Author Archives: Museum Administrator

Object of the Month – May 2022

Butterflies to See in May

Two drawers of British butterflies are our ‘Objects of the Month’ for May. They contain some of the butterflies that you might spot visiting your garden or local park during May. These butterfly species are the Brimstone, Green-veined White, Holly Blue, Orange-tip, Peacock, Painted Lady, Red Admiral, Small White and Large White.  The drawers are from a wooden cabinet of butterfly specimens collected in Essex and other places in Britain between 1890 and 1968. The collection was donated to Saffron Walden Museum in 2002.

SAFWM : 2002.110.5 Butterfly cabinet drawer 5 containing Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Painted Lady, Red Admiral and Silver-washed Fritillary butterflies.

Butterflies that may hibernate over winter as adults in the UK include the Brimstone, Red Admiral, Peacock, Comma and Small Tortoiseshell.    This means they can wake up bright and early to make the most of sunny spring days. There are 59 species of butterfly in Britain, 57 that live in the UK and two regular migrants – the Painted Lady and Clouded Yellow.

Butterfly Conservation found that 76% of butterflies have declined in numbers and range (occurrence) over the last 40 years due to habitats being destroyed, pollution, weather patterns and climate change. Gardens and balconies are very important for butterflies because they are wildlife corridors. They cover a large area, which according to the RSPB is about 1,500 square miles or twice the size of Greater London. This habitat provides the flowering plants, such as Buddleia, that butterflies need for nectar, or nettles and thistles which are eaten by caterpillars.


SAFWM : 2002.110.2 Butterfly cabinet drawer 2 containing Small White, Green-veined White, Bath White, Orange-tip and Wood White butterflies.

What can you do to help?

Butterfly caterpillars need nettles, thistles and shrubs like Buckthorn to eat, so leave parts of your garden to get wild and overgrown.

Plant cornfield annuals and nectar rich flowering plants such as Buddleia, Lavender, Betony and Red Valerian to provide nectar for butterflies.

Take part in No Mow May or leave part of your lawn uncut until autumn.

Enjoy watching butterflies and do the National Garden Butterfly Survey.


SAFWM : 2002.110 Butterflies from cabinet drawers 3, 11 and 1. Brimstone male and female, Holly Blue males upper side and underside and female, Large White butterflies upper side and underside.

The Hadstock ‘Daneskin’ – new research on an old mystery

One of the exciting research projects to involve Museum collections has featured the scrap of alleged ‘Viking skin’ from the ancient north door of St Botolph’s Church, Hadstock. Local folklore holds that it came from a Viking who was flayed alive as a punishment for raiding the Church. Similar stories of so-called ‘Daneskins’ are associated with church doors at Copford, Essex, and Westminster Abbey, London. It is now 20 years since a tiny sample of the Hadstock skin was analysed at Oxford for the BBC TV series Blood of the Vikings (2001) and the results then suggested that its DNA profile was more cow-like than human. Now University of Cambridge researcher Ruairidh Macleod has used a new DNA analysis technique to investigate the Hadstock, Copford and Westminster Abbey ‘Daneskins’ and presented the results at the UK Archaeological Sciences Conference in Aberdeen last week. There is also an article in the New Scientist

The results confirm that the Hadstock skin is indeed cowhide, and lends weight to the theory that high-status doors, such as important doors in churches, were given hide coverings in the medieval period.

Up in Flames : the lost Roman treasures of Bartlow Hills

The current exhibition All Fired Up! prompts us to consider the local history which has been lost in fires. The fire of 1847 at Great Easton Lodge destroyed some of the most remarkable Roman artefacts ever discovered in the area, from the lavish burials under mounds of Romano-British aristocrats at Bartlow Hills, on the Essex / Cambridgeshire border. Fortunately the finds had been illustrated and published between 1832 and 1840, so we have a good idea of the contents of these great burial mounds, and the luxury goods which were accompanied the dead.

