Saffron Walden

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Coordinates: 52°01′34″N 0°14′42″E / 52.0262°N 0.2449°E / 52.0262; 0.2449

Saffron Walden
St Marys Church, Saffron Walden.jpg
St. Mary's Church, Saffron Walden.
Saffron Walden is located in Essex
Saffron Walden
Saffron Walden
 Saffron Walden shown within Essex
Population 14,313 
OS grid reference TL541387
District Uttlesford
Shire county Essex
Region East
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Postcode district CB10-11
Dialling code 01799
Police Essex
Fire Essex
Ambulance East of England
EU Parliament East of England
UK Parliament Saffron Walden
List of places

Saffron Walden is a market town in the Uttlesford district of Essex, England. It is 12 miles (19 km) north of Bishop's Stortford, 18 miles (29 km) south of Cambridge and 43 miles (69 km) north of London. The town retains a rural appearance and buildings dating from the medieval period onwards. In 2001 the parish had a population of over 14,313.

In the Halifax 'Best Places to Live' survey 2013, Uttlesford was voted the second best place to live in the UK.


There has been a settlement on or near the site of Saffron Walden since before the Roman occupation of Britain[1] when Bronze and Iron Age tribes settled in the area. After the Romans withdrew from the country, a flourishing Anglo-Saxon town was established.[1]

The basement is what remains of the Walden Castle

After the Norman invasion of 1066, a stone church was built. Walden Castle was constructed in about 1116[citation needed] A priory, Walden Abbey, was founded under the patronage of Geoffrey de Mandeville, first Earl of Essex around 1136. The abbey was separated from the town of Walden by Holywell Field, which was enclosed in the 16th century to form part of the park of Audley End House, home of Sir Thomas Audley, who converted the abbey cloisters into a dwelling between 1538 and 1544.[1] The inner or Little Court of the 17th-century house corresponds to one of the cloisters.

The market square in July 2012. The Guildhall is the half-timbered building.

In 1141 the market from nearby Newport was transferred to the town increasing its influence[1] The town’s first charter was granted in 1300[citation needed]when the town was known as Chipping Walden. The town was largely confined to the castle's outer bailey, but in the 13th century the Battle or Repel Ditches were built or extended, to enclose a new larger area to the south. The focus of the town moved southwards to Market Square.

In the medieval period the primary trade was in wool[citation needed] but in the 16th and 17th centuries the saffron crocus (crocus sativus) was widely grown. The flower was precious, as the saffron extract from the stigmas was used in medicines, as a condiment, in perfume, as an aphrodisiac, and as an expensive yellow dye. The industry gave its name to the town and Chipping Walden became Saffron Walden.

The town and the surrounding area, like much of East Anglia, was strongly Puritan during the 17th century. The area wasnheavily influenced by the Rev . John Eliot. By 1640, Samuel Bass' family and a number of others had departed for the Massachusetts Bay Colony as part of the wave of emigration that occurred during the Great Migration.[2]

In the 17th century Saffron Walden was at the centre of the Eastern Association during the decade of the English Civil War. In spring 1647, while the town was the New Model Army headquarters, Lieutenant-General of Horse, Oliver Cromwell visited the town. The parliamentarian forces were divided at that time and Cromwell asked to see if compromise could be found that would reunify them in purpose and perhaps avoid another flare-up of civil war.

The museum with a glacial erratic and stone coffins in July 2012.

By the end of the 18th century the saffron flower was no longer in demand, and was replaced by malt and barley. In the 1830s there were more than 30 maltings and breweries. The trade was not so rewarding as saffron but the town grew throughout the 19th century, having a cattle market and building a corn exchange and other civic buildings. During this time Quakers became active, the most influential family, the Gibsons, aided the construction of several buildings that remain today, such as the museum[3] and town hall.

In the 1900s the Saffron Walden branch railway line from Audley End, on the mainline from London to Cambridge, was extended to Bartlow. The branch closed in the Beeching cuts in the 1960s.

Heavy industry arrived following the Second World War. Acrows Ltd, makers of falsework, built their premises to the east of the town and became a significant employer and economic influence in the area. Light industry was added to the south of the town at Shire Hill. As the agricultural economy continued to mechanise, the new-found employment opportunities were welcome and a period of migration into the town from surrounding villages led to major expansion of housing estates during the 1970s and 1980s.

Saffron Walden is a flourishing and historic town. Many of the buildings, streets and features, especially in the centre of town, date back centuries. Although the 1900s brought many changes and expansion, the character of the town and the valley in which it sits remains strongly intact.

Coat of arms[edit]

Saffron Walden had an unofficial coat of arms until 1961 but it is not certain when they were first used, although they are engraved on the mace given to the town in 1685. The arms show the Saffron Crocus within the walls of the castle intended as an heraldic pun (known as Canting arms) - "Saffron walled-in".

In 1961 the Borough Council's application to the College of Arms for a formal coat of arms was granted by letters patent. Following Local Government reorganisation in 1974 the arms were adapted by the addition of mantling to form the official arms[4] of Saffron Walden Town Council.

