On display in the museum over the Platinum Jubilee weekend is this straw plait crown.
It was made in 1953 for the Queen’s Coronation celebrations by Thomas Thake the donor’s grandfather.
It was hung from the screen in Wimbish church during the harvest festival after the Coronation.
Thomas (Tom) Thake was a thatcher, builder and carpenter who lived and worked in the Wimbish area. The crown stayed with the Thake family, latterly it was hanging in Tom’s grandson David’s garage until the donor rediscovered it!
The coronation was held on 2 June 1953 at Westminster Abbey, watched by 3 million spectators and a further 20 million following the event at home.
The sample was a gift from Norman Hartnell, the designer of the dress, to Miss Grizelle Fowler, as she had worked for him. Miss Fowler bequeathed the sample to the museum in 2016.
The coronation dress was ordered in October 1952 and it took 8 months of research, design and workmanship to create it. Hartnell put forward 8 different designs and Elizabeth chose her favourite.
It then took at least 3 dressmakers, 6 embroiderers and the Royal School of Needlework to create the detailed embroidery on the satin The embroidery features the national flowers and plants of Britain & the Commonwealth countries.
These include the English Tudor rose, the Scottish thistle, the Welsh leek, the Irish shamrock, the Canadian maple leaf and the New Zealand silver fern. The design was completed in seed pearls, crystals, coloured silks and metallic threads. #platinumjubilee #bigjubileelunch
Hot off the press is the news that Epping Forest District Museum in Waltham Abbey and Saffron Walden Museum have received an Arts Council National Lottery project grant of £100,000 to work in partnership on their world culture collections.
The aim of the project is to ensure the museums and their collections reflect their diverse communities by working directly with cultural groups to research different objects and tell their stories.
The project’s title, ‘Greater in Spirit, Larger in Outlook’ is inspired by Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974. Museum staff will work with relevant community groups including the Ethiopian History Society, to explore, explain and exhibit the collection leading to a new permanent display at Epping Forest District Museum, due to be completed in 2022.
A spokesperson from Ethiopian History Society UK said: We are delighted to partner with Epping Forest District and Saffron Walden Museums for this vital project.”
Other cultures represented in the collections include West and East Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.
Both museums are looking to work with relevant community and cultural groups linked to these collections which will lead to a major temporary exhibition in 2023.
Hazel Edwards, Area Director (South East) for Arts Council England, said:
We’re delighted to be able to support a project that will see source communities for these exciting collections given the important opportunity to work with Epping Forest District and Saffron Walden Museums to research, reinterpret and redisplay the material for audiences to engage with, explore and enjoy.
I look forward to the resulting exhibitions and seeing how it might inspire other museums to work with cultural organisations to deliver similar projects.”
Join the team
Funding for the project is being used to support 2 new part-time positions.
- Community Connector Collections
- Community Connector Audiences
Deadline for applications is Friday 22 April 2022.
To find out more about the roles or to apply visit https://www.eppingforestdc.gov.uk/jobs-and-careers/jobs/
For more about the project: https://www.eppingforestdc.gov.uk/museum-world-culture-collections-project/
Essex Fire Museum and Saffron Walden Museum have collaborated to create a unique presentation of the history of Essex County Fire and Rescue Service, which will go on display at Saffron Walden Museum from Saturday 2 April.
Research for this exhibition has been undertaken at Saffron Walden Library, Essex Record Office Access Point based at Saffron Walden Library and at the Gibson Library and the Essex Fire Museum. Staff and volunteers also visited the Saffron Walden Fire Station and met current serving fire fighters. Local people have also generously lent archival information and related artefacts for the displays.
Visitors to the exhibition at Saffron Walden Museum will be able to explore some of the fascinating stories of firefighting across Essex. The exhibits include a wide range of artefacts, photographs, uniforms and equipment which trace the history of firefighting from Victorian times to the present-day. It will also feature private and works’ fire brigades, which were particularly prominent in Essex during the 20th century.
Along with discovering some of the technological developments which have influenced firefighting, visitors will also be able to discover heroic stories of bravery and the human stories behind some of the major incidents which have occurred in the county’s history. The exhibition also touches upon some of the more obscure aspects of local fire-fighting history, including a troupe of fire-fighting scouts, a famous fire-fighting Vicar and the story of how an obscure family pet caused a local mansion to go up in flames.
