Category Archives: Object of the Month

Object of the Month – March 2020

Knights on the Tiles

Saffron Walden Museum’s Object of the Month for March features a sample of luxury flooring from the late Middle Ages. Decorated tiles of fired clay were hard-wearing, and were an attractive and practical way of embellishing a special building or room. At first, elaborate tiled floors were the preserve of royalty, aristocracy and the great cathedrals and abbeys. The industry seems to have expanded in the fourteenth century as demand spread and decorated tile floors became within the reach of wealthy merchants, landed gentry and local churches.

There were many styles of decorative tile flooring; the tiles in Saffron Walden Museum’s collections illustrate the most popular late medieval technique, inlaid or ‘encaustic’ tiles. Plain slabs of red clay were stamped with a wooden block which had a pattern carved into it, so that the pattern was lightly impressed into the surface of the clay. The sunken pattern was then filled with white clay, trimmed and coated with a lead glaze. When fired in a kiln, the lead glaze made the tile appear red-brown with a yellow pattern.

The Museum’s collection includes 19 medieval floor tiles with inlaid design, though some are worn or incomplete. They were acquired in the period 1870-80, from local antiquarians or private collectors as far as we know, however the records made at the time are not as detailed as we would like, with only a vague reference to where some of the tiles came from. Fortunately, archaeologists’ knowledge of the medieval tile industry has increased greatly during the past 150 years thanks to excavations and research, so it is now possible to say where many of the tiles were made, even if we do not know the place where the tiled floor was laid. A recent research visit by Paul Drury FSA, who is an authority on medieval tiles, has provided us with much more information on the Museum’s small collection of medieval tiles. The three tiles featured here have been chosen for display in the Museum during March ,and can be found in a small case on the first floor level of the Great Hall gallery.

1 Tile with castle design, made near Winchester, Hampshire

Impressive tile, of larger than usual size, was made in the Winchester area, possibly from Otterbourne (a village south of the city) where there are records of a tilery providing tiles to Winchester roundabout 1400. The Museum’s register entry states that this tile came from Winchester.

2 Tile made at Chertsey, Surrey

Large tile, made at Chertsey, Surrey around 1250 – 1300. Chertsey was an important tilery producing high-quality picture tiles as well as more ordinary geometric designs like this one. Tiles with geometric designs like 2 and 3 were designed to be laid in groups of four, to create a larger pattern.

3 Tile made at Penn, Buckinghamshire

The village of Penn was the location for a large tile-making industry in the fourteenth century. Penn supplied tiles beyond Buckinghamshire to north-west Essex and south Cambridgeshire; examples of Penn tiles have been recorded at churches in Saffron Walden, the Chesterfords and Little Shelford.

4 Tile with monogram of John Baret, merchant of Bury St Edmunds

Tile displays the monogram (interlinked initials) of a merchant John Baret, who lived in Bury St Edmunds from the 1390s to 1467. The same monogram design was used to decorate the ceiling of his chantry chapel in the church of St Mary, Bury St Edmunds. A similar JB tile was found at Rattlesden in Suffolk and it si possible that our tile came from a site near Saffron Walden. The John Baret tile may also have been made locally, as it belongs to s group of tiles found along the border of north Essex, south Cambridgeshire and south Suffolk.





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Free Walking Tours – Medieval Saffron Walden & Professor Carenza Lewis lecture

As part of their community engagement work relating to the Battle Ditch project, Saffron Walden Heritage Development Group is pleased to announce the following events, which are free and open to everyone:

Free Walking Tours!

Tracing the ‘The Development of Medieval Saffron Walden’ with local Blue Badge Guide, Sarah Kirkpatrick.

Each tour will last between 45 minutes and 1 hour and will explore the medieval layout and growth of our town. The tours will start at 11am at the Abbey Lane end of the Battle Ditches, by the new interpretation board.

Saturday 2nd May
Saturday 13th June
Saturday 25th July
Saturday 15th August






Pre-booking only. Please call into the Tourist Information Centre or email to reserve your place.

The tours are organised and funded by the Saffron Walden Heritage Development Group as part of their Battle Ditch Community Engagement Project.