Between 1832 and 1840, the barrows were excavated by John Gage (later known as John Gage Rokewood) for the landowner Henry, Viscount Maynard of Easton Lodge near Dunmow. Saffron Walden Museum’s archives include copies of the original illustrations, published in the journal Archaeologia by the Society of Antiquaries of London, and also large watercolour copies made in 1885 for display in the Museum by its first professional curator, George Nathan Maynard (not related to Viscount Maynard). This selection of images from the Museum’s archives shows just some of wonderful objects discovered, all dating from the first or second centuries AD.


A unique bronze enamelled vessel, like a miniature cauldron. This did survive the 1847 fire, though damaged, and was acquired by the British Museum. Saffron Walden Museum has a 19th-century painted plaster copy. (Society of Antiquaries, 1836)






This beautifully-decorated bronze jug was for serving wine at table. A similar ornate bronze jug was excavated from a burial at Stansted Airport in the late 1980s and is displayed in Saffron Walden Museum. (Society of Antiquaries, 1836)





At the heart of one barrow a burial chamber had been constructed of tiles and contained cremated remains in a glass urn, with other vessels. (Watercolour by G N Maynard 1885)




A rare folding stool with an iron frame and bronze terminals. When excavated, it still had remains of the leather straps which formed the seat. (Watercolour by G N Maynard 1885)






A bronze oil lamp, with other bronze, glass and pottery vessels recovered from one barrow. It is likely that lighted oil lamps were placed in the graves as part of the burial ritual. (Society of Antiquaries, 1836)







Pottery bowl. (Watercolour by G N Maynard 1885)




A Plan of the Bartlow Hills in the Parish of Ashdon in Essex by J G Lenny Surveyor Bury St Edmunds 1832




There were seven barrows originally, though some were damaged by agriculture. The largest survives to a height of 15 metres, making it the tallest Roman barrow in western Europe. Today the site is a scheduled monument and can be accessed via public footpaths from the Bartlow-Ashdon road and Bartlow parish church. Saffron Walden Museum also has a few objects from one barrow discovered during earlier investigations in 1815 by Sir Busic Harwood, a Cambridge physician who loved nearby.

Greater in Spirit, Larger in Outlook

Hot off the press is the news that Epping Forest District Museum in Waltham Abbey and Saffron Walden Museum have received an Arts Council National Lottery project grant of £100,000 to work in partnership on their world culture collections.

The aim of the project is to ensure the museums and their collections reflect their diverse communities by working directly with cultural groups to research different objects and tell their stories.

The project’s title, ‘Greater in Spirit, Larger in Outlook’ is inspired by Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974. Museum staff will work with relevant community groups including the Ethiopian History Society, to explore, explain and exhibit the collection leading to a new permanent display at Epping Forest District Museum, due to be completed in 2022.

A spokesperson from Ethiopian History Society UK said: We are delighted to partner with Epping Forest District and Saffron Walden Museums for this vital project.”

Other cultures represented in the collections include West and East Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.

Both museums are looking to work with relevant community and cultural groups linked to these collections which will lead to a major temporary exhibition in 2023.

Hazel Edwards, Area Director (South East) for Arts Council England, said:

We’re delighted to be able to support a project that will see source communities for these exciting collections given the important opportunity to work with Epping Forest District and Saffron Walden Museums to research, reinterpret and redisplay the material for audiences to engage with, explore and enjoy.

I look forward to the resulting exhibitions and seeing how it might inspire other museums to work with cultural organisations to deliver similar projects.”

Join the team

Funding for the project is being used to support 2 new part-time positions.

  1. Community Connector Collections
  2. Community Connector Audiences

Deadline for applications is Friday 22 April 2022.

To find out more about the roles or to apply visit

For more about the project:

New Special Exhibition – All Fired Up!