The armorial description is:-

"Vert within a representation of town walls having two towers and a Gateway between towers Argent three Saffron Flowers issuant from the battlements of the gateway blown and showing the stamens proper And for the Crest on a Wreath of the Colours Upon a Chapeau Gules turned up Ermine a Lion rampant Azure grasping in the dexter paw a representation of the Ancient Mace of the Borough of Saffron Walden proper"

Sites and buildings of interest[edit]

A diagram of Saffron Walden turf maze, an unusual variation on the medieval labyrinth pattern

Saffron Walden has the largest parish church in Essex. St Mary the Virgin' Church dates mainly from the end of the 15th century, when the old smaller church was extensively rebuilt in flint. In 1769 it was damaged by lightning and the repairs, carried out in the 1790s, removed many medieval features. The spire was added in 1832 to replace an older ‘lantern’ tower. The church is 183 feet (56 m) long and the spire 193 feet (59 m) high, and is the tallest in Essex.

A photo of the turf maze

The 12th-century Walden Castle, built or expanded by Geoffrey de Mandeville, the first Earl of Essex is now in ruins. After the medieval period, the castle fell slowly into disuse and much of the flint was taken and used in the construction of local houses and the wall surrounding the Audley End estate. All that remains today is the ruined basement.

Near to the castle is a maze, a series of circular excavations cut into the turf of the common. It is the largest turf maze in England, the main part is about 100 feet (30 m) in diameter. The earliest record of it was in 1699, and it has been extensively restored several times, most recently in 1979.

Bridge End Garden off Castle Street and Bridge Street has a hedge maze. The garden dates from the 1840s and was originally laid out by Francis Gibson, a member of the locally well-known Gibson family who were eminent Quakers, bankers and brewers. The gardens have been restored with help from the Heritage Lottery Fund and volunteers. The Fry Art Gallery exhibits the work of artists who had an association with Saffron Walden and north west Essex. One artist of note included in the collection is Edward Bawden who lived in the town during the 1970s and 1980s.

The Anglo American playing fields and monument commemorate the American airmen and people of Saffron Walden borough that died in the Second World War.[5][6]

Audley End House is a manor house built by the Earl of Suffolk in the 17th century on the site of the medieval Walden Abbey, which had been rebuilt by Sir Thomas Audley. When first constructed, the house was one of the largest in England. Two thirds of it was demolished when it was found to be difficult to maintain. The house and gardens are owned by English Heritage and open to the public. During the summer months concerts in the style of the BBC Proms are held. An fireworks display is held on the Saturday nearest to the 5 November on the common. The Audley End Miniature Railway is a 10 14 in (260 mm) gauge railway ride through woodland. The track is 1.5 miles (2.4 km) long and opened in 1964.

The oldest inhabited building in Saffron Walden, a 600-year-old former maltings, became a Youth Hostel Association youth hostel before closing.[7] It is now being renovated as a private home,[8] and is used for functions [9]

Saffron Walden is home to a concrete skate park One Minet Park, built by US company Dreamland.

Other sites include the Corn Exchange (now a library) and the market square around which a number of buildings of historical interest and the town hall are centred.


The town is administered by Saffron Walden Town Council, a council of 16 members. It is currently controlled by the Conservative Party with one Liberal Democrat as opposition.[10] The town's mayor is Conservative Councillor Keith Eden[disambiguation needed].[11] The Town Clerk is Simon Lloyd [12] having recently replaced Malcolm White who had held the post since 1976. The youngest Councillor ever elected to the council was David-James Sadler at 21 years old in 2007 (and re-elected in 2011).[13]

The town is divided into three wards: Audley (named after Audley End house) represents the west area of Saffron Walden including the village of Audley End; Castle takes its name from Saffron Walden Castle and represents the north area of Saffron Walden, the village of Little Walden and the large rural areas north of the Town; Shire (formerly Plantation) represents the southern part of Saffron Walden. Sewards End was once a ward, but it has recently become its own Parish.


Saffron Walden compared
2001 UK census Saffron Walden[14] Uttlesford[15] England
Total population 14,313 68,946 49,138,831
White 97.2% 98.2% 91%
Asian 0.7% 4.6% 4.6%
Black 0.2% 0.7% 2.3%

According to the Office for National Statistics, at the time of the United Kingdom Census 2001, Saffron Walden had a population of 14,313. The 2001 population density was 10,900 inhabitants per square mile (4,209 /km2), with a 100 to 94.5 female-to-male ratio.[16] Of those over 16 years old, 45.0% married, 27.4% were single (never married), and 8.2% divorced.[17] The parish's 6,013 households included 38.5% married couples living together, 31.5% one-person, 8.4% were co-habiting couples, and 7.9% single parents with their children.[18] Of those aged 16–74, 22.3% had no academic qualifications, close to the average for Uttlesford (22.0%) and below that for the whole of England (28.9%).[19][20]

In the 2001 UK census, 73.0% of Saffron Walden's residents reported themselves as being Christian, 0.6% Muslim, 0.4% Buddhist, 0.2% Jewish, and 0.1% Hindu. The census recorded 17.6% as having no religion, 0.4% had an alternative religion and 7.8% did not state their religion.[21]

Ceremonial maces[edit]

The maces are derived from weapons of war. Today's ceremonial maces are highly ornamented successors to the original club or bludgeon weapon.

