Tag Archives: saffron walden

Object of the Month – June 2022

June’s object of the month celebrates the Lost Language of Nature project, with repair work to this hen harrier. With Lost Language of Nature, we want to hear your stories about wildlife and nature in your life, or rhymes, songs and sayings for all kinds of animals that you might have heard from parents or grandparents. For example, different old names across the country for hen harriers include Blue sleeves, Vuzz kitt, Grey gled, Furze kite and Goss harrier; or Ringtail for females, like this fragile mounted skin. Head to our website for more information https://www.swmuseumlearning.com/the-lost-language-project

This bird came to the Museum in the 1800s, and was taken from the area around Saffron Walden. Today, hen harriers only live in the north of England, north Wales, in Scotland and on Scottish islands, including Arran and Orkney.

Hen harrier on temporary base during conservation work.

Hen harriers today

Hen harriers are one of the UK’s most endangered birds of prey, with only an estimated 545 breeding pairs left in the country. They are on the RSPB’s Red List of endangered species in Britain, but listed as ‘Least Concern’ globally by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Work carried out by the RSPB suggests that over 2,500 pairs could survive in the UK. They live in open areas with low vegetation, like heather moors.

Between 2014 and 2019, the RSPB ran the LIFE project to learn more about hen harriers in Britain, their movements throughout the year and to understand why their numbers are so low. They tagged over 100 birds that they tracked using satellites, and found that some fly 1000 miles to spend the winter in Spain and Portugal. Not all birds do this though – the brother of one of these wandering birds always stayed within 50 miles of where he hatched.

In the UK, hen harriers are protected under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, meaning it is illegal to kill, injure or capture the birds, their eggs or nests, or even disturb the birds and their young while they are nesting. Despite this, the study showed that the numbers of breeding hen harriers fell by 24% (about one-quarter) between 2004 and 2016. In particular, the project monitored seven Special Protected Areas in parts of the country where land is managed for driven grouse shooting. In these seven areas, hen harrier numbers fell by over 80%, which suggests that there is deliberate human action to reduce their numbers in these areas.

References

https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/hen-harrier/

https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/conservation/projects/hen-harrier-life/about-the-project/

https://community.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/skydancer/b/skydancer

https://community.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/skydancer/b/skydancer/posts/hen-harrier-apollo-bomber-migrate-1000-miles-to-spain

https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/conservation/projects/hen-harrier-life/best-places-to-see-hen-harriersnew-page/

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. 

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. 

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

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.

 

 

The polecat comeback

Object of the Month – February 2019

The European polecat, Mustela putorius, was thought to be extinct in Essex since 1880 thanks to persecution from gamekeepers. The first modern sighting was in 1999 near Wendens Ambo and there are now numerous records from north-west Essex, though only from roadkill specimens.

A mounted polecat skin from 1842 and a polecat skull, also from the 1800s.

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Object of the Month -September 2018

September’s Object of the Month is a collection of fossilised teeth chosen by James Lumbard, Natural Sciences Officer.

These fossilised teeth come from the extinct fish Ptychodus (pronounced tie-co-duss) which lived across the Americas, Europe and Asia. They are closely related to modern sharks and rays, but may not have been direct ancestors. Some species grew up to 10 metres long, feeding on the large shellfish that existed during the Cretaceous period, 66–145 million years ago. Although they had similar diet and teeth to modern rays, they looked more like modern nurse sharks, which cruise the seabed for small fish and shellfish.

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Object of the Month – August 2018

Red squirrel - August object of the month

August’s Object of the Month is a red squirrel. The mammal was chosen as Object of the Month by Sarah Kenyon, Natural Sciences Officer.

This red squirrel was found dead at Saffron Walden, Essex in August 2003. It had been run over by a car in Landscape View. A member of the Uttlesford group of Essex Wildlife Trust gave it to Saffron Walden Museum to be preserved. The body was mounted, or stuffed, by a taxidermist. This red squirrel has russet red fur on its body and tail, with white fur on its chest and belly. Male and female squirrels look identical.

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Object of the Month – March 2018

 

March’s Object of the Month is a Holloway brooch. Holloway brooches were given to women who were imprisoned for their involvement in the women’s suffrage movement during the early twentieth century. The brooch was chosen as Object of the Month by Leah Mellors, Collections Officer (Human History) to mark the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918.

Holloway brooches
The Holloway brooch was designed by Sylvia Pankhurst, a campaigner for women’s suffrage. The design is symbolic of the suffragette’s fight for voting rights. The brooch is in the shape of a portcullis and chains, which is the symbol of the House of Commons. In the centre, there is a broad arrow, which was a recognised symbol of government property that was used on prison uniforms. The broad arrow is in the three colours of the suffragette movement: green (symbolising hope), white (symbolising purity) and violet (symbolising dignity).

Sylvia Pankhurst, wearing a Holloway brooch on her collar

The brooches were given to members of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) who had been imprisoned in Holloway prison and other prisons. Some brooches were inscribed with the dates of imprisonment. They were first awarded at a mass demonstration by the WSPU in the Albert Hall on 29 April 1909, which was held to coincide with the meeting of the International Suffrage Alliance. In an issue of the WSPU newspaper, Votes for Women, of 16 April 1909 the brooch was described as the ‘Victoria Cross of the Union’. When WSPU prisoners began to use hunger strikes, the WSPU instituted the hunger strike medal, the first of which was presented four months after the first Holloway brooch.

