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A brief history of Downe

Downe is 3.4 miles (5.5 km) south west of Orpington and 14.2 miles (22.9 km) south east of Charing Cross.  The village was part of Kent until April 1965 when it became part of the London Borough of Bromley (the connection to Kent is depicted in the village millennium sign, which includes the Kent Invicta, Charles Darwin, the thirteenth century St Mary the Virgin church, and the lime tree which stands in the middle of the village).   The village lies on the North Downs, and much of the centre of the village is unchanged.  


The name Downe probably derives from the old English word "Dun" a hill, or from the Anglosaxon word "doon", latterly down (the Noth Downs connection).  The spelling has changed over the years.  "Done" or "Doune" in 1283,  "Dune" in 1304, "Downe" in 1610, and reverted to "Down" in the 19th Century.   Now, once again Downe with an ‘e’.


The former school now acts as the village hall.  Downe village is a Conservation Area in the Metropolitan Green Belt and and was proposed in 2009 as a World Heritage Site (not ratified) based on Darwin's Landscape Laboratory. The village is the heart of the proposed site which extends to parts of Cudham and Keston.


Charles Darwin lived in Down House for 40 years, from 1842 until he died there in 1882. A favourite place of his was Downe Bank, now a nature reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest, and several members of his family are buried in the graveyard of St Mary's Church.


Downe is the location of Buckston Browne Farm, built in 1931 as a surgical research centre by the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS). In the 1980s, the farm caused controversy because of its use of vivisection techniques, and in August 1984 it was raided by anti-vivisection activists.  The farm has now been made into four houses.   There are around 315 dwellings in the Parish. The village evolved as a service station to the 10 large house and estates, and until the last 30 years or so, was chiefly made up of tied cottages for agricultural workers.  Around 1900 there were over 20 small shops and businesses here. Today there is one cafe, an Indian restaurant and two pubs.

An old map view of Downe


Click on the link below to see old maps hosted by the National Art Library of Scotland (the link will send you straight to Biggin Hill, from where you can drag around the area -  make sure 'Side by Side' is clicked at the top)


At top left, there is a drop down menu of maps through time and you can compare them side by side with present day satellite images from Google earth with pinpoint accuracy.   You will be able to see where Cudham Lodge stood from the 18th century (it was swept away at the end of the First World War to expand Biggin Hill).    You can even see a shadow on the ground between the runways in a shape that partly matches the map.

(The history above is reproduced by kind permission of the Downe News website).   

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