Category Archives: Object of the Month

Object of the Month – January 2020

As cold weather turns our thoughts to arranging holidays in warmer places

January’s ‘Object of the Month’ features a Nautilus shell from oceans on the other side of the world. It has been chosen by Sarah Kenyon, one of the Natural Sciences Officers, at Saffron Walden Museum.


This is the shell of a Chambered Nautilus, Nautilus pompilius, a marine mollusc also called the Pearly Nautilus. They are the only living Cephalopods with an external shell. The spiral shell is divided into chambers that are connected to each other by a hollow tube called the siphuncle. The animal lives in the newest and largest outer chamber at the end of the shell. The older chambers are filled with gas and fluid. Buoyancy can be controlled by changing the amounts of gas and fluid inside the chambers of the shell and so the Nautilus can move up or down in sea water from shallow to deeper depths. It swims using jet propulsion. The animal uses its tentacles to catch prey, which it eats with a hard parrot-like beak and a radula with teeth. They were once common in seas across the world. Today only a few Nautilus species live in the Indian and Pacific Oceans around southeast Asia and Australia. They are now protected by international law.


The Nautilus shell was collected during the nineteenth century, between 1800 and 1899. It will be on display all month in the Natural History gallery. To find out more about the Nautilus and other Cephalopods (Squid, Octopus and Cuttlefish) visit the Museum in January. In the Geology gallery you can also see the fossils of two extinct groups of Cephalopods, the ammonites and belemnites, which were common in the sea until they became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago. You can find fossils of ammonite shells and the internal guards of belemnites (similar to the squids of today).

Our Valued Volunteers

Grateful thanks on International Volunteer Day

Today, 5 December, is International Volunteer Day. We want to take this opportunity to thank you, our volunteers, for your continued dedication and commitment to Saffron Walden Museum, without which we could not operate.

We now have over 65 volunteers, who give thousands of hours of their time, in a number of different roles such as running the welcome desk, sorting and cataloguing archaeology and natural sciences specimens at the museum store and museum, cataloguing and auditing the Museum’s photograph, document and art collections, helping to run the popular learning and activity events during school holidays and contributing expertise and ideas for developing our wildlife garden and monitoring roadside verge nature reserves.

2019 New initiatives

We are grateful to all our volunteers who have helped with a number of exciting new initiatives including:

Wildlife at Night

Wildlife at Night built on our usual Museums at Night event. Volunteers played crucial roles in us putting on this evening event on Friday 17th May.  They helped out serving refreshments, putting on craft activities, supported staff and organisations who were providing the wildlife activities and even donated plants!

12th Century Live! & Princess Bride Cinema screening

600 people attended the Museum site over the weekend of the 1st and 2nd June for these two new events. Thank you to everyone who took part in organising them and came along to help.






Volunteer Voices Display

To celebrate National Volunteers Week in June: Jenny, Wendy-Jo and June compiled a display about the vital role which you, the volunteers, play in the running of the Museum. The aim was to make the display fun and interactive for visitors too. There was an interactive activity putting together cogs, to show how the volunteers are crucial cogs in our organisation, enabling it to operate smoothly and efficiently. June recorded a talking tile to explain her role as a volunteer at the Museum which the visitors could press and listen to. Visitors could also apply to become one of our new volunteers and also record their feedback about being a volunteer at the Museum or for other organisations. There was also an activity which had all the museum’s different volunteer roles and the visitors had to match them to the correct volunteer tasks. This really showed the broad range of tasks that our volunteers undertake. The display complimented the Volunteer Tea Party organised by Wendy-Jo on Monday 17th June.







Volunteer Tea Party

Thank you to all the volunteers who came along to our volunteer week celebration at the Museum on Monday 17th June. James conducted Nature Studies exercises in the wildlife garden and Carolyn led a session about the NLHF Resilience Project and audience development.







Trip Advisor







Saffron Walden Museum has once again been awarded a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence for consistently impressing visitors.

The museum was presented with the certificate based on a 4.5 out of 5 star rating on the travel and tourism review website. It is the fifth time the museum has received the award.

Reviews posted on the website have been very positive, with customers describing the museum as “interesting and informative”, “brilliant” and a “great discovery”.

One visitor said: “This is one of the best – probably the best – small town museums I’ve visited. It’s not just for kids, and has a remarkable range of artefacts and exhibits – even including Egyptian items, which one doesn’t associate with Saffron Walden. It is lovingly curated and a really delightful experience.”

