"How many pubs were there in Downham?"
This is a question I am frequently asked by newcomers in the village.
"Fifteen, I reply"
"Do you remember them all?" they ask.
No, I don't but I can recall five being open in the village- no, it should be six. In Main Street there were four-The Anchor, the Club, The Red, White and Blue and The Plough. In Ely Road stood the Spade and Beckett and In California was the Brickmakers' Arms. Only the Plough and Anchor remain. The first to go was the Brickmakers' Arms, the nearest pub to my home in North Fen. It closed the day I was eighteen-a remarkable coincidence-or possibly divine intervention.
I did however have one legitimate drink in the pub, probably one of the last served there. The Club was next to go. A thatched house, it stood at the junction of Main Street and Eagles Lane and was the haunt of the farmers of the village. It was kept for many years by the Saberton family.
The Spade and Beckett remained open until until the mid-fifties. Kept by the late Ernest Culpin for many years it was a lively yet rustic tavern. It was in this house that I learned to play the game of dominoes, aided and abetted by my great uncle Bert. Now Bert was a real Fen character, large strong and jovial and he loved his dominoes. He would call for me each evening at about seven "to teach me the game". The real reason I learned later was that I was the only person available to make a four-hand.
Bert knew full well that I was only sixteen years of age at the time but never let on this information to the landlord who served me in good faith as I was as big if not bigger than many of his other customers. About a year later he found out my true age and immediately chucked me out! Not to be outdone I tried the Anchor with some success until the landlady, Mrs Armsby suddenly remembered that I was younger than her son Maurice by some six months-and he was not yet eighteen. I was shown the door and for some time became a member of the teaset.
When Mr Page Cole retired from the Red, White and Blue it was kept by three tenants in quick succession. They were Ray Woodbine, John Sharman and Percy Evans and during this time acquired a bar - the first pub in the village to break into the twentieth century.