Ely Hundred: Downham

A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 4, City of Ely; Ely, N. and S. Witchford and Wisbech Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2002.

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T D Atkinson. Ethel M Hampson. E T Long. C A F Meekings. Edward Miller. H B Wells. G M G Woodgate, 'Ely Hundred: Downham', A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 4, City of Ely; Ely, N. and S. Witchford and Wisbech Hundreds, (London, 2002), pp. 90-95. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/cambs/vol4/pp90-95 [accessed 24 June 2024].

T D Atkinson. Ethel M Hampson. E T Long. C A F Meekings. Edward Miller. H B Wells. G M G Woodgate. "Ely Hundred: Downham", in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 4, City of Ely; Ely, N. and S. Witchford and Wisbech Hundreds, (London, 2002) 90-95. British History Online, accessed June 24, 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/cambs/vol4/pp90-95.

Atkinson, T D. Hampson, Ethel M. Long, E T. Meekings, C A F. Miller, Edward. Wells, H B. Woodgate, G M G. "Ely Hundred: Downham", A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 4, City of Ely; Ely, N. and S. Witchford and Wisbech Hundreds, (London, 2002). 90-95. British History Online. Web. 24 June 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/cambs/vol4/pp90-95.

In this section


Downham, sometimes since the 14th century called Downham in the Isle or Little Downham to distinguish it from Downham Market in Norfolk, is situated at the northern end of the Isle proper. The scarp of the high ground is comparatively steep at this point, the road from Downham village to the hamlet of Pymore descending 50 ft. in about ½ mile. Cole remarks upon the fine views obtainable from the point, half-way along the ridge, where the remains of the bishop's palace stand. Wisbech, 15 miles away, is clearly discernible, and the view extends across the fen into Huntingdonshire and Norfolk. (fn. 1)

A secondary road from Ely to Wisbech (B 1411) forms the main street of the village and takes a zigzag course via Pymore to the Hundred Foot Bank, which it follows to Welney Bridge; another road leaves this one at the east end of the village to connect Downham with Littleport, and there are minor roads across the fen. The Ely-Peterborough line of the Eastern Region, British Railways, constructed in 1846, (fn. 2) crosses the parish from south-east to north-west and has a station at Black Bank (formerly named Downham), about a mile north-east of the village. The Old Bedford River forms the north-west boundary of the parish, with the New Bedford or Hundred Foot River running parallel about ¼ mile to the south-east.

About 3,000 acres of the parish are upland and about 7,000 fen. (fn. 3) The differences in the pattern of settlement of the two types of land are well shown by contrasting Downham village with Fodder Fen in the north of the parish. The former is fairly compact, with a closely built-up main street, and back ways to which the gardens of the houses formerly extended; in Fodder Fen the houses are scattered at considerable intervals along four parallel droves, each drove from ½ to 1 mile long and about ¼ mile from its neighbour. There are other fen hamlets at Pymore, on a small 'island' rising a few feet above the general level of the fen, and at Oxlode and Hundred Foot Engine by the New Bedford River bank. The latter hamlet derives its name from an important drainage station, which was built in 1830 and has the following inscription:

These Fens have oft times been by Water drown'd. Science a remedy in Water found. The powers of Steam, she said, shall be employ'd And the Destroyer by Itself destroy'd.

The soil in both fen and upland is too valuable for any land to be left as woodland, but there is a small remnant of uninclosed common-almost the only one left in the Isle-on the road to Pymore. There are several orchards in and around Downham village, the northernmost extension of the mid-Cambridgeshire fruitgrowing area. There was fruit-growing at Downham in 1286, when a rent of 9s. from apples and vines was payable. (fn. 4)

In the 18th century the value of fen farms fluctuated violently. A farm of 293 acres in Downham parish by the Hundred Foot River illustrates this fact. Its value increased at successive sales from £800 to £1,200, and then, owing to the floods of the 1760's, declined to £200. In 1805, however, the owner stated that he would not take £1,500 for it. (fn. 5)

