Downe Village Tour
Downe Village is a Conservation Area in the Metropolitan Green Belt and a Proposed World Heritage Site. The proposed World Heritage Site is one based on the scientific importance of the area and many of the buildings in the Conservation Area have historical associations to Charles Darwin which adds significance to these buildings. The first application. ‘Darwin at Downe’ was submitted in 2007 but withdrawn on advice in 2008. It was again submitted, under a different name in 2009 for possible inscription in 2010. Unfortunately, ‘Darwin’s Landscape Laboratory’ did not meet the criteria and no agreement was reached. Downe is still on the WHS Tentative List.
Village Hall – Locally Listed
This was built originally as Downe National School in 1855 by the Lubbock family of the High Elms Estate and built on the site of the Poor House. It was used as a school until 1906 when a new school was built in High Elms Road. It then became Downe Village Hall and remained in the Lubbock/Avebury family ownership until 1977 when Lord Avebury gave it to the villagers of Downe. They inherited the hall and a WW11 air raid shelter housing a single loo. The shelter took six months to demolish and the site levelled. Around a hundred skips were needed to carry it away.
After many fundraising events and a recent lottery grant towards the main hall’s refurbishment the hall is now complete. It now reflects a Victorian classroom and in addition a much needed extension, including new toilets, was built and officially opened in 2007.
Dorset Villas – Locally Listed
Dated 1870 Yellow brick with red brick window dressings and slate roof. Formerly a sweet shop.
Queen’s Head – Locally Listed
Late Victorian public house. The right side adjacent to the Churchyard is considerably older possibly as early as 16th century. During mid-late 19th century and early 1900s the pub included a grocery store and also a tea and dining rooms. The Queen’s Head was a popular meeting place for American Troops during WW11.
19 High Street
Formerly Post office and General Stores probably early Victorian. Extended in 1930s for use as a Tea Room until mid 1950s. In late 1800s it was also a bakers.
George and Dragon Public House – Locally Listed
Probably dates back to 18th century in parts. Renovated to existing style in 1930s with additional extensions. During early 1900s it was also a grocery store and Post Office.
Walnut Tree House and Cottage – Grade 11 Listed
Walnut Tree House and Cottage were originally built as a four-bay Wealden House towards the end of the 15th century. Apart from the Church they are the oldest buildings in the Village. Walnut Tree House was used as Tea Rooms and later renovated in the early 1970s. John Lewis, the local builder and undertaker, lived and worked here and made the coffin for Charles Darwin to his specification. It was only used temporarily as it was not considered sufficiently grand for a Westminster Abbey funeral. John Lewis later recalled how he helped to place Darwin into his rough and unpolished coffin only to take him out thirty-one and a half hours later.
Snow’s Cottages Grade 11 Listed
Numbers one and two built in 1737. Numbers three and four a hundred years later.
Numbers one and two have two storeys and attic, the roof sloping to one storey at the rear. They also have brick modillion eaves. Numbers three and four are similar without the eaves cornice.
Between Snow’s Cottages and Walnut Tree Cottage there was a chapel known as Fegen’s Chapel and a row of cottages known as Ivy Cottages. These were damaged in WW11 and demolished. Four brick and weather-boarded houses were built on part of the site in the mid 1960s.
Baptist Church and Manse/ old Forge
This was built on the site of the old wooden chapel and the former forge in the late 1960s. The original plan was to build the chapel in front of the hall. Lack of funds has prevented this so the hall is used as a chapel. The brickwork where the furnace used to be in the forge is still visible. The forge was on the right side of the Manse by the pavement.
Trowmer’s – Locally Listed
Dated 1717 but much altered and extended. Originally known as Tower House it had a lofty prospect tower and this along with the top floor was removed. It was also known as Trodmore Lodge. In 1868 Sarah Elizabeth Wedgwood (called Elizabeth) granddaughter of Josiah Wedgwood the famous potter and Emma Darwin’s sister (Charles’ wife) came to live at Trowmer’s. The house has fine knapped flint and brick boundary walls.
