Author Archives: Museum Administrator

“The Shape of Women” : Corsets & Crinolines

Our Collections Officer (Human History), Jenny Oxley has a real passion for vintage fashion, check out her latest blog, charting the changes in the female fashion silhouette between 1790 and 1900 – Corsets and Crinolines – illustrated through the museum’s collections.

Follow this link for the PDF version The Shape of Women – Part 1: 1790=1900 or see the flipbook version below


Object of the Month – May 2020

May’s ‘Object of the Month’ features a selection of Hawk-moths. They have been chosen by Sarah Kenyon, one of the Natural Sciences Officers at Saffron Walden Museum, from moths preserved in a wooden cabinet of British moths. It belonged to George Stacey Gibson of Saffron Walden who collected the insects before 1883.

Display of Hawk-moths

In the left column at the top you can see an Eyed Hawk-moth with a pupa, the black and blue eye spots on its hind wings are used to scare predators. Below that is a Poplar Hawk-moth with its caterpillar that feeds on poplar tree leaves and, at the bottom, a Lime Hawk-moth. Its large, bright green caterpillar eats the leaves of lime, silver birch and elm trees.

In the centre you can find a Death’s-head Hawk-moth and its caterpillar which eats Potato and Deadly Nightshade plants. This moth is a migrant visitor to Britain between August and October. It squeaks when alarmed and is recognised by a skull marking on the back of its chest (thorax). Below that is a Convolvulus Hawk-moth, and at the bottom, a Privet Hawk-moth one of our largest moths found in gardens.

On the right there is a Spurge Hawk-moth, below that a Madder Hawk-moth and its caterpillar which is now called the Bedstraw Hawk-moth, a Striped Hawk-moth and, at the bottom, an Oleander Hawk-moth. They are all migrant moths.

Hawk-moths information

These large moths of the insect family Sphingidae are beautiful and easy to identify. So they are great for budding lepidopterists. Nine species breed in Britain and eight visit as migrants including Death’s-Head, Convolvulus, Spurge, Bedstraw, Striped, Oleander and Hummingbird hawk-moths. Different hawk-moth species can be found from May to December in gardens, parks, woods or allotments. Some fly at night and are attracted to lights or they can be found resting on tree trunks and on leaves of the plants their caterpillars eat. Others such as the Hummingbird Hawk-moth drink nectar from flowers with a long tube called a proboscis.

Hummingbird hawk-moth feeding by Yusuf Akgul, Wikimedia Commons

You might find a pupa when digging in your garden or allotment. This is the hard case a caterpillar forms when it changes into an adult moth, in a process called metamorphosis. Some pupae can move as a defence mechanism. This happened when I was identifying one and it shocked me so much that I dropped it!

Please bury a pupa again if you find one.

Check out these websites to help you learn more about Hawk-moths and how to identify them.

UK Moths Beginners Top 20 and family Sphingidae

Butterfly Conservation with an identification guide

The Essex Field Club website has maps showing where each moth species has been found in Essex Select ‘next species’ on this page to move to the next moth or search for hawk-moth on the website.

If you really get the bug you could join the Essex Moth Group

Unfortunately this is a virtual Object of the Month during this difficult time.  However, when the Museum is open again you will be able to see these hawkmoths on display upstairs in the natural history gallery.

George Stacey Gibson (1818-1883)

George Stacey Gibson by G.Foster from the Museum’s fine  art collections

The Gibson family were wealthy Quakers who made their money from land, banking, brewing and public houses, including the Sun Inn. George was born in 1818, the son of Wyatt George Gibson and his wife Deborah, who was from the Stacey family. Wyatt Gibson built the Boys’ British School and left £5,000 for the building of a hospital (now the Uttlesford District Council offices). His brother Francis laid out Bridge End Gardens and his other brother Jabez sank a deep well in 1835 so that Saffron Walden had a clean water supply.

