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Home > Cambridgeshire > Croydon > Downing Arms

Downing Arms

Downing House, Croydon

Picture: Rodney Burton

The Downing Arms, also known as 'The Scratching Cat' was situated on Lower Road. Now a private dwelling. Present by 1861 when the publican was William Simons, it closed in August 1995.
I am the current owner of Downing House, formerly the Downing Arms or as it was known locally "the Scratching Cat" and purchased the house from the last landlord who had closed it as a pub in the 1990s. I am also looking for information on the pub. However, I can advise you of the following:
It was first licensed as a pub in 1827 There was previously a farm on the site and the barn at the back of the pub had a dairy. The farm (66 Acres) continued with the pub until 1947 when Downing College who owned a large estate of land from Tadlow ,Croydon, East Hatley and Gamlingay ,sold the estate and the pub became a tied house (Whitbread). The pub became a free house around 1971.
The pub was originally established as part of a funding drive by Downing College. The college had come into being as a result of the will of the third Sir George Downing, the first having been granted the title to the land around the time of the restoration of the Monarchy. However his descendants had disputed the will for many years and the money for the college and the estates which were to fund it di not come into the hands of the University until circa 1805. The University inherited two estates, one in Norfolk and the West Cambridgeshire estates, both of which were in poor condition and were not generating sufficient funds to build and run the new college. There was a suggestion that the rents had not been collected for more than 10 to 20 years. The college built a toll road on its land to join the Old North Road (Ermine Street) and the Great North Road. This road is now the B1042 and the toll cottage can be seen on the road at the junction with the turning for Shingay. The Downing Arms was conveniently situated on the Road and the college applied for a licence for it as a pub and it subsequently became the rent house of Downing College.
This may in part be the origin of the name since the tenants on the Downing College Estate paid their rent at the pub each Michelmas and saw the coat of arms of the Downing family, which includes a griffin rampant , as a scratching cat which took their money. One family, the Simons lived in the house and farm from before 1820 through to 1916, but other landlords up to Ray Warden who took it over in 1988 and closed the pub in 95/96 are unknown to me although in one of the Downing College newsletters on the web from 1996 a George Callan informs the college of its closure and it is noted that he was a former landlord.
I have only one photograph of the pub in action with what appears to be the Cambridgeshire Hunt meeting outside for a stirrup cup. If anyone else has photographs I would like to hear from them. The hunt photograph is very apposite since one of the former bursars of the college Dr John Perkins used to hunt from the Downing Arms with his friend W G Grace, the cricketer.
I am told that the pub had well known "lock ins" in the 70's but given its isolate position trade declined with the advent of drink driving laws. I am also told that the last landlord tried to turn it into a hotel and a restaurant after dropping the pub licence and then tried to re-open it by applying for a new licence which was refused due to the location (2 miles from Croydon village and the Queen Adelaide and more than a mile to Tadlow.
Geoff Mason

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