Author Archives: Museum Administrator

Object of the Month – December 2021

1914 Christmas Gift Box for the Troops

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

December’s Object of the Month chosen by Jenny Oxley, Collections Officer (Human History) is a Princess Mary Christmas gift box, an embossed and monogrammed tin which was intended to be distributed to all members of the armed forces of the British Empire on Christmas day 1914, during World War I.

Following the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, the British Expeditionary Force was sent to the Western Front and was soon joined by troops from the Empire, those from India arriving before the end of the year.  In October 1914, George V’s 17-year-old daughter, Mary, Princess Royal, launched a public appeal to fund every member of the armed forces receiving a Christmas gift.  Shortly before Christmas 1914, advertisements were placed in the British press seeking donations for the “Soldiers and Sailors Christmas fund” and £513,000 was quickly raised.

The funding was used to manufacture small boxes made of silver for officers and brass for all others.  However, there were metal shortages.  Supplies of 45 tons of brass strip, destined to make more boxes, was lost in May 1915 when RMS Lusitania was sunk off Ireland on passage from the USA.  In the latter stages of the war when metal became even more scarce, some of the tins were made from plated base metals or alloys. 

Each tin was decorated with an image of Mary and other military and imperial symbols.  They were typically filled with an ounce of pipe tobacco, a packet of cigarettes in a yellow monogrammed wrapper, a pipe, a tinder cigarette lighter, and a Christmas card and photograph from Princess Mary.  Some contained sweets, chocolates, and lemon drops.   There were also variations on the contents of the boxes for non-smokers, who received a packet of acid tablets, a khaki writing set comprising a case with pencil, paper and envelopes. 

The Committee was also obliged to consider the tastes of other minority groups and it was recognised that if the dietary rules of various religious groups were to be respected, changes would have to be made in the gifts intended for Indian troops. It was decided that The Gurkhas were to receive the same gift as the British troops; Sikhs the box filled with sugar candy, a tin box of spices and the Christmas card; all other Indian troops, the box with a packet of cigarettes and sugar candy, a tin box of spices and the card. Authorised camp followers, grouped under the title of ‘Bhistis’ were to receive a tin box of spices and the card.

The smokers’ and non-smokers’ gifts were both deemed unacceptable by the committee for nurses at the front in France who were instead offered the box, a packet of chocolate and the card.

However, suppliers of the content items had trouble and it was realised that there were still not enough to go round. The Committee resolved the problem by hurriedly buying in an assortment of substitute gifts: bullet pencil cases, tobacco pouches, shaving brushes, combs, pencil cases with packets of postcards, knives, scissors, cigarette cases and purses.  Those sailors who should also have received the lighter as part of their gift, were given instead, a handsome bullet pencil in a silver cartridge case which bore Princess Mary’s monogram. The ‘pencil bullet’ was not fashioned out of real bullet parts – it was simply a pencil with a rounded white metal end that looked like an unfired round when stored inside a brass tube resembling a cartridge case.   

The boxes were originally intended for “every sailor afloat and every soldier at the front” on Christmas day 1914, but with the charity fun in surplus and some feeling that they had been left out, eligibility was soon extended to everyone “wearing the King’s uniform on Christmas day”, later prisoners of war were included, as well as the next of kin of 1914 casualties.  It is estimated that 400,000 were delivered by Christmas 1914, with full distribution completed in 1920, by which time approximately 2.5 million had been delivered.

A Princess Mary Gift Fund Box was a treasured possession of many veteran soldiers of the First World War, even when the original contents – usually cigarettes and rolling tobacco – had long been used. The embossed brass box was air-tight, and made a useful container for money, tobacco, papers and photographs, so was often carried through subsequent service.  Some troops repacked their tins and sent them home to their wives and families.

Further information and acknowledged sources  here:

Historic Walking Tour – the Radical Women of Saffron Walden


Wednesday 10th November, 10am-12.30noon
Saturday 13th November, 10am-12.30noon

Historic creative writing walks with author Hannah Jane Walker on the theme of local radical non-conformist women through time.

This is a free event, though standard admission charges still apply to the museum (adult: £2.50; concessions: £1.25; children: free).