The exhibition will be held in the temporary exhibitions gallery at Saffron Walden Museum, Museum Street, Saffron Walden, Essex, CB10 1BN from Saturday 2nd April to Sunday 3 July 2022.
A launch event for the exhibition is to be held on Saturday 2nd April, 10am-3.30pm. Vintage Fire Engines and Equipment will be on display on the museum’s forecourt. Standard Museum Admission charges apply.
For more information about the exhibition please contact: Jenny Oxley, Collections Officer (Human History) firstname.lastname@example.org 01799 510333
More information can also be found on the Museum’s website www.saffronwaldenmuseum.org and on our social media feeds.
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 chosen by Jenny Oxley, Collections Officer (Human History) is a charred key fob discovered after the Rose & Crown fire in the town on Boxing Day 1969. It forms part of the museum’s new exhibition, All Fired Up, by Essex Fire Museum, which charts the history of Essex Fire & Rescue Service (see more below).
At 1.40am on Boxing Day 1969 a fire broke out. Sadly 11 people died in their sleep, unaware that the fire had even taken hold. 29 people were rescued, some having climbed down from the upper floor windows using knotted sheets. The inquest ruled that the fire was caused by a faulty TV in the resident’s lounge overheating. Three Saffron Walden firemen received commendations. The fire resulted in the government strengthening the fire safety regulations governing hotels and they passed a new Fire Precautions Act (1971).
The building erected in its place became Boots the Chemist from 1973 onwards. A bunch of grapes carved in oak and a door canopy are all that remain of the original building.
More detailed information including eyewitness accounts of the fire can be found in Zofia Everett’s 2008 article published in the Saffron Walden Historical Journal and in Paul Wood’s book, titled From Station Officer Drane.
The fire understandably still has a major emotional impact on the town’s residents over 50 years on.
To find out more visit the Museum in April to see this item on display in our new exhibition, All Fired Up.
A bit of Valentine’s related history for February from our collections!
An invitation to a Valentine’s ball at Wimbish Village Hall, 12 February 1943. Miss McQueen was well-known locally she had a small farm at Rowney Corner from which people could buy fresh eggs and she also played the organ in the 1970s at the church in Wimbish.
We also have a selection of Victorian Valentines cards. These 19th century designs typically include floral decoupage, lace doilies, ribbon details and lace trimmings. Inside the cards are lovely little poetic verses.
February’s object of the month shows gemstones which are associated with love and romance, to celebrate Valentine’s Day.
They have been chosen by James Lumbard, one of the museum’s Natural Sciences Officers. Amethyst is the birthstone for February, but as a symbol of love, St Valentine is said to have worn an amethyst ring so Christian couples in Ancient Rome could identify him. Valentine was a priest who carried out forbidden Christian marriages and married young couples, when the Roman empire persecuted Christians and preferred their soldiers to be unmarried men.
Lapis lazuli can represent truth and friendship, and in Christianity represents the Virgin Mary. With the blue of the sky and gold of the sun, it represents success in Jewish traditions, while beads found in the ancient town of Bhirrana from 7500 BCE are its oldest known use by people. The remains of Bhirrana are in the Indian state of Haryana.
Sapphires are popular for engagement rings, as used for Lady Diana’s engagement ring from Prince Charles. Sapphire is the traditional gift in the UK for a 45th wedding anniversary and can symbolise truth and faithfulness.
In Ancient Greece and Rome, the word sapphire was used for lapis lazuli, as sapphire was only widely known from the Roman Empire onwards.
To find out more visit the Museum in February to see it on display or check out the Object of the Month Blog article on our website.
This beautiful illuminated 1514 Charter can be seen on display in the museum’s Local History gallery.
Here are a few facts about what is contained in the charter…
When Henry VII came to the throne in 1485, he introduced charges for traders, brewers and bakers in
Saffron Walden. The townspeople were not happy about this, as people went elsewhere to sell their goods.
In 1513, a group of townspeople, led by John Leche and his sister Dame Joan Bradbury, petitioned Henry VIII to withdraw these charges but he refused.
The group then devised a plan to form a religious guild in the name of Katherine Semar, a wealthy widow in the town who wanted to leave money for a chantry in her will. They petitioned the king for the right to form this guild.
The petition was successful and on 24 March 1514, Henry VIII granted a charter allowing the Guild of the Holy Trinity to be formed.
The charter allowed the guild to hold land to the value of 20 marks without paying the normal charges and to act as a body in court.
