Category Archives: Collections

The Art of Pargeting

Pargeting (or sometimes it is spelt pargetting) is a decorative or waterproofing plastering applied to building walls. It is particularly common in Essex, as well as in Norfolk (where it is sometimes referred to as pinking) and Suffolk.

‘Parget’, is a Middle English term that is probably derived from the Old French word porgeter, to rough cast a wall, which is funny when it is such a detailed and technical craft!

The term is now more usually applied to the decoration in relief of the plastering between the studwork on the outside of half-timber houses, though it sometimes covers a whole wall of a building.

The designs are stamped, combed or modelled freehand into the wet plaster.

Pargeting Project

Anna Kettle is a Pargeter who has recently completed a study of the detailed pargeting work, which can be seen on the buildings around Saffron Walden.

She found that 17th century parget was either a repeated combed pattern, or else beautiful freehand work as can be seen on the Old Sun Inn.

Pargeting then went out of fashion until the late 19th century when Arts and Crafts stamped pargeting appeared around Saffron Walden.









21st century parget is usually stamped, but there is some freehand modern parget to be seen around the town too.

You can check out her YouTube channel for videos about creating the specific different types of pargeting Anna Kettle Pargeter – YouTube

In July, the museum ran two free practical skills based pargeting days for young people aged 10-18 years. These were kindly funded by Paul Fairhurst and the New Homes Bonus scheme. They were run by The Pargetting Company, who also demonstrated pargeting at the museum’s Heritage Crafts Day event in August.


















Pargeting in the museum collections

Pargeting stamps from Anna Kettle in a range of designs: flower, saffron and basket-weave.







The comb and the basket-weave stamp are interesting because they are two tools which can be used to make the same design. The comb would have been used in the 17th and 18th century with chalk and lime plaster, whilst in the 19th and 20th centuries the stamp would have been used with sand and lime or sand and cement plaster.

To accompany these examples, we also have examples from our own collections.

Pargeting Tools

Some examples from a collection of pargeting tools largely Victorian in date, including mallet, comb and stamp designs. The stamps in the collection include the fleur de lys, saffron crocus and other floral and geometric patterns. They were used in Saffron Walden and Uttlesford by the donor’s family for generations

Plasterer’s tools

The large brush is a splash brush, used for wetting the wall. The items which look like paintbrushes are lime-wash brushes.

Fragment of Pargeting

A section of raised plaster with pricked surface, originating from The Close, Saffron Walden

Print, The Old Sun Inn

This print was presented to the museum by Councillor Collar. The original image was published in the book, Sketches of Ancient Street Architecture in 1845.











The Old Sun Inn was established in the 14th century. The diarist Samuel Pepys and the writer John Evelyn both recorded visits to the Inn, and Oliver Cromwell is said to have stayed there during the Civil War.

It is especially renowned for the ornate plasterwork, or ‘pargeting’, on its facade, depicting the legendary figures of Tom Hickathrift and the Wisbech Giant. 

Images of the Sun Inn renovation work

Black and white photographs of workmen renovating the pargeting on the Sun Inn, Church Street, Saffron Walden, pre-1952

































In the collections we have several sections of original pargeting. However, the majority of these are too worn and fragmented now to display unfortunately. 

On display in the Local History Gallery

Pargeting stamp with the Saffron crocus design, and the finished design which is commonly seen on buildings in Saffron Walden

This modern plaster panel was decorated using the wooden stamp by Tom Cook and Jed Duff during filming for the BBC TV programme ‘Six More English Towns’, which featured Saffron Walden in 1981.















 A steel comb used to create straight line marks in the plaster.

    Pargeting stamp used to create a wheatsheaf design in relief.

Object of the Month – September 2023

Image (above): Spiny Seahorse, Hippocampus guttulatus    SAFWM : 1975.68 ©

September’s Object of the Month is a Spiny Seahorse found on the east coast of England at Skegness, Lincolnshire in 1904. The dried specimen was donated to the Museum by a resident of Saffron Walden. It is 12 cm long from head to tail.

British Seahorses

There are two species of British seahorse. The Spiny Seahorse, Hippocampus guttulatus, and the Short Snouted Seahorse, Hippocampus hippocampus. The main difference between the two species is the length of the snout. The Spiny Seahorse has a longer snout and spines on the back and the head. They can grow to 18cm in length and live for 10 years.

Seahorses live in shallow coastal waters around the British Isles, up to the Shetland lsles, and Ireland. A Short Snouted Seahorse was seen for the first time at Harwich Harbour, Essex in 2023. They are poor swimmers and rely on their prehensile tail to cling onto seaweed and seagrass to stop themselves being swept away. A small dorsal fin beats 35 to 70 times per second to provide weak forward propulsion. Seahorses feed on small shrimp, crab and plankton. Their eyesight is good and the flexible snout can get into crevices in rocks. Prey is sucked up through the snout because seahorses do not have teeth. In winter they migrate to deeper water and anchor themselves to rocks or seaweed to ride out storms.