The inclosure of the common fields took place under the General Inclosure Act of 1801, by resolution of a meeting of landowners in 1844. The award was made in 1850. (fn. 6) The fields were West Moor and Mill Piece north, Clayway south of the Pymore road, and Hawkley Field south of the road to Littleport. South of the village lay Ely Lane Field, and south of it and west of the Ely road Hurst Field. Hither and Further Beald Fields, with Pit House Field to the south of them, lay east of the Ely road. Memories of these fields are preserved in Mill Hill, the section of the Pymore road where it falls to the fen, Hurst Lane, Bield Drove, and Orwellpit Farms-the last named over the border in Ely. The nine fields comprised 582 acres, and were divided between thirty-seven proprietors. The Ecclesiastical (now Church) Commissioners, representing the bishop as lord of Downham, were much the most important, their two lessees William Martin (135 acres) and the Revd. J. H. Sparke (69½ acres) each obtaining more than any other person or corporate body. Martin and Sparke were also awarded 31 and 34 acres respectively in their own right. William Tingey (61 acres), Charles Finch (25 acres), and J. T. Waddington and Clare College (22 acres each) also received fairly large allotments.

The 18th-century school building, with the rectory and church, and Bury House on the opposite side of the street, make a prominent and attractive feature at the east end of the village. Bury House, also an 18thcentury building, has 'Gothic' casements to the windows. Other houses in Downham of some architectural merit include the premises occupied by F. Gibson (17th century and later), and the Club Inn, the Chestnuts, and the Laurels, all 18th century. At Pymore there is a fine tower windmill with sails still in position.

Among the rectors have been Thomas Peacock (? 1516-? 1582), President of Queens' College, a staunch Catholic who lost all his preferments at the accession of Elizabeth, and Isaac Barrow (1614-80), Bishop of Sodor and Man and uncle of the mathematician. (fn. 7) Cole mentions an 18th-century rector, Thomas Jones, who married a rich heiress from Chelsea and ruined her in three years by 'adventurous dealing in fen farms'. In 1777 Jones was imprisoned in the Fleet, owing over £38,000. (fn. 8)


Six hides in Downham were purchased by Aethelwold and Abbot Brithnoth c. 970 for the monastery of Ely, and 2 hides were given by Siverth. (fn. 9) In 1086 the monastic property here was rated at 4 hides or 8 ploughlands, 2½ hides (4 ploughs) being in demesne. There were 15 villeins, 8 cottars, and 8 serfs, sufficient meadow for all the plough teams and pasture for the cattle of the vill, woodland for 100 pigs, and a fishery producing 300 eels and 2s. rent. When received it had been worth £5, £12 T.R.E., and £10 in 1086. This estate had always formed part of the demesne of Ely. (fn. 10) After the foundation of the see Downham was allotted to the bishop, and the manor house became one of the main episcopal palaces for more than 500 years. Judging by the number of ordinations, charters, and letters dated at Downham (fn. 11) it was the most popular residence. Centrally situated in the diocese, but outside the cathedral city, it must have had special attractions for secular bishops who wished to remain aloof from monastery politics. Five medieval bishops (de Fontibus, Northwold, Orford, Fordham, and Gray) died here. (fn. 12) The bishops held free warren in this manor from time immemorial, a right which was confirmed in 1399. (fn. 13) The park is first mentioned in 1250-1, when it contained 250 acres; (fn. 14) in 1251 it was, with two marshes held in severally by the bishop, a league long and nearly half a league broad. (fn. 15) Its custodian from 1445 was Henry Botorcawbe, who resigned his office on Bishop Gray's appointment (1455). (fn. 16) At the time of the Northwold survey (1251) the demesnes amounted to 444½ acres, (fn. 17) rated at 3 carucates, stocked with 60s. worth of livestock, besides more than 100 sheep belonging to the tenants. There was a newly constructed windmill, worth £3, (fn. 18) at which all the tenants had to grind their corn. The fisheries were increasing in size and value. In 1222 there had been one, rendering 7s. yearly and 35 sticks of eels; (fn. 19) in 1251 there were two, Downhamhythe and Manea, rendering 12s. Their boundaries were defined as from Coveney Bridge to 'Godrige beche' (near Downhamhythe) and thence to 'Cokeslode' (in Manea). (fn. 20)

The prosperity which was general in the Isle during the 13th century is illustrated in the case of Downham by the increases between 1222 and 1251 of free tenants from 4 to 17, of customaries from 17 to 20, and of cottars and toftmen from 25 to 35. In the later survey there were also 9 novi feoffati; the 13 new free tenants were holding 69 acres of reclaimed land in Apesholt, on the northern edge of the parish bordering on Littleport, at 1d. an acre. The total rents in 1251 were £2 15s., besides the fisheries and a rush ground worth 10s. 6d. Among the services due from customaries were work on Aldreth causeway, where each tenant was required to repair 15 ft. or pay 2d. annually, and the production of 40 bundles of thatch from the marsh.

