Main street through Downham
The village of Downham occupies the foot of the northern slope of Pendle Hill situated in a vale lying east and west, and bounded along the north by a ridge of high land, along which ran a Roman road ran from Ribchester to Ilkley. In Anglo-Saxon, Down or Dun means a hill and Ham means settlement. The village had a series of names (Dunum (1292), Donum (1302) and Dounom (1311) before being named Downham. Close to the entrance to Downham Hall and on the road to Rimington, is a large stone said by some to be the gravestone of two Roman soldiers. Cromwell's men were quartered at Downham 15 August 1648 on their way to the battle of Preston.
From notices it seems that Downham was anciently assessed as three plough-lands and a half. It formed part of the honor of Clitheroe, and in 1241 was assigned, as the fourth part of a knight's fee, to the Countess of Lincoln, widow of John de Lacy, in dower. In 1242 it was held by Robert de Chester. Later it seems to have reverted to the Lacys, who are found to hold a plough-land and a quarter in demesne, this being the manor proper, while the remainder was held by a number of tenants, of whom Henry de Downham was in 1302 said to hold the third part of a knight's fee there.
The manor was sold in 1558 to Richard Assheton, the purchaser of Whalley Abbey, who in 1563 transferred it to Edward Dauncey, but subsequently regained it. He died in 1579, having directed a partition of his estates between the sons of his nephew Ralph Assheton of Great Lever, so that while the eldest obtained Whalley at his father's death in 1587, (the younger son) Richard Assheton succeeded to the manor of Downham.
In 1591 Richard Assheton had agreed to a delimitation of the boundary of the township. In 1609-15 inquiry was made on behalf of the Crown as to the right to view of frankpledge, and a royal confirmation was in 1615 given by James I. A settlement of the manor was then made by Richard Assheton and Margaret his wife. It was from him the manor has descended regularly to the present Sir Ralph Assheton. Downham is still an estate village run by the Assheton family from Downham Hall. One other Assheton of note was Nick Assheton, whose famous diary inspired Harrison Ainsworth's Lancashire Witches.
Downham Hall is a modern rebuilding of an older house, standing on high ground to the west of the church at the north end of the village.
A house known as the Old Hall stands in the lower part of the village facing the road, and is a picturesque two-story building with low mullioned windows and projecting two-story gabled porch, over the doorway of which was formerly a panel, now removed. The roofs are covered with stone slates, and the building is now divided into three cottages.
Many of the picturesque grey stone cottages were built in the heyday of the handloom weavers in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The chapel of St. Leonard at Downham existed in 1296, when its altarage was worth 4 marks, the customary stipend of the chaplain, and the tithes of Downham and Twiston were worth 10 marks. The church as it stood in 1800 was 'a plain Gothic building, with a tower, two side aisles, a north and south chapel, and a middle choir'. The south chapel belonged to the lord of the manor and the north chapel to the Starkies of Twiston. The present building stands on high ground at the north end of the village, close to the high road, which skirts the churchyard on the north and east. The ground falls rapidly on the south side, from which there is a very fine view from the churchyard towards Pendle Hill. The old church, with the exception of the tower (late 15th century), was pulled down in 1800 and the present building erected. Inside the church are bells said to have been removed from Whalley Abbey when it was dissolved on the orders of Henry VIII in 1537, and a 16th century font given to the church by Abbot Paslew, the last monk in charge of Whalley.
Pendle Hill from St Leonard's Church
St. Leonard's Church
Stocks at Downham
Near to the church are the old stocks.
In more recent years Downham has become a film and TV maker's dream. Because Downham is an estate village, the Asshetons have been able to keep it as they want it to look. Downham has no TV aerials, no satellite dishes, no intrusive overhead cables and no double yellow lines and not even a sign to let you know you are there, ensuring its timeless beauty remains just that. Downham was used as a location in Richard Attenborough's 1961 film Whistle Down the Wind, starring Alan Bates and Hayley Mills and pupils from nearby Chatburn Primary School. The film tells how three children assist an escaped convict they find in their barn, convinced that he is Jesus. More recently Downham was transformed into the fictional village of Ormston for the TV series 'Born and Bred', starring James Bolam and Michael French.
There is one pub in Downham named the Assheton Arms and a Post Office, although there are records of licensed houses in Downham since 1399. The Assheton Arms was originally a farm house that brewed beer for its workers. In 1872 it became the George and Dragon and in the 1950s was renamed Assheton Arms in honour of Sir Ralph Assheton for his contribution to government during the Second World War. He took the title of Lord Clitheroe and was made a peer in 1955. Sir Ralph, who was minister of supply under Churchill during the war died in 1984, and was succeeded by his son who succeeded to the title 3rd baronet Assheton of Downham in that year.
Downham Post Office
There is a large public car park on the outskirts of the village, but this is discreetly hidden. The area by the bridge over the stream, which once supplied the residences with water, can be very busy on sunny weekends with many picnickers watching the world slowly pass by.
Downham Beck and Bridge
Bridge and Downham Beck with Pendle Hill in the background
|Walks near Downham|