A number of Downley Folk have contributed their recollections of living in Downley, both as children and adults. Some are personal, whilst others describe the inhabitants, the shops and shop-keepers, their schooling and their working lives. This is an ever-growing aspect as change is continuous and what is the present becomes history. If you would like to contribute to this section of the website please contact us here.
Maureen Burrell: Born 1935 lives in Downley. She describes her time at Downley School, and the village shops at the end of WWII.
Colin Keeble: Born in 1944 and has spent most of his life living and working in Downley. He gives an account of his school years and subsequently working in the local chair factory, Mines and West, before setting up his own business.
Norman Brown: Came to Downley in 1941 aged five, attending Downley School, before moving with his parents to Windsor in 1949.
Karen James: Born in 1956 and lived in Downley for 14 years. She shares her childhood memories of Downley, the local farm, the shops, and allotments.
Chrissie Stacey: At the time of drought. Written in 1974 for the booklet ‘Our Memories’ celebrating 50 years of the Downley Women’s Institute (a PDF of the booklet can be found here).
Nancie Shackell: Describes the time when the old St James church caught fire. Written in 1974 for the booklet ‘Our Memories’ celebrating 50 years of the Downley Women’s Institute.
Kathleen Avery: Introduces some of the Downley characters. Written in 1974 for the booklet ‘Our Memories’ celebrating 50 years of the Downley Women’s Institute.
Joe Bowler: Born 1925 and lived all his life in Downley. In the late 1990s Jo wrote detailed and very comprehensive description of the village of Downley, its inhabitants, factories and their workers, shopkeepers as well as its many characters. His recollections cover the period from the late 1920s through to the end of the war and includes many of Joe’s and his friends’ escapades.
Mrs Maureen Burrell (nee Hill), written in 2020
I went to Downley Middle School, which was then called Downley County Primary School from the age of 5 to 11. There were only four classrooms and small kitchen. In the early afternoon the younger children had to have a sleep on camp beds (this could have been to do with missing sleep at night due to air raids). The first teacher was Mrs Church, who as a student teacher taught Kristian’s great grandad, then nana and mummy- three generations! The next teacher was Mrs Meakes, then Mrs Meadows, and finally Mr Avery and until he retired Mr Jones took over. During the war if the sirens sounded, meaning enemy planes were near, we had to hide under our school desks. I do not remember any war damage to the school, but do remember a bomb landing on Downley Common breaking windows of nearby houses. Tanks made at Broomwade were test driven on the Common.
For May Day the pupils chose a May Queen and her attendants from the older children. On May 1 the Queen was crowned with a garland of flowers, and Maypole dancing took place on the Common.
Post Office, in Plomer Green Lane
Butchers, High Street
Greengrocers, at the junction of Plomer Green Lane and High Street
Sweetshop, on Commonside (we had coupons as food was rationed during the war)
Greengrocers, belonging to Frank Styles in Littleworth Road
Grocers, Manor Stores in Littleworth Road belonging to the Smiths
Grocers would weigh everything individually eg sugar and dried fruit was weighed and bought by the ounce. Fresh fruit was scarce, apart from fruit that grew in the orchards. Bananas were unheard of.
There were no nurseries or clubs in the village. Guides and Scouts took place nearby West Wycombe. NO TELEVISIONS. We played skipping, hopscotch, marbles and conkers, and could play in the roads as there was very little traffic.
Colin Keeble, written in 2019
I was born in 1944 in a nursing home in Totteridge Road. I lived with my mum and dad, Auntie Joan, Bill and Cousin June, Auntie Susie and Gran and Gramp at 1 Highland Cottage, next door to where I live now. A two-up, two-down cottage with a lean-to at the back with a copper for heating water and a cold water sink – it was a bit crowded. Mind you the men were away a lot during the war. My Gran was one of the few women in the village that was called upon to lay out the dead. At Christmas time she spent hours in her shed in the field, plucking and gutting chickens for people for Christmas.
