Downham’s hot history

EDP Norfolk Magazine feature on Downham Market Heritage Centre - Downham Market clock. Picture: Matt

EDP Norfolk Magazine feature on Downham Market Heritage Centre - Downham Market clock. Picture: Matthew Usher.

From fen skating to Formula One and revolution to evolution, a rich and fascinating history is celebrated in Discover Downham, opening this Easter Monday

What do the stethoscope, the Cutty Sark, the Red Baron, a king in hiding and horse fairs have in common?

The answer, of course, is Downham Market. And from this month the people of the west Norfolk market town will be able to explore their history in a new heritage centre. Discover Downham will open in the town’s old fire station on Bank Holiday Monday, March 28.

The concept of a museum of all things Downham Market goes back many years, with displays first set up on a balcony of the Town Hall more than a decade ago. The town’s Heritage Society was formed in 1995 and after the town’s fire station closed in 2006, work began to turn it into a heritage centre. After years of fundraising and grant applications Discover Downham will open on Easter Monday.

The society has more than 100 members and many have helped transform the old fire station into a heritage centre. Volunteers will continue to be at the heart of the museum, helping with archiving, displays, stewarding, administration and maintenance. Discover Downham also has a part-time learning officer who will work with schoolchildren, families and local groups. As well as providing a permanent home for artefacts and archives about Downham and the surrounding area, Discover Downham will be a community hub, with rooms and facilities available for hire.

Themed learning and reminiscence boxes, packed with original and reproduction artefacts, can be borrowed by groups, such as schoolchildren or elderly people in residential care.

So what you might discover at Discover Downham:

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Some of the notable people you can find out about are:

• Algy Bird, the First World War pilot who fought, and survived, a battle with Germany’s Red Baron.

• Golding Bird, the 19th century doctor who was notable for his discoveries about kidney diseases and electrochemistry, and invented the flexible stethoscope.

• King Charles I, who stayed in Downham in 1646, disguised as a priest and fleeing for his life during the Civil War.

• Captain George Manby who invented the rocket lifeline to save shipwrecked sailors.

• Richard Woodget, who made 10 record-breaking voyages to Australia in 10 years, in the Cutty Sark.


A series of talks throughout the year includes:

• The Cold War in Norfolk on Wednesday, March 16.

• Welney and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust on Wednesday, April 20.

• Elveden and the Iveaghs on Wednesday, May 18.

Discover Downham will be launched on Easter Monday, March 28. The visitor centre will be open five days a week. For more information on visiting or volunteering, or to hire a room at the centre, see the website, email or call 01366 384428.

Discover Downham, The Old Fire Station, Priory Road, Downham Market, PE38 9JS;

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