The walk will be exploring radical historical women of Saffron Walden. Each of these women are attached to a specific site within the town. We will begin our journey at Saffron Walden Museum, and then walk between sites. At each site you will learn a little about the radical woman in question and explore their identity and try to bring them to life through simple accessible creative writing exercises. No experience of creative writing is necessary.

The walks will meet at the museum at 10am, then go out on the tour around town, before returning to the museum around 12 noon as the last stop on the tour.

The walk will cover roughly 4k in distance.

Accessibility – all on public pavements. Please note: Saffron Walden is a town with some streets where the pavement is so narrow that scooter and pram access are severely compromised. We will be using some of these paths such as the piece of path along Church Street.

If you wish to attend the walk you can book online via Art Tickets or phone or email the museum directly 01799 510333 or email

More information about the Snapping the Stiletto Project: Campaigning for Equality 

For more information about Saffron Walden Museum:


Object of the Month – November

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

November’s Object of the Month is a bronze and iron lynch pin from an Iron Age chariot wheel, chosen by our Curator Carolyn Wingfield.  It is at least 2,000 years old and was found in Radwinter parish by local detectorist James Patmore, who has kindly loaned it to the Museum.

This lynch pin is far more than just a functional piece of metalwork from a horse-drawn cart; it is a beautifully cast and decorated piece of late Iron Age bronze work and was made for the chariot of an ancient British warrior.

The lynch pin keeps the hub of a wheel in place. In Britain, there is evidence for the use of horses and wheeled vehicles from the Bronze Age, but the use of horses in warfare seems to have developed among the warrior class of Iron Age society. Their mastery of lightweight, two-wheeled chariots, drawn by a pair of native ponies, was described and admired by Julius Caesar, in his campaigns in Britain of 55 and 54 BC:

“In chariot fighting the Britons begin by driving all over the field, hurling javelins, and generally the terror inspired by the horses and the noise of the wheels are sufficient to throw their opponents’ ranks into disorder….even on a steep incline they are able to control the horses at full gallop, and to check and turn them in a moment”.

(Julia Caesar, The Conquest of Gaul, translated by S A Handford, 1951, Penguin Classics)

Some chariot lynch pins have enamel inlay surviving, as on another example on display in the Museum, though this lynch pin, acquired in the 19th century, has one end missing and no record of where it came from. Iron Age lynch pins like these are found occasionally across Britain, and are thought to date from around 300 BC to AD 100. So the Radwinter lynch pin is a very welcome addition to the displays. Who knows, maybe its owner was fighting during Caeser’s campaigns, or the Roman invasion of AD 43, or even Boudicca’s revolt of AD 60-61?

Hair-Raising Half-Term Activities & Revised Opening Hours

Our click and collect activity packs bring our usual holiday craft and learning activities to your home! Each pack contains the materials you need plus exciting stories from our collections.
Please note you will need basic craft materials such as paint, scissors and glue and masking tape.
Get ready for Halloween with our hair-raising half term pack. Make your own climbing spider to scare your friends, some super creepy witch ears to wear trick or treating and a flappy bat or owl.

Your pack will include:
1x flappy bat/owl kit
1x witches ears kit
3 x climbing spider kit
1 x A4 activity booklet including instructions and spooky trail

Available to order now via our art tickets page for £5 each

Once you have ordered your pack you can come to the museum on either the 26th or 27th of October to collect, any time during our opening hours. Please bring along your order number so we can check you off our list.

We often use re-purposed materials in our packs and as such there will be slight variations between packs. We use recycled materials to keep the pack costs down for you and the planet.
Children should be supervised at all times when carrying out the activities, packs may contain small parts unsuitable for young children.
Thursday 28th October, 6.30-8.30pm
Museum at Night – Spooky Forest

Strange creatures are abroad in Saffron Walden Museum. Come and hunt them down next Thursday from 6.30pm and see if you can solve the true or false trail! No need to pre book. Trails are £1.50 (this doesn’t include entry to the Museum). Explore the museum by torch light. Collect a spooky forest pack from the Welcome desk. Why not come dressed up to!
Revised Opening Hours

Currently our opening hours until the end of this week are:
Thursday-Saturday: 10am – 5pm
Sundays and Bank Holiday Monday: 2pm-5pm
CLOSED Monday-Wednesday

For half-term week, the Museum will be open Tuesday 26 – Saturday 29 October 10-5pm, and Sunday 31 October 2-5pm.

