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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 – March 2023 – Cast of the Ashdon Meteorite

One hundred years ago, on 9 March 1923, a meteorite came from space and landed at Ashdon in north-west Essex. The fall was witnessed by a thatcher called Frederick Pratt who was working in a wheat field at Ashdon Hall Farm. He heard a ‘sissing’ sound and looked up to see ‘the earth fly up like water’. Later he dug up the stone from a depth of two feet with another farm worker called Curven. Frederick took it to the police station in Saffron Walden, then to his vicar in the village of Wendens Ambo. Reverend Francis W. Berry purchased the meteorite and donated it to the Natural History Museum where it was investigated by the Keeper of Minerals George T. Prior. He classified it as a stony chondrite meteorite. It contains minerals feldspar, pyroxene and olivine, white specks of nickel-iron and other minerals from which the solar system formed 4.5 billion years ago.








SAFWM : 1923.3 Cast of the Ashdon Meteorite ©

Chondrites are by far the most abundant class of meteorites, but they are also the most interesting, as they are thought to have been formed at the same time, and from the same stuff, as the inner rocky planets of our Solar System. They contain a mixture of fine-grained crystalline and glassy materials, and there are several different types, but they are all characterised by the presence of ‘chondrules’ – tiny, near-spherical beadlike objects about a millimetre in size. Chondrules are named after the Greek word chondrus, meaning grain, and are only found in meteorites. There is no scientific consensus on how chondrules were formed but they are thought to have once been molten droplets in space, formed at very high temperatures, which solidified and aggregated into asteroids.

The Ashdon Meteorite
The Ashdon meteorite is 12cm x 9cm x 6cm in size and weighs 1.27kg. When it landed it weighed 1.3kg, however two pieces were chipped off to find out what it was made of and the Natural History Museum took a thin section for microscopic examination. This plaster cast was made in 1926 using a mould of the original meteorite.

It is a flight-orientated stone. The smooth face of the meteorite was melted by the heat generated as it travelled through the Earth’s atmosphere from space. The face became a shield-shape as white hot molten rock was forced backwards by hypersonic flight. The other side of the meteorite is rough and irregular, as shown in the photograph below.







Meteor Shower Landing Soon! To celebrate the centenary of the fall more meteorites will be on display from Sunday 12 March to Friday 14 April. These rocks from space include meteorites that landed in Africa, Greenland, North America and Russia. You will also be able to see pieces of rock ejected from Mars and the Moon which landed on Earth as meteorites.

In association with the upcoming meteorite display, the museum shop will be stocking Gerald Lucy & Mike Howgate’s booklet, The Ashdon Meteorite for a very reasonable £3 per copy. 

Long Service “Silver Owl” Awards for our Valued Volunteers

On Thursday 10 November, three Saffron Walden Museum volunteers – who have each been volunteering with us for 25 years or more were awarded a certificate and Silver Owl badge at the SHARE Museums East 2022 conference in Ely.  They are:

June Baker 

(pictured left, on the right hand side)

In addition to her regular shifts on the ‘Front of House’ Welcome Desk, June also covers occasional Sundays and Volunteer desk duties in the evenings at the ‘Museum at Night’ events (where she can be seen wearing a witch’s hat and mauve hair!).

She has taken on responsibility for inducting and mentoring new recruits, ensuring that ‘Team Saffron Walden Museum’ consistently deliver excellent customer service at the Welcome Desk.

June is committed to contributing towards the museum’s exhibition programme. She has loaned personal items and stories for many special exhibitions, including accessories for Completing the Look: 300 Years of Fashion Accessories, the Uttlesford: A Community of Collectors temporary exhibition, the National Volunteer week displays and most recently royal memorabilia for Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee.

Jenny Day

(pictured above left hand side)

In her capacity as Welcome volunteer, Jenny is the ‘Face of the Museum’ being the first impression a visitor gets either in person or on the telephone.

Jenny gives a friendly welcome to visitors; sells tickets and merchandise and provides information about the Museum.

As well as the length of service, Jenny has demonstrated amazing commitment, by kindly covering double shifts on the ‘Front of House’ Welcome Desk on a fortnightly basis and coming in to cover other volunteers shifts when they are unable to attend the Museum, even when she herself was struggling with a poorly leg!

Ann Holloway

(pictured below, on the left hand side, with Museum Curator/Manager Carolyn Wingfield)

Over the years Ann has supported the museum in many ways, highlights include:

Ann took part in our co-curated community exhibition, Uttlesford: A Community of Collectors, working with curatorial staff to create a display of her collection of Pestle and Mortars.

In the absence of a Learning Officer at the Museum (prior to Charlotte , our Learning & Outreach Officer being in post), Ann kindly dressed as ‘Mistress Ann’ bringing in her own collection of Tudor artefacts and conducted hands-on history activities with the school children. This really made a positive difference to the school visits and we received wonderful letters of thanks from the school teachers and children.

We extend our congratulations and grateful thanks to them all.



