Saffron Walden, Essex

Historical Description

Saffron Walden, a municipal borough, a market-town, and a parish in Essex. The town stands upon a peninsula of high land which slopes towards the banks of the Slade, a small tributary of the Cam, and is surrounded at a distance by pleasant hills. It is 7 miles NW from Thaxted, 12 E from Royston, 14 ½ SSE from Cambridge, and 40 by road and 43 ½ by rail NNE from London. It is an ancient place, dating from a period prior to the time of Edward the Confessor; was the head of an honour of 118 lordships held in the 12th century by Geoffrey de Mandeville; had a castle in the Saxon times, rebuilt by De Mandeville, and still represented by ruins of the keeps and the walls; had also, a mile to the W, on the site of Audley End mansion, a Benedictine priory, founded in 1136 by De Mandeville, which was made an abbey in 1190, and given at the dissolution to Lord Chancellor Audley. The town was the scene in 1252 of a tournament, at which Roger de Leyburn killed by chance a valiant knight, Eraauld de Mounteney. In 1647 the soldiers of Fairfax established themselves in Essex, and much negotiation took place between the army and the Parliamentary Commissioners, the first meeting being held in the church of Saffron Walden. The name of the town is derived partly from the ancient cultivation of saffron (Crocus sativus) around it, and partly from the words weald and dun, signifying a " forest" and a " hill." It was made a municipal borough by Edward VI., and is now governed by a corporation consisting of a mayor, 4 aldermen, and 12 town councillors, who also constitute the urban sanitary authority. The town, which consists of seven principal and several subsidiary streets, is neat and well built, contains some substantial public buildings, and has a good supply of water derived from an artesian well over 1000 feet deep. The gasworks and the waterworks are the property of the corporation. The Town Hall, which stands in the market-place, was erected in 1879 at a cost of from £6000 to £7000, wholly defrayed by the late Mr G. S. Gibson, and is a handsome building in the Early English style. It contains a large hall capable of seating 500 persons, a council chamber, a court room, offices for the magistrates, juries, and committees, a muniment room, and some police cells. The Corn Exchange, erected in 1847-48, is in the Italian style, and since 1882 has been the property of the corporation. The Museum, on the Bury or Castle Hill, contains a good provincial collection of local antiquities (especially Roman, which are both numerous and important), a fine collection of zoological and geological specimens, and has since 1887 been recognized by the Museums Committee of the British Association as a provincial museum of the first class. There is a literary institution in King Street, originally established in 1832, which has two large reading-rooms and a library of 12,000 volumes. The Post Office is a building of red brick and Bath stone in the Renaissance style. The Police Station, in East Street, is a building of brick and stone, erected in 1884 at a cost of £3500, which was paid by the county. In the market-place there is a fountain, originally constructed for the Exhibition of 1862, and presented to the town by the late Mr G. S. Gibson and Mrs W. G. Gibson. Behind the castle, on the common, there is a singular excavation in the chalk, called the Maze, 100 feet in diameter from E to W, and 138 feet from N to S. It is supposed by Dr Stukely to have been a British Cursus or exercising ground for soldiers. It was re-cut by public subscription in 1887. Some enormous earthworks, known as the " Battle" or " Paille" ditches, extend on the W and S sides of the town beyond the castle. The town is the head of a union, county court district, and petty sessional division, has a head post office, and a station on the G.E.R. It has been for a long period the principal agricultural centre of north-western Essex, and though it has no special industry there are two iron foundries, three breweries, some large maltings, a steam flour mill, and a sawmill. The cattle market, opened in 1834, is well arranged. The corn market, which is well attended, is held on Tuesday, and there are fairs on the Saturday before Mid-Lent Sunday and the first Saturday in Nov. The first of these is for horses, and is one of the largest horse fairs in England, and the second is chiefly for cattle. There are two banks and two principal hotels. The parish church of St Mary-the-Virgin stands above the town, is a spacious and handsome building of stone in the Late Perpendicular style, and is justly considered to be one of the finest churches in the county. The whole dates from the reigns of Henry VL and VII., with the exception of the E end and a part of the chancel, which were built by Lord Chancellor Andley. It now consists of chancel with aisles, nave of seven bays, with aisles and clerestory, N and S porches, and a fine western tower with pinnacles and open-work battlements surmounted by a crocketed spire, added by Rickman in 1831. It was restored in 1860-61 and again in 1876. In the S chancel aisle is the marble tomb of Thomas, Lord Audley, K.G., chancellor to Henry VII., who died 19 April, 1544; and beneath the communion table is the Howard vault, where lie the bodies of the six Earls of Suffolk who last held Audley End, and one of Lord Howard de Walden with his two wives, but these are without monument of any kind. There is also a brass effigy of 1430. The church, which is a conspicuous object in view of all the surrounding country, has a total length of 200 feet and a breadth of 82, the height of the tower being 85 feet, and of the spire in addition 108 feet. There is a chapel of ease at the hamlet of Seward's End, and another at Little Walden, which are served from Saffron Walden. The living is a vicarage in the diocese of St Albans; net value, £152 with residence, in the gift of Lord Braybroke. There are also three Baptist chapels, a place of meeting for the Plymouth Brethren, a Friends' meeting house, and two Congregational, Primitive Methodist, and Wesleyan chapels.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England and Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient County Essex
Ecclesiastical parish Saffron Walden St. Mary
Hundred Uttlesford
Poor Law union Saffron-Walden

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Directories & Gazetteers

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