"In the end, it's not the years in your life that count, it's the life in your years." - Abraham Lincoln

Posted on October 27, 2017 by Sioux under General


A walk (sans Fergus) across the fields took us into the town of Saffron Walden. During the Roman era, it was no more than a small settlement in what the Saxons called “Weala-denu” (Valley of the Britons). By 1806, an estate of 120 households is mentioned in the Domesday Book. In the 1130-40’s a castle was built; a Benedictine Priory founded and the market moved from the more southerly town of Newport to Saffron Walden. The market is still held twice a week and the Priory is now known as Audley End House. These combined events led to the Walden area becoming the economic and administrative centre of the area. 

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The style of a lot of houses of the time, being clearly divided into three different elements, indicate how they

started off as open market stalls and progressed to become permanent homes and business premises. Some of the windows had shutters which opened up to provide a serving counter and canopy over the goods.

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The half-timbered Guildhall Building.

People back then must have been very short! I’m not very tall but even I would have to duck to walk through these doors! 

Castle Street still contains many historic buildings.

The town took on the name of Saffron Walden in the late 1500’s when it became the centre of the saffron crocus growing industry in the country; and the wealth of the town at that time is reflected in the timber framed buildings dating back to that period.


However the saffron industry declined during the 17th & 18th       centuries and there was little development, other than a new       town hall, built in 1760. With the growth of the malting and         brewing industry, prosperity returned to the area. 

A Quaker family of bankers and brewers, also one of the wealthiest in the area at the time, were responsible for founding the library, hospital and museum; digging wells and even a branch of the railway in 1865. The large drinking fountain in the market square was also gifted to the town by the same family. The railway ceased to call at Saffron Walden in 1964, and although there are no longer regular livestock markets, the town still has around 15,000 inhabitants, and although there are some more modern houses within the town, its citizens are more than happy with the lack of progress. 

The Cross Keys is a 15th century timber framed house and then shop. The roof was raised in the early 19th century. Two of the ground floor windows are the originals from the 15th century! 

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The local parish church of St Mary the Virgin is the largest non-cathedral parish church in Essex, with parts of it dating back to 1250, however the majority of the church was rebuilt between 1470 – 1525 and reflects the wealth of the town at the peak of the saffron trade.

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The overall length of the church is

55.77m and the tower and spire is

58.82m high. In 1769 the church

was damaged by lightning.


The repairs, carried out in the

1790’s, removed many medieval features but saved the building which was in a dilapidated state. The spire was added in 1832 to replace an older “lantern” tower.

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The pathway to Bridge End Gardens passes the Fry Art Gallery, which was built in 1856 to hold the personal art collection of a private collector. The gardens are a group of 7 interlinked gardens, and were also courtesy of the town’s Quaker benefactor. Although never designed as part of a home, the garden has two entrances which lead to where the family had their homes. 

Nearly all the box plants in the sunken garden are new but most of the yews are the originals which were severely cut back to encourage new growth. Although the statue fountain was made in the 20th century it is almost certainly from an earlier mould; while two beautiful stone eagles on pillars keep a watchful eye over the gardens. The Summerhouse was built in about 1840; and the herbaceous border adjacent to the wall provides a riot of colour from early summer to autumn. 

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Town twinning started soon after 1945, with the support of mayors and citizens

who vowed that Europe should never again be torn apart by war. Most twinnings

were between towns from countries previously divided by war, as an act of

friendship and reconcilliation. Twin towns or sister cities are a form of legal or

social agreement between towns, cities, counties, provinces, regions, states, and

even countries in geographically and politically distinct areas to promote cultural

and commercial ties. Saffron Walden is twinned with Bad Wildungen in Germany.

Although twinning took off in earnest after WWII, it has started being questioned

and seems to be dying out in many UK towns and villages.

Image of Bad Wildungen is courtesy of https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2365840 


The Eight Bells, where we had our lunch, is an amalgamation of various elements. Parts of the building are 15th century and the street frontage is a 16th century addition. It is one of the few buildings in the town with ground and first floor windows still in their original position. 

This gorgeous chocolate coloured labrador was having a snooze while his owners sated their thirsts, until I disturbed his reverie with the clicking of my camera.


I got the “Why-did-you-wake-me?” stare, but the photo was worth it! 

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2 responses to “Travel time – new spaces, friendly faces #5 – walkabout in town”

  1. Cheryl Wilkinson says:

    Great info and pics thanks Sue! Love the Labrador look ha ha ha!

  2. Pauline Smith says:

    There must of been some very short people in that town too. Imagine touching the ceiling – how awesome 🙂
    Agree with Cheryl: fascinating history lesson, beautiful pics but it almost looked like the town was deserted, then we picked up a couple of pics with PEOPLE in it. Did you tell the people to leave??
    Also love the Lab – beautiful face, very expressive and full of mischief…

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