Category Archives: Object of the Month

Object of the Month – October 2020

New Zealand Kiwi

We’ve been busy over the last few weeks moving the bird taxidermy from a temporary home back to their usual store. October’s object of the month is a mounted kiwi skin, probably of a little spotted kiwi (Apteryx owenii), the smallest of the five kiwi species.

A stuffed Little spotted kiwi sking, facing left, mounted on a 'naturalistic' base.

The little spotted kiwi in Saffron Walden Museum. © SWM

With strong, heavy legs and no wings, kiwis have evolved for life on the ground. They are nocturnal, dig burrows to nest in, and have stiff, hair-like outer feathers to withstand pushing through leaves and twigs. Unlike most birds they have keen hearing and a good sense of smell to help them find food, mostly earthworms and insects.

A page from a book with drawings showing the head, wing and strong feet of a kiwi.

Kiwis have ‘whiskers’ around their beak, stiff feathers and tiny wings, and strong feet for digging.
[Internet Archive Book Images / No restrictions]

Kiwi numbers have plummeted since Europeans arrived in New Zealand, bringing rats, stoats, pigs, cats, dogs, trophy hunting and habitat destruction. Kiwis grow and reproduce slowly and only thrive today on protected reserves, with intensive work to remove these threats. The indigenous Maori regard the kiwi as a taonga (treasure), and actively protect the birds across 230,000 hectares of land, about the same area as the national government’s Department of Conservation. Altogether, an area of land bigger than Essex is managed for kiwi conservation.

Coloured map of New Zealand showing distribution of kiwis at present day and before European colonisation.

Light green, current location of kiwis; Dark green, location of kiwis before European colonisation; Dark grey, kiwis never known here. [© New Zealand Department of Conservation]

Map with numbers and letters showing locations of Little spotted kiwi populations across New Zealand.

Little spotted kiwi reserves – Predator-free islands: 1, Hen Island; 2, Tiritiri Matangi; 3. Red Mercury Island; 4, Motuihe Island; 5, Kapiti Island; 6, Long Island; 7, Anchor Island; 8, Chalky Island
Mainland: A, Shakespear Open Sanctuary; B, Cape Sanctuary; C, Zealandia.
Michal Klajban / CC BY-SA 4.0

See the little spotted kiwi and find out more about kiwi species in our Object of the Month display when the museum re-opens soon.

More information
New Zealand Department of Conservation (DoC) –  Facts about kiwi: https://www.doc.govt.nz/nature/native-animals/birds/birds-a-z/kiwi/facts/
New Zealand DoC – Little Spotted Kiwi: https://www.doc.govt.nz/nature/native-animals/birds/birds-a-z/kiwi/little-spotted-kiwi/
New Zealand DoC – Kiwi: https://www.doc.govt.nz/nature/native-animals/birds/birds-a-z/kiwi/
Science Learning Hub – Conserving our native kiwi: https://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/resources/2784-conserving-our-native-kiwi
WWF New Zealand – Kiwi: https://www.wwf.org.nz/what_we_do/species/kiwi/

References

Internet Archive Book Images. ‘Features of kiwis’ Transactions and proceedings of the New Zealand Institute (1870). Internet Archive Book Images / No restrictions. Available from commons.wikimedia.org [Accessed 29.9.2020]

Michal Klajban. ‘Apteryx owenii – distribution map. CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0). Available from commons.wikimedia.org [Accessed 29.2.2020]

New Zealand Department of Conservation. Kiwi Recovery Plan Summary Document 2018-2028. New Zealand Government, 2018. Available from https://www.doc.govt.nz/nature/native-animals/birds/birds-a-z/kiwi/docs-work/ [Accessed 29.9.2020]

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.

“The Museum and Me” – new book by Rachel Morris

Rachel Morris launches her new book on the 27th August 2020, inspired in part by her childhood visits to Saffron Walden Museum….

There can have been few children quite as geeky and eccentric as I was when I was ten. We were living outside Saffron Walden with our high-minded and austere grandmother, the four of us surviving on her state pension.  It was because we were always broke that I spent my childhood haunting Saffron Walden library and museum, where I could drift around for hours on end and no one would ask me any questions.