George Stacey Gibson was a naturalist, banker and benefactor to the Saffron Walden area. As a young man he made many excursions into the countryside, keeping field notes of plants and starting a herbarium, which is a collection of dried, pressed plants mounted on sheets of paper, and sometimes bound into in a book, with descriptions of when and where they were found. When he produced his work on the species of plants to be found around Saffron Walden he had recorded 588. In 1862 George published the first Flora of Essex at a cost of 6/-. It remained the standard reference work for a century comprising common and rare plants growing in Essex, some of which had not been discovered before. There are original copies in the Town Library. He also collected Red Crag fossils from the cliffs at Walton-on-the-Naze and purchased minerals and rocks to form his geology collection.

In 1845 George married Elizabeth Tuke and they moved to Hill House at the south end of the High Street. A blue plaque identifies this house. He laid out 11 acres of different gardens around the house and employed the services of William Chater a Saffron Walden nurseryman. A summerhouse was built onnd the corner of what is now Margaret Way and you can still see some boulders which were part of his collection. In the summer there would be Open Days when the public were invited in. There was an Anglo-Saxon cemetery in the back garden of Hill House and George organised an excavation in 1876.

Now the town had fresh water the family disposed of most of their brewing interests. A family partnership had started Saffron Walden & North Essex Bank in 1824. George entered the partnership in 1839. He brought his brother-in-law, William Murray Tuke, into the bank which was renamed Gibson, Tuke & Gibson. New premises were built in the Market Place and it became part of Barclays in 1896.

He played a huge part in public life serving on Saffron Walden Town Council from 1859 until his death in 1883. George was mayor for two years from 1875 to 1877. He was also a Justice of the Peace and vice-chairman of the Board of Guardians that administered the Poor Law and the workhouse. He was instrumental in bringing the railway to Saffron Walden in 1865 because of the economic benefits it could bring. He was active in the society that formed the Library and was involved in the reorganisation of Saffron Walden Museum. Gibson was a regular benefactor to Saffron Walden and the surrounding parishes. He and his mother paid for the drinking fountain in 1863. Gibson also oversaw the construction of the Town Hall and funded an extension which opened in 1879. He followed family tradition by supporting the Boys’ British School, the hospital, expanding the almshouses and founding a small orphanage. He donated land for a school and was influential in the relocation of the Friends’ School from Croydon to Saffron Walden in 1879.

After he died his beneficiaries included the hospital, library, schools, almshouses, orphanage, Society of Friends and Saffron Walden Museum. During his life and in his will he donated many objects to the Museum including finds from the Anglo-Saxon Cemetery, part of his herbarium, cabinets of butterflies, moths and fossils; minerals, shells, birds and birds’ eggs, panels from the Sun Inn; the portrait of Henry Winstanley and drawings of the lighthouse; and for the ethnography collection decorated bark cloth, a Navaho saddle blanket and a green arrow head from New Zealand. Autographed letters from eminent people included correspondence from Henry VII, Napoleon, Joseph Banks and Queen Victoria. He also left funds to provide a salary for the first paid Curator – George Maynard.

If you want to know more about George, then Jeremy Collingwood’s book “Mr Saffron Walden. The Life and Times of George Stacey Gibson (1818 -1883)” is still available. Members of Saffron Walden Museum Society can read notes of a talk George Stacey Gibson – Aspects of his life and achievements given by speakers Jeremy Collingwood, Len Pole and Sarah Kenyon in Newsletter 45, Summer 2018, pages 15-17

Museum From Home – Thursday 30th April

Saffron Walden Museum may be closed temporarily to the public due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but staff are still busy working behind the scenes, creating online resources for those home schooling and self-isolating.

Regular posts on the museum social media platforms and monthly e-newsletter continue to entertain and inform. A new blog has been developed with themed collection articles as well as animated “how to” videos with crafts suitable for all ages, linked to the usual events programme. Online jigsaw puzzles, themed around the museum’s diverse collections have been made available, with users challenged to complete them against the clock. There is also a behind the scenes video filmed by Saffron Drones available on YouTube.