I was told that when it rained June and myself spent most of the day in a pram in the shed. They called the shed ‘The Woody’s’ which was right next to the plank of wood with a hole in it. You can guess what that was for. Everybody had a well or cistern in the garden- that was one way of keeping anything cool.
And then in 1947 everything changed. When I was about three years old we moved to a prefab in Jubilee Road along with my aunt, uncle and June. What a difference that was. The prefabs were real luxury after what we have been used to with bathroom, hot water and a fridge- no more keeping the butter down the well. There were 10 prefabs in all – built where Burrows House is now. The original 10 families were:
- 21 Redrup
- 23 Sears
- 25 Ludgate (my aunt and uncle)
- 27 Keeble (us of course)
- 29 Chilton
- 31 Busby
- 33 Maunders
- 42 Hawes
- 44 Brooks
- 46 Finch
My first school was at the top of Chapel Street, which is now the Community Centre. Mrs Church was our first teacher who came to the school when she was in her teens. She was in her late 60s when she retired, well over 50 years. She must have taught well over 2,000 Downley children including my mum, my wife Sue, and also her dad. She lived in Lacey Green and cycled across the common every day.
Another teacher was Mrs Meekes, who lived on Downley Common, where Mrs Stone lives now (Hawthorns). She was also a teacher for many years. I had two Headmasters, Mr Shackle and Mr Burrows. Mr Burrows used to come to the school as a replacement teacher. He was very strict. When we knew he was going to replace Mr Shackle as headmaster we were not too happy about it, but he mellowed. A very nice man- he helped me many times. The last time was a meeting of the council about getting permission to work in the Green Belt. He was not too well at the time and a member of his family pushed him from the hospital to the council offices in a wheelchair, still in his pyjamas mind you. Just so he could speak up for me.
My secondary education was Mill End Road School. I will just tell you about my last day. Mr Wilson was my form teacher. He said to me ‘Keeble, you are the only one in the class with 100% attendance in the last term’. I will say that the other classmates never had my mum, she was ex-army. You did not mess with her.
Sue and I were married in 1965 and we now have three girls, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. My wife was born in Downley, in the cottage in Kiln Pond Lane opposite the High Street. Her dad was also born in Downley. Sue’s mum was one of eight- all Londoners- four boys and four girls. All four girls finished up living in Downley. Two married Downley men- Norah married Walt Cross and Grace, Sue’s mum, married albert George (Bert) Harvey. Three of the four boys spent time living in Downley. George, the youngest, actually went to Downley School and was also taught by Mrs Church. The reason they all finished up in Downley was because they had an aunt living in Blacksmith’s Cottages, where Colin Emery lives now.
My one and only job was as an upholsterer at Mines & West, high-class furniture manufacturers. I started work in 1959 as an apprentice along with two other boys, David Avery and Christopher Hounslow. We were the first apprentices to be taken on. My first wage was £2-17s-6d (~£2.80) for a 40-hour week. In the late 1960s, our foreman Bill Griffin had a severe malaria attack and decided to retire. I was then made foreman over the 12 machinists and 3 cutters.
Also in the 1960s two men came from Sweden with 2 chairs made of polystyrene. When our boss, Doug Mines, saw these chairs I don’t think he was very impressed. He asked where they were taking them next. When they said William Veers, he said ‘No you’re not, leave them here’. Just as well they did, that was the makings of Mines & West. We must have had over 20 models. That kept us going for 20 years until they went out of fashion.
In the early years one wooden chair would be a day’s work for one man, but they could upholster between 12 and 20 of these polystyrene chairs a day. Our main customers for the polystyrene chairs were BP, NatWest and Ryman Stationers. In the 1960s we were putting dining chairs into Number 10 Downing Street. Mines and West did the first London Hilton, and we made Independence Chairs for most countries when they gained their independence.
