Downham and St. Margaret's Church
A page from 'The Essex Countryside', 1952, Vol 1 No. 1
Downham is a pleasant and very ancient little village about two miles from Wickford. It derives its name from two Anglo Saxon words meaning “the village on the hill” and is mentioned in the Domesday Book.
Its church, which is built of stone of the Early English style, consists of chancel, nave, south porch and an embattled tower, dating from the fifteenth century and containing four bells. This tower was originally of stone, but is now of red brick. It has a carved stone pulpit, oak seats for 140 people and a number of monuments to past residents of note. Its register dates back to 1558.
Being situated on high ground, it commands a fine view of a lovely valley that alas will soon disappear as the Ministry of Health has sanctioned the flooding of the latter to form a huge reservoir of water for an additional supply to the Southend district including the new town of Basildon which is to be built nearby.
The loss of some hundreds of acres of some of the best land in Essex, which will be occasioned by the formation of the reservoir is grievous enough, but to those who love our old English country homes, the loss of the 500 year old mansion called “Fremnells” (or formerly “ Hemnalls”) which is in Downham parish, will also be a cause for much sorrow, as this fine old gabled house will be submerged by the proposed flooding, or probably pulled down before the flooding takes place.
Fremnells was the seat of the Tyrell family from 1476 to 1627 when it came into the possession of Benjamin Disbrowe who died there in 1707. You will find the tomb of him and his wife in the church. He was the seventh son of Major- General John Disbrowe, who married one of Oliver Cromwell’s sisters.
Before Cromwell’s rise to power, John Disbrowe was a country gentleman with a reputed income of £60 to £70 a year, living quietly on his estate. Under Cromwell’s patronage he had a meteoric career. He was made Commissary- general of the Horse, Major General of several counties in the West of England and a Commander of the Fleet in the wars against the Dutch. He was also one of Cromwell’s Council, one of the Commissioners of the Treasury and one of the Lords of the Cinque Ports. Cromwell evidently believed in “incentives” because he paid his brother-in-law a salary of no less than £3,236 a year for the joint posts he held – a vast sum of money in those days. At the Restoration the prosperity of the Disbrowe family suffered some eclipse because they were suspected of complicity in the plot against the life of Charles II, but some twenty years later Benjamin Disbrowe appears to have proved his loyalty to the Crown because he was made Sheriff of Essex in 1689.