On Thursday 30 April, the museum is taking part in a nationwide arts and culture in quarantine event organised by the BBC in conjunction with the Museum’s Association and the Art Fund. The aim is to highlight online learning resources being created by museums using the hashtag #MuseumFromHome.

Saffron Walden Museum will be using the event to introduce a new project for this weekend (1 to 4 May) – Wallace’s Great Big Survey. The world around us is full of fascinating wildlife and objects from the past, and we want you to document them. Record what you find or see while working, playing or digging in your gardens, or what you can observe from your window or on your daily walk. Take a picture and fill out a form. Your finds and observations will be uploaded onto the blog to create a virtual museum of the archaeological, historical and natural finds of Uttlesford. The museum team will also try to identify some of the objects too.

Check out the blog page or email information to with the subject line Wallace’s Great Big Survey (named after the museum’s mascot Wallace the Lion) and the best ones will be shared online. 

The museum, in conjunction with the town’s Tourist Information Centre, is also continuing to encourage local people to submit their experiences of life during the outbreak for a project called CV Walden. If you are keeping a journal, taking photos, creating poems, songs or artwork and are happy to share them, they would like to hear from you. The intention is to create an online or physical exhibition of the collected material in due course. If you are involved in a local club or organisation, why not encourage your members to get involved too? Digital files can be emailed to, and please put CV Walden in the subject line. Paper-based material will be collected at a later date.



CV Walden : a Community Archive

We are living through a pandemic which has changed every aspect of the world as we know it. The Covid-19 outbreak has propelled us into history books yet to be written as our lives have been reshaped beyond anything we could have imagined mere weeks ago.

There is a great deal that we can do to help future generations to understand the impact of Covid-19 on communities such as ours. You can play your own valuable part in contributing to awareness of the sociological, psychological and economic impact of this disease. Saffron Walden Museum, in conjunction with Saffron Walden Tourist Information Centre is encouraging local people to submit their own experiences of this unprecedented crisis in the form of written articles (including diaries or poetry), photographs, art, music or film. Submissions will be curated by Jenny Oxley, the Museum’s Collections Officer (Human History), and will in time form part of an on-line archive and possibly a physical or on-line exhibition in due course.

If you are part of an organisation, club, society or charity, consider asking all of your members and clients to take part; there is no deadline for submissions as it is recognised that people might wish to observe in their chosen media the development and eventual resolution of the crisis. If you are a teacher or a parent or guardian teaching at home, consider encouraging children to express their thoughts and feelings in whatever way sparks their imaginations.

Submissions should be sent to with ‘CV Walden’ as the subject. Please note that although digital submissions are preferred, non-digital submissions will be accepted at a later date, once the threat of infection is over.

Thank you.

Saffron Walden TIC (Saffron Walden Town Council) and Saffron Walden Museum (Uttlesford District Council & Saffron Walden Museum Society)

Keep in Touch – Introducing our new Blog! & Sign up to our monthly E-News

In these unprecedented times it’s more important than ever that we all stay in touch.

In addition to our regular E-News update, our website and social media platforms, we’ve introduced a new blog for the Museum. 

It is being setup to share our learning resources more effectively whilst we are closed to the public.


What stories would you like us to share with you about our collections?

What resources could the museum provide that you might find helpful?  – local history, geography, science, maths, art….

Here’s a link to the April edition of our monthly E-Newsletter. 