From November, our opening hours will be Wednesday-Saturday 10-4.30pm, Sunday 2-4.30pm. Closed Mondays. Open on Tuesdays for school visits, group bookings and pre-booked events only.

Admissions: Adults £2.50; Concessions £1.25; Under 18s Free.
Admission not included with event tickets.

Phone: 01799 510333

CV Walden Archive (Covid-19 epidemic)

During 2020 and 2021 we sought local people’s experiences of the Covid -19 epidemic.

Details of the project can be found here         

CV Walden Archive 


Here’s a cross section of the material which has been submitted:

Diaries & Contemplative writing….. 

Lucy age 11 Clavering school

Artist Victoria Parker Jervis made a visual record of her lockdown days….

1st Saffron Walden Girls Brigade

Anabelle Atter – Covid Christmas in her own words

Lockdown Diary by Ann Holloway  – Summer 2020 – May 2021

Caring through Corona by Emily Ranoble

Covid-19 Coronovirus by Gillian Mulley

Suitcase by Ian Miller Castle Street Saffron Walden May 1st 2020

SWAN (SW Antenatal group) formed 37 years ago is still going strong as a social & support women’s group, they share their viewpoints about the Covid epidemic

Littlebury News week 3








WhatsApp in the time of Coronavirus by the Inner Wheel

Sestina-Stay inside by Sebastian Page

Covid Waves by Teresa Cobalchini

Living through the Coronavirus Pandemic by B. Davidson

Safe by Carey Dickinson

The Corona Ghost Of Platform Nine by Hester Wolter

Covid-19 April 2020 by Jean Little

Under the Crack Screen of my Phone by Jess Dickinson

Life In Lockdown by Karina Bailey-Watson

Photographs, Artwork & more…. 

5th Saffron Walden Incas Cub Scouts:

Granta Chorale – ‘Singing in a Choir’ Virtual Performance 

Brian Harvey, Littlebury : Sky West band):  20/20 Vision, is the title track of an EP by Harvey’s band, Sky West, it was written during the 1st lockdown and recorded in the summer of 2020 when some of the restrictions were lifted – we were socially distanced in a barn! It can be found on Bandcamp, Spotify and YouTube under Sky West 20/20 Vision.  An accompanying video is also available on YouTube at the following link (copyright Sky West)                            


NHS themed Collage by Temperance Kehoe

Sue Knowles teaching her Year 3 class online remotely during lockdown. Here they are working on the book – Varjak Paw by SF Said. There was a feeling of teachers having to reinvent themselves throughout the terms, combining online learning for the majority and class learning for the children of essential workers and limits on class sizes and the creation of class/year ‘bubbles’

Sandra Beale ran online STEM education sessions which were very much welcomed as the majority of families were home schooling.

April 2020, Pascale J. Fowell reimagined the tune of “My Favourite Things” by Rodgers and Hammerstein to create her songs in praise of her local village bakery Days of Ashwell in Great Chesterford during the Covid-19 lockdown. 

Thanking essential workers.  copyright Lynne Blount

Spaces locked down to discourage people from congregating in public places.  copyright Lynne Blount

Thanking the NHS.  copyright Lynne Blount

Thanking the NHS.  copyright Lynne Blount

Thanking the NHS.  The rainbow symbol was widely used.  copyright Lynne Blount

Official NHS guidance.  copyright Lynne Blount

Spaces locked down to discourage people from congregating in public places.  Children’s playgrounds were later re-opened before many other spaces. copyright Lynne Blount

Thanking the NHS. copyright Lynne Blount

Social distanced queuing by Les Dobson

Deserted streets in Saffron Walden. Copyright Dominic Davey (SWCC)

Manchester Field Hospital 2020 (former station) by Elaine Atchison (artist based in Elsenham, Nr. Bishop’s Stortford)


Latest News: Blog article by our Artist in Residence, Heidi Sharp (Snapping the Stiletto project)

Earlier this summer, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to become the artist in residence at Saffron Walden Museum in collaboration with the Snapping the Stiletto project.