Essex Fire Museum and Saffron Walden Museum have collaborated to create a unique presentation of the history of Essex County Fire and Rescue Service, which will go on display at Saffron Walden Museum from Saturday 2 April. 

Research for this exhibition has been undertaken at Saffron Walden Library, Essex Record Office Access Point based at Saffron Walden Library and at the Gibson Library and the Essex Fire Museum. Staff and volunteers also visited the Saffron Walden Fire Station and met current serving fire fighters. Local people have also generously lent archival information and related artefacts for the displays.

Visitors to the exhibition at Saffron Walden Museum will be able to explore some of the fascinating stories of firefighting across Essex. The exhibits include a wide range of artefacts, photographs, uniforms and equipment which trace the history of firefighting from Victorian times to the present-day. It will also feature private and works’ fire brigades, which were particularly prominent in Essex during the 20th century.  

Along with discovering some of the technological developments which have influenced firefighting, visitors will also be able to discover heroic stories of bravery and the human stories behind some of the major incidents which have occurred in the county’s history. The exhibition also touches upon some of the more obscure aspects of local fire-fighting history, including a troupe of fire-fighting scouts, a famous fire-fighting Vicar and the story of how an obscure family pet caused a local mansion to go up in flames.

The exhibition will be held in the temporary exhibitions gallery at Saffron Walden Museum, Museum Street, Saffron Walden, Essex, CB10 1BN from Saturday 2nd April to Sunday 3 July 2022.

A launch event for the exhibition is to be held on Saturday 2nd April, 10am-3.30pm. Vintage Fire Engines and Equipment will be on display on the museum’s forecourt. Standard Museum Admission charges apply.

For more information about the exhibition please contact: Jenny Oxley, Collections Officer (Human History) 01799 510333

More information can also be found on the Museum’s website and on our social media feeds.

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. 

Object of the Month – March 2022

The Museum’s ‘Object of the Month’ provides an opportunity to explore interesting and unusual objects from our stores. 

March’s Object of the Month chosen by Curator Carolyn Wingfield features three clay tobacco pipe bowls, all recently found in the Castle Street area.

Last autumn, archaeologists monitoring building works at the Fry Art Gallery, Bridge End Gardens recovered two pipe bowls.

In December, sharp-eyed pupils from Year 5 at St Mary’s C of E Primary School discovered a clay tobacco pipe while digging in the school grounds.

In early January, the Museum was delighted to welcome a delegation from Year 5, who very kindly gave their find to the Museum.

Fragments of clay tobacco pipes, especially pieces of broken stems, are common finds. The earliest pipes date from the 17th century, following the introduction of tobacco from America.

Clay pipes continued to be made into the 20th century, although by World War I, smokers were turning to cigarettes and briar pipes.

The three pipe bowls from Castle Street date from the 19th century, when clay pipes were made in great quantities all over the country, and many were decorated with designs or motifs moulded in relief.

The pipe bowl from St Mary’s School probably dates from the later 19th century and has a fine band of leafy decoration within a border running down the front and back of the bowl.

The two pipe bowls from the Fry Art Gallery are very different. One is plain, though a small ‘spur’ beneath the bowl is stamped with the maker’s initial ‘W’.

The other bowl has elaborate moulded decoration. On one side is the badge of the Prince of Wales, three ostrich feathers and the motto ‘Ich Dien’ (‘I serve’). On the other side, a soldier fires a rifle from behind a tree. He wears the tall hat of an early 19th century infantryman.

The archaeologists (Archaeological Solutions Ltd) who were monitoring the works, dated the pipe to around 1820-1840 and suggested that it commemorated the Napoleonic Wars.

Such pipes would have been popular with former soldiers, or might be marketed to landlords of pubs named the Prince of Wales. A clay pipe with a plug of tobacco would be sold over the bar for a penny. There was a Prince of Wales pub in London Road, Saffron Walden in the 19th century, but there were also a number of pubs in Castle Street where pipes would be sold and smoked.