In 1286, 737 summer and autumn works were commuted for £2 8s. 2d., and 994 for £2 1s. 5d. in 1302, but only 214 (8s. 11d.) in 1316. The gross values of the manor at these three dates were £11 5s. 10d. (1286), £10 18s. 11d. (1302), and £21 9s. 1d. (1316); the great increase at the last date was due mainly to a very large hay crop, sold for £11 17s. 6d. at 1s. an acre. (fn. 21) In the early 14th century the total value of the manor remained fairly constant-for example, £15 3s. in 1337 and £13 6s. 4d. in 1345, but that of particular items fluctuated considerably. The windmill was rated at £1 5s. in the former year but at only 13s. 6d. in the latter, whereas the fisheries increased from 8s. 11d. to 14s. 7d. (fn. 22)

In 1356 another survey (fn. 23) shows a less prosperous state of affairs. The manor house was ruinous, and its accompanying dovehouse and orchard of no value. The demesne had shrunk to 160 acres, worth £2 13s. 4d., and rents from tenants brought in only £2 a year. The two fisheries produced 11s. 8d. The windmill and the deer park were still in existence. The movable property of the bishop, with the stock and produce of the demesne, was worth £21 4s., and perquisites of court produced 13s. 4d. yearly.

The value of the manor in 1540-1 was £27 17s. 9½d., (fn. 24) and in 1548-9 £37 7s. gross, excluding arrears. (fn. 25) At this time it was held, apparently on a lease for lives, by the Megges family, (fn. 26) who were also tenants of the episcopal manor of Wisbech Barton. In 1548 Thomas Megges was reported to have inclosed 63 acres, in portions, for. conversion from arable to sheep-farming, leading to the decay of a cottage. Another cottage was turned into a barn and common ways were stopped up. Thomas St. Aubyre had let to Robert Megges the lands on which the villagers of Downham had been accustomed to pasture sheep and from which they were now excluded. Megges had let them to others. (fn. 27)

During the long Elizabethan vacancy in the see John Graunge received a twenty-one-year lease of the site of the manor and the demesnes. (fn. 28) In the reign of James I and up to the Civil War the bishops resumed occupation of this palace. Bishop Andrewes (1609-19) spent considerable sums on its repair, (fn. 29) and Bishop Wren (1638-67) was arrested there in 1642 by order of Parliament. (fn. 30) In 1632, when William Marsh was tenant of the manor house at £3 a year, there were quit rents of £10 5s. 5½d. payable twice yearly, and fines certain on copyholds which amounted to £5 8s. During this year £3 'recognition money' was paid to the newly appointed Bishop White (1631-8) on his first arrival in Downham manor, which was one of those where there was a regularly used episcopal residence. (fn. 31)

The Parliamentary Commissioners for the Sale of Church Lands quickly turned their attention to Downham manor, which was disposed of in 1648. The purchaser was Samuel Warner, citizen and grocer of London, who had already advanced half the price (£3,208 8s. 9d.) and was required to produce the remainder within six months. The appurtenances of the manor included the palace with a private chapel and demesne of 291 acres, fishing rights, court leet, and view of frankpledge. (fn. 32) In 1650 a subsidiary portion of the manor, in which the episcopal tenant had been Thomas Marsh, (fn. 33) was sold to Richard Turner of London, tailor, for £686 7s. (fn. 34)

At this time Downham Palace, like many of its kind, fell into disrepair, and it was not used by the later 17th-century bishops. Simon Patrick, who was translated to Ely in 1691, obtained statutory powers for himself and his successors, to lease the manor house and demesnes. (fn. 35) As a result a varied succession of persons exercised manorial rights in Downham: Dr. William Cave in 1710, (fn. 36) Mrs. Arabella Thomson of York in 1733, (fn. 37) George Grant of Piccadilly, London, in 1808, (fn. 38) and William Smith Simpson in 1851 (fn. 39) -only the last named seems to have actually resided at Downham. In 1778-9 the principal tenants were William Martin of Downham, who held the Park for £100 a year, Sir John Lade, bt., who held Caterclose at £7, and Philip Cawthorne, who held Downham Plain (22 acres) at 16s. 6d. The quit rents now amounted to £20 17s., and 6 capons, or 6s. in lieu, were produced annually for the episcopal table. (fn. 40) In the middle of the 19th century the bishops still retained some property in Downham in their own right, but the ownership of land had become, and has since remained, much divided. The Church Commissioners, representing the Bishop, are the present lords of the manor. (fn. 41)