Seahorse facts

Fish: Seahorses are fish! They are related to pipefish and sea dragons.

Pregnancy: the males get pregnant.

Seahorses are the only animal with a true reversed pregnancy. The female transfers the eggs to the male with her ovipositor. He fertilises them and keeps them in his brood pouch to grow. Then he gives birth to live young called fry. Seahorses are monogamous and have one partner for the breeding season from April to October. It is not thought that they mate for life now.

Colour: seahorses can change colour like chameleons.

This helps camouflage them to hide from predators and in courtship. Each day the female meets the male in his territory, they change colour and perform a dance where they may circle each other, or an object, and hold tails. 


Seahorses are endangered. They are legally protected by CITES (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species) and The Wildlife and Countryside Act. It is illegal to import, kill, capture or disturb a seahorse.

Habitat destruction

Seagrass meadows can be destroyed by anchors, fishing nets, dredging, drilling for oil and pollution. 92% of meadows have been destroyed. Marine Protect Areas are being set up around Britain to protect biodiversity.

Seahorses are captured for the pet trade or killed and dried for use in traditional medicines or sold as souvenirs.

Climate change

A marine heatwave around Britain in April 2023 saw seas reach their highest recorded surface temperature of 210C. Seagrass meadows are stressed by heat. Ocean heatwaves cause mass mortality of marine plants and animals and the collapse of food chains. Sea ice also is melting and ocean circulation has slowed down due to higher global temperatures.

If ocean currents change direction or stop the supply of plankton that seahorses depend on for food may be disrupted.

How can you help?

Never buy souvenirs of dried sea creatures such as seahorses, starfish or shells which are homes for hermit crabs.

Reduce your use of plastics and buy fish that is caught sustainably.

Use eco moorings when sailing to anchor your boat.

Support a marine conservation charity such as The Seahorse Trust Donate or volunteer and you can even adopt a seahorse!

Report sightings of seahorses to The Seahorse Trust via the British Seahorse Survey website

Image (above): Spiny Seahorse, Hippocampus guttulatus    SAFWM : 1975.68 ©


Object of the Month – August 2023

In April, university students Eleanor, Elizabeth and Katie joined us to help inventory the ceramic and glassware store behind the scenes at the museum.  Eleanor is continuing with the project until September.











They picked out their favourite items from the stores. This condiment stand and bottles was selected by Eleanor.

It was donated to the museum in 1895 by Dr Henry Stear. A considerable portion of the ceramics collection was bequeathed and donated to the Museum by Stear, who died in 1917.

The three bottles are labelled “Oli”, “Azyn” and “Peper”. “Azyn” means vinegar in the Frisian dialect, which is an area north of the Netherlands. “Oli” means oil in Dutch and “Peper” is pepper. This item is particularly exciting, as it provides some further insight into the Dr, with an obituary written on its base and a small accompanying image.

Henry Stear was a surgeon and worked as one of four initial doctors in the Saffron Walden General Hospital which was founded in 1866. The writing gives a positive and comedic account of Stear’s influence on the town, family, character, occupation and a physical description, and is signed Guy Maynard 1920. Maynard took over as curator of the museum from his father in 1904 and had grown up in the building.

Quote from the base:

“Short sli..t built. Kept(?) very active until extreme old age arrived. always cheerful fond of a joke until the last. He never married and supported his aged mother and 3 spinster sisters for many years. They whispered that he had loved in his youth but that the family opposition was too strong.

He was a fine example of the old school of riding doctors and known and beloved for miles around.

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… the Rose & Crown … the Market … with the … he left … which he loved. May he rest in peace and long may his memory be preserved by the many treasures which he left to the collection. Guy Maynard 1920.”

Object of the Month – June 2023

This is the cast skin / exoskeleton (exuvia) of a dragonfly larva, found in Elsenham in August 2005. The shape of the eyes and the length (40mm) suggest it’s a hawker dragonfly, while the finder’s description of the adult dragonfly being green and yellow means it is probably a southern hawker, which are common in July and August.

Dragonfly exuvia © Saffron Walden Museum

These dragonflies spend 2 or 3 years as a larva, or nymph, living underwater, before coming above water to shed their skin and emerge as an adult.

Southern hawker dragonfly by Tom Wiersma, via Wikimedia Commons.

Dragonflies, like all insects, have a hard exoskeleton which does not grow with them. After hatching from an egg, dragonfly nymphs gradually grow into adults through a series of moults to shed their skin, which allows it to grow in size each time, emerging as an adult directly from the last moult.
The nymphs look similar to the adult, with a long body and six legs. Nymphs in the last stages of growth have wing buds that you can see on this specimen.
This method of growth, through nymphs with wings developing on the outside, is called incomplete metamorphosis.