You can also subscribe to receive it monthly direct to your email inbox

Object of the Month – April 2020

Adoration of the Shepherds pen & ink with chalk drawing by Gaspare Diziani (in Museum’s collections)

April’s Object of the Month has been chosen by Jenny Oxley, Collections Officer (Human History). It is a pen and ink drawing with additions in chalk by Italian artist Gaspare Diziani (b.1689 d.1767) called the Adoration of the Shepherds

This item recently came back off loan from the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge where it has been on loan to them since 1979. In its time at the Fitzwilliam, it also went out on further loan to the Fondazione Cini in Venice for a special display of Venetian drawings.  Before it came to Saffron Walden Museum, the drawing had originally been housed at Ashdon Hall.

Diziani’s original oil on canvas painting – a version of the same scene dates to around 1755 and is housed in a private collection. Diziani was an Italian painter and draughtsman.  His earliest training was in Belluno in Northern Italy with Antonio Lazzarini (1672-1732). Having moved to Venice, he joined the workshop of Gregorio Lazzarini and later that of Sebastiano Ricci, who was in Venice until 1715 and exerted the strongest influence on his development; presumably Diziani was familiar with Ricci’s many paintings in Belluno before becoming his pupil. 

Between 1710 and 1720 he painted a group of eight pictures that included the Mary Magdalene for Santo. Stefano, Belluno, and the Entry into Jerusalem for Santo. Teodoro, Venice. His speed of production and technical assurance are demonstrated especially in his preparatory oil sketches, with colour applied in rapid and spirited pen-like strokes.  He also worked as a scenery painter in a number of Venetian theatres.  Art commissions took him to Munich (1717) and later to Dresden, where he was highly acclaimed.  In 1719 he was active in Rome but by 1720 he was already back in Venice where he entered the “Fraglia dei Pittori Veneziani”, remaining in the Veneto for the rest of his life. 

The works of Gaspare Diziani can be found in the Church of San Rocco in Belluno, dated 1727, several paintings in the Sacristy of the Church of Santo Stefano in Venice, dated 1733, the frescoes in Palazzo Spineda in Treviso, dated 1748, and the frescoes in the Church of San Bartolomeo in Bergamo.

The Adoration of the Shepherds (based on the account in Luke 2) is a scene in which the shepherds witness the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.  It is often combined in art with the Adoration of the Magi.  The Museum holds an oil-on-canvas painting of the Adoration of the Magi scene as well, which is by the artist Ramsey Richard Reinagle (1749-1833) – (a copy after Peter Paul Rubens c.1616).  It is currently on renewable loan to Chrishall Parish Council, where it is on display in the Holy Trinity Church, Chrishall.  It originally came to the Museum around 1843, having been bought for Francis Gibson at an auction at the Leicester Square Sale Rooms.


Adoration of the Shepherds, oil on canvas painting by  Gaspare Diziani c. 1755

(in a private collection)





Timeline of 19th century Fire-Fighting


  • Gold Street Maltings, Shrove Tuesday (see also fire in the same location in 1941


  • Workhouse, High Street, Saffron Walden In the run up to Christmas, a serious fire broke out at the workhouse, located at the top of the High Street (opposite what is now the war memorial). Initially it threatened to spread to the adjoining town gaol and nearby houses, “but through the exertions of a large portion of the respectable inhabitants” it was brought under control in about 90 minutes. The building was destroyed and a new workhouse was built on an alternative site, which later became part of the Radwinter Road Hospital and housing.    


  • Easton Lodge, Little Easton– partly destroyed by fire (see additional account)


  • Howards Hairdressers
  • JT Fryes, Stables


  • Mr Lucas Farmer, Radwinter
  • Charles Norris, High Street


  • JC Crussell, High Street
  • John Miller, Ashdon Street Farm
  • George Beddall, Hempstead


  • George Clark, Ringers Farm, Widdington
  • Joshua Housden, High Street, Saffron Walden
  • Mr Edwick, agricultural stack fire, Newport
  • Robert Medcalf, Hempstead


  • Mr Mascalls & Debnam Watchmaker, Newport


  • Charles Earnshaw, Freshwell Street, Saffron Walden
  • Westley Farm


Great fire of Radwinter – A poster (shown in our local history gallery) was produced to encourage people to raise funds for those affected by the Radwinter fire in which 24 buildings were destroyed and 95 people were left homeless. The fire was found to have been caused accidentally by a young girl playing with matches in a barn. The Saffron Walden and Audley End fire engines attended and sucked the local ponds drying trying to extinguish the fire.  The charred remains of a black jug can be seen in the Museum’s Local History Gallery, Fire Brigade display case.






