William Downing, Smethwick Maltster, 1821-1901

William Downing was born on 19 Apr 1821, the eldest surviving son of George and Elizabeth Downing. He took up the family trade of maltster in the West Midlands and was to oversee the expansion of the business from his birth place in Smethwick to take in concerns down the Severn in Gloucester under his sons.

William Downing in 1895. Photo by H.J. Whitlock, 11 New St, Birmingham

William Downing in 1895. Photo by H.J. Whitlock, 11 New St, Birmingham

He was baptised on 8 Jul 1821 in All Saints, West Bromwich marrying Emma Clifton in St John’s, Halesowen on 15 Aug 1843. Emma bore him two sons, George and William Edmund and one daughter, Louisa Jane. Emma Downing died in 1851 from consumption. With his second marriage to Susan Lee in 1856 he had a further daughter Frances Susan and one further son Thomas Lee Downing.

We have correspondence dated 1853 from Ann Maria Downing, his sister-in-law, to Sarah Downing, his sister discussing their life in Smethwick and William’s interest in remarrying.

After his mother’s death in 1858 William received a considerable inheritance and an auction of properties was held in 1859. William Downing used all the proceeds to build Holly Lodge, a large mansion on Holly Lane in Smethwick and also seems to have invested considerably in the Malting business. However, he seems to have started handing control of the running of the business to his sons George and William Edmund by 1870. A series of articles by W Ellery Jephcott published in the Smethwick Telephone in 1949 recount the story well.

After the passing of the business to his sons, William devoted much of his time to public service. He was for many years on the Smethwick Board of Health and became a large benefactor of local Smethwick charities, including the churches of Holy Trinity where he was buried in the family vault. He was also a prime mover in the foundation of local credit unions and the Smethwick Mutual Building Society. He became a JP for Staffordshire. The family, including his spinster daughter Louisa Jane continued to live in Holly Lodge and it was she who continued some of his patronage after his death, notably at St Paul’s Smethwick, where there was a dedicated Lady chapel in her memory.

He died at Holly Lodge on 9 Jan 1901. Final probate on his will was granted in January 1902 declaring his estate in excess of £186,000.

Family of William DOWNING and Emma CLIFTON

Husband:William DOWNING (1821-1901)
Wife:Emma CLIFTON (1824-1851)
Children:George DOWNING (1844-1894)
Louisa Jane DOWNING (1847-1917)
William Edmund DOWNING (1849-1939)
Marriage15 Aug 1843Halesowen

Husband: William DOWNING

Name:William DOWNING1
Father:George DOWNING (1789-1848)
Mother:Elizabeth SHAW (1795-1858)
Birth19 Apr 1821Smethwick, Staffordshire
Baptism8 Jul 1821 (age 0)All Saints, West Bromwich
Occupation1871 (age 49-50)Maltster and Landowner (Employing 22 Men)
Residence1881 (age 59-60)150 Holly Lane, Smethwick
Residence1891 (age 69-70)Hay, Herefordshire
Occupation1891 (age 69-70)Retired Maltster – JP for Staffordshire
Death9 Jan 1901 (age 79)Holly Lodge, Smethwick
Burial16 Jan 1901Holy Trinity, Smethwick

Wife: Emma CLIFTON

Father:Edmund CLIFTON (1776-1861)
Mother:Susannah HORTON (bap.1783, d.1841)
Birth1824Oldbury, Worcestershire
Baptism28 Nov 1824 (age 0)
Artefactc. 1849 (age 24-25)Letter to my sisters – Sarah and Eliza
Death10 Jun 1851 (age 26-27)Smethwick, Staffordshire

Child 1: George DOWNING

Name:George DOWNING
BirthOct 1844Smethwick, Staffordshire
Baptism22 Dec 1844 (age 0)North Harborne, Staffordshire
Occupation1871 (age 26-27)Maltster
Possessions1876 (age 31-32)Maltings at High Orchard, Gloucester Docks
Death8 May 1894 (age 49)Tan-yr-Alt, Llandudno
Book Inscribed to Noel from Uncle George
Will6 Jul 1894 (age 49)Tan Yr Allt Value £61000

Child 2: Louisa Jane DOWNING

Name:Louisa Jane DOWNING
BirthApr 1847Smethwick, Staffordshire
Baptism18 Apr 1847 (age 0)North Harborne, Staffordshire
Education1861 (age 13-14)Dallington Hall, Northants aged 14
Residence1901 (age 53-54)Brighton
Death22 Mar 1917 (age 69)Holly Lodge, Smethwick
Burial1917Lady Chapel, St Pauls Smethwick – built in commemoration

Child 3: William Edmund DOWNING

Name:William Edmund DOWNING
Spouse:Hannah Pitt SHOWELL (1855-1941)
Birth30 Apr 1849Smethwick, Staffordshire
Baptism3 Jun 1849 (age 0)North Harborne, Staffordshire
Education1861 (age 11-12)At school at Hardingstone, Northants aged 12
Occupation1871 (age 21-22)Maltster
Occupation1881 (age 31-32)Maltster
Occupation1901 (age 51-52)G and W E Downing, Maltsters Gloucester
Death3 Oct 1939 (age 90)Elm Lodge, Hagley



  • . BHO British History Online: Smethwick, Staffordshire.
    •  In 1816 Crockett’s property was sold under a Chancery decree. The northern part of the farm, 30 a. surrounding the farmhouse at the corner of Oldbury Road and Holly Lane, was bought by Thomas Downing and his brother George; the remainder, 34 a. near the Halesowen boundary, was bought by William Spurrier, a Birmingham lawyer. (fn. 17) In 1848 Thomas Downing sold his share to his brother George, who died later the same year. George’s widow and their son William continued to live at the farmhouse. The widow died in 1858, about the time that William was building Holly Lodge to the south-west of the farmhouse. In 1859 William sold the farmhouse, then known as Holly House, and moved into Holly Lodge. He continued to live there until his death in 1901. The house then seems to have been occupied by his widow and his son W. E. Downing and is said to have stood empty for a few years after the son’s move to Hagley (Worcs.).From: ‘Smethwick: Other estates’, A History of the County of Staffordshire: Volume 17: Offlow hundred (part) (1976), pp. 99-107.
  • Molly Evans Diary: “Mills rang up at 8 to say Mr Downing died at 7.45am”
Last updated on 29 December 2023 by JJ Morgan