Albert Casbon's Little Downham
Merchants and Traders
Shops and pubs
I was born on 15th January 1937 at No. 1 Park Lane, which runs from Tower Road to Eagles Lane, known as ‘Little School Lane’ in those days, and was a 2 up/2 down tied cottage belonging to Major Stockdale who farmed Tower Farm in the 30’s and 40’sthrough to the 50’s.
Shortly after, my family moved to No 6 Townsend which was later renumbered 115 Main Street and was opposite the Methodist Church and Chapel. The Church has now been converted into a private residence whilst the chapel still operates as a chapel.
In the 1940’s the village was vibrant and self-sufficient with numerous farms, shops and small personal businesses plus two schools. With advance apologies for any duplication or minor errors (which, I am sure will be corrected in the course of time) I felt a good personal contribution and addendum to John Glover’s village history might be helpful (especially as John is slightly!!? older than myself so my version will be more ‘modern’ !!!!)
Of course, farming was the major employer in and around the village and from a very early age (7-8 years old) I became closely associated with the farming industry (spending my whole life in and around it with the exception of 3 years in the army as a conscript). At that age onwards, an increasing amount of my time was spent on the farm trading as J H Stevens & Son (the ‘son’ being Tom, father of John & Roger both well known in the area). I started by washing down the yard attached to the Manor, graduated to shock horse leading, loading the trailer at harvest time, riding the binder, working with horses to driving the tractors. Of course I did other jobs along the way such as onion weeding, singling and chopping out sugar beet, ‘ringing off’ onions, picking potatoes behind the spinner, cob catching, buckraking with a horse, chaff minding etc. etc.. All of this by the time I was 14 years of age. Health & Safety weren’t yet thought of, thank goodness ! Hard as it was, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Merchants & Traders
A L (Dick) Saberton (Produce Merchant) . Business passed through son Les who still lives in village on to Grandson. Main Street opposite present butchers shop (now to rear of Fitzballe House).
A W (Frank) Gillett (Grower and Produce Merchant). Son Gerry still carries on the business. Townsend.
George Cole (Grower and general merchant) . Daughter Gill is current Lady Mayoress of Ely. Townsend
Owen Cole (General Trader and Merchant) Townsend.
‘Buckie’ Saberton. Short,stocky little man with a walrus moustache and glasses. Always wore a flat cap and long leather apron down to his ankles. I remember spending some time in his forge and even being allowed to operate the bellows for him. Corner bounded by Main St and Eagles Lane.
Frank Saberton. Started agricultural repair business much later. Cannon St. opposite Matthew Wren Close. Now operated by his son Peter.
I believe there was also a farriers opposite the school and next to Harry Smith’s farm although I am unsure of this, I seem to recollect a half stable door – perhaps some other residents might have better memories than me.
Fred Green. Could make anything in leather – saddles, harness, whips etc. The smell in his workshop was wonderful. Opposite Acred Close development in Main Street.
Timber Suppliers / Woodworkers.
Bysouths (From coffins to tumbrel carts and wheels). Main woodworker/carpenter was Hubert Roe, a true ‘craftsman’ and a great pleasure to watch at work. Had a large timber storage yard across the road behind the old village ‘pound’. Workshop and house was between the Plough and Methodist Church. Now 102 Main Street
Jack Acred. (Timber and joinery workshops – all building requirements). Recently sold by Jack’s son, Michael, who still lives in the village. Now Acred Close development of houses.
Reg Cornwell. (General building requirements etc.) Run by Reg’s son Mike until his recent retirement, still lives in village). Cowbridge Hole.
Although there were many many more at one time, the five I remember most were :-
The Plough (landlord Johnnie Walker, yes Johnnie Walker as the whisky – he was Roy, Bobby and Tony Pearson’s grandfather – they all still live in the village). Some characters who frequented the pub in the forties were Reg Gilbert, Ron Gibson, Johnny Miles, Hubert Culpin, Harry Blenkins, John Parish, Les Crane, Cress Crane, Owen Cole, Arthur Spinks, Reg Moore, Bill Reed, Ces Saberton and Bert Gilbert. Of course it still stands on the same site although it is now a Thai Restaurant.
The Anchor (Landlord was Levi Armsby). Still stands on the same site although rear used to extend right down to Cannon Street.
The Red White & Blue. (Landlord Ray & Dolph Woodbine) – can still remember going for some tobacco for my father. It was taken out of a storage tin, weighed and rolled up in a white ‘twist’ of paper with Brunnings printed on it in blue writing.. Situated on the corner of Main St. and Martins Lane. I think Basil Cooper bought it much later when the brewery closed it.
The Spade & Becket ( Landlord unknown). Next to Alan White’s yard down Ely Road (No.82 Ely Road).
The Brickmakers Arms was in California but I remember very little of it.
Ben Lofts. Sold sweets, tobacco and all sorts of household items plus fireworks around 5th Nov. Taken over and managed by daughter, Eva. At a later date became crockery hire business, owned by Mrs Richard Ambrose Opposite the old vicarage (now Tom Mott’s house).
Coxhead/Sid Whymers Stores. Sold groceries etc and, I believe later electrical goods. Later, Ivy Proctor took it over. Opposite Acred Close.