One special order Mines and West had was for a game hunter who shot an elephant and zebra in Africa. We made a desk with two elephant legs at the front and chairs with zebra skins. I wonder where that desk is today. When the Falklands war finished and the ships came back to port they were all missing their covers for bunks and cushions for bench seats. Mines and West managed to get the contract to refit them. I used to go to Portsmouth twice a week to measure up the seventeen ships and Gosport for the submarines. Mines and West used more leather than any other company in Britain. So much so in fact that Connollys of London gave us day’s visit to their tannery, and after that we went to see the Crazy Gang at the London Palladium- two coaches of workers.
When Doug Mines died we were taken over by Ryman/Conran, part of a big group including Burton Taylors. We could get 10% off our suits. I think Desmond Ryman was a bit miffed when Terence Conran was knighted and he was not. Eventually Ryman brought Mines and West from the group.
I thought I was going to work for Mines and West until I retired but it did not work out like that. In the 1990s Ryman lost the business to some money men who knew nothing about furniture. I stuck it out for about a year and then in 1990 decided to work for myself, which I did for 17 years.
Karen James, written in 2019
I was born in 1956 and lived in Plomer Green Avenue. In my childhood there were only two roads in to or out of Downley – Plomer Hill at one side of the village, and Coates Lane at the other. Frequently during the winter months the village would be cut off. Plomer Hill was much steeper and narrower than it is now, with overhanging trees on both sides. It was known colloquially as ‘The Pitch’ – because of its very steep gradient and the fact it was so dark at night (no street lighting in the village then).
If I start at the top of Plomer Hill and work ‘through’ the village, hopefully that will give you an indication of what the village looked like. St James’ church at the top of Plomer Hill was there, but again, the building didn’t resemble it as it is now. The photo is older, but the church still looked exactly like this.
The church itself sat in the centre of a small field, with just a grass track leading to the door. There was a footpath to the left of the church field, which ran between two hedgerows, then down across the fields, over a footbridge across the railway, and onto the main A40. I walked into High Wycombe many, many times with my mother to do the weekly shopping. We would pick daisies and buttercups in the fields (where The Pastures estate is now) and always took a slice of bread to feed the ducks once we got to the edge of town. The river was open then, with rows of cottages reached by little footways across the river. From the top of Plomer Hill, Westover Road was there – it was a very potholed and bumpy road then – just uneven slabs of concrete – even worse than Plomer Hill! There were open fields where The Pastures is now, belonging to the farm (where Old Farm Road now is). I used to walk to the farm to buy eggs. The farm had a pond in the farmyard, as well as stables and an old fashioned barn. One of my earliest memories is of my father lifting me up to look over a stable door at a newly-born foal at the farm.
In the fork of the road between Littleworth Road and Plomer Green Lane was the bus stop, complete with wooden bus shelter and another pond, edged with railings. If you caught the Downley bus in those days (number 25 from the bus garage) you could ask for ‘The Pond’ and the driver would know where you meant! There were no shops in this end of Littleworth Road. Hithercroft Road was open fields. The cottages on the left and the houses on the right hand side of Littleworth Road were there, but where Selwood Way etc now is, were one set of the village allotments. My father kept an allotment here, where he grew all manner of vegetables and fruits – my mother rarely bought any vegetables at all. Next to my father’s allotment was Mr Langley’s (another old Downley family). He had a pigsty, and we often took our peelings etc along from Plomer Green Avenue to feed the pigs – I remember the little piglets very well. I would ‘ride’ in the wheelbarrow to the allotment, but usually on the return journey the barrow was full of potatoes, apples, plums, gooseberries, brussels, cabbages, beans, peas etc – there was scarcely any room for me!
