Social and Local History

The museum’s social and local history collections reflect the way that people have lived in the rural and market towns of north-west Essex over the past few centuries. Objects include agricultural tools and horse-drawn vehicles, domestic items, toys and games, military items and an extensive collection of documents, photographs and prints.

The collections reveal the lives of well-known local people including the Tudor author Gabriel Harvey, Henry Winstanley, builder of the first Eddystone Lighthouse, and R.A. Butler, MP for Saffron Walden for many years. They also explore how ordinary people lived, with subjects including local tradesmen, such as clockmakers, saddlers and builders, local government, societies, clubs and schools.

Objects in our social and local history collections are on display in the Town and Country and Costume in Context galleries, such as this carved mantlepiece:

A section of John Harvey’s Carved Mantlepiece c. 1570

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Many more objects are kept in storage and can be viewed by appointment.

Charter (SAFWM : LN 513)

Charter issued by King Henry VIII to form the Guild of the Holy Trinity in Saffron Walden on 24 March 1514. On loan to the museum from Saffron Walden Town Council. (Current location: Town and Country gallery)

Carving (SAFWM : 1870.19)

Wooden carving of a lamb and cross, carved in the early 1700s. It was formerly placed on the Council chamber table of the Saffron Walden Corporation when the Mayor was chosen. (Current location: Town and Country gallery)

Mazer Bowl (SAFWM : 31455)

Copy of a mazer bowl from the King Edward VI almshouses in Saffron Walden. The original mazer bowl is mentioned in the diary of Samuel Pepys who drank from it on his visit to Saffron Walden in 1660. (Current location: Town and Country gallery)

Rope (SAFWM : 1836.141)

Rope used for baiting bulls, made in 1712. It was in use in Saffron Walden until the early 1800s. (Current location: storage)

Cello (SAFWM : 1947.7)

Iron cello, made in the early 1830s by Thomas Barker, a blacksmith from Wimbish. It was played by Robert Munson, at public entertainments during the early 1900s. (Current location: Town and Country gallery)

Staff of Office (SAFWM : 1911.275)

Constable’s staff of office, from Hadstock, used in the early 1800s. It bears the royal coat-of-arms. (Current location: Town and Country gallery)

Feeding cup (SAFWM : 1943.12.1)

Pewter feeding cup, used at Saffron Walden General Hospital. (Current location: Town and Country gallery)

Sign (SAFWM : 1961.34)

Sign formerly attached to the Toll House in Newport, showing tolls or charges to be paid at the bridge carrying the Cambridge road over Wicken Water. (Current location: Town and Country gallery)

Lamp (SAFWM : 1995.3.3)

Oil signal lamp from Audley End station, said to have burned for seven days. (Current location: storage)

Stamp (SAFWM : 1982.20)

Wooden pargetting stamp, used to stamp decorative patterns into external plasterwork. The design is a saffron crocus. (Current location: Town and Country gallery)

Shovel (SAFWM : 1936.34)

Wooden malting shovel, used throughout the malting process for turning and carrying. (Current location: storage)

Seed distributor (SAFWM : 1968.3)

Aero broadcast hand seed distributor. (Current location: storage)

Till (SAFWM : 1980.184)

Till from the shop of Teddy Worley, a saddler in Saffron Walden. Donated with his collection of saddlers tools. (Current location: storage)

Trunk (SAFWM : 1973.1)

Trunk, filled with toys, games, clothes and belongings of Violet Dix, who died in 1919 aged 10. (Current location: storage)

Helmet (SAFWM : 1930.2.2)

Lobster tail helmet with a scarlet horsehair plume, worn by the Essex Artillery. (Current location: Costume in Context gallery)

Drum (SAFWM : 1893.60)

Drum used by the Saffron Walden Cadet Corps. (Current location: Costume in Context gallery)

Shoehorn (SAWFM : 1892.93)

Bone shoehorn, made in 1605. The shoehorn has a decorative scratched design with the inscription ‘Robert Mindum made this shoeing horn for Bridget Dearsley 1605’. (Current location: storage)

Hair (SAFWM : 1838.110.1)

Piece of hair belonging to Napoleon Bonaparte, cut from his head shortly after his death on the island of St Helena, 1821. (Current location: storage)

Box (SAFWM : 1896.5)

Box decorated with intricate straw-work, made by French prisoners-of-war in England during the Napoleonic Wars (1796-1815). (Current location: storage)

Game (SAFWM : 1959.11.1)

Game of picture cards with illustrations of public buildings in Paris, many of which were destroyed during the French Revolution. (Current location: storage)

Doll (SAFWM : 1965.111)

‘The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe’ doll, given to five-year-old Fanny Maria Burton, as a school prize for needlework in 1860. (Current location: Costume in Context gallery)

Magneto-electric machine (SAFWM : 1968.19.1)

Magneto-electric machine for treating nervous diseases, contained inside a mahogany box, made in about 1890. (Current location: storage)

Washing machine (SAFWM : 1984.140)

Marshalls Household Washer washing machine, used until the 1930s. (Current location: storage)

Butter churn (SAFWM : 30173)

Butter churn, operated by a handle on the side. (Current location: storage)

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