The prior and convent of Ely were tenants of the Bishop in Downham; in 1291 their property, which was appropriated to the almoner, was worth 15s. 4d. (fn. 42) In addition to this several small estates in Downham were bequeathed to the convent by various persons. Thus in 1309 and 1310 16½ acres were received in seven lots, of which the largest (5½ acres) was allotted to the sacrist. (fn. 43) In 1314 there was a grant from William de Fresyngfeld, a relative of the then prior, (fn. 44) and in 1370 a messuage was appropriated to the sacrist. (fn. 45) In 1539 the convent's temporalities in Downham amounted to £1 12s. 4d. (fn. 46) From 1454 the convent had the right to 4 deer annually, 2 in summer and 2 in winter, from the bishop's parks at Downham and Somersham. (fn. 47) The property was formally transferred to the dean and chapter in 1541. (fn. 48)

A sub-tenant of the prior in 1222 was Fulk son of Ivo, who held a carucate; (fn. 49) in 1170-1 the lands of Ivo of Downham, presumably his ancestor, had been rated at 10s. (fn. 50) The property seems to have remained in the family, as in 1251 the tenant was Clement son of John Folke. (fn. 51) Another 1222 tenant was Roger le Grand, who held 3½ acres by the service of working on Aldreth causeway and in the vineyard, and of entertaining the bishop's messengers. (fn. 52) By 1251 the hospital of St. John Baptist, Ely, had succeeded to this property, rendering the same service. (fn. 53) In the next century this hospital acquired more land in Downham, (fn. 54) which lay in scattered portions and was worth 12s. 8d. in the 16th century. (fn. 55) The dissolution of the hospital was delayed until 1562, when all its property was given to Clare Hall, Cambridge, to endow scholarships. (fn. 56) The college was among the principal landowners in Downham in 1851. (fn. 57)

The remains of the former Bishop's Palace are incorporated in farm buildings about ½ mile west of the parish church. The palace was rebuilt by Bishop Alcock (1486-1500), and the surviving remains are all of this period. The building fell into decay while it was alienated from the see during the Commonwealth, and was never readapted as an episcopal palace after 1660. The material is brick, with stone dressings in certain portions of the fabric; the roofs are (1949) of green-painted corrugated iron. There is some doubt as to the original purpose of the surviving fragments, but a detached structure on the east is believed to have been the chapel. It has a fine south doorway with fourcentred arch and continuous mouldings, with an ogee hood terminating in a large finial flanked by shields, one of which is charged with the arms of Ely and the other blank; the rebus of Bishop Alcock, a cock standing on a globe, is shown below the shields. The palace was originally of two stories, the lower of which was vaulted, but only the springers remain. The north wall has been partly rebuilt, but there is a portion of a fine doorway opposite the one on the south side. In the south wall on the ground floor are a three-light window, with uncusped heads under a square label, and two single lights, and in the upper story two single lights and a large window of five lights under a square label. All the windows are of stone, as are the doorways. There is a mutilated sundial near the south doorway. To the north are remains of a structure of which little more than the base of the walls has survived. To the west of the present farm-house is a large building now used as a barn. It has good stepped gables and an original chimney at the west end. Built into the south wall is an enormous oven, and above a dryingchamber. It is probable that this section of the palace contained the hall and kitchen. There is a walled garden, and at some distance to the south of the supposed chapel a large rectangular pigeon-house with thatched roof, now in a dilapidated state. The present farm-house seems to date from about the beginning of the 19th century, but it is largely built of older materials and it may incorporate portions of the walls of the palace.


The advowson has always descended with the manor, and remains with the Bishop of Ely at the present day. (fn. 58) The church was never appropriated, but as early as 1291 a portion was paid to the prior, which in 1539 amounted to £2. (fn. 59) The total value of the rectory was £4 10s. in 1217, £13 6s. 8d. in 1254, and £20 (including the prior's portion) in 1291. (fn. 60) In 1535 it was £17 2s., probably without the portion. (fn. 61) In 1718 a lawsuit between Thomas Jones, the rector, and the parishioners regarding tithes was decided in favour of the former. The rectory thus benefited by £100. (fn. 62)

In 1405 the missal of Downham church was worn out, and it was agreed to purchase a new one by a general levy on the parishioners. Some refused to pay their share and were given a month's grace before being cited before the bishop. (fn. 63)