The layout of Littleworth Road has changed considerably over the years, there used to be a very sharp bend to the left, around a large white building – The Manor Stores – one of the shops in the village. I remember the storekeeper was called Roger, and we always referred to it as ‘Roger’s’, never The Manor Stores. The Manor Stores (named, I always assumed, after Hughenden Manor) sold cheese cut with a wire from a marble slab and wrapped in wax paper, sweets from a magical assortment of jars on the shelf behind the counter, loose tea from tea chests on the floor, potatoes and flour from sacks (also on the floor) – fresh bread, bacon sliced whilst you waited on a wicked looking machine, all manner of tinned goods, fresh fruit and cakes as well as cleaning materials, soap, shampoo, washing powder etc – anything and everything you might need on a daily basis. Roger always wore a white coat, and always said ‘Good morning Miss,’ when I left the shop. The shop was demolished when they straightened out the road to get rid of the blind bend – always rather a shame, I thought…
At the end of Littleworth Road, where the Scout and Guide hut is now, was a large timber yard that supplied local wood to the furniture factories in High Wycombe. I can’t remember the name of it, but I do remember playing on the huge piles of beech wood (strictly against the rules) with school friends, and discovering a weasel family living in one of the older piles. I had never seen a baby weasel – we were fascinated!
Common Side is relatively unchanged – a few more modern houses inserted into what were once large gardens, but the cottages are as they were (apart from double glazing and driveways) and the view across the Common is pretty much as it has always been. The Village Hall – its correct title is actually the Downley War Memorial Hall, but no one ever called it that – (where Common Side joins the High Street and Chapel Street) looks the same too – was the centre of the village during my childhood. The school used it for school plays and parents days, the horticultural society used it for shows and talks, the WI used it for jumble sales and meetings etc, etc. I won a book on wildflowers for my ‘garden on a plate’ at the horticultural show; a set of coloured pencils for my collection of local wildflowers displayed in a jam jar; rooted around in the books and toys at the jumble sales and even ‘trod the boards’ as one of Mr Fezziwig’s daughters, the angel Gabriel, and even a snowflake (!) in the Village Hall.
Opposite the hall, in what is now a private house, on the corner of Common Side and Chapel Street, is a large white house that once housed the village sweet shop. The entrance was where the bottom centre window is now. Owned, in my youth, by the appropriately named Mr and Mrs Spicer, we used to run down Chapel Street after school to try and be first in to the shop to spend our pocket money. Penny chews, licorice imps, sherbet dabs, fruit salad, candy shrimps, and much lamented Spangles (both fruit and mint) were some of my favourites. Mrs Spicer, who always wore a blue overall and had a truly monstrous perm, would stand there as we painstakingly worked out just how many different sweets we could get for our sixpence (2 and a half pence), looking rather murderous. Her husband, a tiny little man with a bald head and round glasses, was much preferred as the customer service agent of choice for us village children! In later years, the shop moved to the newly built parade at the end of Littleworth Road – you can just see it here (taken not long after the shops were built).
The Bricklayers Arms hasn’t changed at all on the outside – my sister had her wedding reception here in 1965, and I’ve been to many birthdays, christenings and wakes in the building.
The shop opposite is a new building, but there was always a shop here – in my youth the direct competition to The Manor Stores. This was Amos’s. Mr Amos wore a brown overall (as opposed to Roger’s white) but his had ‘Amos’ stitched over the pocket. He also had a bull-nosed Morris van, the same shade of brown, and would make deliveries, so was usually the store of choice for my mother. I would run round to the shop with her list, and Mr Amos’s van would pull up outside later that day with the requisite items in a cardboard box. Mother would pay Mr Amos and the little brown van would turn round (Plomer Green Avenue was a cul-de-sac) and chug away.
At the end of the High Street, the village post office was on the right (you can still see the shop front, but this is modern – in the 50’s and 60’s it was a tiny post office, and the rest of the building was a private house). Opposite, where the hairdresser’s now is, was a fruit shop.
If you turned right out of the High Street, down Plomer Green Lane to the junction of Moor Lane – the brown cottage on the corner is generally regarded as being the oldest building in the village. It’s had various names, but I always knew it as Blacksmith’s.
Opposite the cottage is the large white house – Mountjoy’s Retreat. Long before my time I think it used to be a pub, but I’ve only ever known it as a house – the Kneller family lived there when I was a child, and Caroline Kneller and I were in the same class at school. I remember having a wonderful picnic under the trees in the little orchard in her garden.