Sabertons Bakery. Bread and cakes. Later daughter married and became Mrs Les Fryatt and they carried on for a few years before closing down. I well remember seeing the long handled tool being used to push the dough in and to remove the wonderful smelling loaves out of the oven. Situated just down the hill in Townsend.
Thompsons Haberdashery. Grace Thompson and, I believe, her aunts ran the shop which sold all types of material and cottons etc.. Almost opposite Eagles Lane.
Gibsons General Stores. Started off by Fred (Dobbie) Gibson and later taken over by brother Ken after his return from the far east. The first shop was opposite the now Acred Close but burned down in about 1952/1953. They then took over some premises next to ‘Buckie’ Saberton’s blacksmith shop (just across the road from previous position) and carried on in much the same way for a number of years.
Jack Stevens. Gents hairdresser. Small shop opposite the old Red White & Blue where Crown Gardens are now.
Thompsons Sweet Shop. Where the Humble Spud is now.
Bakery. There was another bakery in Main St almost opposite Eagles Lane again but I cannot remember the name. I do remember them buying a brand new van, British Racing green in colour, with the registration number JE 1 (Later taken over or bought by C J E S Fendick for his personalised number plate and was seen around the village for a great number of years).
Hetty Taylors Bakery. Bread and other confectionery. Opposite The Manor House in Main Street ( Crown House, No. 92 Main Street).
Mrs Burgess’s Wool Shop. Used her front room to sell all types and colours of wool. Shared her rear garden entrance with Lewis Hopkin, another barber,(created the first ‘basin’ style haircut!!).
Both premises were next to W B Chambers yard.
Crown Garage. Owned by George Martin and the Murfitt brothers (Cyril and Geoff – Geoff still lives in the village). Did all types of repairs, supplied petrol plus battery charging service for radio batteries – Noble Lely did all that. Opposite Martins Lane. All housing development now (Crown Gardens).
Saberton’s Garage. Run by George Saberton and Cecil (‘Toot’) Youngs. Petrol, repairs. Ran the only bus service into Ely on Thursdays and Saturdays. It seated approximately 20 people but carried up to 30 or more at times, especially the last one on Saturday evening after the pubs and cinemas turned out, usually driven by ‘Toot’. Bus was also used for village outings to Hunstanton or Whipsnade on Sundays in the Summer driven by Noble Lely. Had to stop at Setchey for cup of tea and to let the bus cool down. Could take over three hours to get to Hunstanton, sometimes more. Next door to Anchor Pub where Skoda Garage is currently.
Eastern Counties Bus Service started off in about 1951/52 allowing the old bus to be retired.
Gordon Hull started a village taxi service in the late 1940’s.
Wembley 25th November 1953 I well remember him taking myself, my brother John, sister Bette and her husband Keith (Fenn) to Wembley to see England lose their first ever game on home soil to Hungary (6-3). It was at the time when smog was very prevalent in London and, on the return journey it was so thick you couldn’t see more than 5 yards and we had to be guided through the streets by a lad carrying a flaming torch, back to the A10 (for a small charge, of course).
Frank Moxon used to push large green wooden handcart round the village and surrounding area every day, selling paraffin for oil lamps and heaters (no electricity in the village back then !)
Henry Lythell was the only butcher in the village. Used to also travel round the farms slaughtering individual pigs and cattle for the farmers personal use or for sale. His premises were opposite the old Red White & Blue, (now part of Crown Gardens).
Post Office. ( Now No. 54 Main Steet). This was opposite Garners Stores in Main Street before closing and moving across the road and into what is now the villages only general store ?
Black Bank was a fully operational station with ticket office for a busy passenger and goods service plus shunting facilities for all the goods despatched from there, that is until Mr Beeching appeared on the scene in the early fifties. We then had to cycle into and from Ely every day to catch the bus to school until Eastern Counties set up their service.
Other farms/farmers in and around the village were :-
Gerald Saberton (Son Ron still lives in village). Farmed on Pymore Common.
Gordon & Sid Harrison. Farmed Guildacre on way to Pymore (where I served my time prior to joining the army in May 1955).
Ron Gillett and his father Herb farmed just round corner, bottom of Lawn Lane.
Fred Norman. Farmed in North Fen area (Cowbridge Hole).
Alf Woodruffe and his wife. Lived and farmed right at bottom of West Fen Road (and then across a field).
Reg and Cyril Parsons. Mainly arable – over old ‘Iron Bridge’ and into Main and Third Droves etc.. Reg’s son, Roger, has carried on the business.
E W Chambers (Ernie) & Sons. (Mainly arable). Foxy Farm, end of High Road direction of Wardy Hill/Coveney.
The earliest and latest village policemen I remember were (in order of earliest) :-
Cyril Dewsberry in the 1940’s
Guy Hills in the late 1940’s early 1950’s
Ginger Francis (the new breed !!) in the early 1960’s
And lastly Tony George – in the 1970’s +
The original police house was across the green from The Plough Pub and the ‘new’ one was built next to the old Red White & Blue Pub – now No. 99 Main Street (when Tony George joined as village PC).
Village Nurse. Nurse Broadhead was the village nurse and lived down School Lane, almost to the playing field entrance on the right hand side. An elegant and caring lady – tall, slim and always smart and efficient-looking in her uniform.