Lecture by Professor Carenza Lewis

The development of medieval Saffron Walden is the subject of a lecture to be given by Professor Carenza Lewis on Saturday, May 16 at 7.30pm in Saffron Walden Town Hall.  Professor Lewis is a field archaeologist and Professor of the Public Understanding of Research at the University of Lincoln. She specialises in the medieval period and is particularly interested in the  relations between settlement and landscape. Before moving to Lincoln in 2015,  Dr. Lewis was an Archaeological Investigator with the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments of England and later a presenter on the long-running and award-winning TV series, ‘Time Team’;  in 2004 she became  Director of Access Cambridge Archaeology, an outreach unit which she set up at the University of Cambridge.  Professor Lewis was also a director of Saffron Walden’s community archaeological excavation in 2013,  digging in the corner of the town Common with the help of a team of  local sixth-formers.

Places for both the lecture and the walking tours must be booked in advance by contacting the Tourist Information Centre on 01799 524002 or by email on

For more information, please contact Mark Starte on 01799 524002.

Essex 2020 – Uttlesford Hub event at Stansted Airport College








Essex 2020 offers a unique opportunity through STEAM activities to celebrate Essex’s pioneering past and create a sense of identity and pride that can drive future prosperity. We want to stimulate activity in this area to ensure that all Essex residents can access a wide range of opportunities throughout the year.  

It would be great if you could attend an event being held at Stansted airport college on the 3rd March to find out about Essex 2020 and how it could benefit your organisation, as well as how you can get involved. You can book your ticket here:

If you are unable to attend for any reason, we would be grateful is you could send this information to your colleagues and networks. The event is free and open to businesses, educators, practitioners and people who are interested in the development of this area.

More information about Essex 2020 and some of the events that are taking place across the year, visit:

Posted on behalf of Essex 2020 (Always Possible)

Object of the Month – February 2020

Snowy owl from front left angle. White breast plumage, with brown bars to sides and legs. Brown spotted plumage on wings. Mounted on a wooden post. Against a dark grey background.
Snowy owl from front left angle. White breast plumage, with brown bars to sides and legs. Brown spotted plumage on wings. Mounted on a wooden post. Against a dark grey background.

A female snowy owl in the Museum’s collections. Image: © Saffron Walden Museum.

Snowy Owl

A female snowy owl, Bubo scandiacus. Female snowy owls have spotted and striped plumage (above), while the male bird is almost pure white (below, left). Snowy owls live in the Arctic Circle where they hunt for food over tundra and upland moors. These impressive predators eat lemmings and other rodents, birds and rabbits, and only very rarely visit the far north of Britain. This mounted skin was donated to Saffron Walden Museum in 2003 for the Education collection. It has come out of the store for Museums at Night, exhibitions and teaching sessions.

A snowy owl from front angle. Pure white plumage of male, with a few dark spots visble on left wing. Against a pale background.

A male snowy owl. Image: Barry Kaufmann-Wright © Saffron Walden Museum.

An eagle owl from front left angle. Tawny under-plumage with patterns of dark brown and pale grey in bars and stripes. Vivid orange iris to eyes, and large horn-like feathers. Perched on a wooden post. Against a snowy backdrop.

An eagle owl. Image: Kamil. Corrections Piotr_J [CC BY-SA 3.0] (Wikimedia Commons)

Did you know?

All living things have a common name, like ‘snowy owl’, and a scientific name. The scientific name is a combination of two words which are only used for that species. Humans are Homo sapiens, and our extinct close relatives the Neanderthals are Homo neanderthalensis. We are different species in the same genus, Homo.
But scientific names can change. In 2004, the scientific name of the snowy owl was changed from Nyctea scandiaca to Bubo scandiacus, after years of research on their genetics and the shape of their bones. This showed that they were more closely related to horned owls and eagle owls (above, right), and should use the same genus name, Bubo.

You can see the snowy owl as Object of the Month until 29th February.

Object of the Month – January 2020

As cold weather turns our thoughts to arranging holidays in warmer places

January’s ‘Object of the Month’ features a Nautilus shell from oceans on the other side of the world. It has been chosen by Sarah Kenyon, one of the Natural Sciences Officers, at Saffron Walden Museum.