A guild of St. Mary of the Porch and St. Leonard was in existence before 1464, (fn. 64) and was refounded on a rather elaborate scale in 1475. Its officers were to consist of an alderman and two deans, elected annually, and it was licensed to acquire property to the annual value of 10 marks. (fn. 65) In 1547 £4 14s. 6d. worth of land belonged to this guild, including 30 acres in March let. to John Handfortes. (fn. 66) Two years later the main portion of the guild's property was granted to Robert Carr. At this date (1549) 2s. 1d. was derived from house rents in the village, for which with other Downham property the guild paid 11s. 8d. yearly to the bishop as lord of the manor. The guild owned property as far away as Littleport and Witcham. (fn. 67) The guildhall itself went to Thomas Jennings in 1571. (fn. 68) It stood on the same site as the present village school, and it is possible that parts of the building were in the 18th century used as a workhouse which in its turn was converted into a school in 1779.

Plan of St. Leonard's Church

A hermitage at Downham Hythe is mentioned in 1398, when John Skillynge was its 'warden'. (fn. 69) He and his fellows probably made their living by ferrying travellers from this promontory of the Isle to Doddington and other Fenland villages.

The church of ST. LEONARD consists of chancel, north vestry and organ chamber, clerestoried nave, aisles, south porch, and west tower. The fabric dates from the end of the 12th century with later additions and alterations. The chancel was provided with new windows about the middle of the 14th century, and a hundred years later the porch was added. In the second half of the 19th century the church underwent a drastic restoration, when the porch was rebuilt, partly with old materials, and new roofs were provided; at the same time the vestry and organ chamber were added and the top stage of the tower rebuilt. Much of the lateral wall of the north aisle had been previously rebuilt in yellow brick. The material is mostly flint with stone dressings, except the porch and top stage of the tower which are of ashlar. The chancel, nave, and north aisle are tiled and the porch and south aisle are leaded. All the internal roofs are modern and poor. There is an absence of buttresses, except three modern ones with two set-offs to the vestry and organ chamber, and two to the porch.

The chancel has an east window of three lights with modern tracery of mid-14th-century character, evidently a renewal of old work. In the south wall are two mid-14th-century windows of two cinquefoiled lights under a square head, with a hood-mould terminating in carved heads; they have both been considerably renewed. There is a double piscina with turned central shaft and responds with moulded caps, the western section of which has been cut away for the insertion of the adjacent window. The chancel arch is two-centred and of two orders with plain moulded caps partly renewed; it dates from the 13th century.

The nave arcades are of five bays with piers alternately round and octagonal and moulded caps. The clerestory consists of small lancets set over the piers and having wide internal splays. The tower arch is small and pointed and is considerably recessed; it is probably contemporary with the arcades. There are two small lancets high up in the west wall of the nave to the north and south of the tower respectively. The original fenestration of the aisles has been destroyed with the exception of the west windows, which are plain lancets; there is also a blocked lancet towards the west end of the lateral wall of the north aisle. The east window of the south aisle is of the 15th century and of two cinquefoiled lights under a depressed head. The lateral windows of the south aisle are all modern and similar to the 14th-century windows on the south side of the chancel. There is a plain rectangular piscina in the south wall. The north aisle has three lateral windows of three cinquefoiled lights under a square label, all modern. The windows of the organ chamber and vestry are also modern and of three lights with intersecting tracery. The south doorway is of transitional Norman character, but probably contemporary with the arcades; the arch is pointed with zigzag and beakhead ornament; the shafts are cheveroned and cabled and the caps carved; the original door survives though partly renewed, and it retains its hinges and straps terminating in fleurs-de-lis, and also the closing ring. There is a plain 13th-century doorway in the north aisle with continuous chamfer. The organ chamber opens to the chancel and north aisle by modern arches.

The rebuilt porch retains a 15th-century outer doorway with continuous mouldings and a hood with renewed finial. It has side windows consisting of four quatrefoils in a square frame. The buttresses are diagonal.

The tower consists of four stages without buttresses. The base has three 12th-century round-headed windows, the second stage three plain lancets, and the third three trefoil-headed lancets; the modern belfry stage has two-light windows under a square head, and there is an embattled parapet with pinnacles at the angles.

The font is of the 15th century with octagonal bowl and shaft, all richly panelled with quatrefoils and shallow trefoiled niches. There is a late-16th-century oak chest with shallow carving on the front. On the west wall of the nave over the tower arch is a large painting of the royal arms of George III on canvas.

