Category Archives: Uncategorized

“The Shape of Women” : Corsets & Crinolines

Our Collections Officer (Human History), Jenny Oxley has a real passion for vintage fashion, check out her latest blog, charting the changes in the female fashion silhouette between 1790 and 1900 – Corsets and Crinolines – illustrated through the museum’s collections.

Follow this link for the PDF version The Shape of Women – Part 1: 1790=1900 or see the flipbook version below


CV Walden : a Community Archive

We are living through a pandemic which has changed every aspect of the world as we know it. The Covid-19 outbreak has propelled us into history books yet to be written as our lives have been reshaped beyond anything we could have imagined mere weeks ago.

There is a great deal that we can do to help future generations to understand the impact of Covid-19 on communities such as ours. You can play your own valuable part in contributing to awareness of the sociological, psychological and economic impact of this disease. Saffron Walden Museum, in conjunction with Saffron Walden Tourist Information Centre is encouraging local people to submit their own experiences of this unprecedented crisis in the form of written articles (including diaries or poetry), photographs, art, music or film. Submissions will be curated by Jenny Oxley, the Museum’s Collections Officer (Human History), and will in time form part of an on-line archive and possibly a physical or on-line exhibition in due course.

If you are part of an organisation, club, society or charity, consider asking all of your members and clients to take part; there is no deadline for submissions as it is recognised that people might wish to observe in their chosen media the development and eventual resolution of the crisis. If you are a teacher or a parent or guardian teaching at home, consider encouraging children to express their thoughts and feelings in whatever way sparks their imaginations.

Any enquiries or further submissions to the archive should be sent to with ‘CV Walden’ as the subject. 

Thank you.

Saffron Walden TIC (Saffron Walden Town Council) and Saffron Walden Museum (Uttlesford District Council & Saffron Walden Museum Society)


Here’s a selection of the material which has been submitted for the CV Walden Archive 

Object of the Month – April 2020

Adoration of the Shepherds pen & ink with chalk drawing by Gaspare Diziani (in Museum’s collections)

April’s Object of the Month has been chosen by Jenny Oxley, Collections Officer (Human History). It is a pen and ink drawing with additions in chalk by Italian artist Gaspare Diziani (b.1689 d.1767) called the Adoration of the Shepherds

This item recently came back off loan from the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge where it has been on loan to them since 1979. In its time at the Fitzwilliam, it also went out on further loan to the Fondazione Cini in Venice for a special display of Venetian drawings.  Before it came to Saffron Walden Museum, the drawing had originally been housed at Ashdon Hall.

Diziani’s original oil on canvas painting – a version of the same scene dates to around 1755 and is housed in a private collection. Diziani was an Italian painter and draughtsman.  His earliest training was in Belluno in Northern Italy with Antonio Lazzarini (1672-1732). Having moved to Venice, he joined the workshop of Gregorio Lazzarini and later that of Sebastiano Ricci, who was in Venice until 1715 and exerted the strongest influence on his development; presumably Diziani was familiar with Ricci’s many paintings in Belluno before becoming his pupil. 

Between 1710 and 1720 he painted a group of eight pictures that included the Mary Magdalene for Santo. Stefano, Belluno, and the Entry into Jerusalem for Santo. Teodoro, Venice. His speed of production and technical assurance are demonstrated especially in his preparatory oil sketches, with colour applied in rapid and spirited pen-like strokes.  He also worked as a scenery painter in a number of Venetian theatres.  Art commissions took him to Munich (1717) and later to Dresden, where he was highly acclaimed.  In 1719 he was active in Rome but by 1720 he was already back in Venice where he entered the “Fraglia dei Pittori Veneziani”, remaining in the Veneto for the rest of his life. 

The works of Gaspare Diziani can be found in the Church of San Rocco in Belluno, dated 1727, several paintings in the Sacristy of the Church of Santo Stefano in Venice, dated 1733, the frescoes in Palazzo Spineda in Treviso, dated 1748, and the frescoes in the Church of San Bartolomeo in Bergamo.

The Adoration of the Shepherds (based on the account in Luke 2) is a scene in which the shepherds witness the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.  It is often combined in art with the Adoration of the Magi.  The Museum holds an oil-on-canvas painting of the Adoration of the Magi scene as well, which is by the artist Ramsey Richard Reinagle (1749-1833) – (a copy after Peter Paul Rubens c.1616).  It is currently on renewable loan to Chrishall Parish Council, where it is on display in the Holy Trinity Church, Chrishall.  It originally came to the Museum around 1843, having been bought for Francis Gibson at an auction at the Leicester Square Sale Rooms.