This is the shell of a Chambered Nautilus, Nautilus pompilius, a marine mollusc also called the Pearly Nautilus. They are the only living Cephalopods with an external shell. The spiral shell is divided into chambers that are connected to each other by a hollow tube called the siphuncle. The animal lives in the newest and largest outer chamber at the end of the shell. The older chambers are filled with gas and fluid. Buoyancy can be controlled by changing the amounts of gas and fluid inside the chambers of the shell and so the Nautilus can move up or down in sea water from shallow to deeper depths. It swims using jet propulsion. The animal uses its tentacles to catch prey, which it eats with a hard parrot-like beak and a radula with teeth. They were once common in seas across the world. Today only a few Nautilus species live in the Indian and Pacific Oceans around southeast Asia and Australia. They are now protected by international law.


The Nautilus shell was collected during the nineteenth century, between 1800 and 1899. It will be on display all month in the Natural History gallery. To find out more about the Nautilus and other Cephalopods (Squid, Octopus and Cuttlefish) visit the Museum in January. In the Geology gallery you can also see the fossils of two extinct groups of Cephalopods, the ammonites and belemnites, which were common in the sea until they became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago. You can find fossils of ammonite shells and the internal guards of belemnites (similar to the squids of today).

Our Valued Volunteers

Grateful thanks on International Volunteer Day

Today, 5 December, is International Volunteer Day. We want to take this opportunity to thank you, our volunteers, for your continued dedication and commitment to Saffron Walden Museum, without which we could not operate.

We now have over 65 volunteers, who give thousands of hours of their time, in a number of different roles such as running the welcome desk, sorting and cataloguing archaeology and natural sciences specimens at the museum store and museum, cataloguing and auditing the Museum’s photograph, document and art collections, helping to run the popular learning and activity events during school holidays and contributing expertise and ideas for developing our wildlife garden and monitoring roadside verge nature reserves.

2019 New initiatives

We are grateful to all our volunteers who have helped with a number of exciting new initiatives including:

Wildlife at Night

Wildlife at Night built on our usual Museums at Night event. Volunteers played crucial roles in us putting on this evening event on Friday 17th May.  They helped out serving refreshments, putting on craft activities, supported staff and organisations who were providing the wildlife activities and even donated plants!

12th Century Live! & Princess Bride Cinema screening

600 people attended the Museum site over the weekend of the 1st and 2nd June for these two new events. Thank you to everyone who took part in organising them and came along to help.






Volunteer Voices Display

To celebrate National Volunteers Week in June: Jenny, Wendy-Jo and June compiled a display about the vital role which you, the volunteers, play in the running of the Museum. The aim was to make the display fun and interactive for visitors too. There was an interactive activity putting together cogs, to show how the volunteers are crucial cogs in our organisation, enabling it to operate smoothly and efficiently. June recorded a talking tile to explain her role as a volunteer at the Museum which the visitors could press and listen to. Visitors could also apply to become one of our new volunteers and also record their feedback about being a volunteer at the Museum or for other organisations. There was also an activity which had all the museum’s different volunteer roles and the visitors had to match them to the correct volunteer tasks. This really showed the broad range of tasks that our volunteers undertake. The display complimented the Volunteer Tea Party organised by Wendy-Jo on Monday 17th June.







Volunteer Tea Party

Thank you to all the volunteers who came along to our volunteer week celebration at the Museum on Monday 17th June. James conducted Nature Studies exercises in the wildlife garden and Carolyn led a session about the NLHF Resilience Project and audience development.







Trip Advisor







Saffron Walden Museum has once again been awarded a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence for consistently impressing visitors.

The museum was presented with the certificate based on a 4.5 out of 5 star rating on the travel and tourism review website. It is the fifth time the museum has received the award.

Reviews posted on the website have been very positive, with customers describing the museum as “interesting and informative”, “brilliant” and a “great discovery”.

One visitor said: “This is one of the best – probably the best – small town museums I’ve visited. It’s not just for kids, and has a remarkable range of artefacts and exhibits – even including Egyptian items, which one doesn’t associate with Saffron Walden. It is lovingly curated and a really delightful experience.”

Another posted: “Brilliant place to visit, especially for children. The staff and volunteers are very attentive and extremely helpful. The site is also extremely educational.”

Carolyn Wingfield, said: “The website is an established measure of customer satisfaction and the comments that have been made reflect the hard work the team and volunteers put in to providing a friendly and welcoming experience for visitors.”

Warm Welcome

We extend a warm welcome to our new volunteers:

Welcome Desk – Sue Donelan, Jane Hook, Christine Lelliott, Brenda Prior and Ann Sadaghiani.