Women’s Suffrage Movement
6 February 2018 marked 100 years since the Representation of the People Act 1918, which allowed women over the age of 30, who held £5 of property, to vote in parliamentary and local government elections.

The Representation of the People Act was the result of a decades-long campaign by men and women for women’s suffrage. This campaign began peacefully in the late 1800s. In 1897, Millicent Fawcett set up the National Union of Women’s Suffrage, which campaigned for women’s suffrage through peaceful protest and logical argument. Unfortunately, Millicent’s progress was slow and this was not enough for some women, who wanted faster and more direct results. In 1903, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) was founded by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia. In contrast to the peaceful protests of the suffragists, the members of the WSPU, known as suffragettes, were prepared to use militant and violent methods to draw attention to the cause. These militant methods included breaking shop windows, raiding the Houses of Parliament, burning down churches, attacking politicians and even protesting at the gates of Buckingham Palace.

Imprisonment of suffragettes
As a result of the violent acts committed by suffragettes, many were imprisoned, in Holloway prison in London and other prisons around the country. 
The treatment of suffragettes who were imprisoned was often brutal. Many went on hunger strike. A report in The Suffragette on 11 April 1913, stated that Emmeline Pankhurst had collapsed in prison after being on hunger strike for eight days. The hunger strikes concerned the government, who did not want the movement to have martyrs, so prisons guards were ordered to force-feed those on hunger strike.

There was public outcry at the force-feeding of mostly educated women, so the government introduced the Cat and Mouse Act. This Act stated that any suffragette who went on hunger strike whilst in prison should not be force-fed but instead should be allowed to get weaker and weaker, at which point she would be released from prison. She would then either die, or be too weak to take part in the suffragette movement. Once she had regained her strength, she would be rearrested for a trivial reason and the process would start again. In response to the Cat and Mouse Act, the suffragettes became even more extreme, with some blowing up part of David Lloyd George’s house. It is likely that they would have continued with this extreme behaviour but in August 1914, World War I broke out and Emmeline Pankhurst ordered her followers to stop their campaign and support the war effort.

The suffragette movement in north-west Essex
The first suffrage society in north-west Essex was formed in 1906, when Miss Mitchell, of Saffron Walden Training College, became honorary secretary of a Saffron Walden branch of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage. By 1909, two federations of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) had been formed in the area – one covering north and east Essex and the other covering most of East Anglia.  By the end of 1911, a NUWSS society was formed in north-west Essex to cover Dunmow and the surrounding district.

Flyer for a public meeting of the Saffron Walden & District Women’s Suffrage Society

In 1912, a second suffrage society in Saffron Walden was formed, known as the Saffron Walden and District Women’s Suffrage Society. Flyers and programmes in Saffron Walden Museum’s collections reveal that the society held regular events between 1912 and 1914 to raise funds and awareness for the suffrage cause. These included talks by well-known speakers, suffrage plays and musical entertainments.

The President of Saffron Walden and District Women’s Suffrage Society was Gertrude Baillie-Weaver. Gertrude and her husband Harold, who lived in Newport, were both prominent members of the suffrage movement: Harold was an active member of the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage and Gertrude was an early member of the Women’s Freedom League. Under the name Gertrude Colmore, Gertrude wrote many literary pieces on the suffrage movement, including the suffrage novel Suffragette Sally (1911), The Life of Emily Davison (1913) and fictional stories for Votes for Women and The Suffragette. She also regularly spoke at WSPU meetings. 

You can see the Holloway brooch on display in the museum, alongside other items in our collection relating to the suffragettes, until 31 March 2018.

Help us bring the Piano Hoard home

 

In 2017, a hoard of hundreds of coins was found inside a piano in Shropshire. Investigations showed that the coins were hidden by a Saffron Walden resident in the early 20th century.

The coins date from between 1847 and 1915. They were deliberately hidden inside a Broadway upright piano by a Saffron Walden resident sometime in or after 1926. We know this because the piano has a plaque reading ‘Supplied by Beavan & Mothersole, 27 West Road, Saffron Walden’. Beavan and Mothersole were piano suppliers, tuners and music professors.

The coins were placed into small packages and pouches, carefully made from cardboard and covered with fabric. One of the pouches was made from a cereal box and the branding on the box helps us to date it to between 1926 and 1946.

We don’t know why the owner of the piano hid the coins or why they were never retrieved. Perhaps they simply considered it a safe place to hide their family’s wealth. Perhaps the coins were hidden during the Great Depression in the 1930s. The questions surrounding this hoard only add to its intrigue and appeal.

The coins remained hidden until the piano was moved to Shropshire and donated to a local school. A piano tuner discovered the coins and reported it to the local Finds Liaison Officer.

Because of the value of the coins and the fact that they were deliberately hidden, they have been classed as Treasure under the Treasure Act of 1996. The museum would like to acquire a selection of the coins and the piano, so that we can display them in the museum and create education sessions for local schools.

But we need to raise about £3000 to do so. Can you help us bring these coins home to Saffron Walden, where they belong? So far, we have raised £530 so we still have a way to go! Any donations would be gratefully received.    

Cash donations can be made in person in the museum
Cheques can be made payable to ‘Saffron Walden Museum Society’ and sent to Leah Mellors at the museum
Online donations can be made on our crowdfunding page  

For more information, please contact Leah.