Image (left): all three clay pipe bowls found in the Castle Street area. 

Image (centre): St Marys School pipe bowl, showing the distinctive leafy style design 

Image (right): Detail of the Fry Art Gallery pipe bowl, showing an infantry soldier firing a gun

Many thanks to the pupils, staff and governors of St Mary’s C of E Primary School, and to John Ready and the Fry Art Gallery Society for the donation of these pipes and information on their discovery.

Andy Peachey of Wardell Armstrong LLP Archaeological Solutions Ltd provided the identification of the decorated pipe bowl from the Fry Art Gallery.

To find out more visit the Museum in March to see them on display…  


Victorian Valentines and more

A bit of Valentine’s related history for February from our collections!


An invitation to a Valentine’s ball at Wimbish Village Hall, 12 February 1943.  Miss McQueen was well-known locally she had a small farm at Rowney Corner from which people could buy fresh eggs and she also played the organ in the 1970s at the church in Wimbish.





We also have a selection of Victorian Valentines cards. These 19th century designs typically include floral decoupage, lace doilies, ribbon details and lace trimmings. Inside the cards are lovely little poetic verses.








February’s object of the month shows gemstones which are associated with love and romance, to celebrate Valentine’s Day.


4 mineral specimens on a white background. Lines of shade cross the image.

Amethyst geode (top left), sapphire (bottom left), ruby crystals in sheet of mica (middle), lapis lazuli (top right).  

They have been chosen by James Lumbard, one of the museum’s Natural Sciences Officers.  Amethyst is the birthstone for February, but as a symbol of love, St Valentine is said to have worn an amethyst ring so Christian couples in Ancient Rome could identify him. Valentine was a priest who carried out forbidden Christian marriages and married young couples, when the Roman empire persecuted Christians and preferred their soldiers to be unmarried men.









Lapis lazuli can represent truth and friendship, and in Christianity represents the Virgin Mary. With the blue of the sky and gold of the sun, it represents success in Jewish traditions, while beads found in the ancient town of Bhirrana from 7500 BCE are its oldest known use by people. The remains of Bhirrana are in the Indian state of Haryana.

Sapphires are popular for engagement rings, as used for Lady Diana’s engagement ring from Prince Charles. Sapphire is the traditional gift in the UK for a 45th wedding anniversary and can symbolise truth and faithfulness.

In Ancient Greece and Rome, the word sapphire was used for lapis lazuli, as sapphire was only widely known from the Roman Empire onwards.

To find out more visit the Museum in February to see it on display or check out the Object of the Month Blog article on our website.

Holocaust Memorial Day 27th January

Following the occupation of Poland, the Nazis introduced anti-Semitic laws against the country’s Jewish population. Jewish people were segregated, forced from their homes to live in squalid crowded ghettos and had to wear a Star of David to identify themselves. 

In 1942 the Nazis began what they called ‘the Final Solution’ – a plan to exterminate all Jewish people across Europe. Roma gypsies, gay and disabled people, as well as black and mixed-race people were also persecuted and killed. Many Jewish people were taken straight from the ghettos and packed into trucks and trains to be transported to the death camps.

As persecution of Jewish people had become more extreme, the Anglo-Jewish founder of the Central British Fund for Jewish Relief (CBF), Leonard Montefiore, had set up a mission known as the Kindertransport (children’s transport). The CBF provided refuge to 10,000 children before the war, with the first Kindertransport children arriving by ferry at Harwich, Essex, on 2 December 1938.  Nearly 2,000 of these children spent their 1st weeks in Britain at the Dovercourt holiday camp close to the Harwich docks, whilst others were taken directly by train through Essex to London’s Liverpool Street Station to meet their new foster parents.

After the war, Montefiore appealed for funds to transport 300 surviving orphans from Germany, Czechoslovakia and Poland, who became known as the “Windermere Children” to the Lake District in Cumbria, a plan which was put into action in the summer of 1945.  

