Category Archives: Exhibitions

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 – February 2022

February’s Objects of the Month are minerals with connections to love and relationships, in honour of St Valentine’s Day on 14 February.

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 (right).

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.

The deep red colour of high-quality rubies means it is associated with love and passion in modern societies. Throughout history it has been popular in Burma (Myanmar), Hindu culture and China as a protective gem in battle or to secure good fortune when put beneath a building’s foundations. In the UK, it is the traditional gift for a 40th wedding anniversary.

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. Ruby and sapphire are actually the same mineral (corundum), with different colours depending on small amounts of other metal atoms included in the crystal. Chromium makes the ruby red, while blue sapphires are coloured by iron and titanium.

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)


Easton Lodge – major fires in 1847 and 1918

The gardens, grounds and estate of Easton Lodge, Little Easton, close to Dunmow, date back to Tudor times. In 1590, they were granted to Henry Maynard who later built a house there.  

In 1847 a disastrous fire broke out in the mansion at 3am, destroying almost all of the Elizabethan parts of the building. Lord Viscount Maynard (Lord-Lieutenant of Essex), his wife, Lady Maynard, their daughter, the Honourable Miss Maynard and their servants attempted to halt the spread of the fire using sections of carpet and buckets of water, but it was in vain. 

Despite having the estate’s small fire engine and the Thaxted engine onsite they were unable to put the fire out. Their efforts to call for more assistance were hampered when they found the alarm bell rope tangled and unable to be used.  Thankfully everyone was safe.  The collections of books, paintings and fine furniture were salvaged and the horses were moved to safety.  However, so many features of the original house such as the old turret clock were lost forever.  After the fire it was discovered that although the estate’s farms had been insured, the mansion and its contents were not.  The house was rebuilt in brick and stucco in the Victorian Gothic style to the designs of Thomas Hopper, in what turned out to be his last commission before his death. 

In 1865, the Easton Lodge estate was inherited by 3 year old Frances ‘Daisy’ Maynard, following the deaths of her father and grandfather. She went on to marry Lord Brooke (who later became the Earl of Warwick).  The couple chose to live the majority of their time at Easton Lodge, rather than in their London home.

In 1918, there was yet another major fire at Easton Lodge. One of Daisy’s pet monkeys fell ill and was wrapped in a blanket and taken into the night nursery.  It sat on the stove for extra warmth and the blanket subsequently caught fire.  The monkey panicked and ran around the room with the burning blanket in its wake, igniting the curtains and upholstery.  The Dunmow Fire Brigade was called out.  Unfortunately, the fire spread so quickly that the private quarters in the west wing, the kitchen and the servant’s quarters were all gutted by fire, with the loss of numerous letters and papers belonging to the Countess, but thankfully there was no loss of either human or animal life!

After this fire, the couple employed the architect, Philip Tilden, who designed Selfridges in Oxford Street, to plan the re-build. The west wing was constructed as a separate building, becoming what was later known as Lady Warwick’s Great Room (this is now the present Warwick House, home of the Creasey family from 1971-2010). However, the Countess’ finances were in a downward spiral, and many of Tilden’s elaborate plans for Easton Lodge never came to fruition.  The majority of the estate was sold to cover her debts around 1919.  

The print of an engraving of Easton Lodge completed by Henry Adlard, after an image drawn by W Bartlett which was published in 1832 by George Virtue.

Print showing Easton Lodge after the fire of 1847, it shows a fire engine which probably belonged to the estate.


Introduction to Early Fire-Fighting

In the 17th century, when the majority of houses were thatched, fires were catastrophic and spread very quickly.  The Great Fire of London in 1666 destroyed over 13,000 houses and left thousands of people homeless.  Fire was a very real threat to people’s lives and livelihoods, as in many ways it still is today.  

The earliest fire-fighting groups were employed by fire insurance companies from around 1715 onwards, though these were largely in the most urban areas. Lead fire-marks were used to identify insured properties and avoid fraud, as prior to 1840 houses were rarely numbered.  They included the insurance company’s name and the householder’s policy number.  Later more decorative copper alloy plates were introduced, which functioned more as an advert for the insurance companies. 

Two examples of early fire-plates., one with the sun symbol (seen as warding off the evil eye) and a later Norwich Union Society example can be seen on display in our Local History Gallery.

The earliest engines were pumps on wheels which were designed to suck water from the nearest substantial water sources, usually the local pond or stream. They required up to 30 people to operate them effectively.  The first mechanical fire engines had been invented in the 1650’s and the first horse-drawn Newsham-type hand pump engines were introduced around 1700, but it was longer still before more effective steam-powered fire engines came into widespread use.  In many rural areas they would have had little more than a fire hook (with which to tear down burning thatch in order to prevent a fire spreading further) and a stock of buckets with which to fight a fire.