The aim of the residency was to use the resources available at the museum to inspire and drive my work, with the end result of creating something that reflected the Essex woman, from a more historical perspective, challenging the very misconstrued idea of the modern ‘Essex girl’.

Being from Essex, this has always been a problematic term for me, one that belittles us and wrongly portrays us.  It feels so far from all the real Essex girls I know and love, and I was keen to produce something that truly identifies us and our roots – celebrating us for the strong-willed women I have always known us to be.

Throughout my time at the museum, I’ve really been given the opportunity to learn more about the ‘Essex Woman’ with thanks to the vast wealth of knowledge that was suddenly made available to me. Very early into the residency I was lucky enough to get my hands on the diaries of local woman, Evelyn Coleman, previously Evelyn Nee Parker. These diaries dated back as far as 1940 and continued all the way through to 2009. This was particularly interesting as I could get a good feel of a journey of a place and a time, much before I was born, right into a year that I can relate to and remember. 

However, it was the earlier years of these diaries that intrigued me most for this project. Evelyn speaks about the war as a teenager and then in time, ends up joining the land army. This insight into the land army made me think also about our county’s connections to agriculture, with East Anglia being recognised as the ‘most productive crop producer in the UK’.

It was this, alongside a cross stitch piece by a young girl who went by the name Martha Smee that can be found in the Costume, Textiles, Toys and Games gallery, that inspired the floral element within the wall hanging that I later went on to produce. I chose the common poppy to feature in my work after I researched whether Essex had a flower associated to it – and indeed, it was the common poppy. Further research taught me that the common poppy was also recognised in Roman and Greek culture as a sign of fertility of the land, therefore, it seemed most appropriate to include it (not to mention our Roman links – with Colchester being the first Roman capital of Britain!).

The work also includes a stiletto – inspired by the one on show in the Costume, Textiles, Toys and Games gallery. I decided that this object deserved centre stage in the work, with the ‘Essex girl’ so often associated to white stilettos, and as a nod to the group that helped make this happen – Snapping the Stiletto. It’s a fierce looking object, particularly when blown up to the scale I’ve made it on my work. Its name is derived from the stiletto dagger, due to its small stature and fine, sharp point. This tool was used within the textile industry, initially to create holes in animal skins so that they could be laced together, however their design and use has become broader and more sophisticated throughout the years.

Whilst there is plenty more I could say about this piece, one of the most important parts I am yet to mention is the back of the wall hanging. The whole piece has been screen printed by myself, and the front entirely designed by me. However, the back is a more collaborative effort that stemmed from a mono-printing and collage workshop I ran with a group of local women. Over the course of the residency, I had the pleasure of running a couple of workshops, the first being with this group of women whose work has become part of the finished piece. Using photos and other resources from the museum’s library, the participants breathed new life into these images, by reimagining them in a different medium. Mono-printing is quite an unforgiving method and likely not best suited to those whom consider themselves perfectionists, but the outcomes you can achieve are truly beautiful, and can even be somewhat haunting, and as the name suggests – each one is unique.

With the whole theme of this piece being about women and Essex women specifically, it felt important to me that this was somehow included in the work. After kindly being given permission by the artists to use their work, I spliced them together digitally and created a screen print of them altogether. A nice finish to what now feels even more so like a community project – something that represents many of us, made in collaboration.

Heidi Sharp, Artist in Residence, Saffron Walden Museum as part of the Snapping the Stiletto Project, kindly funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

For more information about Heidi’s work with us as Artist in Residence, please check out the Museum’s learning site


Latest News: Talk: How to make a museum out of your own life

Tuesday 21st September, 2pm 

Talk: How to make a museum out of your own life

Rachel Morris was brought up not far from Saffron Walden. Her book, ‘The Museum Makers’, began when she opened up the boxes of old family mementos under her bed and saw inside them the entire history of her bohemian family. 

