Saffron Walden - Sites and Buildings of Interest

Sites and Buildings of Interest

Saffron Walden is home to the largest parish church in Essex. St. Mary the Virgin dates mainly from the end of the 15th century, when the previously existing and smaller church was extensively rebuilt in flint. In 1769 it was damaged by lightning and the repairs, carried out in the 1790s, removed many of the medieval features. The present spire was added in 1832 to replace an older ‘lantern’ tower. The church is 183 feet (56 m) long and the spire 193 feet (59 m) high, and is the tallest in Essex.

Saffron Walden also features the ruins of the 12th-century Walden Castle, built or expanded by Geoffrey de Mandeville, the first Earl of Essex. After the medieval period, the castle fell slowly into disuse and much of the flint was taken and used in the construction of local houses and the wall surrounding the Audley End estate. All that remains today is the ruined basement.

Nearby to the castle is the Maze, a series of circular excavations cut into the turf of the common. It is the largest turf maze in England, the main part being about 100 feet (30 m) in diameter. The earliest record of it was in 1699, and it has been extensively restored several times, most recently in 1979.

There is also a hedge maze in nearby Bridge End Garden. The garden, which lies off Castle Street and Bridge Street, dates from the 1840s and was originally laid out by Francis Gibson, a member of the locally well-known Gibson family who were eminent Quakers, bankers and brewers. The gardens have been lovingly restored back to their former glory with help from the Heritage Lottery Fund and local volunteers and are open 364 days a year, although maze opening times vary. Close to the Bridge End Garden is the Fry Art Gallery which exhibits the work of artists who had an association with Saffron Walden and north west Essex. One artist of note included in the Fry Art Gallery collection is Edward Bawden who lived in the town during the 1970s and 1980s.

Bridge End Garden is a Victorian garden restored back to its former glory and open to the public, free to visit and open 364 days a year. The gardens are made up of different segments such as a rose garden, Dutch sunken garden,kitchen garden, main lawn and hedge maze. the restoration returned the gardens to how they appeared in 1870 as well as the overall look being in period so is the planting. Signs are kept out of sight so what you see is as close as possible to the 1870 appearance almost a living museum.

Nearby is the Anglo American playing fields and monument to commemorate the American airmen and people of Saffron Walden borough that died in the Second World War.

Another tourist attraction is Audley End, a manor house built by the Earl of Suffolk in the seventeenth century on the site of the medieval Walden Abbey, which had been rebuilt by Sir Thomas Audley. When first constructed, the house was one of the largest in England. However, two thirds of it was later demolished when it was found to be difficult to maintain. The house and gardens are now owned by English Heritage and are open to the public. During the summer months concerts in the style of the BBC Proms are held here, typically an evening of music of diversity ranging from classical to rock to jazz followed by a fireworks display. Another annual fireworks display is held on the Saturday nearest to the 5 November. This event is organised by the Round Table and is held on the common – near the maze.

Nearby Audley End is the Audley End Miniature Railway, which is a 10+1⁄4 in (260 mm) gauge railway ride through woodland. The ride is 1.5 miles (2.4 km) long and has been part of the Saffron Walden landscape since it was opened in 1964. It is a popular site with children.

The oldest inhabited building in Saffron Walden, a 600-year-old former maltings, became a Youth Hostel Association youth hostel before closing. It is now being renovated as a private home, and is also being used for functions

Saffron Walden is home to a concrete skate park One Minet Park, built by US company Dreamland.

Other sites include the Corn Exchange (now a library) and the market square around which a number of buildings of historical interest and the Town Hall are centred. Market Days are Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Henry David Thoreau mentions Saffron Walden in his book Walden. Thoreau discusses the etymology of Walden pond, located in Concord, Massachusetts, and states that it may have been named after the "English locality" of Saffron Walden but he doesn't describe how he knew about the town or its existence.

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