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History of Downham

  • council: Lewisham
  • phone code: 020
  • postcode area: BR1
  • county: Greater London

This area was in the county of Kent until 1889 when the London County Council was formed.

Until the 1920's, there were no houses in Downham. The area was farmland, much of it belonging to Holloway and Shroffolds Farms. In the 1890s there was a rifle range near Rangefield Road .

In 1920-1923 the London County Council bought the farmland in order to build a new housing estate there. It was named Downham after the Chairman of the London County Council, Lord Downham – the name was very appropriate because Downham means ‘the village on the hill.

Because there was plenty of land available, most of the dwellings were two storey brick houses with 3 – 5 rooms, plus kitchen and bathroom with gardens rather than flats and 6,054 properties were built. This did include some 3 storey buildings divided into flats and the main contractor was Holland and Cubitt. The estate's unusual size presented the builders with significant logistical problems. Part of the solution was a temporary railway from nearby Grove Park Station to the site on which to transport materials.

Many of the people who moved into the new estate were from the East End of London where the slums were being cleared away.

Downham Way is the main axis of the London County Council's huge Downham Estate. The disadvantage of being so far from central London was that many breadwinners had a very long journey to work. A tram line was one of the few services to be introduced at the same time as when the residents moved in, opening in 1928. Initially it terminated at Bromley Road , but was extended the whole length of Downham Way to Grove Par, and there was an all-night tram service. A bus services for the estate was to come much later.

Downham boasted a large cinema, The Splendid, which opened in July 1930 with 2244 seats. In the late 1930's other important facilities emerged, including a local branch library and a swimming pool.

The cinema closed in 1957.

As education authority for the greater part of the estate, the London County Council built seven elementary schools for 5,816 children, a central school or 800 children, an open-air school for 130 children and by 1930 had reserved a site for a secondary school. In addition the Borough of Bromley provided its section of the estate a school for 1,040 children. Five sites on the estate were sold off for the construction of churches and chapels.

In 1930, the Downham Tavern was opened. This was the only public house included in the plan of the estate. It is true that just a single public house was hardly adequate to serve a population of 29,000, but one must view his in the context of the temperance orientation of the London County Council at the time. It was hoped that facilities like the Downham Tavern could evolve into family establishments rather than the drinking dens of the past.

The names of many of the roads, and of Malory School , are taken from the legends of King Arthur. Unfortunately we do not know why these names were chosen.

Downham Today
Downham is bordered by Grove Park , Plaistow, Beckenham, Bellingham and Southend. Laying between Catford and Bromley, Downham is a very busy localised town centre, selling everything from car parts to glasses and fishing tackle to a local locksmith. Downham is also close to Forester Memorial Park , Beckenham Place Park and Downham Fields.

Regeneration and Development
There have been some exciting opportunities of late in Downham. Neighbourhood Renewal Unit and Lewisham Strategic Partnership implementing many projects to the area which include Housing and Environment, Health, Crime and Community Safety, Neighbourhood Management, Community Development, Children and Young People and Employment and Enterprise.

Lewisham Borough's famous residents, past and present
Danny Baker (Broadcaster)
Kate Bush (singer/song-writer)
James Callaghan (Labour Prime Minister)
Sir James Clark-Ross (polar explorer)
"Big" Jim Connell (socialist)
Ernest Dowson (poet)
Alfred "Titch" Freeman (cricketer)
Gabrielle (singer/song-writer)
Sir Isaac Hayward (politician)
Glenda Jackson MP (politician & actress)
David Jones (painter & poet)
Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen (TV presenter)
Spike Milligan (comedian & writer)
Mica Paris (singer/song-writer)
Sybil Pheonix MBE (community worker)
Doris Stokes (medium)
Terry Waite (Archbishop's Envoy)
Max Wall (comedian)
Ian Wright (footballer)

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