Downham Market, Norfolk Genealogy

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England Gotoarrow.png Norfolk Gotoarrow.png Norfolk Parishes

Parish History

DOWNHAM-MARKET (St. Edmund), a markettown and parish, and the head of a union, in the hundred of Clackclose, W. division of Norfolk, 42½ miles (W.) from Norwich, and 85 (N. by E.) from London. There are places of worship for Particular Baptists, the Society of Friends, Independents, Primitive Methodists, and Wesleyans. [1]

Downham or Downham Market St Edmund is an Ancient parish in the Fincham deanery of the Diocese of Norwich which includes Tong's Drain in the parish.

The town and market town of Downham became noteworithy during the Middle Ages. It was famed for its butter market and also hosted a notable horse fair. The suffix "market" therefore came to be associated with Downham and both names were used in record sources equally until the 19th century when a civil parish was created with the name Downham Market.

This town is one example of others in the Diocese of Norwich whose name changes over centuries may prove confusing to the researcher. Both names have equal validity ofr the parish over the centuries of records although since the nineteenth century teh parish is referred to as Downham Market. As with the Lynn parishes (King's Lynn) the change of name in modern times may have hidden the earlier record history of the town.

Over the years the name has appeared with various spellings - Dunham, Duneham, Dounham, Downham and Downham Market. The derivation of the name is from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Dun’ – ‘hill’ and ‘ham’ – ‘settlement’, so ‘settlement on the hill’.

Downham Market probably had its origins as a Saxon settlement, sited around the elevated ground on which the Church was built, and achieved Market status by the year 1050. Downham was granted to the Abbey of Ramsey (founded AD965) as early as the reign of Edgar (959-975). Confirmation of this is recorded during the reigns of Edward the Confessor, William 1 and King John, in AD1047, 1078 and 1200 respectively.

Notable buildings in the town include its mediaeval parish church, dedicated to St Edmund, and Victorian clock tower, constructed in 1878. The town is also known as the place where Charles I hid after the Battle of Naseby in 1646. Charles 1 of England (Charles Stuart), escaping across the Fens after the Battle of Naseby, stayed at the Swan Inn, disguised as a Clergyman, awaiting news from his faithful servant Hudson regarding the manner in which the Scots would receive him. The Swan still stands today and is situated in the High Street in Downham Market, but the present day construction is not the original building. He is said to have gone to Snore Hall at Fordham and remained in hiding for a few days, and also to have sought refuge at Crimplesham. Having rested there for two or three days he set off on his fateful journey to the Scots at Southwell. During his reign, the present Bridge Street was known as King Charles' Way, but was also known as Cowgate Street before taking on its present title.

Historically part of the Diocese of Norwich the parish is now transferred to the Diocese of Ely, and is one of 31 Norfolk parishes in the deanery of Fincham and Feltwell which are wholly within the county of Norfolk.


Civil Registration

Birth, marriages and deaths were kept by the government, from July 1837 to the present day. The civil registration article tells more about these records. There are several Internet sites with name lists or indexes. A popular site is FreeBMD.

Registration Districts:

  • Downham 1837-1974

Church records

Downham Market, Norfolk Genealogy parish registers of christenings, marriages and burials are available online for the following years:

FREG = FreeREG - free[2]
JOIN = The Joiner Marriage Index - (£)[3]
Downham Market, Norfolk Genealogy Online Records


Indexes Images Indexes Images Indexes Images
FREG 1553-1687, 1695-1900
1553-1687, 1695-1900
1553-1687, 1695-1901

Contributor: Include here information for parish registers, Bishop’s Transcripts, non conformist and other types of church records, such as parish chest records. Add the contact information for the office holding the original records. Add links to the Family History Library Catalog showing the film numbers in their collection

Images of the parish register for this parish are available in FamilySearch historic records

Norfolk Record Office reference PD 333/ 1-17, 21-23 Parish records of Dowham Market and of the united benefice of Downham Market with Bexwell(Diocese of Ely)

The images appear under the waypoint Downham since the early volumes are entitled Downham, later records reflect the Downham Market name as Rectors and churchwardends reflect the changed town name. From 1813 Downham Market appears in the record titles. for images of the church and Baptisms 1813-1880 transcripts online Norfolk Baptism Project.

Non-Church of England denominations identified in Downham Market include: Particular Baptist, Primitive Methodist, Society of Friends/Quaker, Strict Baptist, Wesleyan Methodist, and Wesleyan Methodist Reform

See for Simon Knotts images of St Dominic Roman Catholic church

Census records


Census records from 1841 to 1911 are available online. For access, see England Census Records and Indexes Online. Census records from 1841 to 1891 are also available on film through a Family History Center or at the Family History Library. transcript of 1891 census also Downham Union workhouse

Poor Law Unions

Norfolk Poor Law Unions

Downham Poor Law Union

History of Downham Union Workhouse: Courtesy of Friends of High Haven

For more information on the history of the workhouse, see Peter Higginbotham's web site: and

Probate records

Records of wills, administrations, inventories, indexes, etc. were filed by the court with jurisdiction over this parish. Go to Norfolk Probate Records to find the name of the court having primary jurisdiction. Scroll down in the article to the section Court Jurisdictions by Parish.

Maps and Gazetteers

Maps are a visual look at the locations in England. Gazetteers contain brief summaries about a place.

Web sites


  1. Lewis, Samuel A., A Topographical Dictionary of England (1848), Date accessed: 19 September, 2013. pp. 84-88.
  2. 'Norfolk Coverage', FreeREG, accessed 24 February 2014.
  3. 'Norfolk Coverage,' The Joiner Marriage Index, accessed 11 February 2014.