Museum Society Talk, November 2022

Monday 14 November, 8pm in St Mary’s Parish Rooms, Museum Street
Gladiators in Roman Life    Speaker Richard Bale
After so many adventure films and dramas about gladiators,
come and discover how they really lived and died. Richard’s
talk will also cover the two representations of left-handed
gladiators in Britain in Saffron Walden Museum.
Members of Saffron Walden Museum Society £1. Visitors most welcome £3. Under 16 free
(Cash only – sorry, no cards)
Some car parking in front of the Museum opposite St Mary’s Church, Saffron Walden

Artist Commission Call For Proposals: The Lost Language of Nature Project

Call For Proposals
Artist Commission 2022: Saffron Walden Museum
The Lost Language of Nature Project

We’re thrilled to announce an artistic commission with Essex Cultural Diversity Project, to engage and work with diverse local communities on a nature- and language- based artwork.

Essex Cultural Diversity Project and Saffron Walden Museum invite proposals from creative practitioners for a new commission that will respond to the global taxidermy collections at the Museum, exploring with communities and visitors the everyday language used to describe animals and the natural world. Creative responses should aim to illuminate traditional and modern relationships of people with nature and the environment, celebrating diversity, folk and informal knowledge and engage with new communities who may not visit the Museum currently.

Budget: £6,000
Deadline: 27 June 2022

Interviews: Mon 18 July (am) or Tue 19 July (pm)
Suggested Commission Start date: w/c 25 July 2022
Suggested Commission End date: Sat 31 December 2022

Read the full creative brief and apply on the Essex Cultural Diversity Project website

Object of the Month – April 2022

The Museum’s ‘Object of the Month’ provides an opportunity to

explore interesting and unusual objects from our stores. 

April’s Object of the Month chosen by Jenny Oxley, Collections Officer (Human History) is a charred key fob discovered after the Rose & Crown fire in the town on Boxing Day 1969. It forms part of the museum’s new exhibition, All Fired Up, by Essex Fire Museum, which charts the history of Essex Fire & Rescue Service (see more below).

At 1.40am on Boxing Day 1969 a fire broke out. Sadly 11 people died in their sleep, unaware that the fire had even taken hold. 29 people were rescued, some having climbed down from the upper floor windows using knotted sheets. The inquest ruled that the fire was caused by a faulty TV in the resident’s lounge overheating.  Three Saffron Walden firemen received commendations. The fire resulted in the government strengthening the fire safety regulations governing hotels and they passed a new Fire Precautions Act (1971). 

The building erected in its place became Boots the Chemist from 1973 onwards. A bunch of grapes carved in oak and a door canopy are all that remain of the original building. 

More detailed information including eyewitness accounts of the fire can be found in Zofia Everett’s 2008 article published in the Saffron Walden Historical Journal and in Paul Wood’s book, titled From Station Officer Drane

The fire understandably still has a major emotional impact on the town’s residents over 50 years on.  

To find out more visit the Museum in April to see this item on display in our new exhibition, All Fired Up. 

Object of the Month – March 2022

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

March’s Object of the Month chosen by Curator Carolyn Wingfield features three clay tobacco pipe bowls, all recently found in the Castle Street area.

Last autumn, archaeologists monitoring building works at the Fry Art Gallery, Bridge End Gardens recovered two pipe bowls.

In December, sharp-eyed pupils from Year 5 at St Mary’s C of E Primary School discovered a clay tobacco pipe while digging in the school grounds.

In early January, the Museum was delighted to welcome a delegation from Year 5, who very kindly gave their find to the Museum.

Fragments of clay tobacco pipes, especially pieces of broken stems, are common finds. The earliest pipes date from the 17th century, following the introduction of tobacco from America.

Clay pipes continued to be made into the 20th century, although by World War I, smokers were turning to cigarettes and briar pipes.

The three pipe bowls from Castle Street date from the 19th century, when clay pipes were made in great quantities all over the country, and many were decorated with designs or motifs moulded in relief.

The pipe bowl from St Mary’s School probably dates from the later 19th century and has a fine band of leafy decoration within a border running down the front and back of the bowl.

The two pipe bowls from the Fry Art Gallery are very different. One is plain, though a small ‘spur’ beneath the bowl is stamped with the maker’s initial ‘W’.

The other bowl has elaborate moulded decoration. On one side is the badge of the Prince of Wales, three ostrich feathers and the motto ‘Ich Dien’ (‘I serve’). On the other side, a soldier fires a rifle from behind a tree. He wears the tall hat of an early 19th century infantryman.

The archaeologists (Archaeological Solutions Ltd) who were monitoring the works, dated the pipe to around 1820-1840 and suggested that it commemorated the Napoleonic Wars.

Such pipes would have been popular with former soldiers, or might be marketed to landlords of pubs named the Prince of Wales. A clay pipe with a plug of tobacco would be sold over the bar for a penny. There was a Prince of Wales pub in London Road, Saffron Walden in the 19th century, but there were also a number of pubs in Castle Street where pipes would be sold and smoked.

Image (left): all three clay pipe bowls found in the Castle Street area. 

Image (centre): St Marys School pipe bowl, showing the distinctive leafy style design 

Image (right): Detail of the Fry Art Gallery pipe bowl, showing an infantry soldier firing a gun

Many thanks to the pupils, staff and governors of St Mary’s C of E Primary School, and to John Ready and the Fry Art Gallery Society for the donation of these pipes and information on their discovery.

Andy Peachey of Wardell Armstrong LLP Archaeological Solutions Ltd provided the identification of the decorated pipe bowl from the Fry Art Gallery.

To find out more visit the Museum in March to see them on display…