Formerly known as Tower House Stables. Probably built at the same time as the house in 1717 as a coach house with stables and accommodation over for the coachman/gardener. Converted to a dwelling in 1965 with a later extension
Petleys – Grade 11 Listed
There has been a house on this site since the 12th century. Today the front is Queen Anne; part of the side is Tudor and the rear Victorian. The Petley family lived here until 16th century. In 1847 Sarah Wedgwood, younger daughter of Josiah Wedgwood came to Downe to be close to her niece Emma Darwin (Charles Darwin’s wife). It was also the home of Sir John Henniker-Major in the 1960s who was the British Ambassador to Denmark.
Petley’s Farmhouse – Locally Listed
Early/mid19th C farmhouse Yellow and red brick with some flint.
The Village Pond
The pond no longer holds water largely due to the 2 heavy anti-aircraft shells landing in it around 1943. There was much local damage including to Petley’s opposite. Craters were up to 5 feet deep and from then on the pond was never the same. In 1947 Orpington Council took a hand. They imported vast quantities of river clay to no avail: it still would not hold water. Water was jetted into the pond around the clock for months and up until the late fifties it held water fairly well. Then it was in trouble again in the 1960s and what remained was stagnant. Holes were drilled and this annoyed villagers who tried to fill them but they could not find them all. In 1990 the size of the pond was reduced and the culvert improved. The pond no longer holds water (only during very heavy rain or wet weather) and the Council now cuts the grass. Visitors sometimes picnic on what used to be the banks of the pond!
Downe Lodge/Ditch Field
The Muirhead family lived at Downe Lodge in the early 1900s and Alexander Muirhead was skilled in cable telegraphy. With Oliver Lodge, later Sir Oliver, in 1902 they sent one of the first wireless messages from an experimental station erected in Ditchfield (West Hill) and was successfully transmitted for seven miles and received at Muirheads at Elmers End, now Tesco’s.
Practical use of the electromagnet radiation for communications dates from around 1894 from the demonstration of wireless telegraphy by the British Physicist Oliver Lodge. He was the first man to suggest the sun might be a source of radio waves. A feat not confirmed until 1942.
He worked with Muirhead and they filed a number of other wireless patents in 1897 and set-up the Lodge-Muirhead Syndicate for the commercial exploitation of the wireless. Claims made by Marconi were challenged in the courts and Lodge won. However, Lodge failed to see the practical implications of his 1894 experiments but Marconi did. In 1900 Marconi patented his work based on Sir Oliver’s works enabling several stations to operate on different wavelengths without interference.
Buckston Browne Farm
Built in 1931 it formed part of the Down House Estate. It was used by the Royal College of Surgeons for medical research. This activity attracted adverse publicity from the anti-vivisection lobby and the activity ceased in the early 1980s.
Many antibiotics, perfecting the first heart/lung machine, kidney machines and dental diseases were among their many successes. The Farmhouse has been renovated and converted into a small terrace for residential use. A further three houses have been built in the grounds.
Down House – Statutory Grade 1 Listed
After finding clues to evolution during the voyage of HMS Beagle Charles Darwin came to Downe in 1842 to develop his theory of natural selection. His daily observations here and experiments in his garden, woods, surrounding meadows and hedges became the source of information for his famous book ‘The Origin of Species’.
The Sand Walk, to the rear of Down House, was walked by Darwin several times a day. The Sand Walk was also known as Darwin’s Thinking Path.
The area is very much as it was in Darwin’s time, hence the recent proposal to be a World Heritage Site. The area proposed stretches from Keston to include Holwood, the village of Downe including High Elms and part of Cudham. This includes areas where he studied the flora and fauna, etc.
He was a great family man and his children helped him with his experiments. There were ten children in all, two died in infancy and Annie died aged ten. He took a keen interest in village affairs especially the education of village children. He died in 1882 and is buried in Westminster Abbey.
Downe Court Manor Statutory Listed – Grade 11
There is an early deed referring to Downe Court Manor dated 1287. The present building dates from around 1690. Years ago it was surrounded by ponds which tend to suggest the original manor house could have been moated. Sir Thomas Mervyn owned the house in 1518 and was Lord Mayor of London. When he died he left one penny to each prisoner in the London gaols. One time owner was Sir Thomas Smyth who was governor of the East India Company and Treasurer of the Virginia Company.
Another owner was Henry Manning Marshal of the Household under Henry V111 and Queen Elizabeth is believed to have attended the christening of his daughter Margaret in 1559. Parish Register records the ceremony took place ‘after ye Queene’s visitation’.