Moor Lane will give you a good indication of what nearly all the roads in Downley looked like years ago. They have all been widened, surfaced and lit, but they nearly all looked very much like Moor Lane still does.
Moor Lane runs out onto Downley Common, where Sunnybank Chapel is on the left. I went to Sunday school here until my friend Andrea found that she had an identical stamp in her John Bull printing kit to the one they used to stamp your attendance card in Sunday school. After that we forged our attendance and went blackberrying or walking or something else more interesting than bible study. We got away with it for a long time, too!
The hill opposite the chapel was guaranteed to be absolutely full of children as soon as a few flakes of snow fell – we always called it ‘the sledging hill’ – although very few of us owned a sledge – mostly tin trays or dustbin lids with the handles removed.
Just up the hill to the right of the chapel and hidden away on the right hand side, is Vale Cottage – one of my favourite places in the world. My mother was housekeeper here when I was young and during the holidays I went with her when she worked. I loved this cottage and still do. During the 1920s and early 30s the Oakeshott family lived here – the philosopher Michael Oakeshott (a family member) was a frequent visitor. The Common has many homes hidden away; there are some beautiful houses and cottages in amongst the trees.
Coming back along Moor Lane, turning right and continuing up Plomer Green Lane – Emery’s Dairy used to be on the right hand side – the dairy and its associated cottages were (approximately) where Downley Lodge is now. At the top of Plomer Green Lane, the village cricket pitch has always been where it still is – on the Common. Directly opposite used to be the village blacksmith, but the building was demolished a long time ago – I believe there is a wooden chalet type building where the old black barn used to be.
Turning right, the road eventually runs out on the Common. When I was a small child, it always seemed to me that Downley Common marked the end of the known world. All roads ran out here! Turn left onto the unmade section, in front of Golf Link Villas (always a mystery where that name came from!) and keep going past the houses on the right. Just before the run of cottages is the Le De Spencer’s Arms – I haven’t been in there for a lot of years, but it never seems to change, and is the most wonderful place to enjoy a drink in the summer.
Coronation Cottages, just beyond the pub, are the last houses in the village in this direction – just the wilds of California and Egypt (both areas of Downley Common), plus ‘The Dells’ (old craters from even older explosions in the woods), lie beyond…. until you get to Naphill, but that’s another country altogether!
Retracing our steps back to the end of the High Street – turning left out of the High Street instead of right. Mines & West furniture factory took up this whole corner – I remember it very well – you could hear the sound of the wood saws and smell the lovely new wood in the summer time when the windows were open. After Mines & West closed, the site was eventually taken over by Office Corp Furniture, where, ironically, I worked for a short time many years later. The whole site was sold and redeveloped as housing in the late 1990’s.
Grays Lane, on the right, was an orchard in the late 50’s/60’s, although the cottages and some of the villas/detached houses were on Plomer Green Lane, they all backed onto open countryside.
Further along Plomer Green Lane, on the left, is School Close. Opposite the turning, the very old white cottage had a huge garden (now full of houses). There used to be a very distinctive pair of ancient, huge elm trees at the bottom of their garden, you could see them from almost all over the village – sadly they were infected with Dutch Elm disease and had to be felled.
Turning into School Close, the semis on either side are exactly as they were (built in the late 1930’s for the most part), but at the end of the road was (unsurprisingly, given the name of the road!) the village school. I started there in January 1961, when it was still a single building – a typical village school. It was extended by the installation of ‘terrapins’ (remember them?) but was still not big enough to cater for the ever-increasing number of families arriving in the new housing estates, and a whole new school building was opened in (approx) 1966. This was demolished when the new housing estate was built, but the original school building still remains – I believe it’s now used as a community centre. It looked very much like the picture (apart from the rather strange red structure and the solar panels!). The playground was tarmac completely surrounding the building – lots of scraped knees and bruises, but we all survived!
The school playing fields were also on this site. I remember making igloos from snow blocks in the awful winter of 1962/3 on these fields, plus the inevitable summer sports days.