Years later I became the director of a museum-making company called Metaphor and started to remember my ten-year-old self. My book ‘The Museum Makers’ is about time and memory and museums, but also about families and the secrets they carry and the stories they tell.  One theme that’s threaded through it is Saffron Walden museum. 

I don’t remember the museum’s Victorian incarnation (though I wish I did) because they did up the museum in the middle of the 20th century and the majority of the old Victorian exhibits were swept away.  But some photographs have survived to show how typically Victorian looking the old museum had been, with its dark brown wooden showcases and its rows of deer antlers and its stuffed elephant in the middle of the gallery.  It’s companies like mine that have updated many museums and although there is much I don’t miss about Victorian museums (they were often racist) I do admire their grandeur and the rather gloomy drama of the way they looked.

I didn’t go to Saffron Walden museum to learn things – though I did love history and I was always reading children’s books about time travel. I went partly out of curiosity, partly in search of wonder and amazement, partly out of a restless urge to go to places without having to ask my family first.  I don’t remember many specific things – I was too young for that – though I remember Wallace the Lion.  And I remember the overall look of it, as well as the approach up the drive, with the castle ruins beyond, and the way you went in up the steps to the front door – as if into a house, except that it was not like any house I had ever been into.

I doubt that there was much interpretation at the time (museum interpretation didn’t really take off until the end of the twentieth century), but for me that didn’t matter. I generally visited the museum after having visited the library and so I always arrived with a head full of the stories that I had already consumed (usually whilst lying flat on my tummy on the library floor with the soles of my feet in the air).  And anyway, like lots of children I liked to look at things and to tell stories in my head about them.  One story I learnt either then or later was how the museum’s elephant was taken to London to star in the Great Exhibition in 1851.  Now that’s a story I would have loved when I was little.

After the museum I went round to the Common to pick up the bus home, with the first of my library books already open and me starting to read.

Children have a natural affinity with museums. They share with museum-people a love of things and a willingness (well, this is true of children at least) to ascribe to them magical powers. It’s no accident that a film like ‘Night at the Museum’ has been so popular with children. And so likewise the popularity of fairy tales that are stuffed with things that have magical powers, like slippers that can’t stop dancing and a ring that makes you invisible.  The other thing that amazed me about museums when I was little was the sheer profusion of things inside them.  My high-minded grandmother had got through life owning not much more than a small suitcase of belongings.  One of the qualities of museums that so entranced me when I was little was that they were thing-worlds (and so the very opposite of home), filled with more things than I could count.

Saffron Walden Museum is a family-focused museum with a long history of being child-friendly. As early as the beginning of the twentieth century schoolchildren were being encouraged to visit the museum when Guy Maynard was the curator.

My book, The Museum Makers, is about many things but its basic premise is that if museums have always been about sorting and classifying and making sense out of the confusion of the world, then – in the way that we hold on to our things and our memories and try to make sense of our own pasts – we are all museum makers.

My book is also very definitely a thank you to the museums of my childhood, of which Saffron Walden was one.

Click here https://bit.ly/TheMuseumMakersextract to hear Rachel Morris reading an extract from her new book, The Museum Makers which is published by September Publishing on August 27th 2020.

For more information behind this story visit https://bit.ly/TheMuseumMakersbook

Object of the Month – August 2020

Chinese Foot-Binding – Lotus Shoes

Foot-binding was a traditional practice that originated in 10th century China, among court dancers and high society women. By the 12th century it was a widespread practice. In the early 19th century it was estimated that five to eight women out of every ten in China (taking into account regional variations) had bound feet. It eventually spread through all social classes and while it was outlawed in 1912, it continued in some rural areas for years afterwards. A census taken in 1928 in rural Shanxi found that 18% of women had bound feet, while in some remote rural areas such as the Yunnan Province, foot-binding continued to be practiced until the 1950s. In most parts of China, the practice had virtually disappeared by 1949. In 1999, the last lotus shoe-making factory closed.

The museum has around 14 pairs of Chinese lotus shoes associated with foot binding. They typically have wedge heels, pointed upturned toes which extend beyond the sole and stiffened ankles. The embroidered uppers of the shoes have been beautifully crafted in silk and metallic threads, with embellishments – usually gold braid, beading and sequins.

