Saffron Walden is a picturesque, medieval town, in north-west Essex. It has a rich heritage of old buildings reflecting its wealth as a rural market town. The name Saffron comes from the valuable Crocus sativus crop, which was cultivated here between the 15th and 18th centuries and was used as a dye, flavouring and medicine.
There are many interesting historic buildings in the town. At the heart lies St Mary’s Church, the largest parish church in Essex. Fine examples of elaborate moulded plasterwork (pargetting), can be seen on the Old Sun Inn and the houses in Castle Street & Bridge Street. Also of note are the Eight Bells, the timber-framed Cross Keys, and the medieval building located at 1 Myddylton Place.
Nearby, Saffron Walden Museum is of particular interest. The collections are housed in one of the oldest purpose built museum buildings in the country, completed in 1835. It has everything from mammoth tusks to mummies, from an early Tudor bed to a natural history museum gallery. In the grounds of the museum are the ruins of the Castle keep which dates back to the 1130s or 40s.
Bridge End Garden is a real jewel and an environment of great charm on the north side of Saffron Walden. Careful restoration has replicated gardening techniques and designs typical of the Victorian era and brought the garden back to its full splendour. The hedge maze is of particular appeal to children. The path into the garden passes the Fry Art Gallery which houses a collection of works by a Great Bardfield group of artists who settled in the Essex countryside in the 1930s.
The attractive Common is the oldest of Saffron Walden’s open spaces and on its eastern side is the largest turf labyrinth still surviving in Europe. Children of all ages enjoy following the ‘path’ through the turf, which winds for about one mile within a circle 100 feet (30.5 meters) in diameter.
A market has been held here since 1141, and market days are now Tuesdays and Saturdays. Shoppers enjoy browsing & buying goods from a number of different market stalls. Beyond the Market Place in Saffron Walden, there are many independent shops and eating places to choose from. Many small business premises are located in the Rows, which were the town’s shopping centre from medieval times onwards.
For more information, attraction opening times, or for a free copy of the Saffron Walden Town Trail, please contact Saffron Walden Tourist Information Centre on 01799 524002 or see www.visitsaffronwalden.gov.uk