Category Archives: Human History

Collections Focus: 1514 Charter

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.

Collections Focus: John Harvey’s Carved Mantlepiece (c.1570)

 

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 meansOur 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

Object of the Month – December 2021

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:

Historic Walking Tour – the Radical Women of Saffron Walden

 

Wednesday 10th November, 10am-12.30noon
or
Saturday 13th November, 10am-12.30noon

Historic creative writing walks with author Hannah Jane Walker on the theme of local radical non-conformist women through time.

This is a free event, though standard admission charges still apply to the museum (adult: £2.50; concessions: £1.25; children: free).

The walk will be exploring radical historical women of Saffron Walden. Each of these women are attached to a specific site within the town. We will begin our journey at Saffron Walden Museum, and then walk between sites. At each site you will learn a little about the radical woman in question and explore their identity and try to bring them to life through simple accessible creative writing exercises. No experience of creative writing is necessary.

The walks will meet at the museum at 10am, then go out on the tour around town, before returning to the museum around 12 noon as the last stop on the tour.

The walk will cover roughly 4k in distance.

Accessibility – all on public pavements. Please note: Saffron Walden is a town with some streets where the pavement is so narrow that scooter and pram access are severely compromised. We will be using some of these paths such as the piece of path along Church Street.

If you wish to attend the walk you can book online via Art Tickets https://saffron-walden-museum.arttickets.org.uk/ or phone or email the museum directly 01799 510333 or email museum@uttlesford.gov.uk

More information about the Snapping the Stiletto Project: Campaigning for Equality https://www.snappingthestiletto.co.uk/ 

For more information about Saffron Walden Museum: http://www.saffronwaldenmuseum.org/

 

CV Walden Archive (Covid-19 epidemic)

During 2020 and 2021 we sought local people’s experiences of the Covid -19 epidemic.

Details of the project can be found here         

CV Walden Archive 

 

Here’s a cross section of the material which has been submitted:

Diaries & Contemplative writing….. 

Lucy age 11 Clavering school

Artist Victoria Parker Jervis made a visual record of her lockdown days….

1st Saffron Walden Girls Brigade

Anabelle Atter – Covid Christmas in her own words

Lockdown Diary by Ann Holloway  – Summer 2020 – May 2021

Caring through Corona by Emily Ranoble

Covid-19 Coronovirus by Gillian Mulley

Suitcase by Ian Miller Castle Street Saffron Walden May 1st 2020

SWAN (SW Antenatal group) formed 37 years ago is still going strong as a social & support women’s group, they share their viewpoints about the Covid epidemic

Littlebury News week 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poems…..

WhatsApp in the time of Coronavirus by the Inner Wheel

Sestina-Stay inside by Sebastian Page

Covid Waves by Teresa Cobalchini

Living through the Coronavirus Pandemic by B. Davidson

Safe by Carey Dickinson

The Corona Ghost Of Platform Nine by Hester Wolter

Covid-19 April 2020 by Jean Little

Under the Crack Screen of my Phone by Jess Dickinson

Life In Lockdown by Karina Bailey-Watson

Photographs, Artwork & more…. 

5th Saffron Walden Incas Cub Scouts:

Granta Chorale – ‘Singing in a Choir’ Virtual Performance 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2DbqPeLRRx4 

Brian Harvey, Littlebury : Sky West band):  20/20 Vision, is the title track of an EP by Harvey’s band, Sky West, it was written during the 1st lockdown and recorded in the summer of 2020 when some of the restrictions were lifted – we were socially distanced in a barn! It can be found on Bandcamp, Spotify and YouTube under Sky West 20/20 Vision.  An accompanying video is also available on YouTube at the following link (copyright Sky West)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CILYnXxHwE                            

 

NHS themed Collage by Temperance Kehoe

Sue Knowles teaching her Year 3 class online remotely during lockdown. Here they are working on the book – Varjak Paw by SF Said. There was a feeling of teachers having to reinvent themselves throughout the terms, combining online learning for the majority and class learning for the children of essential workers and limits on class sizes and the creation of class/year ‘bubbles’

Sandra Beale ran online STEM education sessions which were very much welcomed as the majority of families were home schooling.

April 2020, Pascale J. Fowell reimagined the tune of “My Favourite Things” by Rodgers and Hammerstein to create her songs in praise of her local village bakery Days of Ashwell in Great Chesterford during the Covid-19 lockdown. 

Thanking essential workers.  copyright Lynne Blount

Spaces locked down to discourage people from congregating in public places.  copyright Lynne Blount

Thanking the NHS.  copyright Lynne Blount

Thanking the NHS.  copyright Lynne Blount

Thanking the NHS.  The rainbow symbol was widely used.  copyright Lynne Blount

Official NHS guidance.  copyright Lynne Blount

Spaces locked down to discourage people from congregating in public places.  Children’s playgrounds were later re-opened before many other spaces. copyright Lynne Blount

Thanking the NHS. copyright Lynne Blount

Social distanced queuing by Les Dobson

Deserted streets in Saffron Walden. Copyright Dominic Davey (SWCC)

Manchester Field Hospital 2020 (former station) by Elaine Atchison (artist based in Elsenham, Nr. Bishop’s Stortford)

 

Object of the Month – August 2021

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

August’s Objects of the Month have been chosen by Jenny Oxley, Collections Officer (Human History)

Wampum is a traditional shell bead of the Eastern Woodlands indigenous tribes in North America. It includes white shell beads hand fashioned from the North Atlantic channeled whelk shell and white and purple beads made from the quahog or Western North Atlantic hard-shelled clam.

