Genealogy Notes for the Village of Downham, Essex
A miscellany of pictures and data arising out of research into the KIRBY's family trees (but not all linked to them). This is a work in progress so please treat the data with appropriate caution. For related information see, Ancestor List, Place Index and Wills Index

Location and general description

Leylands Farm, Downham
Around the area are a scattering of farms, most look to be occupying much the same position as they did in the 19th C. On the well drained hill crests there are arable fields. Where the higher ground flattens off to the North these give way to grazing, such as that around Leylands Farm (above).  


There is not much to see of Downham now as it lacks a distinct village centre. The nearest it seems to have to that is the clustering of houses around Blue House Farm. Blue House Farm itself hides behind a modern six foot brick wall and nothing of it can really be seen from the road. Along the roads radiating from this farm there are an assortment of modern properties with only one or two older cottages.

Some of the older cottages are in School Lane, as is a village pond but I don't know about its antiquity.
School Lane, Downham Cottages in School LaneThe village pond, Downham

The De Beauvoir Arms

Most of the land around Downham was part of the De Beauvoir estates. The De Beauvoir Arms is marked on late 19th C maps and is still there. Now it has an oriental restaurant attached to the rear.

St Margaret's Church

The parish church of St Margaret's stands somewhat south of the area that might be thought of as the village centre. It occupies a dramatic spot, perched on the very edge of the range of hills that skirt the northern edge of lower land flanking the Thames Estuary.
St Margaret's, Downham St Margaret's, DownhamSt Margaret's, Downham
The Hill', mentioned on old census returns is very easily identified on the ground! On a clear day one can look out from the church, across the Estuary and as far as the distant ridge of the North Downs (a chalk escarpment that flanks the southern edge of the Thames estuary).

In the churchyard stands a very ancient tree that looks to be a Field Maple. It is growing gradually (like my family tree). These are normally small trees of hedgerows but this one has a girth that is huge for this species of tree. The trunk is about a meter in diameter and an old wrought iron bench encircles it. The tree is certainly old but perhaps no quite as old as it looks. Never-the-less it was probably there when my Kirby ancestors were working the fields in the nearby farms and living in and around the village.
Old Field Mapel and bench Pudding stone and knapped flint walling Herringbone pattern in brickwork Font alongside the porch
It has a fine tower built in old red bricks with diamond shaped insets in black bricks. I don't know whether the bricks were local but in later times good quality bricks were produced in Essex The extensive deposits of London Clay being sitable for that sort of work. The clay would have been dug by hand and then pressed into shape before firing. The result was a good quality brick but they lacked the regularity in size of the modern product. As a result any wall made of these old bricks tends to look more interesting than an equivalent contemporary counterpart.

The older part of the church is built in what appear to be more traditional materials - a mix of puddingstone and knapped flint for infill and chalk (or perhaps imported limestone) for carved window framing. The puddingstone looks like it may be derived from local lower Tertiary deposits whilst the local Upper Chalk strata contain an abundance of good sized flints. The flint are knapping by striking them so they break into the required shapes. Flint's natural tendancy to conchoidal fracture makes it possible to predict where the flint will break when struck in a certain way. These are pretty very roughly knapped. In a church in Surrey I have seen flints knapped with millimeter precision.

Outside the church stands the original font. Many of the Downham Kirbys were christened at St Margaret's and probably in this font. The church was gutted by fire in the 20th century and so has a very modern aspect inside. However it still retains some watercolours of the Church that date from the 19th C. As far as I could see there are no Kirby graves in its fairly compact graveyard . The Kirby's of the period would probably not have been able to afford anything more than a wooden grave marker and these have long since decayed.


The family of John KIRBY, born 1765 in Gt Burstead was buried in 1842 in Downham. He worked as a husbandman in that village.

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Any transcripts and images on this page are Copyright R I Kirby 2005 unless stated otherwise.