Two months later, on 12 May 1514, Henry VIII granted a second charter to the guild.
The second charter allowed the guild to run the town’s market, a windmill and a malt mill and to keep the profits from them all. This meant that the townspeople no longer paid charges to the king. In return Henry VIII demanded £10 per year.
More about the 1514 Charter:
The charter is hand-written in Latin onto parchment and it is decorated with gold leaf and illustrations, including:
Saffron crocuses: Saffron crocuses can be seen on the left-hand-side of the charter. They
symbolise the town of Saffron Walden.
Bodley coat-of-arms: The Bodley coat-of-arms is on the left- hand-side of the charter. Thomas
Bodley was the first husband of Dame Joan Bradbury.
Saint Ursula: Saint Ursula can be seen sheltering her companions with her cloak. The guild was connected with Saint Ursula because they celebrated a four-day fair at the time of her feast-day.
Henry VIII granted the charter. His coat-of-arms: coat-of-arms is at the top of the charter
and his signature is at the bottom.
Saint Katherine: Saint Katherine, who can be seen with her wheel at the top of the charter,
represents Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s wife at the time. One of the responsibilities of the guild was to pray for the souls of Henry and Katherine.
Katherine Semar: The figure on the right of the charter is probably Katherine Semar. The guild was formed using the money that Katherine left in her will for a chantry.
In 1855, Robert Driver Thurgood, decided to demolish his mansion in the centre of Saffron Walden, between Market Street (Market End) and Common Hill, to sell the land to provide additional space for the town’s cattle market.
The house was one of several previously owned by John Harvey (d. 1593). Harvey was a gentleman farmer, master rope-maker, and notable as well as the father of Gabriel Harvey (c.1550-1650) a famous scholar and poet.
During the demolition work sections of oak panelling were removed from the house, which revealed underneath them, three heavily carved chimney pieces. One of these carved overmantels was rescued and has been on display in the museum ever since. It is referred to by specialists as one of the earliest examples of “Alciato” emblems, based on Andrea Alciato, an Italian humanist’s writings, being used in England.
The overmantel has been made from clunch, a form of limestone which was used because it was relatively easy to carve. The central section depicts Harvey’s rope-making business. A ropewalk is shown, the area where the master roper and his assistants’ twisted hemp, jute or flax yarn into ropes and cordage. The figures shown are dressed in late 16th century clothes, with winged and tabbed doublets or jerkins, breeches, stockings and latchet-secured shoes. Presumably the ropemaking scene is being used to symbolise the value of labour and effort, and the link to its owner’s profession. Around the rope-making scene are depicted flowering plants and what appears to be a silk moth. There is a small building and an oak tree with a pig beside it eating fallen acorns. The motto in Latin here reads NEC ALIIS NEC NOBIS (Neither for others nor for ourselves).
The scene on the left of the rope making features a mule eating a thistle, a goose-like bird perched on a single tree branch, a series of stylised flowering plants and a tree full of oranges. The motto in Latin which reads ALIIS NON NOBIS (For others not for ourselves), could refer to the idea of not benefitting from your own labours, essentially doing something for the common good. To the right of the rope-making scene is pictured a deciduous tree with birds, a swarm of bees going backwards and forwards to their straw beehive. Here the Latin motto reads ALIIS ET NOBIS (For others and for ourselves), which makes sense with the image of the bees, as their honey benefits the bees themselves as well as humans.
Beneath all three sections of the symbolic emblems, the Latin motto appears to read NOSTRI PLACENTE VNT LABOR, but there are some letters and words missing, it possibly means “Our cakes are our labour,” presumably meaning labour brings its own rewards.
The recessed panels feature a cockatrice (a mythic beast which was said to have plagued Saffron Walden before it was killed) and a gryphon segreant (combined eagle and lion), which both appear to have been used in the design like heraldic crests, as there are twisted ribbons pictured around them. Other emblems carved here include flowers, leaves, fruit and trefoils.
For more information:
- Peter Daly and Bari Hooper. John Harvey’s Carved Mantle-piece (c. 1570): An Early Instance of the Use of Alciato Emblems in England, Saffron Walden Historical Journal, 2003.
- Alison Saunders. Emblems in Applied Arts and Crafts with Particular Reference to Alciati.