  • Debden Church – a member of staff checking inside the organ with a candle set the organ alight, it destroyed the organ and 10ft of the roof above.
  • Crown House, Newport


  • Catons, Lofts Lane


  • Elmdon


  • Mrs Gibson’s Almshouses, Abbey Lane
  • Hempstead
  • Conservative Club
  • Mr Harts, King Street


  • Littlebury
  • Great Chesterford Mill


  • Byrds Farm
  • Market Hill
  • Great Chesterford
  • Copt Hall buildings, Ashdon Road – 17 families left homeless  
  • Westley Farm
  • Myddleton House


  • Ravenstock Farm


  • Radwinter


  • Grange, Clavering
  • Hempstead Farm – a large barley stack on fire. The fire brigade’s hose had been maliciously cut so it couldn’t be used to put out the fire.
  • Catmere End


  • London Road


  • Ashdon
  • Debden


  • Elmdon
  • Vineyard
  • Castle Brewery


  • Radwinter – 3 separate incidents
  • Kings flour mill – entirely destroyed


  • Farm, Saffron Walden
  • Johnson engineering


  • Debden Farm
  • Radwinter Hall – over £1,000 damage
  • Hempstead
  • Great Chesterford
  • Wicken
  • High Street, Saffron Walden
  • Flinn Maltings


  • Springwell
  • Radwinter


  • Wills Ayley
  • Gray Palmer (2 fires that year)

Early 20th Century Fire Fighting Timeline









  • Radwinter
  • Great Chesterford – Fire at the rear of Mr Wedd, Harness makers
  • Wimbish
  • Dix and Son, Saffron Walden
  • Radwinter
  • Cross Street, Hoops Stable
  • Mission Hall


  • Quendon
  • Wimbish


  • Sewards End
  • Littlebury


  • Ashdon
  • Maltings, Great Chesterford


  • Radwinter
  • Debden Hall
  • Hercules Inn, Newport – totally destroyed the former vicarage and congregational house.
  • Debden
  • Debden Green
  • Amberden Hall


  • Radwinter


  • Messrs. Joseph John Robson and Sons, King Street, Saffron Walden. In January, despite a good supply of water from standpipes in the High Street, George Street and Abbey Lane, a major fire quickly took hold sweeping through the warehouse and stores, with the roof eventually collapsing in. Their coffee roasting chamber and machinery were all destroyed and the building had to be entirely rebuilt following the fire.


  • The Great Fire at Little Chesterford (see additional account)


  • Easton Lodge, Little Easton (see additional account)


  • Clavering – half of Starlings Green burned down

Early 1930s

  • Leggett’s Farm, Debden Green
  • Seward’s End Farm
  • Raynhams Farm, Peaslands Road
  • June 1931 – Taylor & Sons, a straw and chaff merchants, Littlebury
  • Rectory Farm, North End, Littlebury – arson incident : labourer maliciously sets fire to wheat stacks, he was disputing his wages.
  • 1932 – 400 year old Maple Cottages destroyed by fire, as thatch caught fire. Everyone safe but 16th century furniture and property destroyed.


Loft’s Hall, Wendon Lofts – “A Tragic End to a Fine Old House”
Fire broke out on 15th May 1935 at Lofts Hall, an Elizabethan brick mansion at Wenden Lofts.  Firemen were powerless to save it despite reportedly using over 600 gallons of water per minute the roof had still caved in.  After 3 days of dampening down the smouldering remains, the house was left a “charred shell, flooded with water.”  The house’s owner, Graham Watson, a member of the London Stock Exchange, was away from home at the time of the fire.  The housekeeper’s and gardener’s families managed to salvage silverware, guns, oak panelling and furniture from the house, but lost all their own personal possessions. 