The picture was taken in June 1967, just before I left Downley Primary. The young lady on her hands and knees on the far left is…. me. Amazingly, I can still name almost everyone in this photo, but can’t remember what I did last week… The picture was taken in June 1967, just before I left Downley Primary. The young lady on her hands and knees on the far left is…. me. Amazingly, I can still name almost everyone in this photo, but can’t remember what I did last week…
At the far side of the school were a set of gates that opened onto Chapel Street (the school making it a dead end), straight down to the Village Hall (War Memorial Hall- ed). As the original school building didn’t have a hall, any large school event was held in the Village Hall. I can remember long ‘crocodiles’ of us, walking down Chapel Street, carrying our chairs, for speech day, Christmas plays etc. When the new school opened, we had a hall for the first time.
Retracing steps again, back to the start of junction of School Close/Plomer Green Lane – which I now see has a roundabout!! A roundabout? In Downley? Goodness me!
The section of Plomer Green Lane between School Close and the junction with Littleworth Road is fundamentally how it has always been in my lifetime. A few houses built on what were gardens, but more or less the same. At the bottom on the left (where I believe there is now a supermarket) was a patch of waste ground where we played as children. In later years it became a pub – the Downley Donkey.
First turning right after the supermarket is Plomer Green Avenue, where I grew up. In those days it was made up of two cul-de-sacs, both ending in open fields and farmland. We had woodland camps in the woods, and the pond (now situated at the end of Gosling Grove on the Grays Lane Estate) was in the middle of a field. I spent hours there, catching frogspawn to take home, paddling around in the muddy shallows, watching the dragonflies.
Downley has its fair share of folklore and legends – Kiln Pond Lane (a footpath opposite the High Street) contained a marshy, rather smelly, pond. As children we were told it was fathoms deep, and a horse and cart had drowned there. One of the cottages in Littleworth Road was reputedly the home of a Victorian called Jimmy Two Bits. I never did establish exactly why he had that name (or even if he existed) but it was something to do with a frog!
A tradition still maintained is the November 5th bonfire on The Common. It has become a very organised affair these days – when I was a child there was no torchlight procession, we just met at the bonfire and lit our own fireworks…. what would the Health & Safety say!!
Downley today bears little resemblance to the village of my childhood, but that is inevitable evolution and progress. I suspect that, at its heart, it’s still the place it has always been. I only hope you love living there as much as I did for so many years.
Downley today bears little resemblance to the village of my childhood, but that is inevitable evolution and progress. I suspect that, at its heart, it’s still the place it has always been.
I only hope you love living there as much as I did for so many years.
Norman Brown, written in 2019
My family moved from Slough to Downley in 1941 to run the shop next door to the War Memorial Hall. Although I had already started schooling at St Mary’s Church of England School in Hercel Street, Slough in the town centre and moved up to Standard 2, it was decided to place me initially in the Infant class at Downley County Primary School (now the Community Centre). Mrs Church was the Infants teacher; she lived at Lacey Green and cycled across Naphill and then Downley Common each day in all winds and weathers. Access to the school was from Chapel Street and the Infant School had its own entrance toward the rear of the building. I was soon moved to Standard Two where Miss Thomas was the teacher but she married in the summer of that year to become Mrs Jennings and she lived in High Wycombe.
My next move was to a split class under Mrs Meadows who was quite a strict disciplinarian. She had a large classroom with its own entrance from the playground and there was a sliding door into the top class under the charge of Mr Avery the Headmaster who travelled in from Booker by bus each day. His room was “landlocked” with Mrs Meadows on one side with a large sliding door connecting to Mr Avery’s, and Mrs Jennings’ on the other side, separated by a large folding wooden and glass screen, which when closed had a small wooden and glass door in one of the panels for access.
There was another small class room between the Infant class and Mr Avery’s room which was converted into the School Kitchen to enable pupils to have a hot mid-day meal. Losing that class room probably explains why Mrs Meadows and Mr Avery had split classes in their rooms but the division only seemed to take place for Maths and English. The detail becomes a little hazy some 70 years on.
