One of the most delightful towns in Essex, named after the fields of saffron crocuses (C. sativus) that once covered this area in medieval times. The stamen of these delicate flowers produces a precious yellow spice that was then used for dying cloth. Widespread farming of this lucrative crop brought immense prosperity to the area during the Middle Ages. Once prized more than gold, it is still in use today as a flavouring and colourant for rice dishes and cakes. It still grows in the Walden area today, but is no longer farmed commercially.

Saffron Malden Market Square
Saffron Malden Market Square © Travel About Britain

This region has been occupied since prehistoric times, evidenced by several Iron Age earthworks near the town. The Ancient Britons called this area 'Waledana', which eventually became shortened to 'Walden'. Evidence of early Roman occupation can also be found nearby, and an extensive Saxon burial ground has also been discovered here.

Saffron Walden is a lovely unspoilt medieval market town, steeped in ancient history. Many of its attractive 14th to 16th century timber-framed houses are faced with Essex pargetting (an elaborate plasterwork decoration). The former Sun Inn (on Market Row) displays some of the best examples of this type of plasterwork. The inn is 14th-c timber-framed dwelling that was once used as Cromwell's HQ during the English Civil War.

Sun Inn, Saffron Walden
Detailed pargetting on the facade of the old Sun Inn © Travel About Britain

The town has a wealth of buildings of architectural and historic interest, particularly in the streets around the Market Square, which still follow the original medieval pattern. One of the best-preserved buildings from this period is a 15th-c timber framed Tudor dwelling on the corner of Myddleton Place.

The High Street contains many fine late-Georgian properties. The ornate, porticoed Victorian Corn Exchange, overlooking the square, is now a library and Arts Centre. The town's old Grammar School was the headquarters in of the 65th Fighter Wing of the USA air force during the war.

Saffron Walden Castle
Ruins of Mandeville's Castle © Travel About Britain

Geoffrey de Mandeville established a market below his castle walls here in 1141. The remains of Mandeville's castle rest on a low mound at the highest point of the town. Much of the stone was robbed-out as building materials and now only the ruined keep remains. The town museum is situated near the castle, with displays of local history, archaeology, geology, wildlife, costume and toys.

The Mandevilles also founded a priory at Audley End to the south. This was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538, and was eventually purchased by Earl of Suffolk, who started building the current mansion on the site in 1603.

Near to the castle, at the eastern end of the Common, is a series of preserved circular excavations, believed to be the largest mediaeval maze in England. It comprises a path that twists and turns for over 1 mile (1.6 km).

St Mary's church

The parish church of St Mary, one of largest in the county, has a 200ft spire visible from anywhere in the town. The main building was reconstructed in the 15th-c and the spire added in 1832. The nave is nearly 200 ft long. One of the finest examples in southern england, its grandeur reflects the town's prosperity at that time.

Located just behind St Mary's church can be found the delightful Bridge End Gardens. Laid out by the Gibson family during the 19th-c. The plot is designed as a series of smaller gardens, each with its own style and atmosphere. The Dutch Garden is particularly fine, with clipped yews and a fountain. There is also a restored traditional Victorian maze.

Map of Saffron Walden


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