Downham Village Home
The village of Downham lies 3 miles to the east of Clitheroe, 1 ½ miles from the A59 Lancashire/ Yorkshire trunk road. The parish includes the township of Twiston two miles south-east, under the big end of Pendle. This part of the Ribble Valley is an AONB [area of outstanding natural beauty].
Downham has long had a reputation as an attractive village, often quoted as the most beautiful village in Lancashire. It may have rivals but it certainly is largely unspoilt – no television aerials or obtrusive satellite dishes, no overhead wires or roadside yellow lines, and minimal signing in the village. There is an old world charm with the setting of the church on the crest of a limestone ridge above the village, Downham Hall behind the church on the same ridge and cottages neatly arranged at both the top of church brow and another group around the main street and village stream.
The Assheton family is responsible for keeping the village and surrounding well managed estate, including the farms and some of the houses in neighbouring Twiston, in its present unblemished condition. None of the properties on the estate is privately owned. The manor has been in the family’s ownership since 1558 and has passed through a direct male line of the Assheton’s since 1680.
Settlers came to the Downham area over 1000 years ago, probably in the 8th or 9th century, although the village does not get a mention in Domesday. Place names suggest early settlement and a reference to the village elder or lord, Aufray [Alfred] the Saxon in early records suggest a settled community at the time of the Norman Conquest. Two ancient roads passed by taking travellers across this area of the Ribble Valley: the well known route of the Roman road from Ribchester to llkley passes along Downham Green to the north of the village merging beyond Downham with a much older route, probably part of the Irish Gold Road, which passes the south end of the village.
Its long history makes Downham one of the foundation villages of Pendle; the manor court rolls record a Halmote [local court] held here since the 14th century. A much larger community some 200 years ago, it has a typical Pennine village history of agriculture and handloom weaving. In 1816 a Wesleyan chapel [now the village hall] was built on the ridge at the end of the village opposite the church. Most of the present stone cottages were built on older sites between the reigns of the ‘great’ queens Elizabeth I and Victoria. The oldest [Tudor] house is dated 1580.
The village pub ‘The Assheton Arms’ and the tearoom cater for visitors year round. A thriving pre-school on the Main Street uses the former village school premises and the village hall on Pendle Road is well supported by several local clubs and groups with frequent events and activities.
As well as a constant flow of tourists and walkers the village is attractive to film makers because of the lack of apparent modernity. The absence of aerials makes it ideal for historical drama and many films have been shot in the village and its surroundings. Most recently in 2012 the village appeared in the BBC1 ghost story ‘The Secret of Crickley Hall,’ The 1950s era production ‘Born and Bred’ was filmed in Downham [2001-3]. At an earlier date a shot from ‘Wuthering Heights’ was taken on church brow and other films have been made here. One of the most famous films [although this one did have TV aerials in view!] was the 1961 ‘Whistle Down the Wind’ starring Hayley Mills and Alan Bates, shot largely at Worsaw End Farm and including local children from Downham and Chatburn schools in the roles of many of the children in the film.
Visitors enjoy feeding [the very overfed] ducks in Downham Brook although the ducks have not always been a feature of the locality. They started to inhabit the village in large numbers in the 1960s and have become much a part of village stream life over the years.
The village has a car park, small [unstaffed] information centre and lavatory block on the site of the old farmyard ‘Lower Hall Farm’.
Walkers have always been drawn to the area, some to walk up to Pendle, others to enjoy the many local walks which can be in any direction from the village – via Pendle road to the moorland and Pendle Hill, towards Twiston, Rimington, Chatburn and Worston. Once on the higher ground outside the village the views of the Ribble Valley and Pendle are stunning.