Heritage and Archaeology – Downham Walk

What a joyous start to the easing of lockdown, gorgeous weather and good company.   A group of socially distanced Friends met at the Assheton Arms in Downham. First to the site of the Roman Road (RR).   David Taylor described the features of RR’s and their routes around the country, he discussed Margary’s work which still seems to remain a major reference point for RR aficionados.

Some of us had a prod through the topsoil of the putative aggar, which did meet stony resistance, however that is not proof of a RR, as it could be limestone bedrock.   Another point of guidance is the Lidar picture (light detecting and ranging mapping technology) which enables archaeologists to ‘prove’ the course of the road, which seems to disappear at times between Downham and the A682.  The archaeology group – PAG, are hoping to research and survey to establish the exact route of the road.

Then we descended the steep slope of Dowham Green to Downham Corn Mill. Although the present mill was built by the Asshetons in the 18th and 19th centuries, there was a corn mill on the site around 1311, the rent of which was 26s8d. per year.   A princely sum in those days.

Dowham Green. Easter 2021. Attribution: D. Taylor

Downham Green has an interesting history, John of Gaunt leased 40 acres for 40 marks in 1380. During the times of Elizabeth1 and James1 there were great disputes between the Lord of Downham and his tenants.   Richard Assheton was said to have ‘maliciously enclosed…..one great waste ground adjoining Downham Green’ enclosing 40 acres with a ditch and a hedge.   This led to trouble, villagers including those from Chatburn, with women among them broke down the wall. A Thomas Ryley complained in 1593 that he had been prevented digging for stones and burning them in the lime kilns on the Green.   Surely here is evidence today of lime kilns which we have yet to find.

Downham Walk. Easter 2021. Still as a Mill Pond?
Attribution: D.Taylor

From the corn mill we crossed Rimington lane down to Ings Beck where one of the loveliest the packhorse bridges (PHB) stands. One of the Ribble Valley’s hidden gems.  Swanside PHB is said to have been built like many PHB’s between 1650 and 1750, it lies on a route between Whalley and Sawley Abbeys.   A key crop and money spinner for the Cistercians was wool, carried in panniers or sidebags.   An essential feature of PHB’s are low parapets on the bridges so that they did not interfere with the load. Swanside is a very simple narrow bridge only able to carry a single pony and is not wide enough for a cart.   Some PHB’s have been extended as at Stainforth which we visited a few years ago.

Downham Walk. Swainside Packhorse Bridge. Easter 2021. Attribution: D. Taylor

Another major local product was lime, used in lime mortar and to sweeten the sour soils of the Pennines. An area which also provided coal for the return journey as packhorses never travelled with empty panniers. Other transported materials included iron and lead.   These were often very busy routes, it is said in Clitheroe before 1750 that 1,000 packhorses a day passed through the area.

A resting place for packhorses and their drivers was Bonny Blacks Farm, on Coal Pit lane by the side of the A 682 on the way to Barnoldswick, the name Salterforth tells you what the pack horses carried.   These packhorse routes also followed monastic or Roman roads so it would seem right to conjecture that the packhorse ponies passed along the RR at Brogden on the way to Salterforth.

We are looking forward to further exploring this beautiful area.

Banner Image: At Swainside Packhorse Bridge. Easter 2021.  Attribution: D. Taylor