Adoration of the Shepherds, oil on canvas painting by  Gaspare Diziani c. 1755

(in a private collection)





Timeline of 19th century Fire-Fighting


  • Gold Street Maltings, Shrove Tuesday (see also fire in the same location in 1941


  • Workhouse, High Street, Saffron Walden In the run up to Christmas, a serious fire broke out at the workhouse, located at the top of the High Street (opposite what is now the war memorial). Initially it threatened to spread to the adjoining town gaol and nearby houses, “but through the exertions of a large portion of the respectable inhabitants” it was brought under control in about 90 minutes. The building was destroyed and a new workhouse was built on an alternative site, which later became part of the Radwinter Road Hospital and housing.    


  • Easton Lodge, Little Easton– partly destroyed by fire (see additional account)


  • Howards Hairdressers
  • JT Fryes, Stables


  • Mr Lucas Farmer, Radwinter
  • Charles Norris, High Street


  • JC Crussell, High Street
  • John Miller, Ashdon Street Farm
  • George Beddall, Hempstead


  • George Clark, Ringers Farm, Widdington
  • Joshua Housden, High Street, Saffron Walden
  • Mr Edwick, agricultural stack fire, Newport
  • Robert Medcalf, Hempstead


  • Mr Mascalls & Debnam Watchmaker, Newport


  • Charles Earnshaw, Freshwell Street, Saffron Walden
  • Westley Farm


Great fire of Radwinter – A poster (shown in our local history gallery) was produced to encourage people to raise funds for those affected by the Radwinter fire in which 24 buildings were destroyed and 95 people were left homeless. The fire was found to have been caused accidentally by a young girl playing with matches in a barn. The Saffron Walden and Audley End fire engines attended and sucked the local ponds drying trying to extinguish the fire.  The charred remains of a black jug can be seen in the Museum’s Local History Gallery, Fire Brigade display case.






  • Debden Church – a member of staff checking inside the organ with a candle set the organ alight, it destroyed the organ and 10ft of the roof above.
  • Crown House, Newport


  • Catons, Lofts Lane


  • Elmdon


  • Mrs Gibson’s Almshouses, Abbey Lane
  • Hempstead
  • Conservative Club
  • Mr Harts, King Street


  • Littlebury
  • Great Chesterford Mill


  • Byrds Farm
  • Market Hill
  • Great Chesterford
  • Copt Hall buildings, Ashdon Road – 17 families left homeless  
  • Westley Farm
  • Myddleton House


  • Ravenstock Farm


  • Radwinter


  • Grange, Clavering
  • Hempstead Farm – a large barley stack on fire. The fire brigade’s hose had been maliciously cut so it couldn’t be used to put out the fire.
  • Catmere End


  • London Road


  • Ashdon
  • Debden


  • Elmdon
  • Vineyard
  • Castle Brewery


  • Radwinter – 3 separate incidents
  • Kings flour mill – entirely destroyed


  • Farm, Saffron Walden
  • Johnson engineering


  • Debden Farm
  • Radwinter Hall – over £1,000 damage
  • Hempstead
  • Great Chesterford
  • Wicken
  • High Street, Saffron Walden
  • Flinn Maltings


  • Springwell
  • Radwinter


  • Wills Ayley
  • Gray Palmer (2 fires that year)

Early 20th Century Fire Fighting Timeline









  • Radwinter
  • Great Chesterford – Fire at the rear of Mr Wedd, Harness makers
  • Wimbish
  • Dix and Son, Saffron Walden
  • Radwinter
  • Cross Street, Hoops Stable
  • Mission Hall


  • Quendon
  • Wimbish


  • Sewards End
  • Littlebury


  • Ashdon
  • Maltings, Great Chesterford


  • Radwinter
  • Debden Hall
  • Hercules Inn, Newport – totally destroyed the former vicarage and congregational house.
  • Debden
  • Debden Green
  • Amberden Hall


  • Radwinter


  • Messrs. Joseph John Robson and Sons, King Street, Saffron Walden. In January, despite a good supply of water from standpipes in the High Street, George Street and Abbey Lane, a major fire quickly took hold sweeping through the warehouse and stores, with the roof eventually collapsing in. Their coffee roasting chamber and machinery were all destroyed and the building had to be entirely rebuilt following the fire.


