Essex is well known for its rich diversity, and the charming medieval market town of Saffron Walden certainly doesn’t disappoint.
Located in the north west of the county, Saffron Walden got its name from one of its major industries – the saffron crocus! In the 16th–17th centuries, the saffron crocus (otherwise known as Crocus sativus) was widely grown, thanks to the town’s favourable soil and climate. Used in medicines, as a condiment, in perfume, as an aphrodisiac, and as an expensive yellow dye, the stigmas were very valuable – hence the naming of the town.
Although the saffron industry was replaced by malt and barley by the end of the 18th century, the new industry proved valuable and more than 40 maltings stood in the town by the ends of the century.
Another snippet of Saffron Walden’s history comes in the form of the market. A market has been held in the town since 1141, and now shoppers can enjoy browsing and buying goods from an excellent variety of stalls every Tuesday and Saturday.
The town’s buildings have also been maintained over the centuries, and Saffron Walden boasts the magnificent Jacobean mansion Audley End House and Gardens and St Mary’s Church – the largest and one of the most beautiful parish churches in Essex.
Audley End House was once one of the largest mansions in England, and is now under the care of English Heritage and open to the public. During the summer months, picnic concerts and a last night in the style of the BBC Proms have been held in the extensive grounds. Within the adjoining woodland, you can find the Audley End Miniature Railway ride, which was originally built by Lord Braybrooke and boasts 1.5 miles of wondrous adventure.
On the north side of the town, you can find the wonderful Bridge End Garden, which is a restored Victorian garden made up of seven interlinked gardens. These include a rose garden, a walled garden and a sunken Dutch Garden. Restored with help from the Heritage Lottery Fund and volunteers, there is even a formal knot garden, kitchen garden and a popular yew hedge maze.
For those looking for even more culture, Saffron Walden is home to the Saffron Walden Museum, which was established in 1835 by Saffron Walden Natural History Society, and houses a wide-ranging collections covering the history of north-west Essex, from ancient times to the present day, and many other wonderful objects from the wider world.
For art lovers, the Fry Art Gallery exhibits the work of artists who had an association with Saffron Walden and north west Essex. The unique collection of work by 20th century artists who have lived in and around Great Bardfield and Saffron Walden includes Edward Bawden, Michael Rothenstein, Eric Ravilious and others, celebrating paintings, books, prints and ceramics.
Saffron Walden has something for everyone, from fine dining to tranquil cafes, somewhere to walk or somewhere to sit and relax – certainly worth a visit!