The highly decorative wampum belt on the right is currently on display in the Museum’s world cultures gallery, whilst the remaining bead strings and belt are currently on display at The Box in Plymouth for an ongoing touring exhibition commemorating Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy with the exhibition title Wampum: Stories from the Shells of Native America, in association with Wampanoag partners in the US.

Between May and July the museum’s wampum items were visited at the Box in Plymouth by over 25,000 people. 

On this Day……7th April 1914…….The Great Fire at Little Chesterford

On the 7th April 1914, a fire broke out at Bordeaux farm in the parish of Littlebury.  Newspaper reports at the time suggested that in high winds, sparks from a traction engine caught light to some dry thatch.  The flames ran along the river path to Little Chesterford and then spread rapidly across the village.  Many of the timber framed thatched properties were burnt to the ground whilst the ones built using clunch (chalk bedded in rammed powered chalk) fared better.      

The fire also highlighted the lack of effective fire-fighting equipment and poor communication that existed between local fire fighters at that time.  Littlebury had no fire pump, whilst Little Chesterford had only a small portable one for estate purposes.  The closest fire engine was based at the Mill in Great Chesterford, but it took over half an hour to attend once the alarm had been raised.  The Saffron Walden brigade was hampered in its efforts to attend, as they reportedly “lost their coal on the journey to the fire.”  Eventually additional brigades from Hinxton, Audley End estate and Sawston attended as well as the police, but the response had sadly come too late to save many of the properties.    

Within 30 minutes of the fire starting it had already destroyed 2 farms, 2 pubs (The Crown and The Bushel & Strike) and 9 houses, leaving 43 out of 100 villagers homeless. The fire had taken everyone by surprise and spread so quickly that the alarm had been raised too late to make a difference.   The town’s labourers working in the fields saw the fire spreading at huge speed, they returned home to find their wives and children making frantic efforts to save themselves and their belongings.

Newspaper reports from the time tell the dramatic story of 100 year old Mrs Law who was rescued from her burning first floor room by Stacey Dyer and her son, who lifted her into a wheelbarrow and got her quickly to safety. Stacey Dyer was reportedly scarred on his face for the rest of his life following his heroism.  It must have been pandemonium as villagers and their animals ran from the flames.  One baby was missing for 2 hours before it was found safe.      

Photographs show the village roads strewn with salvaged furniture and crowds gathering shocked by the scale of the fire and how quickly it had spread. The landlady of the Bushel and Strike (Pampisford Brewery) hastily prepared a shed so that they could continue to serve drinks to their shell-shocked customers.  A fire relief committee was established and the village reading room was used as a shelter for the homeless and store for their surviving belongings.  A fundraising campaign was advertised in the Daily Mail Newspaper. However, not everyone appreciated outside help, with Reverend John Stewart, vicar of both Chesterfords quoted in a subsequent edition of the newspaper as saying:

“We’re a proud people and like to help ourselves. Tell all the kind people who want to send money that we thank them, but do not need their help.”

Cheques from the Daily Mail campaign were reportedly returned to their senders! Archive material suggests local gentry stepped in and helped with the rebuilding work and financial loss.  Lessons were learnt following the fire, as all the local brigades vowed to work on better communication and to pool resources.

The History of Saffron Walden Castle

Saffron Walden Castle is situated on a promontory at the junction of two streams, the Madgate Slade and the King’s Slade, in a position which would have commanded the valley westwards to the River Cam.

Only the flint core of the basement remains of the once 3-storey keep. Inside are traces of a circular staircase, a well shaft and a fireplace.  Unlike some castles, this one didn’t have a motte (mound) but was a tower keep, built on the ground where the solid chalk bedrock could take the weight of the masonry.  An earth mound was raised around the basement level of the keep, but it wore down over time once the castle went of use and the walls were robbed.

The layout of the surrounding streets reflects the original line of the inner bailey.Castle Street, Museum Street and Church Street on the west, whilst on the east side it would have followed the old road, a little to the east of the present Common Hill.

There is no direct evidence about who built the castle at Saffron Walden, but it is likely to have been between 1125 and 1141. Geoffrey had recently been created Earl of Essex and it is highly likely that he built the castle around that time.  The first reference to it is contained in Empress Maud’s first charter in 1141 when Geoffrey de Mandeville II was given permission to move the market from the neighbouring village of Newport to his castle at Walden. Geoffrey de Mandeville changed his allegiance more than once during the civil war and in 1143 he was forced to surrender the newly built castle to King Stephen.  It was restored to Geoffrey de Mandeville III in 1156.  Around 1158, after the civil war, the castle was partially destroyed by order of Henry II.  The castle later passed to Maud, the wife of Henry de Bohun, Earl of Essex and Hereford.  On her death in 1236 it passed to her son, Humphrey, who became the 7th Earl of Essex.

