18th and Early 19th Centuries
In 1786 William Downe purchased land on the southern slope of Coneygar Hill to the north of Bridport. He came from an established Bridport family and was a merchant or ‘wharfinger’ in the City of London as well as having shipping interests at West Bay. It is reputed that he built Downe Hall as a replica of his London town house.
The Tithe Map of 1839 showed the extent of the estate that included the gardens between Rax Lane and Downe Hall and the land that is now the Millennium Green, together with fields running down to Victoria Grove and Pymore Lane.
Within the field on the top of the hill was an area marked as ‘Potatoe Garden.’
Later Ordnance Survey maps showed the area that is now Garden Close was the walled kitchen garden. As you walk up the path from Mountfield, look out for the (now bricked up) door from the hall into the kitchen garden.
At the bottom of the pathway you pass between gate pillars that mark the original driveway to the south front of the house.
Late 19th Century
The hall changed hands a few times in the nineteenth century without much alteration until Alfred Dammers bought the hall in 1894. He was married to Hebe Templar, whose cousin was Edward Shroeder Prior, a leading architect in the Arts and Crafts movement. It is thought that Dammers was afraid of fire breaking out in a building with only one (grand) staircase so Prior was commissioned to install two separate staircases, one for the family and one for the servants which could also be used as a means of escape. This necessitated the entrance being moved to the north side of the house and the drive re-aligned. In addition two wings were added to the house and the stables and coach house rebuilt lower down the hill, out of sight (and smell) of the main house. A new terrace garden was added to the south of the hall.
These features can all be seen on the 1903 Ordnance Survey map which also showed a woodland, known as Downe Hall Plantation, most probably featuring specimen trees, many of which were relatively newly introduced to Britain. Walkways were shown through the woodland, which surrounds the meadow.
The Millennium and Beyond
The woodland walk today is closely aligned to the upper path on the map, while a lower path lies waiting to be discovered.
The driveway to Mountfield, follows the line of the original carriageway which is continued by the footpath through entrance gates. The original driveway to the south of the house has now been built over, but the private road to houses subsequently built within the grounds follows the line of the amended driveway.