The mace was adopted as a special weapon of the Serjeants-at-Arms appointed first by Philip II of France (1180–1223) to protect him from suspected assassins when he returned to France. A similar bodyguard was instituted by Richard I of England. Curiously the Mace was also the particular weapon of a Bishop or Churchman when he took the field in war. Apparently the argument was that whilst it was not considered appropriate for a man of God to shed another person's blood with a sword or battle axe, to crack his skull was permitted.

Over time, the officers allowed to attend on sheriffs, bailiffs and mayors gradually became less of an armed personal bodyguard, and more a messenger to convey the Royal orders to local authorities; so the mace with Royal Arms inscribed on it which he carried became the obvious and visible token of Royal authority.

In the course of time, the hitting end of the mace fell out of use and the handle end increased in importance. This end became highly decorated and the maces became no longer an offensive weapon but a symbol of authority. Today's ceremonial maces are therefore now carried, so to speak, upside down.

The large mace[edit]

The large mace was given to Saffron Walden by James II in 1685. The mace, which is made of silver gilt is approximately 4 feet (1.2 m) long. Around its head are the symbols of the four constituent countries of the British Isles; the rose of England, the thistle of Scotland, the harp of Wales and the tricorn of Ireland. On the main stem are engraved the coat of Arms of the town as they existed in 1685.

The mace is carried in front of the Mayor on all ceremonial occasions by the Town's macebearer. The present macebearer is Mark Gilbert.

Two small maces[edit]

The two small maces are made of silver, measure approximately 9 inches (22.86 cm) and weigh about 2 pounds (910 g) each. The maces were purchased by the Corporation in 1549 to commemorate in that year the granting to the town of a new charter by Edward VI. The purchase of the maces is recorded in the Guild of Holy Trinity Accounts and reads, "For 2 new maces, weying 18 ownces one quarter and half at 8s. the ownce 7l.7s".

The two small maces used to be carried by the Serjeant-at-Arms, but during the last war this tradition ceased. The maces are kept on view in the town's museum.

Sport and leisure[edit]

Saffron Walden has a Non-League football club Saffron Walden Town F.C. who play at Catons Lane. Stage 3 of the 2014 Tour de France will pass through the town. There is also a leisure complex called the Lord Butler leisure center which has activities such as tennis,squash,a gym,a 25m swimming pool. There is also a cricket and rugby club in the town called Saffron Walden Cricket club and Saffron Walden rugby club respectively. Saffron Walden also has a long-distance running and triathlon team.

Hymn tune[edit]

Saffron Walden is the name of a hymn tune, often associated with the hymn Just as I am. It was written by Arthur Henry Brown (1830–1926) from Essex.[22][23] He wrote many hymn tunes, which he often named after his favourite places, but there is no recorded reason for his naming of this tune.

Notable residents[edit]

Twin towns[edit]

Saffron Walden is twinned with the following town:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Saffron Walden Museum
  2. ^ Thompson, Roger, Mobility & Migration, East Anglian Founders of New England, 1629-1640, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1994, 20.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Saffron Walden's Civic Regalia -
  5. ^ East of England Tourism - USAAF Airfields
  6. ^ USAAF Airfields Guide and Map PDF
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Saffron Walden Town Council – Latest News". Retrieved 2 November 2012. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Saffron Walden Town Councillors". Retrieved 21 July 2008. 
  14. ^ "KS06 Ethnic group: Census 2001, Key Statistics for urban areas". 25 January 2005. Retrieved 25 July 2011. 
  15. ^ "Uttlesford (Local Authority) ethnic group (UV09)". Retrieved 25 July 2011. 
  16. ^ "KS01 Usual resident population: Census 2001, Key Statistics for urban areas". 7 February 2005. Retrieved 25 July 2011. 
  17. ^ "KS04 Marital status: Census 2001, Key Statistics for urban areas". 2 February 2005. Retrieved 25 July 2011. 
  18. ^ "KS20 Household composition: Census 2001, Key Statistics for urban areas". 2 February 2005. Retrieved 25 July 2011. 
  19. ^ "Uttlesford (Local Authority) key statistics". Retrieved 25 July 2011. 
  20. ^ "KS13 Qualifications and students: Census 2001, Key Statistics for urban areas". 2 February 2005. Retrieved 25 July 2011. 
  21. ^ "KS07 Religion: Census 2001, Key Statistics for urban areas". 2 February 2005. Retrieved 25 July 2011. 
  22. ^ "Arthur Henry Brown". Retrieved 24 February 2008. 
  23. ^ "Saffron Walden". 
  24. ^ Mr. James Gapes. Christchurch: The Cyclopedia Company Limited. 1903. Retrieved 22 February 2010. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Greenway, Diana, and Leslie Watkiss, tr. and eds. 1999. The Book of the Foundation of Walden Monastery (Oxford)

External links[edit]