  • The Great Fire at Little Chesterford (see additional account)


  • Easton Lodge, Little Easton (see additional account)


  • Clavering – half of Starlings Green burned down

Early 1930s

  • Leggett’s Farm, Debden Green
  • Seward’s End Farm
  • Raynhams Farm, Peaslands Road
  • June 1931 – Taylor & Sons, a straw and chaff merchants, Littlebury
  • Rectory Farm, North End, Littlebury – arson incident : labourer maliciously sets fire to wheat stacks, he was disputing his wages.
  • 1932 – 400 year old Maple Cottages destroyed by fire, as thatch caught fire. Everyone safe but 16th century furniture and property destroyed.


Loft’s Hall, Wendon Lofts – “A Tragic End to a Fine Old House”
Fire broke out on 15th May 1935 at Lofts Hall, an Elizabethan brick mansion at Wenden Lofts.  Firemen were powerless to save it despite reportedly using over 600 gallons of water per minute the roof had still caved in.  After 3 days of dampening down the smouldering remains, the house was left a “charred shell, flooded with water.”  The house’s owner, Graham Watson, a member of the London Stock Exchange, was away from home at the time of the fire.  The housekeeper’s and gardener’s families managed to salvage silverware, guns, oak panelling and furniture from the house, but lost all their own personal possessions. 

Mid-20th Century Fire Fighting Timeline

During the Second World War, there was obviously an additional need for access to sand and stirrup pumps because of the risk of incendiary bombs. The town was not a proscribed area, so fire watching had to be done on a voluntary basis; thankfully 200 volunteers came forward to support the town and the surrounding area.

Saffron Walden Auxiliary Fire Service, 1938





“A Rescue and Utility Party was organised under Mr W. Clark, and Mr Pryor’s utility van had been earmarked as an ambulance.  Standpipes and hose had been requested from RCC (presumably Rural Community Council) “for local practice in fire extinction.”  The first muster of the Auxiliary Fire Service at the Church Hall was held on 17 April 1939.”

Extract from Logbook for June 7th 1940:

“11.30 pm there was an air alarm.  All local groups quickly ready for duty.  Fireman at Stores Yard:  First Aid at Vicarage: Utility Party at Pakeman’s Yard: Wardens at Post.  Special Constables patrolling. No public excitement or crowding.  All clear went soon after 12.”

Childhood memory: “A spitfire crashed on the Downs during the Battle of Britain and burnt.  I remember ammunition exploding.  Mother kept me well away but I can remember the noise.”   

Parsonage Farm, Clavering

In Clavering, they had a fire engine during the war, as part of the Auxiliary Fire Service with trained men to man it. There were concerns about incendiaries but there was only one serious incident when Parsonage Farm burned down as a result of a lot of incendiaries being dropped.


Gold Street Maltings

Ironically when a major fire did break out it was purely accidental and unrelated to the war. On Saturday 12th July 1941, a fire broke out in the disused Maltings at the top of Gold Street, next to the Sun public house. The Maltings were being used as a food depot by Sainsbury’s, who had moved the contents of one of their grocery warehouses from London to Saffron Walden for safety during the war.  The fire started around 9pm, the brigade arrived almost immediately, but the old timber and plaster building was very dry, and the flames spread rapidly.  The brigade, were again hampered by low water pressure and the staff dormitory on the top floor was quickly gutted.  A chain of soldiers, airmen and civilians was formed and they were able to salvage several tons of food, whilst others assisted in dampening down the fire with stirrup pumps and household garden hoses.  The brigade tackled flames over 50ft high and despite using over 100,000 gallons of water they sadly couldn’t save the Maltings building.  Luckily there was no loss of life and they managed to protect the surrounding buildings and stop the fire from spreading.  The local newspaper commented that “butter had run down the gutters.”

Pictured : The Gold Street Maltings in the 19th century





Len Crickmore was awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) by King George VI in recognition of his gallantry when an ammunition dump exploded at Great Chesterford in May 1944. The NFS and Army Personnel had attended reports of an explosion.  Len Crickmore tried to stop the fire spreading to the bigger explosives, but whilst telephoning to notify that the nearby Jewish hospital and surrounding housing should be evacuated.  Another explosion occurred and he was blown into the air, through the roof of the hut and knocked unconscious.  Coming to he quickly rescued a colleague who had been injured and continued to raise the alarm.  Without him it could have been a disaster on a much bigger scale. 


Saffron Walden Cinema

The town’s first cinema had been built in 1912 at the top of the High Street (South) close to the Baptist Church. The Walden Weekly had commented at the time of it opening that “great attention had been paid to ensuring the safety of the public.”  The building had been designed to be fireproof with half a dozen exits, powerful hydrants and the projector was held in a fireproof chamber 30ft from the main building.”  However, none of these measures were enough to stop it burning to the ground on the 23rd August 1950.  It was subsequently re-built and re-opened in 1954, before eventually being demolished in 1973.