In 1346, Humphrey VII de Bohun, Earl of Essex was given a licence to crenellate the castle, adding battlements to it. The de Bohuns opposed Edward III and in 1362 the castle was confiscated and endowed to the Duchy of Lancaster.  It later passed into the hands of Henry IV and remained a royal manor until the reign of Henry VIII.  The manor was given to Thomas Audley, the Lord Chancellor in 1538.  It then passed by marriage to the Howard family. 

Little is known of its later occupation, but much of the stone was removed before or during the 18th century. The turret on top of the keep was added in 1796 by Lord Howard de Walden. In 1797, it passed to Richard Aldworth Neville and remained in his family until 1979 when the ownership of the castle passed to Uttlesford District Council.

Excavations carried out in 1911-1913 confirmed the location of the castle ditch surrounding the bailey. More recent excavations, in 1973 and 1975, located the northern extent of the bailey, along Castle Street and the extent of the bailey eastwards to Castle Hill House. There have been more recent evaluations and watching briefs by archaeologists as dictated by essential works in the grounds and the recent conservation scheme for the keep, and a geophysical survey in 2012. 

Black History Month (October) – Slavery Abolition Reticule

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This silk reticule (bag) was made in the 1820s to support the campaign to abolish slavery. It was donated to the museum in 1927.

The reticule is a beautiful and very delicate object.  It is made from unlined pale pink silk with a drawstring at the top. On one side, the image of a seated enslaved man with his two children has been painted in black. On the reverse, there is a poem entitled ‘The Slaves’ Address to British Ladies’, which reads:

‘Mothers of the fair and brave
Heavy is the debt you owe
For the sufferings of the slave
Thro’ an age of pain and woe.

Shall your sons with freedom blest
Be the oppressors of our race
As I plead, each noble breast
Kindles at the foul disgrace.

Torn from Afric’s sunny plains
By your fathers’ cruelty
We have groaned in heavy chains
We have pined in misery.

But a brighter day is near
Blessings by your justice given
Faithful wives & children dear
And the hope of Joy in Heaven.

We shall bless your holy zeal
In our lisping girls & boys
For we have a heart to feel
All a parent’s anxious joys.

We shall see the harvests wave
And the sweets of science know
Freemen – at the name of Slave
Shall our souls indignant glow.

The reticule was made in the 1820s by a female campaign group, to raise funds and awareness for the anti-slavery movement. Although Britain officially ended its participation in the slave trade in 1807, slavery continued in the British Empire and in 1823, William Wilberforce formed the Anti-Slavery Society to campaign for the end of slavery in the colonies. Whilst women were allowed to join the society, they could not form part of its leadership, so a group of women in West Bromwich formed their own group, which was then referred to as the Ladies Society for the Relief of Negro Slaves (later called the Female Society for Birmingham). Other groups formed across the country shortly after and by 1831, there were 73 female organisations campaigning for the immediate and full abolition of slavery.

Many of these groups produced objects such as bags, jewellery, prints and pin cushions, decorated with abolitionist emblems, images and text. These items were sold or distributed as part of their campaigns. Silk bags and reticules like the one in our collection were filled with campaign pamphlets and newspaper cuttings and distributed to prominent people, including King George IV and Princess Victoria, as well as to other women’s anti-slavery societies.

It is very likely that this reticule was made by the Female Society for Birmingham. It is similar to reticules made by the society in the collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Library of the Religious Society of Friends, and the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum in Washington DC. However, we have yet to find another example matching this particular design.

Conservation of the reticule

In 2017, the museum acquired funding to carry out conservation work on the reticule. The reticule was in very poor condition – the silk had faded and was stained, large areas of the silk had badly shattered and were coming loose, and the reticule could not be handled or displayed without causing further damage.    

With funding from the Daphne Bullard Award, the Saffron Walden Quaker Meeting and individuals in our local community, the museum was able to pay Poppy Singer, a textiles conservator, to carry out vital conservation work. Poppy cleaned and reshaped the reticule to its original shape, made an internal support bag and pad, adhered the fragmentary silk, and added very fine netting over the top to prevent future damage. Thanks to Poppy’s work, the reticule can now be carefully handled and displayed in the museum for short periods of time.

Request for help with research project

 

 

 

 

 

 

Martin Barry a PhD student from Bristol University is researching ‘The Materiality, Memories & Material Culture” of Princess Mary’s 1914 (WW1) Christmas Gift to Soldiers & Sailors. Let him know if you are still in possession of your relatives embossed brass ‘Mary Tin’.  He would like to interview relatives by phone or virtually via Zoom.  Contact mb12582@bristol.ac.uk