They were the first intake of a pioneering rehabilitation scheme, which aimed to use the tranquillity of the English countryside to provide a restorative environment for the children after the horrors they had endured.  Heavily traumatised and with none of their own clothes, toys or possessions, and with many of them under 5 years old, it must have been terrifying for them.  The children grouped together and formed their own self-sufficient family unit. Their behaviour was analysed by child psychologists, such as Anna Freud, who later published a study centred around them in 1951. 

The CBF continued its work after the war, with another 432 child survivors brought to Britain. They continued to fund raise, finding the children new homes, schools and apprenticeships.

By January 1946, all the children had left Windermere. Settling into their adult lives during the 1950s and 60s, they put down roots and started families, businesses and careers.

Recounting the stories of the Windermere children and others is essential to ensure that what happened during the Holocaust is not forgotten, or ever repeated. 

(BBC documentary, The Windermere Children, 1st aired 2020)

It is estimated that six million Jewish people died in the Holocaust.

The Red Cross traced the Nazis’ victims, piecing together the extent of the Holocaust and tried to reunite survivors with their families.

A few Saffron Walden connections…..

The Harwich Kindertransport Memorial Appeal

The appeal is currently fundraising for a statue to go on public display at Harwich quayside to commemorate the kindertransport.  The artist commissioned for this project is Ian Wolter who has his studio in Saffron Walden.  It will be a life size bronze of five children arriving in Harwich just before the outbreak of the Second World War.  His work has received numerous prizes including the Arte Laguna Prize (Venice, 2016) and the RomArt Sculpture Prize (Rome, 2017).  One of his bronze life-size sculptures can already be seen on display in the town, it’s called The Children of Calais, which echoes The Burghers of Calais by Auguste Rodin, but in Wolter’s version the children are dressed in contemporary clothing , with one of them holding a lifejacket instead of a key to the city, to provoke debate about the inhumanity of our response to the children caught up in the ongoing refugee crises.

The Association of Jewish Refugees Journal, Volume 14 No.1 January 2014:

Herta Oschinski (b. 1901?) arrived in England from Berlin in June 1939 as a domestic worker at the home of Stanley Thorne, who was connected with the Quaker school in Saffron Walden.  Herta’s daughter Lore arrived in England in August 1939 aged 15 and was interned in Rushen Camp, Port Erin, until April 1941, when she joined her mother in Saffron Walden. 


SW Reporter, February 4, 2010:

Otto Deutsch

A survivor of the Kindertransport scheme who lived in Saffron Walden, spoke of leaving his family in Vienna and his gratitude to the English couple who had taken him in and brought him up.


SW Reporter, February 7, 2008

Francis Deutsch

13-year-old Francis Deutsch waved goodbye to his mother in Vienna in 1939 with no idea that he would never see her again.  The plan had been for her to join him 3 months later in England and for them to then head to America to start a new life together. But they didn’t realise how close to the outbreak of war it was. 

In July 1939, Francis got on a train bound for the Hook of Holland, before getting a ferry to Harwich as part of the Kindertransport and met his foster carers in London.  He received half a postcard every 6 months from his mother once the war began, until one day the postcards stopped, and she was deemed missing, presumed dead.

He went on to study at University, became a lawyer, had a family of his own and later retired to Saffron Walden.  For the 2008 Holocaust Memorial Day, at the age of 82, Francis had an exhibition at the Friend’s Meeting House in the town, telling local school children about the Kindertransport operation and his experiences.


