Downham Market is one of Norfolk’s oldest market towns, the history of which can be traced back to Saxon times. Charles I went to Downham following the Battle of Naseby and the inventor George Manby went to school in the town.
The town lies on the edge of the Fens, on the River Great Ouse and is 11 miles south of King's Lynn and 39 miles west of Norwich. During the Middle Ages, Downham Market was famed for its butter market and it also hosted a notable horse fair. The market is now held in the town on Fridays and Saturdays, on the town hall car park.
The town has many notable buildings including its mediaeval parish church, dedicated to St Edmund, and its Victorian and very distinctive black and white clock tower, constructed in 1878. In 2004 the town completed a regeneration project on the Market Place, moving the market to the town hall car park. The decorative town sign depicts the crown and arrows of St Edmund with horses to show the importance of the horse fairs in Downham Market’s history.
In 2016 a heritage centre, Discover Downham, opened in a former fire station and features artefacts and events relating to Downham and the local area. Denver Windmill is a restored mill where visitors can climb to the top of the mill on a guided tour and watch the flour being milled.
David Bellamy, Britain’s favourite botanist, once described the nearby Fens as ‘a natural man-scape’. The land was covered by water until the huge task of draining the area was undertaken. It is now some of the most fertile farmland in Europe.
Downham Market is an ideal place for walking or cycling as the area is so flat and the peaceful waterways are excellent for boating and fishing.
Nearby Welney is the famous Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust nature reserve, which is popular with birdwatchers and nature lovers. In November the Festival of Swans is held and visitors can observe the over-wintering swans.
Interesting facts about Downham
- George William Manby (1765–1854), was an English author and inventor. He designed an apparatus for saving lives from shipwrecks and the first modern form of fire extinguisher, and was educated in Downham Market
- George Henry Dashwood (1801–1869), antiquary, was born in the town
- Golding Bird (1814 – 1854) was a British medical doctor and a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. He became a great authority on kidney diseases and published a comprehensive paper on urinary deposits. He was also recognised for his work in related sciences, especially the medical uses of electricity and electrochemistry
- Patrick Holman was born in Downham Market in 1945. He was a right-handed batsman who played for Cambridgeshire