Despite all the years she had been running a museum-making company (called Metaphor) this was the first time that she realised that, just as museums are about making meaningful sense out of the confusion of the world, so – in what we do with our pasts and how we try to make sense of them – we are all museum-makers. 

Her book is part history of museums, part memoir of a wayward and bohemian family, part manual of how to make a museum out of your own life. 

Threaded through it are the themes that fascinate her most, of time and memory and museums and the stories families tell themselves and others. 

And it includes a section on Saffron Walden Museum, which was the first museum she ever visited.

Contact the Museum on (01799) 510333 or email to book a place at her talk to be held in the Museum on 21st September at 2pm. 

For more information about Rachel Morris and her book check out her social media and her publishers 

@MoMarcoPolo  @rachelmorris writer

Essex Bigger Weekend – 18th September 2021

The summer may be nearing its end, but that does not mean the fun has to stop – as free access to top attractions in Essex is being offered to residents!

Tickets for a wide range of experiences across the county are up for grabs as tourism body Visit Essex launches this year’s Essex Bigger Weekend campaign.

With the county boasting dry and mild weather throughout the autumn, it is the perfect time to venture outside and explore some more.

From August 18, residents from Essex, Kent and East Sussex can enter a ballot to be in with a chance of securing free tickets and vouchers for popular attractions, hotel and restaurants – from Colchester Zoo, Escape Live and Chelmsford City Racecourse, to open-top bus tours of Clacton, cream teas at Tiptree Tea Rooms, white water rafting at Lee Valley and trips to Colchester Castle.

They are just a few of the attractions, cafes, pubs and accommodation giving free access this autumn, with pairs of tickets and family tickets valid from September 18 for a month…and beyond.

Whether you are grandparents keen to take grandchildren out for a day away from the crowds, a couple looking for a romantic midweek date or a family intent on making up for lost time, there is something for everyone in the Essex Bigger Weekend ballot.

Cllr Mark Durham, Chair, Visit Essex, said: “Essex is not just alive with fun things to do in the summer; long into the autumn – and beyond – there are endless activities and attractions to keep families, couples and explorers entertained and enthralled.

“Essex Bigger Weekend is a great way to thank residents for showing their support to venues and attractions across the county since the easing of restrictions allowed. It is an exciting time as our businesses reopen and get back to what they do best – making our county a hotbed of wonderful things to do, beautiful places to visit and surprising hidden treasures.

“Usually giving free access to attractions for just one weekend, the campaign is longer this year – with more than a month to gain free access to your favourite places or to try somewhere new.”

Visit from August 18 to apply for your free tickets before the ballot closes on September 6.

Successful bidders will be notified of any tickets they have secured.


Object of the Month – September 2021

We are celebrating staycations with September’s ‘Object of the Month’. The shell of this Edible Crab, Cancer pagurus, was found on the coast of Britain before 1970. It was chosen by Sarah Kenyon, one of the Natural Sciences Officers at the Museum.

Edible Crab

This is the largest species of crab living in the seas around Britain. The shell, or carapace, can reach a size of 25 cm across. Edible Crabs may live for twenty years. This large orangey-brown crab can be recognised by the pie crust edge of its thick, oval shell and the black tips on the end of its claws.

Edible, or Brown Crabs, live on the lower shore and in the sea, down to a depth of 100 metres. They can be found hiding under rocks on rocky shores, or amongst weeds off the shoreline. The predator comes out to hunt for mussels, whelks or smaller crabs and will dig in the sand for razor clams and other shellfish.

Growing Up

To grow in size crabs shed the shells that have become too small in a process called moulting. Female crabs move inshore to moult and mate with male crabs in late spring. They move offshore again later in the summer and fertilise their eggs in late winter. The eggs are carried around for about six weeks before they hatch as planktonic larvae. Young crabs can often be found sheltering amongst the rocks on rocky shores. Large, older males move great distances from the shoreline to depths of 100 metres offshore.    

This species of crab is the most popular one to eat in Britain. To find out more visit the Museum in September to see the Edible Crab on display.


© Saffron Walden Museum