“Veteran Staff Room” (Friends School) by Richard Wright pg. 49-64:

“Out of Nazi Germany and Trying to Find My Way” (book) Irene David, Minerva Press (2000)

Irene David

Irene’s Jewish parents went into hiding in Germany and sent her to safety in England with her non-Jewish step-grandmother, Tanta Julia.  On the way over, at the Belgian border they were beaten, interrogated and strip searched by troops.  Irene arrived in Saffron Walden in 1942 and stayed for two years. She did not find it easy. She found that some youngsters did not accept her strong German accent and in her words, she had to fight for her place in society. However, the Friends School must have made a positive impression on her. She later sent her son to the Junior House, run by Jeanne Barrie, and he stayed on, through the main School, to become Head Boy.


“Veteran Staff Room” (Friends School) by Richard Wright pg. 49-64:

Ruth Michaelis

“I came to England with my brother, Martin, three years older than me, in 1939 as part of the Kindertransport. At the time of my coming to England my only thoughts were about how to survive after my parents, home, language and everything familiar had disappeared – except my brother upon whom I relied as a substitute mother.  The world had suddenly gone mad. Nothing made sense anymore.”

Ruth goes on to tell how she and her brother were fostered by 3 families. She tells of the first family she lived with, that she wet the bed and was beaten by her foster mother.  She chose to believe that as they had had no children of their own they were ignorant rather than cruel.  She later went to the Friends’ School and found comfort from the staff there.  She went on to become a teacher in her own right and gained a GCSE in Child Development, wrote a text book and became a chief examiner for the SW CSE Board. Before later switching to a new career as a psychotherapist.  She speaks about attending her first Kindertransport Reunion in 1989 and having to come to terms with survivor’s guilt as well as her work counselling and educating people about the holocaust.  She believed it was probably the Quakers who originally sponsored her and her brother coming to England with the Kindertransport and that’s how she ended up going to the Friend’s School.  In 1995 there was a reunion of all the Friends’ Schools pupils from the war years.

Collections Focus: 1514 Charter

This beautiful illuminated 1514 Charter can be seen on display in the museum’s Local History gallery.

Here are a few facts about what is contained in the charter…

When Henry VII came to the throne in 1485, he introduced charges for traders, brewers and bakers in
Saffron Walden. The townspeople were not happy about this, as people went elsewhere to sell their goods.

In 1513, a group of townspeople, led by John Leche and his sister Dame Joan Bradbury, petitioned Henry VIII to withdraw these charges but he refused.

The group then devised a plan to form a religious guild in the name of Katherine Semar, a wealthy widow in the town who wanted to leave money for a chantry in her will. They petitioned the king for the right to form this guild.

The petition was successful and on 24 March 1514, Henry VIII granted a charter allowing the Guild of the Holy Trinity to be formed.

The charter allowed the guild to hold land to the value of 20 marks without paying the normal charges and to act as a body in court.

Two months later, on 12 May 1514, Henry VIII granted a second charter to the guild.

The second charter allowed the guild to run the town’s market, a windmill and a malt mill and to keep the profits from them all. This meant that the townspeople no longer paid charges to the king.  In return Henry VIII demanded £10 per year.

More about the 1514 Charter: 

The charter is hand-written in Latin onto parchment and it is decorated with gold leaf and illustrations, including:

Saffron crocuses: Saffron crocuses can be seen on the left-hand-side of the charter. They
symbolise the town of Saffron Walden.

Bodley coat-of-arms: The Bodley coat-of-arms is on the left- hand-side of the charter. Thomas
Bodley was the first husband of Dame Joan Bradbury.

Saint Ursula: Saint Ursula can be seen sheltering her companions with her cloak. The guild was connected with Saint Ursula because they celebrated a four-day fair at the time of her feast-day.

Henry VIII granted the charter. His coat-of-arms: coat-of-arms is at the top of the charter
and his signature is at the bottom.  

Saint Katherine: Saint Katherine, who can be seen with her wheel at the top of the charter,
represents Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s wife at the time. One of the responsibilities of the guild was to pray for the souls of Henry and Katherine.

Katherine Semar: The figure on the right of the charter is probably Katherine Semar. The guild was formed using the money that Katherine left in her will for a chantry.