A brick wall ran along the back of school and there was an A-shaped ladder which was stored in the playground but pre-war had straddled the boundary wall to give access to Turner’s field which was used as a school field. This was ploughed up during the war to enable crops to be grown, mainly cereals. The field is now part of School Close.
Mines and West chair factory formed another boundary with the school but it was only in restricted use and there was lots of wood stored in the open for seasoning. A low wall at the edge of the factory could be easily scaled to allow access to the factory yard and the drive down to Plomer Green Lane. A chosen pupil, I think referred to as a Monitor, would purchase National Savings stamps for the school on Mondays from the Village Post Office, then the front room of Mrs Kearly’s house in Plomer Green Lane. A post box and telephone kiosk stood outside the house. The telephone was the only public phone and was connected to the High Wycombe exchange whereas other residents who had a phone, and there weren’t many, were on the Naphill exchange. The low wall also enabled Mr Avery at the end of the school day to catch the bus outside the Post Office rather than from the terminus by the Village Hall. A Monitor was dispatched to place a chair by the low wall to assist Mr Avery to cross over and walk down the pathway to stand opposite the Post Office. The chair had to be returned to the classroom afterwards.
There was a very large heap of coke fuel against the factory and boundary wall, and one of the monitor’s sought-after tasks was to stoke up the large stoves in Mrs Church’s and Mrs Meadow’s rooms twice a day to ensure the school was heated through large radiators supplied from the boilers presumably incorporated in the stoves. The task of stoking required the service of two boys.
The school nurse turned up at intervals mainly to check for the presence of nits in the hair and was unkindly referred to as the “nit nurse” but she took other medical conditions in hand. In my own case I was diagnosed aged 8 as suffering from Myopia (short sightedness) so had to move to the front of the class and wear ghastly, steel rimmed spectacles and earning the nickname “four eyes”. I think I was the only pupil to have glasses at that time. Another dreaded visitor was the School Dentist who set up her chair in one of the classrooms and for fillings used a drill, which was powered by a treadle which she operated with her foot. Tooth fillings were quite excruciating, and we all feared the arrival of a yellow card saying that an appointment has been made.
About once a term one of the School Managers would visit and inspect the school. Managers were appointed by the Buckinghamshire Education Authority and I remember Mrs Taylor, from Taylor’s store which was opposite J West the Butcher’s shop in what is now called the High Street, and a Mrs Morris who lived in a large house across the Common. One of the School Manager’s functions was to present prizes to pupils for outstanding work.
Downley had its share of evacuees and additional desks were brought in from London bearing the initials LCC (London County Council). A few of these seemed to remain after the majority of the evacuees had moved back London; some of the last evacuees returned at the same time as German V2 rockets were falling, often with tragic consequences.
The 1944 Education Act came into force during my time at Downley School and in 1947 I secured a pass in the 11 plus examinations and together with Gerald Hermon and Peter Mc Murdo went off to the Royal Grammar School High Wycombe whilst Tony Standage went to Sir William Borlase School in Marlow. Several girls passed to go to Wycombe High School but in those days we were not particularly interested in young girls – that of course soon changed. There was a strict rule that Grammar School Boys and High School girls were not to mix whilst in uniform. Those who did not pass the examination went to Mill End Road School in High Wycombe which had been designated a Secondary Modern School. Those going to selective schools were given a bus pass since they lived over three miles from school, but those attending a Secondary Modern School were not and had to walk. This made for a nasty division between pupils especially as the walk to Mill End Road meant negotiating Plomer Hill (the Pitch).
In 1949 our family moved to Windsor and I was transferred to Windsor County Boys School thus ending my connection with Downley which had already begun to change with the appointment of a new Head Teacher to the school.
Mrs Chrissie Stacey, written in1974
Gone are the days when the old bakehouse was in use over the Common. Oh that lovely smell, wafting across the Common from the newly baked bread and the lardy cakes, oozing with fat and fruit. Everything was homemade: the materials for the dough were placed in the dough machine and even that was turned by hand (so good for the figure) until it was of the right consistency. It was then left till the morning to prove. As morning dawned the old coal fired oven was stoked up, the dough weighed and moulded and then baked. Hey presto! That lovely smell, deliveries made and another hard days work finished – ready to start again the next day, a six day week.
