The Town of Downham Market
With origins in the Dark Ages, Downham Market became a market town in Saxon times and it is one of Norfolk’s oldest market towns.
There has been a town on this site for over 2000 years – and some of its historic past is still in evidence today. Downham’s attractive black and white clock tower overlooks the market place. It was presented to the town in 1878 by Mr. James Scott who was a grocer and draper of the town. Built by William Cunliff of London, it has a square gabled clock face with four dials.
Another noteworthy feature is Downham Market Town Hall, built in 1887/8 with local white brick and carrstone. The latter was quarried in the town and many houses were built of this stone. The use of this distinctive stone lead to Downham being referred to, at one time, as the “Gingerbread Town”. A fine example of one of the carrstone and brick houses is on the corner of Priory Road and London Road; it has crow-stepped gables and a fine octagonal brick chimney.
Downham Market markets received their Charter in 1046 from Edward The Confessor. To this day, nearly 1000 years later, our Town’s Friday and Saturday markets are a central focus of life in and around Downham Market.
For many centuries the horse fair, held over several days commencing on St. Winnold’s Day, was one of the two largest horse fairs in Europe. On record, over 10,000 horses were bought and sold and it is not difficult to imagine that the Town was a very lively place indeed! Various continental armies purchased some of their horses in Downham Market at St. Winnold’s Fair. Many of these horses had been bred and reared on the Fens to the west of Downham Market, land which was then generally unsuitable for arable cultivation.
Each year in March, Downham Market Town Council hosts a parade and breakfast to commemorate our once important horse trading markets and to showcase our most distinctive Town.
To learn more about the fascinating history of the town, visit the Discover Downham Heritage Centre website.