Saint Edmund, Downham Market, Norfolk

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Standing on a crest of a hill, St. Edmund’s Church commands a fine view of the town and the fenland landscape beyond. This site was chosen for the church long before the present building, when the very best site in the neighbourhood could be selected.

St. Edmund’s Church is both Downham Market’s oldest building and only Grade One Listed Building.

The construction of the church is mostly carstone (without admixture of flints which is unusual in this area), with later brickwork. The Nave is roofed with lead. The Church was rebuilt in the 13th century (Early English period) and extensively altered in the 15th and 16th centuries (Perpendicular and Tudor periods). The Chancel roof is now tiled, but was originally thatched.
Carstone is a local stone, occurring in a narrow strip of land from the Downham Market area to Hunstanton. It is conceivable that the carstone for the church came from the local quarry near the Howdale. The quoins (corners, doorways, windows, piers, etc) are of an ashlar construction - dressed stone blocks of limestone (from the famous quarry at Barnack, near Peterborough) sculpted to have square edges and even faces. This contrasting colour to the carstone has a pleasing effect, effectively accentuating the features of the Church.
The Tower was built in the 13th century (Early English period) with lancet windows in the lower stages. The belfry openings are special with the round shaft in front of a stone screen of quatrefoils. Decorated detailing can be seen in the stepped corner buttresses which rise to ornamented pinnacles. The brick parapet came later, in the Tudor period, and within it there is a wooden spire covered by lead, last recovered in 1896, surmounted by a gilded weathercock. Turret stairs (46 steps) rise to the parapet, and it can be seen that this turret is a later addition, by the way it obscures part of one belfry opening.
The view from the top of the tower commands an extensive panorama of the adjoining fen country. On a clear day Ely Cathedral would be visible to the south were it not for the height of the lime trees. However the power station at Sutton Bridge stands out clearly on the horizon looking west-northwest.



Organ chamber outside wall
Organ chamber outside wall

Tower - gingery newer carstone against the aged brown.
Tower - gingery newer carstone against the aged brown.

Nave windows
Nave windows

Nave windows
Nave windows
The nave windows are square-headed Perpendicular Period, including the clerestory which matches the aisle windows. On the north side between the main windows there are two narrow lancets, which were opened up in the Victorian restoration of 1873. This is curious because they appear to be Early English windows belonging to the nave before the north aisle was added.

Nave windows
Nave windows

Chancel windows
Chancel windows

Lady Chapel windows
Lady Chapel windows

Tower lancet windows
Tower lancet windows

Tower lancet windows
Tower lancet windows
The vestry was added during the Victorian restoration.
The porch with its grand proportions is also of the Perpendicular Period. Above the outer entrance is a niche, but the original figure was removed at the Reformation. In 1886 a new figure of St Edmund was inserted, but this lost its head to vandals in more recent times.

South porch
South porch

South door - decapitated St Edmund above
South door - decapitated St Edmund above
The boundary retaining wall, the ‘Great Wall of Downham’ was built in 1967 to enable the widening of Church Road, in order to take traffic away from the very narrow High Street. The building of the wall necessitated the removal of one row of lime trees on the Church avenue. (It is hoped that one day the wall might be re-modelled to make it less austere and imposing, and using local materials.)
Other Exterior Features

Organ Chamber wall (1872-3)  detail - Our Lady or Queen Victoria?!
Organ Chamber wall (1872-3) detail - Our Lady or Queen Victoria?!
There is evidence of the re-use of previous stonework, such as the Norman shaft with exquisite spiral fluting which is set into the outer north transept wall. Could it have come from an piscina? Also set into the outside wall may be found part of an early stone coffin lid, bearing the omega symbol, and near the south priest's door a stone crucifix. It is worn and weathered, and it has been suggested that it might have derived from an early churchyard cross, or preaching cross.

Mediavel Stone coffin lid in 1872-3 wall
Mediavel Stone coffin lid in 1872-3 wall


Norman column
Norman column


Priest's door - mediaeval stone crucifix above
Priest's door - mediaeval stone crucifix above

Mediaeval stone crucifix
Mediaeval stone crucifix

Label head from porch
Label head from porch

Label head from porch
Label head from porch

Roof Cross
Roof Cross

Ventilation opening
Ventilation opening

Ventilation opening
Ventilation opening