The fun in summer and winter, sliding down the Common in old saucepans, old frying pans, tin trays, etc. – not the sleighs of today, but certainly more fun!
Water, water everywhere (now 1974), but not a drop to drink in 1921 when there was a drought. Water was brought up from the springs in West Wycombe by horse and cart and poured into a large receptacle standing on the edge of the Common, where residents of the village were waiting with buckets for that much needed water. Others were waiting for some at the old well at “Well Cottage”. Oh, the joy of that little drop in a bucket!
Leaving my menfolk to fend for themselves for two days when attending the AGM of the WI in London, I arrived home to find the following note left by them:- “Wanted – a Housekeeper: Not a WI member.”
Mrs Nancie Shackell, written in 1974
One bright, breezy but chilly Easter Sunday morning in the 1950’s I chanced to look out of an upper window and saw that the wooden west wall of St. James’ Church was ablaze. I called the family and we rushed over, among the first there, to empty the church of its furniture, hymn and prayer books and other belongings. Mrs. Banham was ringing the fire brigade.
Someone had been over-enthusiastic in staking the coke stove and the hot, iron, chimney-pipe had ignited the wooden wall. I shall always remember Roger Banham calmly unscrewing the altar carpet while the flames from the blazing west wall leapt to the top of the gable. The church was evacuated by the time the fire brigade arrived and its first efforts produced just a dribble of water from the hose, to the ribald comments of the crowd, but later, with a longer hose coupled to a suitable hydrant, they extinguished the blaze. And so the west wall of the Church is now a patchwork of wood and asbestos sheeting.
Mrs Kathleen Avery, written in 1974
To me it seems incredible that the village of Downley can have altered so much in the seventy-four years of one person’s lifetime. Looking back to my childhood days it seems impossible that we could play such games as hop-scotch, skipping or spinning a top in the road without fear for our safety; often not even a horse and cart would come along to disturb us. Our games were simple; we girls played with dolls which were made of wax and melted if left out in the sun.
I also like to think of some of the old characters of the village. The chief among them was Mr Dicky Gray, with his long grey beard and sacking apron tied round the middle with a piece of string and a cap with earflaps stuck on his head. His string of donkeys would plod behind him as he set off down Plomer Green Lane and one could hear such sounds as “Whoa Parker! Hurry along Jenny!” until he was out of sight and hearing. Old Mr Selby Spriggs kept the village shop that sold everything. Mr Will Martin from Well Cottage was the village undertaker and made his own coffin years before he died. Blind Mr Charles Styles, who was a first-class basket maker.
Then came World War One- when all the lads of the village hurried to join the army. At the return, there were so many familiar faces missing and so many tears shed.
All this time Downley was slowly changing until we see it as it is today. But such is life, forever changing, and this we must all accept.
Joe Bowler, written in 1990
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. One being Coates Lane, which was little more than a single track lane with a few passing places, was used mainly to serve Manor Farm, and used 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 the 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.
When Plomer Hill reached the summit it was faced with the village green (now known as Jubilee Green) where the road then divided into two. The left hand road was called Plomer Green Lane, and extended right up to the top of the common by the Blacksmiths’ cottages and Forge. This marked the western perimeter of the village. A small road branched at right angles across the common to serve several houses that just had a hard track in front of them. This track branched left and right, the left path leading to the Le De Spencers pub, and Stacey’s bake house.
The road to the right of the old village green was Littleworth Road, and marked the eastern perimeter of the village. This continued along as far as Coates Lane, where it joined up to the Commonside road. This, as the name implies, extended right along the side of the common until it met up with the short stretch now known as the High Street, which joined up with Plomer Green Lane and so completed the circuit of the village. I had always thought of the village as being roughly circular but now I think it is more of a drunken triangle……
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