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Saffron Walden Websites
The picturesque medieval town of Saffron Walden is situated in the heart of some of the finest rolling countryside of Essex. It is a small country market town with early origins, the name Walden meaning "valley of Britons". Here is a selection of Saffron Walden links:
TheSaffron Walden Reporter - One of Saffron Walden's local newspapers
SaffronWalden County High School - Saffron Walden's secondary school
Friends' School Saffron Walden - Quaker secondary school in Saffron Walden
Saffron Walden Traditional Steam Fair - traditional fairground attractions including steam roundabout, helter skelter, fair ground sideshows, children's traditional fairground attractions. Based near Saffron Walden.
Tools - Mackays of Cambridge have a massive range of tools.
Saffron Striders - Saffron Walden's running club
Saffron Walden History
Saffron Walden dates back to the Bronze and Iron Age tribes who settled in the area. 'Beaker pottery' of the Bronze Age has been found in the locality as well as relics of Neolithic inhabitants. These early settlers travelled into this part of Essex, then a densely wooded country, along the River Cam and its tributaries. Defensive works were built to protect the site and traces of three of these works remain today - Battle Ditches and Ring Hill Camp which were probably military forts and the series of enclosures known as Grimsditches. Time has taken its toll of all three earthworks. Saffron Walden's Battle Ditches earthwork is nearly 500 feet in length whilst Ring Hill, an Iron Age site, encloses an oval area of over sixteen acres. In the western section of Battle Ditches, over 200 Roman graves were found - one of the very few reminders of the in this part of the country. Their main base was at nearby Chesterford.
If the Romans made little impact on Saffron Walden , the Saxons made a great deal for they, from about the year 700 onwards, built up a village, with a wooden church and castle, on the spur of land between the Slade and Madgate Brooks... This site was defended by a wooden palisade and corresponds roughly to the present High Street - Castle Street - Church Street section of Saffron Walden's town centre.
The Normans occupied the Saxon site of Saffron Walden and they set to work rebuilding the church in stone. They also cleared much of the woodland around the town. Saffron Walden was recorded in the Doomsday Book of 1086, its then importance being indicated by the founding, a little later, of Walden Abbey near the present site of Audley End. Even greater importance followed: first in about 1125 when the Castle was built and then in 1141 when the local market was transferred to the town form nearby Newport. The Abbey granted the town a Tuesday market in 1295. In about 1300 the first Charter was received although Saffron Walden did not achieve full borough status until the Charter of 1549.
Throughout these years the Saffron Walden grew in size and stature and houses were built down the slopes of the hill away from the castle and towards the market place which was created beside Slade Brook. By the 13th century King and Market Streets had been built together with Mercers, Butcher and Drapers Rows for the traders. This basic pattern, built for the medieval trades, can still be followed in Saffron Walden town centre today, a rare and interesting survival.
In the Middle Ages, Saffron Walden was busy and prosperous. Like many other East Anglian towns its wealth was in the wool trade but in addition, there was saffron, used for dyeing and as a medicine, and to which plant the town owes its name. Broadly speaking the wool trade prospered in the 15th century, saffron was uppermost during the 16th and 17th centuries and was followed, through the 18th and 19th centuries, by the production of malt.
These commercial interests were fostered by the formation of two guilds. In 1389 the first of these - the Guild of the Holy Trinity - was founded and acted as a form of early if rather primitive local government. The guilds survived until the Reformation but their closing seemed to have had little effect on either the market or the Saffron Walden's industries. Indeed, throughout these years, many new houses were built and other, formerly of timber, were rebuilt in brick.
This period of prosperity coincided with the flourishing of the saffron industry. The Saffron Crocus was introduced into this country, from Greece and Turkey, by returning Crusaders. It has a striking purple flower and, as well as being used medicinally and as a dye, it also served as a condiment and perfume. The crop was planted for three seasons and then followed a fallow year before growing re-started. The long stigmas were taken out of the plants, dried in a kiln and pressed into blocks. At the height of its prosperity, the industry extended across the surrounding countryside with three acre fields of Saffron (fenced around with hurdles) giving, in due season, a purplish hue to the landscape.
Although the Saffron Walden's name still reminds us of this long basic industry, it had in fact died out by the end of the 18th century, largely killed off by easier and more effective methods of dyeing. Its place in the local economy was taken by the malt and barley trade, and by the general growth of the town as a market and agricultural centre for a highly productive farming country. An attempt was made to broaden the industrial pattern by opening a silk mill but the idea proved a failure. Even the malting trade began slowly to decline as the Victorian era advanced and it, too, was finally killed - largely by heavy taxation. In the later years of the 19th century trade also declined and coaching traffic, at one period of some importance to the town, was reduced as the railways opened. Unfortunately the main line from London to Cambridge by-passed Saffron Walden which found itself located on a branch from Audley End. In those days before the advent of 'park and ride' ideas, a town centre main line station was an undeniable asset and Saffron Walden's fortunes suffered accordingly. Now, of course, the branch line has gone but Audley End station quite effectively serves the town.
Despite these troubles, however, Saffron Walden developed through the 19th century and by the 1860's it had 1,200 houses and a resident population of 5,474. Improvements made in 1862 including improved drainage and water works and a contemporary account referred to the town's 'several good streets and many good buildings'. Saffron Walden had a cattle market that had been opened in 1834; a 'public well' of one thousand feet in depth and, as well as several schools and churches, such amenities as a literary institute, reading room and library were built.
The 20th century saw many changes, although the town retains many of its older buildings and, as mentioned earlier, its original street pattern can still be easily discerned Newer industries have come in to replace the traditional trades and to widen the base of local economic prosperity. Housing estates have sprung up on all sides and the very administration of the town has changed. The Charter of 1549 established a governing body that was the forerunner of Saffron Walden Borough Council that lasted right through until the local government re-organisation of 1974. That Borough Council's tradition is carried on today by the successor Town Council although most major services are provided by the Uttlesford District Council which was created in that re-organisation.