Another posted: “Brilliant place to visit, especially for children. The staff and volunteers are very attentive and extremely helpful. The site is also extremely educational.”

Carolyn Wingfield, said: “The website is an established measure of customer satisfaction and the comments that have been made reflect the hard work the team and volunteers put in to providing a friendly and welcoming experience for visitors.”

Warm Welcome

We extend a warm welcome to our new volunteers:

Welcome Desk – Sue Donelan, Jane Hook, Christine Lelliott, Brenda Prior and Ann Sadaghiani.

Human History collections – Lillie Weston

Wildlife Garden – Issa Cochran

Natural Science collections – Dominic Davey and Calli Holberry

Fond Farewell

We bid a fond farewell to:

Jean Peat who has retired from her Welcome Desk duties

Bridie Heath, who joined us as a Welcome Desk Volunteer for the summer period, prior to taking up permanent employment.

Sean Todd who has now left us to return to the University of Warwick to continue studying politics.

Charles Welham who has now left to pursue employment and further study opportunities

Volunteering Opportunities

Our Welcome Desk is run entirely by dedicated volunteers. They provide a friendly welcome for visitors, sell tickets and merchandise, provide information about the museum, and direct enquiries to members of staff. They usually volunteer for a 2.5 hour shift, every day except Monday and Saturday. We are currently looking for new Welcome Desk volunteers – if you are interested, please contact the Museum on 01799 510333 or email

Coming soon….

2020 will see the introduction of a till and card payment facilities on the Welcome Desk and the opening of our new exhibitions, All Fired Up, an exhibition by Essex Fire Museum exploring the history of fire-fighting in Essex (4 April – 5 July 2020) and STE(A)M 2020 – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths explored through our collections for 2020, Year of Science and Creativity across Essex.

Object of the Month – December 2019

December’s Object of the Month has been selected by Jenny Oxley, Collections Officer (Human History).

This Christmas themed room setting and assortment of doll’s house furniture came to the Museum in 1994 as a bequest from the Watt estate.

It was originally intended to recreate one of the rooms in the original owner’s home, Watt’s Folly in Arkesden. Watts Folly is a Grade II listed 17th century timber-framed and plastered house with thatched roof, which was renovated in the 20th century.

The earliest records of dolls houses date back to the 16th century.  They were originally intended to be replicas of wealthy family homes, built as a record of the times rather than as a hobby or for children to play with. 

Object of the Month – November 2019


The Puzzles of the Pendant

November’s Object of the Month is a very special piece of medieval jewellery: a gold reliquary pendant in the form of a cross. It was found by a metal detectorist in Farnham parish, Uttlesford district and reported under the Treasure Act 1996. Saffron Walden Museum Society Ltd was able to purchase the reliquary pendant thanks to generous local donations and grants from the Art Fund, the ACE / V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Headley Museums Archaeological Acquisition Fund







The Riddle of the Relic

A reliquary is a special container made to hold a relic – something which is held to be sacred because it was associated with a saint. It might be a piece of bone or hair, or a fragment of an object touched or used by the saint, such as clothing. Objects associated with holy sites were also revered, examples being splinters from the Cross or fragments of stone form the site of Christ’s crucifixion. In medieval times, people believed that wearing a relic would protect them from all manner or illnesses and misfortune. Religious jewellery and portable items are important to many people and cultures today.

The Farnham reliquary pendant is hollow and designed to hold a relic. The back is still closed, secured by a tiny iron pin, but an X-ray taken at the British Museum did not show any obvious signs of a relic inside.

What do you think might have been inside our reliquary pendant? Send your ideas on Twitter, Facebook or add them to the display in the Museum.

The Puzzle of the Pins

The reliquary pendant originally had a gold pin in each angle between the arms of the cross; one pin is now missing. There were also three gold pins hanging from the foot but only one of these pins survives.

We think the pins would have held pearls, or small round polished gemstones. There are examples of other pieces of medieval jewellery with pins, and some have pearls still in place.

The Mystery ‘Black Letter’ Inscription

Look closely at the front of the reliquary pendant and you can see some writing along the horizontal arms of the cross. It is in a late medieval script known as Black Letter which is difficult to read. So far, no one has been able to read it. It may not be a real inscription, but just a series of lines made to imitate writing.

