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Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Bringing the Past into the Present... for the Future... it CAN be done!

Bringing the Past into the Present... for the Future

 - it CAN be done!

Tucked away in West Norfolk - not far from Norwich, Kings Lynn, and Cambridge, is the picturesque town of Downham Market. Apart from its historical significance as a Market Town, it shines as a jewel among the Fens, with the Anglican Church of St. Edmunds atop the hill, the spire of which can be seen from the west and south for miles around. Approached from the west across wide acres of flat Fenland, Downham Market lies ahead on the first high ground. Here, the prehistoric ancestors had dry land, safe from flooding, on which to build their homes, raise their cattle and crops, and still enjoy the wealth of fish, eels, and wildfowl from the fens. 

My sister and her husband have lived in this town for decades and have become cornerstones of the community. This is obvious in that you cannot walk through the town with them without several people stopping them to say hello! 
Some of the people who 'made it happen'. Dave is in the centre, and my sister, Jess, is second from the right,
(wearing a hard-hat)

So, it was no surprise to me when I heard that they had got involved with the Downham Market Heritage Society. In fact, they were more than involved - Dave became the chairman of the society, and, together with his committee members, oversaw the transition of the Heritage Centre from the town hall to the Old Fire Station that was no longer in use. 

The Old Fire Station as it was before the Heritage Centre took it over

Funding had been promised to the society, and plans were made. However, these plans were nearly shelved after a knock on the door revealed a representative from the funding organization who announced that the funding would not, after all, be available. 

Not to be daunted, Dave went back to the committee and suggested that they raise the funds themselves. Although the majority of members agreed to take on the challenge, there were a couple of nay-sayers who said, 'You'll never do it!'. That comment was all that Dave needed. Recently he told me that this was the catalyst that galvanized him into massive action and he gathered those who agreed with him to join him on the venture. 

Four years later, in March, 2016, the Discover Downham Heritage and Learning Centre was opened to the public and has been thriving ever since. It is a magnet that draws people from beyond the limits of the town - in fact, from miles around. Through exhibitions and displays, the Heritage Centre tells the story of the area and its people through the ages. 

The Heritage Centre - "Discover Downham"

During our recent visit to the U.K., we were able to spend some time in the centre. We knew that it would be great; we didn't realize just how amazing it would be! So many of the artifacts on display were donated by the local residents, so typical of the supportive community. 

Butter Churn

Gift Shop

Sports paraphernalia - including ice-skates worn by Philip Doubleday
- winner of the National Speed Skating Championship in the 1980's.

Old Servant's Bell (shades of Downton Abbey??)
 Mark had to try out the Servant's Bell - Lord Grantham - watch out!

Various implements used in olden days

Hands on exhibits for children to practise weighing items using old-fashioned scales

Portable Siren from World War II

Interactive displays focus upon the concepts of work, leisure, local trade, Fenland life, and conflict through the ages. There are also research facilities with a small library, archives of maps, and computers (with free wi-fi) to find out more about the heritage of the town.

Research Centre

Map Drawers

Glass display cases show off the exhibits in authentic settings, and there are other free-standing figures that give an idea of life in earlier times.

Display telling the story of the 1816 riots - "Blood or Bread"

Tribute to the Fire Service

Washing Day

As a teacher, I really appreciated the hands-on activities that are available for students and how some of the displays feed directly into the U.K. National Curriculum. 

Animal Sounds and 'guess what it is' objects featuring the local landscape as it would have been in ancient times
 Mark loved trying out the various sounds!

Part of a time-line of significant dates to the town

Hands on, pre-decimalization currency

Matching pictures of buildings, past and present

I love this matching activity

The centre also features a large room that can be hired. It can accommodate 60 people seated, and boasts a small, but functional, kitchen with full equipment and tableware, which makes the space suitable for gatherings.

Kitchen and equipment - great hiring facility for formal/informal functions

(In fact, we celebrated Jess & Dave's 60th wedding anniversary at the facility!) Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, sent special greetings to them to mark this milestone in their lives together!

Floral tribute and Celebration Cake - together with personalized card from Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II

There is also a screen and projector that can be used for more formal meetings/gatherings and it's a really good venue for talks, workshops, and other programs. 

Perfect for presentations

This undertaking shows so clearly what CAN be achieved when people have the right mindset, the perseverance to overcome obstacles, and the ability to work with a team to get things done; it also demonstrates what can be achieved when leaders step up to the plate and make things happen. 


Enjoy these pics taken from around the town: 

The Town Clock

Anglican Church of St. Edmund

The Town Sign

The Castle Hotel

Another view of the Town Sign

So many beautiful walkways

The Old Priory

For further information: and

Facebook link: Discover-Downham-Heritage-and-Learning-Centre

If anyone in the UK wishes to help raise funds for the Centre, at no cost to themselves, they can do so by clicking this link and signing up as a supporter. They can then use the outlets partnered to the site to shop at no extra cost and a donation will be made to the Centre for recommending the site and using the service. Amazon, Tesco, and many, many more are  listed on the site.

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Monday, 8 May 2017

On the Trail of Cabot (Bristol, U.K.)

On The Trail of Cabot, (Bristol, U.K.)

Having been on the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, we were naturally drawn to the place from where John Cabot sailed on his way to the New World, back in 1497.

Bristol is a beautiful city through which the River Avon flows. (This is popularly known as the Bristol Avon to distinguish it from the other 8 rivers in the U.K. which bear the same name - and is different from the Warwickshire Avon, better known for its course through Shakespearean country). It was good to see so many barges moored to the quayside as we crossed one of the many bridges that span the river system.

This morning, we made our way to Brandon Hill, as the Cabot Tower is to be found at the summit. The tower was opened in 1897 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of John Cabot's voyage from Bristol to Newfoundland in 1497.

Surrounded by beautiful gardens, the tower affords some magnificent views of the city, with the surrounding hills as a stunning background.

The spiral stairs, very narrow in some places, provided us with our exercise for the day as we were determined to climb to the top. Luckily, we had the tower to ourselves and were not met by anyone either on the way up, or on the way down!

We were pleased to see that Canada got a mention and we looked in the direction of our homeland with a little bit of pride in our hearts!

On the way down, we espied a lovely four-legged friend who let us pet her. Lilly was very friendly, and reminded us of another Lilly, back home in Elliot Lake!

After spending time at the tower, we walked down to the Avon and strolled along the quayside, stopping to admire the replica of 'The Matthew' - the sailing ship used by John Cabot to cross the Atlantic.

It was interesting to see a few shops that had been built into the quay walls, including restaurants and hair salons.

Although this is a flying visit to Bristol, we're hoping to get to see the Clifton Suspension Bridge tomorrow, along with the S.S. Great Britain - both built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. In his time, "he built dockyards, the Great Western Railway" (along part of which we had traveled from Dorchester to Bristol the day before), "a series of steamships (including the first propeller-driven transatlantic steamship, and numerous important bridges and tunnels)." (

Bristol is well worth a visit for anyone traveling in the south-western part of the U.K.

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