By the 19th century, larger parishes and private estates began to purchase their own fire-engines.  Archives show that in Saffron Walden, parish officers and local fire office agents regularly met during the 1830s and a “new large (fire) engine” was purchased by a group of local insurance companies. 

The Saffron Walden Volunteer Fire Brigade was officially formed on 1st May 1865 with 16 volunteers.  The 1866 Almanac states they had “two powerful engines, one belonging to the town which has been thoroughly repaired, and the other an entirely new one by Merryweather and Son, plus a hose reel with 500ft of canvas hose and 400ft of leather hose and a set of fire escape ladders which will reach to a height of 42ft. The members are supplied with a waterproof tunic, helmet and knee boots.”  

On display in the temporary exhibition you can see original examples of the early rules and regulations documents of the Saffron Walden Volunteer Fire Brigade.

Great Dunmow Parish had two fire engines in the 19th century, one of these is now on display in the stable block at Audley End House.  Stansted Mountfitchet had a similar engine as well.

In the early 1900s, the fire brigade in Saffron Walden would have been called out by pressing a bell outside the original council offices at No. 3 Hill Street, next to the Fire Station. This connected with the Police Station, who then raised the alarm.  A siren at the Gas Works then called the firemen out.  On hearing the alarm Dick Williams the brigade’s driver would have taken the horses out of their stables on Freshwell Street and led them around to Hill Street, before harnessing them to the fire engine.  Valuable time was obviously lost in responding to fires.

Saffron Walden Fire Brigade 1905

Another new engine was acquired in 1911, which enabled the brigade to tackle a larger number of stack fires, which in such a rural area were very commonplace.


Coats of Many Colours: A brief history of fire-fighting uniform

When the early fire office and insurance company brigades were formed they introduced very colourful uniforms so that they could be easily identified.

By the 19th century there were so many different brigades in operation: insurance, volunteer, parish, institutional, estate, industrial, as well as combined police-fire brigades, it was almost impossible to have any standardisation in uniforms at all.  Some wore tight woollen tunics over velvet-like breeches, with leather helmets.  Others wore sombre grey trouser suits.  Some of the London brigades even adopted naval fashions, wearing low top hats (beavers), white canvas trousers and short double-breasted tunics, similar to a naval midshipman’s jacket. 

The Metropolitan brigade were different again, adopting blue double-breasted tunics with stout waterproof trousers and Napoleon style leather boots, which were cut higher at the front for added knee protection. Brass helmets began to be more commonly worn, which had raised peaks and broad protective neckpieces for added protection.  Higher ranking officers tended to wear silver coloured helmets, as well as gilt badges, gold braiding and shoulder epaulettes to denote their higher status.


Brass helmet, late 19th century worn by the Saffron Walden Volunteer Fire Brigade – adapted French Pattern style made by Merryweather


In the run up to the Second World War, as part of Air Raid Precautions most brigades swapped their brass helmets for cork ones and wore rubber boots, to reduce their chances of electrocution. By 1939, however these had been changed for steel “battle-bowler” helmets which could be easily and cheaply mass produced.  They could also be boiled unlike the cork ones, which was crucial at a time when people feared blister gas attacks.  Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) volunteers were generally provided with peaked caps, overalls, rubber boots and a helmet.  Officers in the AFS tended to wear white helmets with red markings denoting their rank.  Regular brigades had two working uniforms, whilst the AFS had to struggle along with one, so they were often forced to clean equipment at their stations in their long-johns whilst their uniforms’ dried out! 

The fire brigades were nationalised in 1941 for the duration of the Second World War and with this came more standardised uniforms. Lower ranks wore a fire tunic for all occasions, whilst officers had a dark blue undress uniform, as well as a fire tunic with rank markings on the shoulders. 

When the fire services denationalised in 1948, 140 fire authorities were created (compared to the 1440 authorities that had existed pre-war). Post-war uniforms incorporated major technological improvements in fabrics, which reflected that the brigades were now tackling more hazardous situations, such as industrial accidents and complex road traffic accidents.  Naval style pullovers were introduced for more informal occasions and firemen’s helmets began to be painted canary yellow, with officer’s ones remaining white but with black rank bands.  In the 1980s fluorescent anoraks with reflective strips and Velcro fasteners were introduced. 

Breathing apparatus was first introduced in 1875. Early versions featured manually operated air pumps and the firefighter was attached to a lifeline tube, so it wouldn’t have been that flexible for moving around but was vital to keep them alive.  Self-contained oxygen supply systems existed in 1881, but they weren’t widely adopted until after the First World War.  Fire resistant asbestos suits, hoods, gloves and aprons used in the 1920s have been replaced with safer and more effective epoxy coated aluminium fibres and materials that utilise complex fire resistant and retardant chemicals.  Fire-fighters uniforms continue to adapt regularly to take account of fashion as well as the challenging environments that they face.