The plate consists of a chalice of silver, 1882, a paten of silver parcel-gilt, 1883, and two glass cruets with metal mountings.

The tower contains four bells: 1st by Thomas Newman of Norwich, 1702; 2nd by Joseph Eayre of St. Neots, 1784; 3rd and 4th by Robert Gurney of Thetford, 1659.

The registers begin in 1558, but the volume containing burials from 1678 to 1729 is missing.

The rectory is a late-18th-century house of local yellow brick with roof of variegated tiles. It is of two stories and attics, and has sash windows and a pedimented doorway with fanlight. The date 1790 appears on the west chimney-stack with the initials T. W. for Thomas Waddington, rector 1787-1805.

There is an Anglican chapel between Oxlode and Pymore (Holy Trinity) and another at Third Drove (St. Owen). They serve both as mission churches and as schoolrooms. They were built at the cost of rectors of Downham, the Revd. Frederick Fisher and Canon F. F. M. S. Thornton, in 1865 and 1895 respectively. (fn. 70)


In 1676 there were 15 Dissenters in Downham. (fn. 71) Licences for meeting-houses of Protestant Nonconformists in Downham were granted to Thomas Burges (1737, renewed to Ann Burges, 1741), Alice Carlile (1748), Philip Atkin (1749), John Cole (1754), and Francis Morrey (1786). None of these gives the denomination of the congregation. (fn. 72) The Particular Baptists were established in Downham at an early date, with a chapel built in 1788 and rebuilt in 1858. (fn. 73) In 1819 they had 12 regular adherents, and it was stated that 'though the church is not numerous, public worship is well attended'. (fn. 74) The average congregation in 1851 was said to be 100; (fn. 75) a separate Sunday-school building was erected in 1930. (fn. 76) A small congregation of Christian Baptists claimed to have been established before 1800; it was probably an offshoot, and averaged 25 in 1851. (fn. 77) It does not seem ever to have had a chapel building of its own. Wesleyan Methodist chapels were established in the village in 1811 and 1816, and one at Oxlode, in the out-parish, in 1845. A Primitive Methodist chapel was established on the Hundred Foot Bank in 1836 and rebuilt in 1878. These four chapels had congregations totalling nearly 300 in 1851. (fn. 78) All of them are still in existence except the later of the two Wesleyan chapels in the village. The existing Wesleyan church in the village dates from 1907, the former building now being used as a schoolroom. (fn. 79)


Downham was one of the few villages in the Isle to have a schoolmaster at the end of the 16th century. George Archer was licensed to act in this capacity in 1582, (fn. 80) and a schoolmaster is mentioned in the Visitation Return of 1596. (fn. 81)

In 1779 the feoffees of the extensive and valuable Town Lands of Downham opened a school in the old village workhouse, which stood on the north side of the main street-traditionally the site of the guild hall. In 1837 the schoolmaster received £6 a year from the feoffees for teaching 15 boys. (fn. 82) A scheme made by the Charity Commissioners in 1872 divided the proceeds of the Downham charities into moieties, and laid it down that not less than £150 should be devoted annually to education. In 1877 the feoffees opened the school to government inspection and increased the master's salary to £80 a year. (fn. 83) They also reported that the 70 infants, who had had a separate schoolroom since 1855, (fn. 84) were being taught on the kindergarten system. (fn. 85)

Until 1910 the accommodation was assessed at 272 mixed and 81 infants, from 1910 to 1927 at 219 and 70, and from 1927 at 170 and 70. The school was for a long time handicapped by its antiquated though picturesque building. Thus in 1924 three classes were being held in one room. In 1926, however, alterations were carried out at a cost of £850. These consisted in the provision of a new classroom and the enlargement of the windows. The numbers attending have never reached the very generous provision made; they were 146 in 1901-2, 135 in 1919, and 144 in 1938. They have now been reduced to about 100 by the transfer (1948-9) of the senior children to the Cromwell School, Chatteris. (fn. 86)

Since 1896 the educational portion of the Downham Feoffee Charity has amounted to £160 a year, distributed as follows: Feoffees' School in Downham village, £90 (mixed school £67 10s., infants £22 10s.); Oxlode and Pymoor, £42; St. Owen's, £28. (fn. 87)

