Downham-Market (St. Edmund)

DOWNHAM-MARKET (St. Edmund), a market-town and parish, and the head of a union, in the hundred of Clackclose, W. division of Norfolk, 42½ miles (W.) from Norwich, and 85 (N. by E.) from London; containing 2953 inhabitants. This place, called in ancient records, from its situation on a navigable river, Downham Port, derives its name from the Saxon Dune, a hill, and ham, a dwelling. In the reign of Edgar the town was bestowed upon the abbey of Ramsey, in the county of Huntingdon, the monks of which, in the time of Edward the Confessor, obtained for the inhabitants the grant of a weekly market, and subsequently, in the reign of John, permission to hold an annual fair. Near the bridge was a hermitage, and adjoining the church was in early times a Benedictine priory, subordinate to the abbey of Ramsey, to the abbots of which Henry III. granted very extensive privileges, including the power to execute felons on their gallows of Downham.

The town is pleasantly situated on an acclivity, about a mile to the east of the river Ouse, commanding an extensive view of the Fens on the west, with which it is connected by an ancient bridge of wood; it consists mainly of two streets, well paved and lighted, and the inhabitants are amply supplied with water. Considerable improvements have been made under the provisions of an act procured in 1835, for paving, lighting, and watching; several houses have been removed, and a spacious area has been obtained, forming a commodious market-place. There was once an extensive foundry for casting church bells; and within a mile of the town is a considerable manufactory for mustard, and for the preparation of linseed-oil. The making of butter, for which this place has for ages been celebrated, was formerly carried on to a vast extent, and on the average not less than 90,000 firkins, annually purchased by factors, were sent by the Ouse to Cambridge, and thence by land carriage to London, where it was sold under the appellation of Cambridge butter. This trade was some years since transferred to Swaffham, and has been replaced by a gradual increase in the cultivation of corn, and the trade in cattle and wool. In 1847 a railway was completed from Lynn, by way of Downham, to Ely. The market, which is amply supplied with corn and provisions of all kinds, is on Saturday; and fairs are held on the 3rd of March, for horses, May 8th, for cattle, and Nov. 13th, for cattle and toys; the fair for horses being one of the largest in the kingdom, and attended by numerous dealers from London and other towns: statute-fairs are also held, in the week preceding and the week following Old Michaelmas-day. The powers of the county debt-court of Downham, established in 1847, extend over part of the registration-district of Downham. There are petty-sessions every Monday under the magistrates for the division, and a court baron held quarterly by the lord of the manor.

The parish comprises 2490a. 2r. 24p., of which 1600 acres are arable, 626 pasture, and 64 woodland; the soil near the town is light and sandy, in other parts a loamy clay, and in some places marsh and fen. The living is a discharged rectory, valued in the king's books at £6. 13. 4., and in the gift of W. Franks, Esq.: the tithes have been commuted for £500, and the glebe comprises 29½ acres, with a glebe-house. The church is an ancient structure in the early English style, with a low embattled tower surmounted by a small spire: the interior is remarkable for the dissimilarity of the arches that support the roof; the font, which is octangular, has at each angle a shield bearing the arms of St. Edmund. The churchyard is approached by a flight of steps on the north-west, and by a fine avenue of lime-trees on the south. There are places of worship for Particular Baptists, the Society of Friends, Independents, Primitive Methodists, and Wesleyans. Dr. Buchcroft, in 1660, bequeathed £100, which have been vested in land producing a rent of £39, for distribution among the poor; and the parish is entitled to a portion of £60 per annum, rent of an allotment under the Downham Drainage act: there are also 30 acres of land worth £118. 10. per annum, for repairing the church. The union comprises 34 parishes or places, containing a population of 19,200 persons.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.