- Peter Daly (ed.,), Andrea Alciato and the Emblem Tradition, New York: AMS Press, pp.177-204
Watercolour showing the back of Gabriel Harvey’s childhood house, The Bell, showing the side which faced The Common. The house was pulled down in 1855. The sketch is by GN Maynard in 1886 based on one by Fry.
The mantelpiece as it appeared in the museum on display in the late 19th / early 20th century
The carved mantlepiece or over-mantel
1914 Christmas Gift Box for the Troops
The Museum’s ‘Object of the Month’ provides an opportunity to explore interesting and unusual objects from our stores.
December’s Object of the Month chosen by Jenny Oxley, Collections Officer (Human History) is a Princess Mary Christmas gift box, an embossed and monogrammed tin which was intended to be distributed to all members of the armed forces of the British Empire on Christmas day 1914, during World War I.
Following the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, the British Expeditionary Force was sent to the Western Front and was soon joined by troops from the Empire, those from India arriving before the end of the year. In October 1914, George V’s 17-year-old daughter, Mary, Princess Royal, launched a public appeal to fund every member of the armed forces receiving a Christmas gift. Shortly before Christmas 1914, advertisements were placed in the British press seeking donations for the “Soldiers and Sailors Christmas fund” and £513,000 was quickly raised.
The funding was used to manufacture small boxes made of silver for officers and brass for all others. However, there were metal shortages. Supplies of 45 tons of brass strip, destined to make more boxes, was lost in May 1915 when RMS Lusitania was sunk off Ireland on passage from the USA. In the latter stages of the war when metal became even more scarce, some of the tins were made from plated base metals or alloys.
Each tin was decorated with an image of Mary and other military and imperial symbols. They were typically filled with an ounce of pipe tobacco, a packet of cigarettes in a yellow monogrammed wrapper, a pipe, a tinder cigarette lighter, and a Christmas card and photograph from Princess Mary. Some contained sweets, chocolates, and lemon drops. There were also variations on the contents of the boxes for non-smokers, who received a packet of acid tablets, a khaki writing set comprising a case with pencil, paper and envelopes.
The Committee was also obliged to consider the tastes of other minority groups and it was recognised that if the dietary rules of various religious groups were to be respected, changes would have to be made in the gifts intended for Indian troops. It was decided that The Gurkhas were to receive the same gift as the British troops; Sikhs the box filled with sugar candy, a tin box of spices and the Christmas card; all other Indian troops, the box with a packet of cigarettes and sugar candy, a tin box of spices and the card. Authorised camp followers, grouped under the title of ‘Bhistis’ were to receive a tin box of spices and the card.
The smokers’ and non-smokers’ gifts were both deemed unacceptable by the committee for nurses at the front in France who were instead offered the box, a packet of chocolate and the card.
However, suppliers of the content items had trouble and it was realised that there were still not enough to go round. The Committee resolved the problem by hurriedly buying in an assortment of substitute gifts: bullet pencil cases, tobacco pouches, shaving brushes, combs, pencil cases with packets of postcards, knives, scissors, cigarette cases and purses. Those sailors who should also have received the lighter as part of their gift, were given instead, a handsome bullet pencil in a silver cartridge case which bore Princess Mary’s monogram. The ‘pencil bullet’ was not fashioned out of real bullet parts – it was simply a pencil with a rounded white metal end that looked like an unfired round when stored inside a brass tube resembling a cartridge case.
The boxes were originally intended for “every sailor afloat and every soldier at the front” on Christmas day 1914, but with the charity fun in surplus and some feeling that they had been left out, eligibility was soon extended to everyone “wearing the King’s uniform on Christmas day”, later prisoners of war were included, as well as the next of kin of 1914 casualties. It is estimated that 400,000 were delivered by Christmas 1914, with full distribution completed in 1920, by which time approximately 2.5 million had been delivered.
A Princess Mary Gift Fund Box was a treasured possession of many veteran soldiers of the First World War, even when the original contents – usually cigarettes and rolling tobacco – had long been used. The embossed brass box was air-tight, and made a useful container for money, tobacco, papers and photographs, so was often carried through subsequent service. Some troops repacked their tins and sent them home to their wives and families.
Further information and acknowledged sources here:
- Tommy’s War: British Military Memorabilia, 1914-1918 by Peter Doyle (The Crowood Press Ltd, Marlborough, Wiltshire, 2008)
- A gift for Christmas: the story of Princess Mary’s Gift Fund, 1914 by Diana Condell in IWM Review (No. 4–1989) p. 69–78.