There are other pieces of jewellery dating from the 15th century which have black letter inscriptions. The inscriptions are usually a message to a loved one. Examples include a gold pendant cross from Tamworth, which carried a French inscription ‘de cuer’ meaning ‘from the heart’. Another gold pendant cross, from Newport Pagnell had two Latin phrases: ‘crux florat’ meaning ‘may the cross bloom’ and ‘amor malum’  meaning either ‘love fruit’ or possibly ‘ love – evil’ (a contract of opposites).

So was our Farnham reliquary cross pendant purely religious or also a token of affection given to a loved one?

Blog Post : Haunted Halloween Happenings

Here’s a few historic local ghost sightings….as Halloween is upon us….

Do you have any local ghost stories you would like to share with us?

Cromwellian soldiers have been reported to stalk both the Cross Keys Hotel and the Old Sun Inn, moving furniture and banging on the walls. The spooky cellar at The Maltings in Myddylton Place and Audley End can’t be without a few ghost stories. A Victorian maid called Nelly is said to haunt Hill House and there have been ghostly sightings of a woman on the bridge in South Road. In 1885, recently deceased Mrs de Freville was reportedly seen by a gardener to have visited her husband’s grave in Hinxton churchyard. The old area of Cuckingstoole End is believed to be visited by the ghostly presence of Samuel Moss, dressed in his mid-19th century corduroys, a cloth cap and red neckerchief, sucking an old bit of clay pipe and carrying a scythe over his right shoulder. In the 1990s it was reported on the B1052, between Saffron Walden and Hadstock that the ghostly apparition of a USAAF pilot appeared in the back seat of a woman’s car, as she drove past the scene of his 1943 plane crash.

#halloween #hauntings

Object of the Month – October 2019

This case is arranged to show which butterflies live in the Saffron Walden area today (left), and which are extinct (right).

These butterflies died off mainly because of changing land use in the 19th & 20th centuries. Butterflies such as the Adonis blue (1) and chalk-hill blue (2) prefer large areas of chalk wildflower meadow, grazed by sheep and cattle. However, much of this land was converted to crop farming in the 1800s and these specialist insects died off. Other changes, such as the end of coppicing in woodlands, removed the open wooded habitat that butterflies such as the grizzled skipper (3) thrive in.

Species like the purple emperor (4) and white admiral (5) feed on the sugary waste products from aphids (honeydew). Pollution from coal burning may have contributed to these butterflies’ extinction as the toxins could dissolve into the honeydew on the leaf surface.

However, 2019 has been a very good year for some impressive larger butterflies too, with lots of painted ladies (6) arriving in Britain from the Mediterranean as they migrate north. Protected roadside verges in Uttlesford also provide good chalk grassland habitat for species such as the small copper (7).

There is also some very good news for three ‘extinct’ species (green boxes in main image). The purple emperor (4) returned to Uttlesford about two years ago and has been seen in Shadwell Wood and Rowney Wood, two local Essex Wildlife Trust nature reserves. The silver-washed fritillary (8) was first seen again about five years ago and is now known from Shadwell Wood, Rowney Wood and Hatfield Forest. The marbled white (9) has also been spotted at Harrison Sayer and Noakes Grove nature reserves and along some protected roadside verges over the last two years. The return of these three species in protected areas of countryside and special habitats show just how important effective conservation efforts are in supporting our native wildlife.

You can learn more about how humans have affected local environments and wildlife, for bad and for good, in the Take Away the Walls exhibition until 3 November.
Find out how you can help local wildlife groups on the Discovery Centre noticeboard next to the stick insects, and in the Take Away the Walls exhibition.



Object of the Month – September 2019

September’s Object of the Month is a wax model of Pestle Puffball fungus, Handkea excipuliformis, found growing under Scots pine trees on a road to Newport, Essex by George Maynard between 1880 and 1904.

Pestle Puffball Fungus

This common fungus can be seen from August to November. It grows in woods, grassland, heaths and on waste ground. The fungus is 8 to 20 cm tall. It is white at first and turns brown as it ages. Initially it is covered in soft, pointed warts which all fall off to leave a smooth surface. The upper, rounded section, 3 to 12 cm across, is the head which contains the spores. The lower, straight section is the stem which soon develops a wrinkled skin.

This puffball is edible when it is young and white, if the tough outer skin is removed. However, the older yellow, olive and brown fungi and stems can still be found in winter and summer and should not be eaten. You need an expert to identify edible fungi as mistakes can easily be made.

