Before the council and private housing estates were built around the village from 1950 onwards, Downley – being a “No Through Road” village- was a quiet and fairly secluded place with just two means of access and exit, Coates Lane and Plomer Hill. Coates Lane, being little more than a single track lane with a few passing places, was used mainly to serve Manor Farm, and by cyclists and people walking to and from their jobs at the Hughenden end of Wycombe Town. The main road into Downley was Plomer Hill. From its junction with the A40 it rose to cross the main railway line from Marylebone to Birmingham, before a short level stretch which ended at the base of the very steep and bendy hill that rose up to the village. There were three bends in the hill, each hiding the steep climb beyond it, and many is the time that drivers have had to call for help as they had not started the climb in a low enough gear.
It was a general rule that standing passengers were not allowed on the buses on their way up Plomer Hill, and this was met by many grumbles by people who were coming home from work, especially if they lived in the farthest part of the village. If there was even a small amount of snow both these roads soon became impassable, and it was not unusual for the village to be completely isolated for days on end. There are still people living in the village who can remember one winter when the snow reached the top of the hedges in Coates Lane where it had drifted, and most of the time we used to have to wait until it melted away naturally.
For youngsters of Downley growing up in the thirties and early forties this was a “Golden Age”. Surrounded by grass fields, corn fields and woodland that stretched for miles, we were able to wander for hours on end, and got to know every footpath and trail, every tree that we could climb or hang a swing from, where we could find the wild strawberries that only grew in a couple of place, the sweetest and biggest blackberries, and the edible wild cherries, and where we could find the biggest hazelnuts‘, and even where we could dig up what we called pig nuts. This was on the Common in a spot that we used to call The Glade. I’m not sure what they were but they did not seem to do us any harm. We also knew where the sweetest fruit was grown in the allotments, and where we could do a bit of “scrumping “ with the least chance of getting caught.
One day on the way home from school two or three of us went to the allotments especially to scrump some pears that we had seen a few days earlier. We had just put a few in our pockets when all at once there was a terrific bang of thunder. We were all terrified thinking that God had seen us and was showing his anger. The powerful messages of the commandments were very deep in the minds of us even at the age of six.
One of the favourite areas to explore was the Common. It was not so overgrown with trees as it is now- on the banks along from Well Cottage grew heathers, pretty air bells (?) and all sorts of wild flowers, yellow furze bushes and ferns, as well as being home to skylarks and many different types of birds and small animals. So much to see.
The “Dells” created lots of fun. These old clay diggings were spread over various parts of the common, some quite deep, many of which have been filled in over the years. In fact, the cricket pitch is played on what was the deepest and most concentrated area of diggings. In some cases the dells formed ponds. The one I remember best was sited on the left hand side of the road that cuts across the common from Blacksmith cottages. This had a great collection of newts, among which were the large black ones that had a “frill “running down the back and tail. We called them “Jacks “ and the smaller types “ Effs”. Sadly this pond was filled in years ago, and I suppose those creatures have been lost for good.
Many of those ponds had names that still exist, Big Daisy, Little Daisy, and Mannings. Just a few yards onto the common from the top of Hunts Hill, I’m sure I saw a hole just at the side of this pond caused by an unexploded bomb during the Second World War. I cannot remember it ever having been dug up or exploded by the military (treasure hunters beware). Another pond in the village was Sandpits. It may have got its name from the possibility that sand was dug from it at one time, as I do know that there are several seams of sand in the area.
Another pond in that area is Kiln Pond (add note to where it is). Was this connected in any way with the tile making that was carried out in the village? It was always said to us as children that we must not play around this pond as there was a very deep well in the middle of it. I do know that there was a wooden walkway out to the middle, and that women would collect buckets of water from there for domestic use, so perhaps the old story was correct.
At one time, within the memory of quite a few older villagers, there was a pond where Jubilee Green is now. This used to have a tubular rail around the roadside, just a nice height for youngsters to hang by the knees from. I remember finding two duck eggs on the edge of the pond one day when I was on my way to school. I know that when the council filled in this pond it caused the cellar at No.3 Plomer Green Lane to flood and it had to filled and capped off.
This is an extract from ‘My Story’, a memoir written by Joe Bowler of his early life in Downley. If you would like to see the full article click here.