The Oxlode and Pymoor school was established at the sole cost of the Revd. Frederick Fisher, Rector, the trust deed being dated 1864 and the school opened the following year. The building was designed to be used as a school on weekdays and a mission church on Sundays; this practice, more common perhaps in the Fens than elsewhere, has not contributed to efficiency in either aspect. In this particular case the difficulties have been increased by the peculiar situation in the fields between the two hamlets, approached only by a footpath. The original accommodation was for 80 children, enlarged before 1910 to 144 and then scaled down to 118 (83 mixed, 35 infants). An additional classroom (1929) brought it up to 158, but the average attendance was only 64 in 1938 and has been further reduced by the transfer in 1948-9 of the senior children to Chatteris. (fn. 88)

St. Owen's School, Third Drove, was built in 1895 by Canon Thornton, Rector; it also serves both as school and mission church. There are places for 90 (60 mixed, 30 infants), but the average attendance was only 57 (1901-2), 70 (1919), and 35 (1938). Here also the senior children have been transferred to Chatteris. (fn. 89)


In 1837 the Downham Town Lands consisted of 135½ acres of copyhold land, held at a quit-rent of 19s. 2d. an acre, and 44½ acres freehold, taken as 'overplus land' when the fen was reclaimed and subdivided. The average net rent was £154, with £4 for a cottage. Out of this sum about £50 a year was expended in turves for the poor at the rate of 3,000 a family, £11 in coals (1½ bushel a family), and an unspecified amount in drainage and other taxes and repairs to the eighteen town tenements. Four of these tenements had been built in 1813 for £500, of which £195 was still outstanding. (fn. 90) A salary was also paid to the schoolmaster. (See Schools.)

Schemes of the Charity Commissioners in 1872 and 1896 increased the proportion to be made available for educational purposes. The total proceeds of the Downham Feoffee charity were about £300 and £370 a year at these dates. (fn. 91)


