, which focuses on Fenland life and the development of the town including its trades, industries and shops.

The new displays tell the stories of some of the people who put the town on the map, and others who excelled in smaller capacities.

Among the displays are one dedicated to the town's Grade II listed signal box, while another remembers First World War pilot Algy Bird, who lived to tell the tale after being shot down by Manfred von Richthofen during the First World War. There's even a photograph on show of Mr Bird with German pilots after his escape.

Visitors can also find out more about the 'Bread Riots', and about the role RAF Downham Market played during the Second World War. There's also plenty of fun activities for children.

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The Downham Market and District Heritage Society raised £650,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, WREN, and other local charitable organisations to pay for the centre. The money also pays for two part-time staff, a learning officer and an administrator, for the next three years.

Trustee Kathleen Wiseman said: 'This is really our 21st birthday present. The heritage society was formed 21 years ago, with the intention of one day having a heritage centre in Downham. We've had lots of ups and downs along the way, but we're pleased with it, and the people seem to like what they see.'

The centre will be open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10am to 4pm and is free to visit. It will also be available for groups and societies to hire.

What little-known part of Downham's history would you like to see celebrated at the centre? Email david.bale2@archant.co.uk

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