The foot-binding practice involved plunging the feet into hot water and massaging them with oil. Then all the toes, except for the big ones, were broken and bound flat against the sole, to produce a triangular shape. The arch of the foot was strained as the foot was bent double. The feet were bound in place using a silk strip measuring 10ft long and 2 inches wide. These wrappings were briefly removed every 2 days to prevent blood and pus from infecting the foot. Sometimes “excess” flesh was cut away or encouraged to rot. Over time the wrappings became tighter and the shoes became smaller as the heel and sole were crushed together. After 2 years the process was complete and the feet were most probably numb, with a deep cleft in the sole that could hold a coin in place. Once a foot had been crushed and bound, the shape could not be reversed without undergoing the same pain all over again. This practice was usually undertaken on the feet of a young girl, aged between 3 and 11 years, as their feet would have been softer and easier to manipulate. It was usually carried out by the child’s grandmother. 

This painful practice was associated with beauty, status and marriage eligibility. Having tiny feet was considered sexually attractive, emphasising a masculine Chinese view at that time of a woman’s inferiority and weakness.  It was believed that girls who had their feet bound would be able to attract better marriage offers because of their tiny feet. In wealthy families, the feet of all the daughters would have been bound but in poorer families, the practice might only have been carried out on the eldest daughter, as they had the best chance of making a good marriage union. The ideal length of the foot – the “golden lotus” was deemed to be just three inches. 

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

New blog article: Roman Kitchen & Dining

Curator Carolyn Wingfield is giving a small display of Roman pottery a makeover, looking at where the pots were made or how they were used. This small bowl with a perforated base is a pottery strainer or colander, which has been partially reconstructed; it is quite rare for strainer bowls to be found complete. Domestic pottery like this was usually made locally, so it may well have been traded at a market in the Roman town of Great Chesterford, or the smaller centre at Great Dunmow. In this case, we do not have any information on where the strainer bowl was found. It was common in late Iron Age and Roman times to place food and drink offerings in the grave with the dead (usually cremated remains). We do not have detailed records of where every pot in the collections was found, but it is probable that most of the complete or reconstructed Roman pots in the collections probably come from burials.

Pottery strainer bowl or colander, probably made locally, c 170 – 250 AD

Everyday vessels like this take us straight to the kitchen or hearth of a Romano-British family home, to people preparing their food and maybe adopting some new food fashions and items of kitchen equipment after Britain became part of the Roman Empire. One manual of Roman cooking survives– the recipes of Apicius, a celebrated Roman ‘celebrity chef’. However his recipes do not necessarily reflect what the average Roman Briton was cooking – especially those with more exotic ingredients such as ostrich! Nevertheless it does give us a valuable insight into Roman cuisine, and some ways of preparing common foodstuffs and sauces. Recipes for preparing cooked squashes in sauce or lentils with chestnuts, for instance, refer to straining ingredients.

Small Roman flagon and cup, both dating from the mid 2nd century AD

This flagon was made at a pottery near St Albans (Roman Verulamium) and the cup was imported from north Gaul (Roman France). The flagon was found in Great Chesterford and given to the Museum in 1836 – the year after it opened – by a Mrs Barnes. The little cup, which is just 7cms high, may also have been found at Great Chesterford, but no record survives of its provenance.

Wine was imported and enjoyed before the Roman conquest by at least some local Iron Age people; wine amphorae (large pottery containers) have been found in high-status burials and sherds of amphorae were excavated at an Iron Age village site now under Stansted Airport. Romans usually drank wine diluted with water – even soldiers had a ration of weak, sour wine. After the Roman conquest the taste for wine and its availability spread. Drinks based on wines flavoured with herbs and spices were also popular, as was the use of wine in cooking. Native drinks were based on fermenting grains (barley, wheat) and honey, so mead was probably common as well as beer, though strictly it would have been more like an ale or barley wine as hops were not used in Britain until the late Middle Ages.

The small size of the flagon and cup suggest they might have ben used for someone’s special tipple rather than drinking to quench thirst. Perhaps we could imagine a local Briton enjoying a nip of spiced wine on a damp chilly evening? Bibite! (Drink up!)

Introducing our brand new – Click & Collect Activity Packs

Bringing our usual holiday craft and learning activities to your home! Each pack contains all the materials you need plus exciting stories from our collections and is just £5.