  • 1. B.M. Add. MS. 5821, ff. 13b, 14a.
  • 2. V.C.H. Cambs. ii, 132-3.
  • 3. Under the Isle of Ely Review Order, 1933 (M. of H. no. 76940) 829 acres, with a 1931 population of 11, were transferred from Ely to Downham. The present area of the latter parish is 10,952 acres.
  • 4. S.C. 6/1132/9.
  • 5. A. Young, Annals of Agric. xliii, 556. Young considered the 1805 estimate an inflated one, owing to the improvements forecast as a result of the proposed Eau Brink Cut near Lynn.
  • 6. Incl. Awards, County Hall, March.
  • 7. D.N.B.
  • 8. B.M. Add. MS. 5821, f. 14a.
  • 9. Jas. Bentham, Ely, 75.
  • 10. V.C.H. Cambs. i, 369.
  • 11. e.g. Cal. Pat. 1361-4, 337 (confirmation of a charter of 1308); 1381-5, 97, 231; 1391-6, 53; L. & P. Hen. VIII, iii, 565, 1030, 2615, 3476; xi, 1375.
  • 12. Bentham, Ely. Of these, Fordham and Gray were from the secular clergy.
  • 13. Cal. Chart. R. 1341-1417, 381.
  • 14. B.M. Add. MS. 5847, f. 94, quoting Bp.'s Mun., Ely, G 3 ('Old Coucher').
  • 15. B.M. Cott. MS. Claud. C. XI, ff. 34, 35b. Wood from this park was taken to Ely by the customaries in two-horse carts for the kitchen of the guest house. The wages of the keeper of the park were 3d. a day in 1358 (Cal. Pat. 1358-61, 130).
  • 16. Ely Dioc. Remembrancer, no. 206, p. 141; no. 229, p. 131.
  • 17. B.M. Cott. MS. Claud. C. XI, f. 34a.
  • 18. Bp.'s Mun., Ely, G 3 ('Old Coucher').
  • 19. B.M. Cott. MS. Tib. B. II, f. 94.
  • 20. B.M. Cott. MS. Claud. C. XI, f. 35.
  • 21. Bp.'s Mun., Ely, D 5 (1, 2).
  • 22. S.C. 6/1132/9, /11, /13.
  • 23. B.M. Add. MS. 6165, f. 276.
  • 24. A. Gibbons, Ely Episc. Rec. 13.
  • 25. B.M. Add. Chart. 34274, 4b.
  • 26. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xii (1), 129, 245, 361, and xvii, 256; C 3/124/1 and /128/9; B.M. Lansd. MS. 21, no. 44 (Lease by Bp. West to Thos. Megges, 1521-2).
  • 27. Cambs. and Hunts. Arch. Soc. Trans. v, 379.
  • 28. C 66/1379, m. 34.
  • 29. Bentham, Ely, 198.
  • 30. Wharton, Anglia Sacra, i, 675.
  • 31. Bp.'s Mun., Ely, D 6.
  • 32. C 54/3406, no. 28.
  • 33. Probably a descendant of the William Marsh who was lessee of the manor house under Bishop White.
  • 34. C 54/3515, no. 8.
  • 35. 9 & 10 Wm. III, c. 2. See also B.M. Add. MS. 5821, f. 12b.
  • 36. C.P.25(2)/911/Mich. 2 Anne. He was a sub-lessee of William Needham and others for ninety-nine years.
  • 37. Gibbons, Ely Episc. Rec. 21.
  • 38. D. and S. Lysons, Magna Brit. ii (1), 178.
  • 39. R. Gardner, Dir. Cambs. 491.
  • 40. Bp.'s Mun., Ely, D 6.
  • 41. Gardner, Dir. Cambs. (1851), 491; Kelly, Dir. Cambs. (1900, 1933).
  • 42. Tax. Eccl. (Rec. Com.), 271.
  • 43. D. & C. Mun., Ely, Cartae 157, 948, 963-6.
  • 44. Cal. Inq. Misc. iii, no. 784 (p. 295).
  • 45. Cal. Pat. 1313-17, 121.
  • 46. Dugd., Mon. i, 492.
  • 47. Ely Dioc. Remembrancer, no. 219, p. 179.
  • 48. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xvi, g. 1226 (12).
  • 49. B.M. Cott. MS. Tib. B. II, f. 94.
  • 50. Pipe R. 1170 (Pipe R. Soc. xv), 96.
  • 51. B.M. Cott. MS. Claud. C. XI, f. 35.
  • 52. B.M. Cott. MS. Tib. B. II, f. 94.
  • 53. Bp.'s Mun., Ely, G 3 ('Old Coucher').
  • 54. Cal. Pat. 1358-61, 15; 1391-6, 144.
  • 55. Cambs. Arch. Soc. Proc. xxxvi, 97, 102.
  • 56. V.C.H. Cambs. ii, 310.
  • 57. Gardner, Dir. Cambs. (1851), 491.
  • 58. P.R.O. Inst. Bks.; Crockford's Clerical Dir.
  • 59. Tax. Eccl. (Rec. Com.), 265; Dugd., Mon. i, 492.
  • 60. W. E. Lunt, Valuation of Norw. 216, 539.
  • 61. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iii, 499. At the Dissolution the £2 pension was appropriated to the sacrist (D. & C. Mun., Ely).
  • 62. B.M. Add. MS. 5821, ff. 13b, 14a.
  • 63. Ely Dioc. Remembrancer, no. 188, p. 20.
  • 64. W. M. Palmer, Village Gilds of Cambs. 387, quoting will of Richard Cok (P. C. C. Godyn, 84).
  • 65. Cal. Pat. 1467-77, 518-19.
  • 66. Palmer, loc. cit.; Cal. Pat. 1547-8, 323.
  • 67. Cal. Pat. 1548-9, 348-50.
  • 68. C 66/1077, m. 38.
  • 69. Cal. Pat. 1396-9, 320.
  • 70. Kelly, Dir. Cambs. (1900).
  • 71. Bp.'s Mun., Ely, A 6.
  • 72. Ibid.
  • 73. H.O. 129/7/190; inscription on building.
  • 74. Cong. Mag. ii, 501 (1819).
  • 75. H.O. 129/7/190.
  • 76. Kelly, Dir. Cambs. (1933).
  • 77. H.O. 129/7/190.
  • 78. Ibid.
  • 79. Inscription on building.
  • 80. Gibbons, Ely Episc. Rec. 183.
  • 81. V.C.H. Cambs. ii, 338 n.
  • 82. Rep. Com. Char. (Cambs.), [103], 232, H.C. (1837-8), xxiv.
  • 83. M. of Ed. File no. 12/9.
  • 84. Kelly, Dir. Cambs. (1900).
  • 85. M. of Ed. File no. 12/9.
  • 86. Ibid.
  • 87. Ibid.
  • 88. M. of Ed. File no. 12/10.
  • 89. M. of Ed. File no. 12/11.
  • 90. Rep. Com. Char. (Cambs.), [103], 232, H.C. (1837-8), xxiv.
  • 91. M. of Ed. File no. 12/9.