How Downham preserves its heritage while looking towards the future
PUBLISHED: 15:40 17 April 2017 | UPDATED: 15:40 17 April 2017
It's a beautiful village that seems trapped in time but that's far from the truth, as Roger Borrell discovers
Downham is well known as the village where you’ll never find road signs, satellite dishes, overhead wires or those dreaded double yellow lines. That means no traffic wardens so you might think it’s close to heaven on earth.
In years past, the conditions laid down by the Downham Estate have made it a popular with film crews looking for authentic locations. But the ethos has everything to do with maintaining heritage and little to do with turning the locals into TV extras.
It was started by Ralph Assheton’s grandfather who refused to let power lines clutter the streets, and it was continued by his father, the current Lord Clitheroe. It won’t be changing on Ralph’s watch.
‘I try to keep the nice bits from the past while making sure the future parts fit in,’ he says. ‘The impression is that the place has never changed but that’s not true.
‘Changes have to be made and that’s not always a smooth process when dealing with the planning authorities, who have a difficult job and sometimes take a black and white approach to things.’
It’s an uneasy peace with both sides knowing they have to work together to preserve one of the county’s gems while ensuring the people who live there are able to enjoy the benefits of the 21st century.
‘Our challenge is to try to get younger people and families coming to live in the village,’ he says. ‘They are the future life blood if we want a vibrant village and institutions like the church choir to survive.’
The estate covers 3,000 spectacular acres from the top of Pendle to the Ribble and, away from the village, it consists mainly of tenanted farms.
The Asshetons have been here since the 1550s and the family home, Downham Hall, was rebuilt in 1837 when the reign of Queen Victoria began. There has been a house on the site since the 1490s.
There are rural industries in a former village barn but one of the bigger concerns is Bowland Bioenergy, one of Lancashire’s biggest suppliers of wood chips and wood pellets for wood burning boilers.
It is run by Ralph with business partner Mike Ingoldby and has its roots in the movement away from fossil fuels and towards sustainability – something close to the heart of the Downham Estate.
It started in 2005 after a failed attempt to introduce a community heating scheme in the village. The idea was right but the application needed refining and now Bowland Bioenergy has many clients operating large buildings in the public and private sector.
The Rutherfords at Greendale View Kitchen Ashley, Kelsey, Trevor and Louise
The organ lost where the banner was found
One of the lovely windows in St Leonards
There are stunning views from Downham
The properties in the village are part of the estate
The village is popular with walkers
Ralph Assheton at Bowland Bioenergy
Olivia Assheton and Tom McLean
LAN Apr17 Dowham
The Assheton Arms, a Lancashire Liufe Food & Drink Awards winner
The banner which is being restored
Ralph explains that the company takes low grade timber from Lancashire and Yorkshire woodlands – all within a tight radius to reduce footprint – and turns it into top quality wood fuel by a chipping and drying process.
The benefits of managing these areas of woodland, replanting and contributing to carbon capture are made more attractive by lower fuel costs for users who range from schools to farms.
‘We get through 3,000 tonnes of timber a year and the business is growing,’ says Ralph. ‘It’s very nice to be using a locally produced fuel from a sustainable source rather than shipping it in from the USA or the Middle East.’
One of the quirkier features of Downham involve its connections to the Mormon Church, based more than 5,000 miles away in Salt Lake City.
In the 1830s members of the Church of Latter Day Saints landed by ship at Preston after setting out from America to recruit new members. Their efforts focused on the Ribble Valley and they were particularly successful in Downham.. The link continues to this day.
Groups of Mormons seeking to explore their roots are regularly visitors to Downham they often receive hospitality at Downham Hall, ancestral home of the Assheton family.
Ralph and his wife, Olivia, hosted a Mormon choir concert and this led to significant donations from the church to buy a new electronic organ for the parish church, St Leonard’s. ‘It was wheezing and bits were falling off,’ says Tom McLean, the parochial church council secretary.
‘To have repaired it would have cost £100,000 so instead, we have purchased an electronic organ which sits alongside it. Happily, lay person can’t tell the difference.’
As well as St Leonards and the award-winning Assheton Arms, there are two more focal points for locals – the modernised village hall, now welcoming guests for weddings and special events, and the Greendale View Kitchen.
Greendale is run by the Rutherford family – Louise and Trevor along with their children Ashley and Kesley.
They had previously run Puddleducks at Dunsop Bridge. ‘We really love it here,’ said Louise, recently married after 31 years with Trevor, who trained as a baker. A testament to his expertise can be found in the delicious bread they produce.
The café has been receiving great reviews. ‘Trevor is passionate about the food he produces and everything is as local and organic whenever possible,’ she says.
A new carpark next to Greendale is certain to attract even more visitors.