Easton Lodge (major fires in 1847 & 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.  

Post-War & Modern-Day Fire Fighting Timeline





Scrapbook of the time prepared by Chris Phillipson covering the 1950s onwards, shows the fire-fighters at Station Echo 79 (now known as Station 85) – Saffron Walden regularly attending events such as the Carnivals and Essex Shows at Audley End Park. The local brigades often took part in local talks and demonstrations.  They had floats at the hospital carnivals and marched in the Remembrance Day parades.  Held annual meetings and many social events, including formal dinners and long service medal ceremonies.


  • Rumsey’s Furniture Shop.  In February, fire broke out at Rumsey’s shop on the corner of King Street and the High Street. The shop was badly damaged and it was estimated that over £100,000 worth of stock had been lost.  However, through the heroic efforts of staff, the shop was open again and re-stocked within a week.
  • Littlebury Tanker crash .  A tanker containing 9 tons of highly explosive propane gas careered info a house and burst into flames. The flames were reportedly 40ft high and 25 firefighters were involved in getting it under control. The road was closed and surrounding properties including the Falcon pub were evacuated. It was believed that heavy rain had softened new tarmac on the road, which led to the tanker overturning.
  • Saffron Walden Steam Laundry, Gold Street – damage estimated at over £50,000 was caused as fire gutted the laundry building. It took 3 brigades less than an hour to get the fire under control, but 12 hours to stop it smouldering, using water from the nearby swimming baths. Fragments of the laundry’s asbestos roof were found afterwards in Bridge Street, and there had been concerns that the fire would spread to a garage close to the laundry. .


  • Railway Crash, Great Chesterford – a train loaded with new cars crashed into the back of another train on the main Liverpool Street to Cambridge Line.


  • Rose & Crown Hotel – tragic fire in which 11 lives were lost, which fundamentally changed fire regulations and the town’s historic market place (SEE FOLDER 2).       


  • Rose & Crown Hotel – tragic fire in which 11 lives were lost, which fundamentally changed fire regulations and the town’s historic market place.


  • Severals Farm, Arkesden – two tons of potatoes and half a ton of baled straw were destroyed in the fire, but thankfully there was no loss of life.


  • Southern’s Tobacconist and sweet shop in King Street caught fire, but it was caught in time before it spread to any neighbouring buildings.


  • To celebrate the Silver Jubilee, Station 79 firefighters and reporters from the Weekly News climbed onto a decorated fire engine for a celebratory parade. The fire-fighters also created a model fire engine and competed in the soapbox derby event.


  • Saffron Walden Fire Station received a major facelift costing £136,000, as the old ambulance station was pulled down, and a new garage was built to house the two fire engines and an improved smoke chamber was erected.


  • Workmen renovating the old Hospital to create the new district council offices, set fire to the roof, destroying 85% of it, rectifying the damage postponed the council’s move to the new building until 1990.


Firemen Fight Against the Ice

Just days before Christmas, severe ice froze the uniforms of firemen solid as they fought to save the 15th century Clavering Guildhall and the family inside. Crews from Saffron Walden, Stansted, Thaxted and Newport struggled to get water from the nearby hydrant which had frozen. They ended up using water from a neighbouring property’s swimming pool, smashing their way through nearly a foot of ice to get to the water. Sadly the roof of the historic Guildhall collapsed, but thankfully the family escaped unharmed and the fire was stopped from spreading to adjoining properties.    


Masonic Hall

A commemorative plaque commemorates the rebuilding of the masonic hall on Church Street after a tragic fire there on the 10th July 1999.

Saffron Hotel

A fire at the Saffron Hotel in 1999 brought back bad memories for many of the 1969 Rose & Crown fire. Fortunately, after 90 minutes the fire was brought under control and contained in the kitchen.

Korean Air 747 Jumbo Jet

Air crash at Stansted airport 12th December 1999


Fires remain a regular aspect of local life, as documented in local print and social media.  Newport News has a regular detailed feature about the Newport Fire Brigade’s activities, which show that these days fire brigades attend a much broader range of incidents particularly complex road traffic accidents as much as they deal with outbreaks of fire. 

The Great Fire at Little Chesterford

On the 7th April 1914, a fire broke out at Bordeaux farm in the parish of Littlebury.  Newspaper reports at the time suggested that in high winds, sparks from a traction engine caught light to some dry thatch.  The flames rang along the river path to Little Chesterford and then spread rapidly across the village.  Many of the timber framed thatched properties were burnt to the ground whilst the ones built using clunch (chalk bedded in rammed powered chalk) fared better.      