Then came Jacob Verzillini an Italian from Murano, near Venice who took over a glass-making factory in Crutched Friars in London around 1571. He was granted a 21-year licence to make drinking glasses providing he taught his skills to Englishmen and did not import the glasses.
He was very successful and bought quite a lot of property in the area. There may be as many as nine of his glasses remaining. V and A has one so does the British Museum. Windsor Castle and another at Cambridge and several are abroad. One was dropped at auction. When he died he bequeathed ‘cloth to 6d a yard for a new coat for all villagers to ‘attend my funeral’.
Downe Hall –Locally Listed
There has been a building on this site since 1290. Originally named after Richard Godarde the building was named ‘Goddards’. Sold to the Manning family in the 14th century. It was originally of flint and stone and some windows were made of horn. The Mannings were the oldest and most distinguished family in Downe. Some were among the first to emigrate to America where even today there is the Manning Association.
According to the Hearth Tax in 1645 there were 8 taxable hearths. The largest number in the village. After the Carew family came the Sandys, the last of whom died in 1694, and in 1698 Sandys widow married the Earl of Eglintoun – she was 96 at the time.
In 1820 the house burned down and the present building erected. One time owned by the Lubbock family it has been considerably restored in recent years.
St Mary’s Church – Grade 11* Listed
1291 Prior Henry built a chapel in the Manor of Orpington at a cost of £61.0.11d. it is possible it was on the site of the present Church.
Must have been built by the 16th century because an inventory refers to three bells. Two were made by William Dawe of London (1385-1418) one unknown maker in 1511.
Windows: these date from 15th or early 16th century.
Early English Lancet window 1200-1300 left of main door (viewed from inside) is all that remains of the original building. The East Window was destroyed by bomb damage in WW11. The new window is the work of Miss Evie Hone the famous Irish artist. Crucified Christ shown between his mother and St John.
North Wall in 1981 – the stained glass panel is a copy made by Freda Coleborn of one in Dijon Cathedral. The original is now in the V and A.
South Wall of Nave – Tree of Jesse by Keith Coleborn and was given by Mary Knox-Johnston in memory of her husband David.
South Wall Sanctuary By Keith Coleborn – Mr & Mrs Knox-Johnston of the Rookery gave the window in thanksgiving and commemoration of their son Robin’s solo non-stop voyage around the world in his yacht “Suhaili” in 1969.
Font – The font was probably locally made and dates from 15th early century.
GIACOMO (Jacob) Verzillini – In 1606 a glass maker originally from Murano, near Venice paid £20 for his family brass memorial originally placed in the chancel covering their grave in the crypt below. It was damaged in WW11, was repaired and placed in the rear of the Church in 1978.
Memorials Lubbock family of High Elms on south wall of chancel worshipped here.
Sir John Lubbock 1803 – 1865 2nd of that name was a banker, astronomer and the 1st Vice Chancellor of the University of London. His son, Sir John Lubbock 1834-1913 was the first Lord Avebury an eminent figure of his day.
He was a businessman, political, educationalist, scientist and founder of the Bank Holiday legislation. He was a close friend of Charles Darwin and upset by criticism of Charles Darwin’s theories from the pulpit here that he left Downe Church for Farnborough Church.
In 1871 under the incumbency of Charles Ffinden many alterations were made here. He did away with the box pews and raised the floor and installed the present pews. In 1990 work commenced on the installation of a new heating system. They discovered the floor was not supported and the whole aisle floor had to be rebuilt to a depth of two metres. The broken remains of inscriptions were found which had covered the coffins, now disintegrated. One fragment refers to John Bederenden, a citizen of London, an MP and a draper who died in 1445. In 1976 the parish was incorporated with Cudham in a united benefice.
There are family members of Charles Darwin buried here. Some west of the path. His wife Emma (daughter of Josiah Wedgwood) and his brother are buried in the east part of the churchyard bordering High Elms Road. Charles Darwin is buried in Westminster Abbey.
This is Charles Darwin’s memorial.
Tombstone Left of the path leading from the road is a headstone to James Fontaine a Minister. It says ‘Thursday saw him cheerful and grateful for health’ but by Saturday he was a ‘pale corpse’.