Our attention was recently drawn to a recording of a BBC radio programme, in which the English poet John Betjeman (1906-1984) gave a very favourable mention to Saffron Walden Museum.
The radio programme featured some letters of Betjeman to various acquaintances, including one written on 15 July 1937 to Mary Adams, the first female television producer at the BBC. The letter reveals that Mary Adams had asked Betjeman to make a television programme, entitled ‘How to Make a Guidebook’. Betjeman thought this topic to be unimportant, not least because he “loaths museums” – that is, except for a select few! He states in the letter:
“The museums…I simply loath, except the Soane [Sir John Soane’s Museum, London], Saffron Walden, Dulwich Art Gallery and minor provincial collections”.
Betjeman must have visited the museum sometime in the 1930s. At this time, lack of space and lack of money were causing problems for the museum’s trustees. However, visitor numbers were not declining and, as is clear from Betjeman’s letter, visitors seemed to appreciate the museum. In 1932, there was cause for celebration when the museum celebrated the centenary of the Saffron Walden Natural History Society, who established the museum.
We were delighted to hear this high praise for our museum from such a well-respected national figure!