Mid-20th Century Fire Fighting Timeline

During the Second World War, there was obviously an additional need for access to sand and stirrup pumps because of the risk of incendiary bombs. The town was not a proscribed area, so fire watching had to be done on a voluntary basis; thankfully 200 volunteers came forward to support the town and the surrounding area.

Saffron Walden Auxiliary Fire Service, 1938





“A Rescue and Utility Party was organised under Mr W. Clark, and Mr Pryor’s utility van had been earmarked as an ambulance.  Standpipes and hose had been requested from RCC (presumably Rural Community Council) “for local practice in fire extinction.”  The first muster of the Auxiliary Fire Service at the Church Hall was held on 17 April 1939.”

Extract from Logbook for June 7th 1940:

“11.30 pm there was an air alarm.  All local groups quickly ready for duty.  Fireman at Stores Yard:  First Aid at Vicarage: Utility Party at Pakeman’s Yard: Wardens at Post.  Special Constables patrolling. No public excitement or crowding.  All clear went soon after 12.”

Childhood memory: “A spitfire crashed on the Downs during the Battle of Britain and burnt.  I remember ammunition exploding.  Mother kept me well away but I can remember the noise.”   

Parsonage Farm, Clavering

In Clavering, they had a fire engine during the war, as part of the Auxiliary Fire Service with trained men to man it. There were concerns about incendiaries but there was only one serious incident when Parsonage Farm burned down as a result of a lot of incendiaries being dropped.


Gold Street Maltings

Ironically when a major fire did break out it was purely accidental and unrelated to the war. On Saturday 12th July 1941, a fire broke out in the disused Maltings at the top of Gold Street, next to the Sun public house. The Maltings were being used as a food depot by Sainsbury’s, who had moved the contents of one of their grocery warehouses from London to Saffron Walden for safety during the war.  The fire started around 9pm, the brigade arrived almost immediately, but the old timber and plaster building was very dry, and the flames spread rapidly.  The brigade, were again hampered by low water pressure and the staff dormitory on the top floor was quickly gutted.  A chain of soldiers, airmen and civilians was formed and they were able to salvage several tons of food, whilst others assisted in dampening down the fire with stirrup pumps and household garden hoses.  The brigade tackled flames over 50ft high and despite using over 100,000 gallons of water they sadly couldn’t save the Maltings building.  Luckily there was no loss of life and they managed to protect the surrounding buildings and stop the fire from spreading.  The local newspaper commented that “butter had run down the gutters.”

Pictured : The Gold Street Maltings in the 19th century





Len Crickmore was awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) by King George VI in recognition of his gallantry when an ammunition dump exploded at Great Chesterford in May 1944. The NFS and Army Personnel had attended reports of an explosion.  Len Crickmore tried to stop the fire spreading to the bigger explosives, but whilst telephoning to notify that the nearby Jewish hospital and surrounding housing should be evacuated.  Another explosion occurred and he was blown into the air, through the roof of the hut and knocked unconscious.  Coming to he quickly rescued a colleague who had been injured and continued to raise the alarm.  Without him it could have been a disaster on a much bigger scale. 


Saffron Walden Cinema

The town’s first cinema had been built in 1912 at the top of the High Street (South) close to the Baptist Church. The Walden Weekly had commented at the time of it opening that “great attention had been paid to ensuring the safety of the public.”  The building had been designed to be fireproof with half a dozen exits, powerful hydrants and the projector was held in a fireproof chamber 30ft from the main building.”  However, none of these measures were enough to stop it burning to the ground on the 23rd August 1950.  It was subsequently re-built and re-opened in 1954, before eventually being demolished in 1973.