The fire also highlighted the lack of effective fire-fighting equipment and poor communication that existed between local fire fighters. Littlebury had no fire pump, whilst Little Chesterford had only a small portable one for estate purposes.  The closest fire engine was based at the Mill in Great Chesterford, but it took over half an hour to attend once the alarm had been raised.  The Saffron Walden brigade was hampered in its efforts to attend, as they reportedly “lost their coal on the journey to the fire.”  Eventually additional brigades from Hinxton, Audley End estate and Sawston attended as well as the police, but the response had sadly come too late to save many of the properties.    

Within 30 minutes of the fire starting it had already destroyed 2 farms, 2 pubs (The Crown and The Bushel & Strike) and 9 houses, leaving 43 out of 100 villagers homeless. The fire had taken everyone by surprise and spread so quickly that the alarm had been raised too late to make a difference.   The town’s labourers working in the fields saw the fire spreading at huge speed, they returned home to find their wives and children making frantic efforts to save themselves and their belongings.

Newspaper reports from the time tell the dramatic story of 100 year old Mrs Law who was rescued from her burning first floor room by Stacey Dyer and her son, who lifted her into a wheelbarrow and got her quickly to safety. Stacey Dyer was reportedly scarred on his face for the rest of his life following his heroism.  It must have been pandemonium as villagers and their animals ran from the flames.  One baby was missing for 2 hours before it was found safe.      

Photographs show the village roads strewn with salvaged furniture and crowds gathering shocked by the scale of the fire and how quickly it had spread. The landlady of the Bushel and Strike (Pampisford Brewery) hastily prepared a shed so that they could continue to serve drinks to their shell-shocked customers.  A fire relief committee was established and the village reading room was used as a shelter for the homeless and store for their surviving belongings.  A fundraising campaign was advertised in the Daily Mail Newspaper. However, not everyone appreciated outside help, with Reverend John Stewart, vicar of both Chesterfords quoted in a subsequent edition of the newspaper as saying:

“We’re a proud people and like to help ourselves. Tell all the kind people who want to send money that we thank them, but do not need their help.”

Cheques from the Daily Mail campaign were reportedly returned to their senders! Archive material suggests local gentry stepped in and helped with the rebuilding work and financial loss.  Lessons were learnt following the fire, as all the local brigades vowed to work on better communication and to pool resources.


“A brigade second to none, but often fighting a losing battle” Late 19th Century – 1930s

The fire brigades struggled to contain many of the fires they encountered in the 19th century due to lack of water supply and the hoses often being too short.

In the early days communication was a problem – a fire bell was sounded at the Gas Works – it took a long time to raise the alarm fully and get the fire brigade out to the fire. 



Newspaper cuttings from the 1930s reflect that the local fire brigades were “heroic in their efforts” and “worthy of the highest admiration,” but they were often “powerless to keep the flames in check.” The brigades were hampered by a lack of up-to-date equipment, with the Saffron Walden brigade’s old engine only being able to do 3-4 miles an hour up Pounce Hill, and having unreliable brakes.   Add to this bad weather conditions and the time it took to raise the alarm when fires broke out in the early hours of the morning, putting out these fires was an epic task.

Their attempts to put out a fire at Leggett’s Farm in Debden Green in the 1930s were hampered by the deep mud that the horses had to drag the fire engine through. The spindle on the fire hydrant broke when they were trying to tackle a blaze at Seward’s End Farm.  The water pressure failed in August 1930 when they responded to a fire at Raynhams Farm on Peaslands Road.  These were not isolated incidents and they spurred the Council on its determination to provide improved waterworks for the town. 

A fire spread quickly between the large storage barns at Taylor & Sons, a straw and chaff merchants at Littlebury in 1931, raged for 70 hours, as 100 tons of chaff and straw caught light blowing out the sides of the corrugated sheds due to the intense heat. You can only imagine how dangerous to the firemen’s health raking out tons of smouldering agricultural materials must have been without the breathing apparatus that today’s brigades rely upon.          

The causes of the fires were very rarely identified, in contrast to the forensic assessments which are undertaken today. Most appear to have been accidental linked to flammable agricultural or building materials like thatch.  Apart from rare cases such as that in 1932 when labourer Cyril Start of Camps Yard was found guilty of maliciously setting fire to stacks of wheat at Rectory Farm, North End, Littlebury, as he was angered by disputed wages with the landowner.