This is different from other insects including flies and butterflies, which hatch as maggots or caterpillars. This is the larva of the insect, and it looks very different from the adult. The larva in these insects also has to moult to increase in size, but the final moult is different. It creates an inactive pupa (called a chrysalis in butterflies) where the final radical transformation into the adult takes place. This method of growth from larva to pupa to adult is called complete metamorphosis.

Visit the Museum to learn more about the two types of metamorphosis in the Discovery Centre, and take a closer look at two exuviae from our Malaysian stick insects.

Exuvia of female Malaysian stick insect © Saffron Walden Museum

Exuvia of male Malaysian stick insect © Saffron Walden Museum








Image credit:
Female Southern Hawker – Tom Wiersma, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons. Accessed 25.5.2023.



Object of the Month – May 2023

Fossil Sponge from Radwinter

Saffron Walden Museum offers a free identification service for objects from north-west Essex. People often find interesting stones in their garden or in fields. Many of these are flint nodules. Flint is a hard rock that comes from chalk, a soft white limestone that is 200 metres thick in north Essex and Cambridgeshire. Chalk was formed as a limy mud on the floor of a tropical sea that once covered most of Britain and north-west Europe during the Cretaceous period 65-145 million years ago. The sea water contained dissolved quartz, or silica, originating from the skeletons of tiny sponges. As the mud was compressed into chalk the silica became concentrated as nodules or layers of flint. When the chalk became exposed as dry land, erosion by rivers released the flint and redeposited it as thick layers of gravel. Flint is often found as brown, iron-stained pebbles. Unweathered nodules, fresh from chalk rock, are black with a white outer surface.





Fossil Sponge, Radwinter

Occasionally flints contain fossils of sea urchins or cockle shells. You can see some of these fossils in the Museum’s geology gallery – The Earth Beneath Your Feet. This circular stone from Radwinter is a sponge called Porosphaera globularis which is fossilised in flint rock. The animal lived in the Chalk Sea that covered Essex 80 million years ago, during the age of the dinosaurs. The flint has been stained brown by iron in the soil. Circular flint nodules are often fossilised sponges, or they have formed around the nucleus of a sponge. The size can vary, from flints the size of musket balls to nodules the size of cannon balls.

The Hidden History Project


Thursday 4th May saw a new display launch in style at Saffron Walden Museum.
Earlier this year, a group of young people and facilitators from The Lodge – a consent-based, self-directed learning community based in Saffron Walden – formed a collaboration with the Museum.
They toured the museum and visited the off-site store, to explore the collections, and to see what they could find behind the scenes.
Once they had ‘magpied’ their items and areas of interest, they dug further into the meaning and significance of the items to them. The group played with diverse ways of interpreting and exploring their thoughts and connection to the items, including writing fictional stories about them, creating artwork inspired by them, finding out more about their contexts and histories, and reflecting on how they provoked their own thoughts and feelings. The group enjoyed selecting their items from the collections, displaying them in their own way and then presenting the finished display to invited guests, parents and the rest of The Lodge group. This display is part of the Your Stories : Community Showcase programme, in which the museum facilitates and features community co-curated displays.

Object of the Month – April 2023

The Museum’s ‘Object of the Month’ provides an opportunity to explore interesting and unusual objects from our stores. 

April’s object of the month is a Serpent, a low-pitched early brass instrument, which became popular in the Renaissance era.

It has a trombone style mouthpiece, but with tone holes like a woodwind instrument.  Keys were added in later versions.

They were commonly used from the 17th to the early 19th centuries, although you can still buy them from specialist makers.

Initially they were used to compliment bass parts in choirs, but by the mid-18th century, they began to appear in chamber ensembles, and later in orchestras.

The sound of a serpent is somewhere between a bassoon and a euphonium, and it is typically played in a seated position, with the instrument resting upright on the player’s thighs.

The version we are displaying in the museum this month dates to the 1830s and was played in St Mary’s Church in Saffron Walden.

See it on display in the museum in April or in the blog article on our website. 


Saffron Walden Museum Dishes up a New Exhibition!

Feeding the Family :

a history of dining from Roman times to Present Day

1 April – 2 July 2023

Saffron Walden Museum dishes up a new exhibition!

The new exhibition showcases the history of food preparation and food serving from Roman times to the present day.

Throughout history, people have laboured to put food on the table. The Museum draws on its own collections and historical sources to see what local families might have been preparing and eating over the last 2,000 years.

Food is always a major topic and these days more so than ever. Affordability, supply, diet and environmental sustainability are all in the news. We wanted to explore how our meals and food fashions have changed throughout history.

Visitors to the exhibition will get the chance to see original recipes as well as typical dishes and tableware from each time-period. To accompany the display there will also be mystery food smells to identify, and why not decorate a plate with a picture of your favourite meal and add it to our display.

In conjunction with this exhibition, the museum has partnered with Uttlesford Foodbank to help our visitors learn more about their vital work, helping local residents who are struggling to afford to feed their families.