Simply follow the link to order yours

https://saffron-walden-museum.arttickets.org.uk/ 

Week One: Brilliant Botanists

Learn all about the botanist George Stacey Gibson. Make your own plant press and create your own herbarium. Become a plant hunter with the plant hunter trail. Grow your own bean plant and learn about what plants need to grow!

Your pack will include:

1 x plant press kit

1 x Herbarium kit

1 x Glass jar and bean “seeds”

1 x A4 activity booklet, including instructions and plant hunter trail

5 x A5 Museum collections photographs to collect and keep

Collecting your Activity Pack

Once you have ordered your pack please email the Museum to arrange a collection slot. Do not come to the Museum without contacting us first.  Collection from outside the Museum will be available from the 17/06/2020 Tues to Fri depending on staff availability.

PLEASE NOTE: When booking, the date you select has no impact on when you collect – we just can’t get around this part of the booking system.

After you have ordered your pack please email cpratt@uttlesford.gov.uk to arrange a time to collect your pack from the Museum.

Hygiene & Corona Virus

Packs will be prepared by one member of staff wearing gloves and a face covering, and materials with hard surfaces will be wiped over. We recommend you also take your own additional precautions, especially if a member or your house hold is in the higher risk group.

The museum is closed for the time being, but remains active online…

Website: www.saffronwaldenmuseum.org      

Blog: https://exploresaffronwaldenmuseum.blogspot.com/

Email: museum@uttlesford.gov.uk

Phone: 01799 510333

Object of the Month – June 2020

June’s Object of the Month celebrates Volunteers’ Week. These fossils have been cleaned and recorded by two dedicated geology volunteers, helping to audit the thousands of fossils held in the Museum’s stores. The project is suspended at the moment, but we all look forward to getting back together when times are better.

These fossils are from the Red Crag layers, which are the reason Walton-on-the-Naze is famous for marine fossils. The sandy Red Crag rocks and fossils were laid down in the late Pliocene and early Pleistocene epochs between 3.3 and 2.5 million years ago, when a warm, shallow sea and bay covered most of Essex. The fossils have stained red-brown over time due to iron-rich water washing through the sandy rock.

The first fossil is a species of whelk, Neptunea contraria, which is still alive today (extant, rather than extinct). This species has an unusual left-spiral shell, hence the word contraria in its scientific name. Almost all species with a coiled shell have a right-hand spiral.

Neptunea contraria

Cardita senilis

Cardita senilis is a species of bivalve, a group which also includes oysters, mussels and scallops. These molluscs have a flattened body protected by two shells or valves joined by a hinge. A bulge near the hinge, called the umbo, is the oldest part of a growing shell, and is at the centre of the growth rings that can sometimes be seen on the surface.

Spinucella tetragona is an extinct species of predatory sea snail, in a group known as murex snails or rock snails. This species’ shells are highly ridged, but other extant species (such as Chicoreus aculeatus) have exaggerated and complicated patterns of spines on their shells, which makes them very popular with shell collectors.

Chicoreus a

Spinucella tetragona

Chicoreus aculeatus

Oyster: Ostrea species

Later Pleistocene fossils from Essex, such as the oyster, don’t really ‘belong’ here at all. They were brought south or churned up from older rocks by glaciers during the Pleistocene Ice Age, which lasted from 2.5 Mya to 12,000 years ago. They appear in glacial drift deposits left behind as the glaciers grew and shrank. This fossil of Chicoreus aculea is actually from the Jurassic period (201-145 Million years ago).

All images © Saffron Walden Museum, except C. aculeatus: H. Zell – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Shape of Women: Female Fashion Silhouette – Part 2 (c. 1900-Present Day)

Our Collections Officer (Human History), Jenny Oxley has a real passion for vintage fashion, check out Part 2 of her blog charting the changes in the female fashion silhouette, this time covering the period between 1900 and the present day – illustrated through the museum’s collections.

Follow this link for the PDF version The Shape of Women – Part 2: 1900=Present 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 http://www.ukmoths.org.uk/top-20 and family Sphingidae

www.ukmoths.org.uk/search/?entry=Sphingidae&thumbnails=true

Butterfly Conservation with an identification guide www.butterfly-conservation.org/search?query=hawkmoth

The Essex Field Club website has maps showing where each moth species has been found in Essex www.essexfieldclub.org.uk/portal/p/Species+account/s/Mimas+tiliae 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 www.essexfieldclub.org.uk/portal/p/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