Category Archives: Human History

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 – 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 – July 2023

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

Forgeries in the Museum!

by Joanne Pegrum, Museum Volunteer 

On display in Saffron Walden Museum during July, possibly for the first time since the 19th century, are a group of six lead objects known as ‘Billys and Charleys’. The objects appear to be medieval religious objects but they are known to be forgeries with a tale to tell from Victorian London.

Billy (William Smith) and Charley (Charles Eaton), who give their nickname to the objects, were mudlarks. Mudlarks would scour the foreshore of the Thames to find things of value to sell. From the 1840s they were selling the antiquities they had found to antiques dealers, then in the 1850s they turned to profit by deception. Billy and Charley began to fabricate medieval religious objects which they claimed to have found at a development at Shadwell.

The volume of these strange medieval objects appearing on the market began to arouse the suspicion of archaeologists and antiquarians but there were conflicting opinions as to their authenticity. Proof of forgery could not initially be established and so their deception and profiteering continued.

Visit the Museum in July to learn more about this intriguing story and see these charming objects. Can you spot the clues that might reveal these objects as forgeries?













Joanne Pegrum holding the lead figure of a saint.

Lead medallion 8.5 cm wide, showing two figures mounted on a grazing horse.

Lead figure 16.3 cm high of a saint holding a scroll and book, and riding a four-legged animal. 

© Saffron Walden Museum

Victory in the Kitchen

This ‘Deliciously Entertaining’ book is the story of a woman who was not a royal, not rich, not famous; someone who simply worked hard and enjoyed her life. But while Georgina Landemare saw herself as ordinary, her accomplishments were anything but. Georgina started her career as a nursemaid and ended it cooking for one of the best-known figures in British history: Winston Churchill.

To him, food was central, not only as a pleasure but as a diplomatic tool at a time when the world was embroiled in war. With this eager eater and his skilled cook, ranging from rural Berkshire to wartime London, via Belle Epoque Paris and prohibition-era New York, Annie Gray shows how life in service – and food – changed during the huge upheavals of the twentieth century.

On sale in the Museum Shop at £9.99

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. 


Aphrodisiacs – Valentines Day

Folklore, mythology and superstition informs our knowledge of aphrodisiacs. One of the oldest referenced in literature is arugula, dark leafy greens, whilst Cleopatra, reportedly bathed in saffron infused milk.

Ancient Egyptians are believed to have favoured fennel, ginger, pomegranates and radishes mixed with honey, as well as lettuce, a “favourite food” of the fertility god Min.

Some aphrodisiacs have become popular for their perceived luxury, such as truffles, foie gras, caviar and Champagne.

There have been some eccentric aphrodisiacs, like bird’s nest soup (made from real bird’s nests of the swiftlet bird, using solidified saliva), sparrow tongues and a tincture of eels and charred newt!

Although, unusual ones like Ambergris (a solid waxy substance originating in a sperm whale’s intestine), Bufotenine (from Bufo toads), Yohimbine (tree bark), have been shown to have some scientific benefits.

In Greek mythology, Aphrodite, the goddess of sexual love, was “born” when she rose from the sea, hence seafood is commonly known as an aphrodisiac, but it does have a grounding in science, as seafood is high in zinc.In legend, strawberries originated from the heart shaped tears of Aphrodite after she learned of her lover Adonis’ death. Strawberries are loaded with Vitamin C which boosts chemical neurotransmitters in the brain. Concentrations of vitamin E and potassium in asparagus, omega-3 in salmon and walnuts and hot spicy food, are good for heart health and improve hormone production.

Pomegranates, watermelon, olive oil, cherries and red wine are high in antioxidants, which reduce inflammation in the body. Avocados and bananas are high in B vitamins which boost energy. Garlic is high in allicin which increases blood flow and overall cardiovascular wellness. Ginseng, Maca (a Peruvian plant), and fenugreek have also been found to have proven scientific benefits.

Celery contains traces of androsterone, which has been found in studies to make men more attractive. The question is how much celery would you have to consume to start sweating a love potion!

Coming soon…our new special exhibition on food history from ancient times to present day, opens Saturday 1st April #valentinesday #foodhistory #exhibitions

Valentines in our collections

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.


In our Natural sciences collections we also have these amethyst gemstones associated with love and romance.

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.