You might think that this short article is about Ipswich, Britain’s oldest continuously inhabited town; the Saxons came here in the seventh century (AD625) and established a port, a manufacturing base and a town which quickly grew to 5,000 residents. There have been people living and working in Ipswich ever since.

So if I’m not talking about Ipswich how about Colchester. Colchester was an important Roman town, perhaps the first in the UK. The Roman’s came to Essex in AD79 and Colchester’s importance grew as a Garrison town with the entire associated infrastructure, a lot of which they are still discovering. But when the Romans left Britain Colchester was effectively abandoned, deserted and didn’t re-establish itself until the tenth century.

Historians suggest that there is very little evidence of Colchester existing as a community after the 6th century although snippets of Danelaw suggest there was perhaps something here in the ninth century.

No, I’m talking about Downham Market, Britain’s oldest town; that is, the town with the oldest inhabitants or as it is known to the people of Norfolk ‘the country’s largest care home’ Downham Market has the highest average age of any community in England.

According to the 2011 census the average age of the 10,000 residents is 69. It feels older, as you walk around the Clock Tower in the former Market Place. The only people out and about seem to be pensioners with their Zimmer frames, walking sticks and mobility scooters. Perhaps the younger generation are at work.

Generally however it is very quiet, on the edge of the Fens, 40 miles from Norwich, 30 from Cambridge and a dozen from the administrative centre of Kings Lynn it really does need to look after itself. It was the marketplace for the food grown on the Fens but that now goes straight to the big supermarkets and wholesalers who pre-order a season’s output.

So, nice try Downham Market but, in my book, Ipswich remains Britain’s oldest continuously inhabited town.

John Norman

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