Saturday, 17 January 2015

Saffron Walden

Cambridge is surrounded by a ring of market towns at a distance of fifteen to twenty miles from the city. Newmarket, Ely, St Ives, St Neots, Royston and Saffron Walden all had markets serving the local population, saving them the long journey to Cambridge. Among these towns Ely with its magnificent cathedral is the major magnet for tourists, but Saffron Walden despite lacking a cathedral would be equally worthy of their attention.


Other market towns which retain their medieval architecture are sleepy little places which the modern world has passed by. They had a period when they flourished - usually as a result wool production - then stagnated. Saffron Walden had its heyday too, but its still a busy place today.


The town was granted a market charter around 1300, though a market was in existence before that. Its wealth increased further during the boom years for wool and then, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the area became famous for growing the saffron crocus. 
                                                                                                              This little plant was the basis for the production of perfumes, medicines, dyes and even aphrodisiacs. It was so important to the economy of the area that the town became known as Saffron Walden.

The coat of arms of the town features saffron flowers surrounded by a castle wall. This is a fine example of a rebus, a type of visual pun which was very popular in medieval heraldry: it's a saffron walled-in, get it?


During the English Civil War the town was, like much of East Anglia, firmly on the side of the Roundheads and for a time Oliver Cromwell made his headquarters here, reputedly in The Sun Inn. 


The inn must have been a popular base for the soldiers of the New Model Army and, though the inn has closed, the military presence remains in the shape of ghostly soldiers who still haunt the rooms.


The equally ancient Cross Keys Hotel has more ghosts from the period, including soldiers and a lady who's said to have been Cromwell's mistress.


In later years the Puritan influence in the town gave way to the Quakers, who were instrumental in the further growth of the town. In particular the Gibson family, who were among the founders of Barclays Bank, contributed many fine buildings to the town, including the pretty little library above.


Needless to say, perhaps, this photogenic little town gave rise to lots of photos, which I'll be sharing with you soon. And the perceptive among you will have noticed a fine church in the first photo and, yes, we'll drop in there too. But before I go today I'd like to show you this...


....in a corner of a large meadow known as The Common is this intriguing feature. It's a "turf maze". No one seems to know how old it is - apart from "very old" - or exactly how it was used. You can obviously always see where you are, unlike hedge mazes. My bet is that there was some kind of game played here, though just how it was played has been forgotten.


Take care






19 comments:

  1. Very interesting old buildings. That looks like a labrinth pattern in the turf rather than a maze.

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  2. beautiful little town, i love the brick streets and sidewalks.

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  3. John, I loved this series about a beautiful town. I have a former au pair for my kids who now lives in Saffron Walden with her husband and three kids. I had no idea it is such a pretty town.

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  4. Wonderful photos, John. I'm looking forward to the rest.

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  5. Nice town and I visited it 2 years ago. You can feel the past in the air

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  6. It's been about 12 years since I used to pass through there regularly. I love the history behind that town and others surrounding it. Happy days!

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  7. Great photos of a lovely town, John. I noticed the display of books outside the books and antiques shop, nice!

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  8. I bet the pubs are awesome, but only open until 11pm, boo hoo!

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  9. Fascinating and beautifully photographed, as always. Imagine what would have happened to Cromwell's reputation if news of his mistress had leaked out; in my best Richard Wilson voice: "I don't believe it." I can't remember the last time I was in Saffron Walden, had forgotten how photogenic it is and love the origin of the name. Did you know that Croydon is derived from 'saffron valley'? Just thought I'd mention it, for the next time you're there.

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  10. Really enjoyed this post and the pictures. I'm curious, does saffron the spice come from these crocus?

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  11. Love seeing these parts of the world through your stunning photographic perspective.

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  12. Great photos, and loved hearing about the history of this cute little town.

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  13. I've never been to Saffron Walden so thanks for an interesting tour! Lovely photos.

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  14. One of my favourite English towns and a useful stop-off between Yorkshire and the South East. We've a few treasures in Lankester Antiques and Books too!

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  15. What a beautifully sweet town....photogenic indeed !!

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  16. Not much , or rather too much that I could say about this post. Mainly I would like to sincerely thank you for it and yes, that wonderful Gothic church jumped out at me like a Jack-in-a-box. I wonder that Puritan Oliver had time for a mistress or even an inclination for one being so fanatical about his cause.

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  17. Lovely photos. Yes, it does look like a turf labyrinth. The church stands beautifully over the town and I look forward to learning more about this. I remember visiting the town many years ago with someone who was interesting in pargetting which I think this town is noted for:)

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  18. What a gorgeous place--that church soaring above the town is dramatic. I remember Mom talking about saffron and how it was grown and used. She sometimes made saffron rice, when she could afford those expensive little petals.

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  19. I lived in Saffron Walden for 8 years, and my son still does ! I have also taken lots of photos of this lovely town, they are not as good as your's though ! You missed out Bridge End Gardens ? Very Photogenic !

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