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MARKET TOWNS OF ESSEX (from SDUK Penny Cyclopedia)

Saffron Walden in 1837

Walden, or Saffron Walden is in the hundred of Uttlesford, which occupies the north-western extremity of the county : it is near the Cam, and a little to the right of the road from London to Newmarket and Norwich, 42 miles from London. It was conjectured by Doctor Stukely, but without sufficient authority, that this was a Roman station. Its name is derived from two Saxon words, ‘Weald,’ a wood, and ‘den,’ a valley : its epithet ‘Saffron’ is derived from the great quantity of that plant formerly cultivated in the neighbourhood : this cultivation has been long abandoned. At the period of the Domesday survey the lordship of Walden was possessed by a Norman, Geoffrey de Magnaville, one of the companions of the Conqueror. This nobleman erected at Walden a castle, which, judging from the remains of it, must have been of great strength. The remains occupy the highest part of the town, and consist of some parts of the walls and towers, built with flint bound together by a very hard cement. Geoffrey, the grandson of the founder of the castle, having deserted the party of Stephen for that of the Empress Maud, obtained of her permission to remove the market from the neighbouring town of Newport (now a village) to Walden. Having been however seized by Stephen, be could only obtain his freedom by the delivery of his castles, Walden being one of them, to the king. The same nobleman founded here in 1136 a Benedictine priory, which was some years later raised to the rank of an abbey : this abbey obtained several valuable benefactions, and had, at the time of the dissolution, a yearly revenue of £406, 15 shillings and 11 pence gross, or £372, 18 shillings and 1 penny clear. The site was granted to Sir Thomas Audley, lord chancellor, and the title of Lord Audley of Walden was conferred upon him. On the site and grounds of the monastery, enlarged by a subsequent addition of 200 acres, stand the present mansion and park of Audley End.

The town is irregularly laid out, and the houses are many of them of considerable antiquity. The church is a large and very elegant specimen of the late Perpendicular style. It has a nave and aisles, large south porch, and chancel and aisles. The clerestory windows of the nave are very large and of six lights; those of the chancel, which has a lower roof, are much smaller, and two in each arch. The eastern end of the nave is finished by two octagonal turrets with crocketted ogee heads. The windows of the aisles are very large, filling up the spaces close to the buttresses, and they are mostly square-headed. The tower has bold buttresses, crowned with octagonal turrets, and very long plain pinnacles. These pinnacles and the spire, which is of wood covered with lead, appear to be of later date than the church. The interior of this church is very fine, the piers being remarkably light and elegant.’ Rickman’s Essay on Gothic Architecture. Since the above extracted account was written the wooden spire has been replaced by one of stone more in character with the rest of the building. There are two places of worship for Calvinistic or Particular Baptists, and one for Arminian or General Baptists, and one each for Independents, Quakers, and Wesleyan Methodists. The town-hall is a neat building in the market-place, which is spacious. There are a cattle-market and a handsome range of almshouses lately built in the place of a former range founded and endowed by Edward VI for 16 decayed housekeepers of each sex. There is also a neat building lately erected near the ruins of the castle for a museum, and for the meetings of a literary society established in the town. Audley House, or as it is usually termed, Audley End, the seat of Lord Braybrooke, is a noble mansion erected by the Earl of Suffolk, who in the time of James I, had inherited the estate of the Lord Chancellor Audley. The grounds are beautiful, and the Cam, which flows through them, though here an inconsiderable stream, expands so as to form a considerable sheet of water in front of the house. The mansion, originally more extensive than at, present, is still one of the finest in the county ; it is said to have cost at its erection £190,000. The house contains some interesting portraits and other pictures. On a green near the town is a singular remain of antiquity called the Maze. It consists of a series of concentric circles with four outworks cut in the chalk, which here rises to the surface. Its origin and use are unknown : Dr. Stukely conjectures that it was a British cursus or place of exercise for the soldiery. A short distance from the town are the remains of an ancient encampment of an oblong form called Pell Ditches or Repel Ditches. The south bank is 730 feet long, 20 high, and 50 broad at the base, and 6 or 8 wide at the top : the west bank is 588 feet long : both banks and ditches are extremely bold and well preserved.

The parish of Saffron Walden contains 7,380 acres, and had in 1831 941 inhabited houses and a population of 4,762, of which about one-fourth was agricultural : there are many genteel families in the town. The chief trade is in barley and malt : the market is on Saturday. Walden is a municipal though not a parliamentary borough. By the Municipal Reform Act the corporation consists of a mayor, four aldermen, and twelve councillors. The borough is coextensive with the parish.

The living is a vicarage in the archdeaconry of Colchester, of the annual value of £237, with a glebe-house. Lord Braybrooke is patron and impropriator.

There were in Walden in 1833 one infant school with 70 children : two national schools, containing 124 boys and 106 girls (with the addition of 10 boys on Sundays) ; a school for 25 boys and as many girls, chiefly supported by Lord Braybrooke ; and six other day-schools with 212 children ; and two Sunday-schools with 289 children.