Human History collections – Lillie Weston

Wildlife Garden – Issa Cochran

Natural Science collections – Dominic Davey and Calli Holberry

Fond Farewell

We bid a fond farewell to:

Jean Peat who has retired from her Welcome Desk duties

Bridie Heath, who joined us as a Welcome Desk Volunteer for the summer period, prior to taking up permanent employment.

Sean Todd who has now left us to return to the University of Warwick to continue studying politics.

Charles Welham who has now left to pursue employment and further study opportunities

Volunteering Opportunities

Our Welcome Desk is run entirely by dedicated volunteers. They provide a friendly welcome for visitors, sell tickets and merchandise, provide information about the museum, and direct enquiries to members of staff. They usually volunteer for a 2.5 hour shift, every day except Monday and Saturday. We are currently looking for new Welcome Desk volunteers – if you are interested, please contact the Museum on 01799 510333 or email

Coming soon….

2020 will see the introduction of a till and card payment facilities on the Welcome Desk and the opening of our new exhibitions, All Fired Up, an exhibition by Essex Fire Museum exploring the history of fire-fighting in Essex (4 April – 5 July 2020) and STE(A)M 2020 – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths explored through our collections for 2020, Year of Science and Creativity across Essex.

Object of the Month – December 2019

December’s Object of the Month has been selected by Jenny Oxley, Collections Officer (Human History).

This Christmas themed room setting and assortment of doll’s house furniture came to the Museum in 1994 as a bequest from the Watt estate.

It was originally intended to recreate one of the rooms in the original owner’s home, Watt’s Folly in Arkesden. Watts Folly is a Grade II listed 17th century timber-framed and plastered house with thatched roof, which was renovated in the 20th century.

The earliest records of dolls houses date back to the 16th century.  They were originally intended to be replicas of wealthy family homes, built as a record of the times rather than as a hobby or for children to play with. 

Object of the Month – November 2019


The Puzzles of the Pendant

November’s Object of the Month is a very special piece of medieval jewellery: a gold reliquary pendant in the form of a cross. It was found by a metal detectorist in Farnham parish, Uttlesford district and reported under the Treasure Act 1996. Saffron Walden Museum Society Ltd was able to purchase the reliquary pendant thanks to generous local donations and grants from the Art Fund, the ACE / V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Headley Museums Archaeological Acquisition Fund







The Riddle of the Relic

A reliquary is a special container made to hold a relic – something which is held to be sacred because it was associated with a saint. It might be a piece of bone or hair, or a fragment of an object touched or used by the saint, such as clothing. Objects associated with holy sites were also revered, examples being splinters from the Cross or fragments of stone form the site of Christ’s crucifixion. In medieval times, people believed that wearing a relic would protect them from all manner or illnesses and misfortune. Religious jewellery and portable items are important to many people and cultures today.

The Farnham reliquary pendant is hollow and designed to hold a relic. The back is still closed, secured by a tiny iron pin, but an X-ray taken at the British Museum did not show any obvious signs of a relic inside.

What do you think might have been inside our reliquary pendant? Send your ideas on Twitter, Facebook or add them to the display in the Museum.

The Puzzle of the Pins

The reliquary pendant originally had a gold pin in each angle between the arms of the cross; one pin is now missing. There were also three gold pins hanging from the foot but only one of these pins survives.

We think the pins would have held pearls, or small round polished gemstones. There are examples of other pieces of medieval jewellery with pins, and some have pearls still in place.

The Mystery ‘Black Letter’ Inscription

Look closely at the front of the reliquary pendant and you can see some writing along the horizontal arms of the cross. It is in a late medieval script known as Black Letter which is difficult to read. So far, no one has been able to read it. It may not be a real inscription, but just a series of lines made to imitate writing.

There are other pieces of jewellery dating from the 15th century which have black letter inscriptions. The inscriptions are usually a message to a loved one. Examples include a gold pendant cross from Tamworth, which carried a French inscription ‘de cuer’ meaning ‘from the heart’. Another gold pendant cross, from Newport Pagnell had two Latin phrases: ‘crux florat’ meaning ‘may the cross bloom’ and ‘amor malum’  meaning either ‘love fruit’ or possibly ‘ love – evil’ (a contract of opposites).

So was our Farnham reliquary cross pendant purely religious or also a token of affection given to a loved one?