Downham - Lancashire's loveliest village?
PUBLISHED: 11:40 09 March 2011 | UPDATED: 22:44 09 October 2015
Mark Robinson tells us why he enjoys taking pictures in one of the county's most striking communities
Perhaps it’s what’s missing from Downham that makes it so special.
For instance, there are no satellite dishes, no yellow lines, no overhead wires and no uPVC windows. Instead, it is full of picturesque cottages and it is surrounded by beautiful scenery. No wonder this is one of my favourite places to photograph.
For those of you unfamiliar with Downham, the village has been used as a location for several films, the most famous being ‘Whistle Down the Wind’ starring Alan Bates and Hayley Mills.
Also, according to locals, the surrounding area was the inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings saga. The BBC chose it to film the series ‘Born and Bred,’ the drama which cast James Bolam as the GP in a fictional Lancashire village called Ormston.
Downham is, of course, also associated with Old Mother Demdike, Alice Nutter and other infamous Lancashire witches.
I love the feel of the place, and as I wander down Main Street I’m imagining the scene a 100 years ago. Yes, there can be cars around, but choose the right part of the day and it is easy to pretend that the automobile is still waiting to be invented.
All residents take a pride in their properties and many have wonderful flower beds or colourful trees. If I were to convert my photographs to sepia toned black and whites, it would be easy to think they had been taken in the early 1900s.
The word photography literally means ‘painting with light’ and the quality of light can make or break your photograph. So visit Downham during the heat of a mid-summer day and your photographs will be full of deep, black shadows, harsh colours with burnt-out skies.
However choose early morning on a fine autumn or spring day, or an â hour before the sun sets and your pictures come alive with the warmth of the sun. The walls of the cottages appear to glow with sunlight and the view towards Pendle Hill takes on tones of gold.
Although the all-encompassing views of the village can be spectacular, for instance the popular view looking across the bridge and up Main Street, it is the small details that I look out for. Often these details can communicate the feel of a place just as easily as the broader view. Look for windows draped in Virginia creeper or an old, metal studded door slightly ajar with a tantalising view beyond.
If you just want a shot for the record, that’s fine, we all take them from time to time. But the enjoyable challenge for me is to find the different, or the unusual shot. The joke in my family is that when we were on holiday in Venice, a multitude of cameras were focused on the Doge’s Palace, whilst I’d have my back to the Palace photographing the street cleaner.
One suggestion I would make. If you want to leave Downham with some good, even great, photos, take your time. Don’t be rushed by the other half wanting to go and feed the ducks.
Relax, make sure that you look at the edges of the camera screen or viewfinder to make sure no litter bins have crept into the corners. Are you happy with composition of the image? Moving three feet one way or the other can sometimes have a miraculous effect on the quality of the picture. Try turning the camera to take vertical shots, rather then the usual horizontal format. And then, and only when you are completely happy, press the shutter.
What type of camera do you need to take good images of Downham? Doesn’t matter, not in the slightest. Great images can be taken on the simplest of modern compact cameras, after all it is the person behind the camera that selects the viewpoint, what should or should not be included, decides when the light is right, etc, etc. The camera is simply the tool
we use to record what we see. Please don’t get hung up on the fact that
your camera has only six megapixels while your friend’s has 15. It really doesn’t matter.
And finally, when the images are in the bag, take one last moment to appreciate this wonderful village, and then go and enjoy a pint of Wainwright or a glass of wine in the Assheton Arms. The perfect end to a great day.
You can see more of Mark’s picture on www.pbase.com/mark_robinson/downham
Downham down under
Mark’s pictures of Downham have brought back memories for expat Lancastrians around the world. Here are a few:
All my relatives are from Downham, one starred in Whistle Down the Wind. My dad is buried in Clitheroe. Going to climb Pendle Hill with American cousin at end of March. Can’t wait. Used to sledge down Pendle Hill as a child - a magical, wonderful place - Jane Diamond
I was born in Grimsby, Ontario. My mom just showed me a picture of my greats aunt’s wedding at the Downham church. The picture is from April 19, 1951 - Justin Eccles
Spent time here with my gorgeous lover. It’s such a beautiful tranquil place. We walked around the church yard, and The Post Office makes a fab coffee and the Assheton Arms served up the most delicious fish and chips. We loved it here and it’s now our ‘special place’ - Sue
My parents lived in Downham in the early 30s, and used to take me as a child in the 40s, to visit friends there. I always loved it, still do and go whenever I can - Kathleen Bland
My father lived there as a lad and I still have family living in and around Downham - Margaret Wiseman (nee Martin), Cambridge New Zealand
As a young boy, I used to spend a lot of time cycling around the area, and especially Downham. These photos bring back many happy childhood memories, and although I am now living many thousands of miles away, they make me feel very home-sick.
I used to live in Downham many years ago, and vividly remember the village flooding! Great place to live and have many memories about the people who lived there when I did. - Lynne
Send your memories of Downham to email@example.com or leave a comment below
Downham is a couple of miles east of Clitheroe and forms part of the Ribble Valley’s area of outstanding natural beauty.
It is often regarded as Lancashire’s finest village and it would certainly qualify as being one of the most unspoilt. The impressive church sits on a crest above the village and just across the road is the Assheton Arms, the epitome of a cosy English country pub. A stone’s throw from the church is Downhall Hall, home of the Assheton family.
As owners of the manor, they have been responsible for maintaining Downham’s unique character since they became the owners in 1558. The manor has passed through a direct male line since 1680.
With a village pub, a Post Office, shop and tearooms plus a thriving pre-school, Downham seems to have just about everything it needs.
Do you know of a better village in Lancashire? Drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org. Photographer Mark Robinson lives in Padiham and if you’d like to find out more about his pictures, he can be contacted via email@example.com