George Nathan Maynard

George Nathan Maynard was the first curator of Saffron Walden Museum. He was born in 1829 in the village of Whittlesford, Cambridgeshire. From a young age he showed a great interest in natural sciences, including botany, entomology and geology. George inherited his father’s shop but had to sell it in 1873. The family moved to Lambeth in London where he worked as a printer and his wife Elizabeth was a dressmaker. In 1880 he was employed as the first paid curator of Saffron Walden Museum.

As curator he reorganised the museum displays, recorded objects in accession registers and carried out conservation work to preserve the collections. During this time he made a collection of models in wax, modelled from fungus specimens collected in Saffron Walden, Newport, Debden and Little Chesterford.

In 1904 George died of respiratory problems at the age of 75. His son Guy took over as curator until 1920 when he left to become curator of Ipswich Museum.

Fungus Forays

Want to know more about mushrooms and other fungi? 

Wildlife organisations lead fungus forays in the countryside with experts who can help you to discover the fascinating world of fungi, and which ones are edible and which ones to avoid!

Sat 19 October Marks Hill Wood Nature Reserve, Basildon, Essex

Sat 27 October Sandylay & Moat Woods, Great Leighs, Essex

September, October, November.  Lots of fungus meetings with the Essex Field Club, see their Events programme at

Object of the Month – August 2019


Inspired by the Summer sunshine, Jenny Oxley Collections Officer (Human History) has chosen to pick Victorian ice-cream making equipment as this month’s Object of the Month.

G.E. Read’s shop was on the High Street in Saffron Walden in the 19th century, and by the early 20th century had been taken over by T.T. Snow (Thomas Thurgood Snow and his wife, Ellen Snow).  It was known as the High Street Bakery.

The Victorian pewter Ice cream maker or sorbetiere and accompanying moulds which will be on display in the Museum this month would have been used at Read’s Shop in the late 19th century.  They have recently been donated to the Museum by Read / Thurgood family members. 

There are also some step-by-step picture instructions showing how ice cream was made using the sorbetiere.  The moulds you will be able to view on display, are particularly elaborate in design and in the shape of a traditional jelly moulds, as well as quinelle and fruit shapes. 

In the Georgian and Victorian periods ice cream desserts could be decorated with saffron, cochineal, spinach, or some other natural colouring to add visual flair, a treat for the eyes as well as for the taste buds.

Visiting the Museum in August you will also be able to see adverts and photographs, and extracts of account books, related to both the Read and Snow shops which were in the High Street. 

Object of the Month – July 2019

Parking Deer and Cars at Stansted Airport

If you are heading off on holiday via Stansted Airport this summer, and leave your car in the Long Term Car Park, spare a thought for the medieval and Tudor ‘parkers’ who once tended this area. These men were responsible for the extensive deer park and its stock of deer (principally fallow deer) which provided recreational hunting for the late medieval and Tudor lords of the manor of Stansted. Before the Long Term Car Park was created, nearly 20 years ago, archaeologists from Framework Archaeology excavated the site and discovered remains of successive hunting lodges, dating to the 15th and 16th centuries. Iron arrowheads and deer bones found on the site helped to identify the building as a hunting lodge, situated in the centre of the park. It provided accommodation for the parkers and other retainers through the year, and accommodation for aristocratic hunting parties, when the lord of the manor would entertain guests with a day’s hunting followed by a feast.

The important archives (records and finds) from Framework’s excavations at the Long Term Car Park have just been deposited with Saffron Walden Museum. The vast majority of archaeological finds are fragments, but these two rusted arrowheads (with a modern 1p coin for scale) were among the more complete items of hunting equipment unearthed by the archaeologists. The arrowhead of typical triangular shape was widely used for hunting. The other arrow (its blade partly missing) is of forked or crescent shape; complete examples are shown in the other image. Arrows of this type were probably used for hunting birds, as the shape of the arrowhead bunched the feathers and killed by impact, rather than cutting into and disfiguring the bird, an important consideration for roasting and displaying birds at table.

Not far from the Airport, you can find another relic of Stansted Deer Park in the historic St Mary’s Church, to the east of Stansted Mountfichet. Here there is a notable painted effigy of Hester Salisbury, who died in 1614. She was daughter of Sir Thomas Middleton, lord of the manor in the early 17th century, and it is said that she was killed in Stansted Park by a stag.

For more information on this month’s Object of the Month visit Saffron Walden Museum in July.