Latest News - Saffron Walden Museum (August 2022)

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Saffron Walden Museum Summer

Museum News for August 2022


Visiting the Museum!

Our standard opening hours are:

Wednesday-Saturday 10-5pm

Sundays & Bank Holidays 2-5pm

Closed Mondays (apart from bank holidays)

Tuesdays are reserved for pre-booked group visits by schools and other parties in term time. In the school summer holidays the museum will be open on Tuesdays 11am-5pm for general admission visits.


Object of the Month

The Museum’s ‘Object of the Month’ provides an opportunity to explore interesting and unusual objects from our stores. 

August’s Object of the Month chosen by Jenny Oxley, Collections Officer (Human History) is a collection of weights and boxes from the museum’s world cultures collections. This section of the museum’s collections are not as well known and we are trying to research and document these collections more fully.

These weights were used as a measuring system by the Akan people of West Africa, for weighing out gold dust, as a form of currency, prior to the introduction of paper money and coins.  They are referred to locally as "mrammou". 

Weights dating from the 15th to the 17th centuries tend to be basic block shapes decorated with simple geometric patterns, whilst later versions tend to be more figurative in style, as they have been made in the form of familiar everyday objects, such as plants, animals, buildings or people.  Some designs had very specific meanings, for example a shield shape denoted bravery and stamina. 

Based on the Islamic weight system, each weight had a known value. This provided merchants with secure and fair-trade arrangements with one another. The status of a man increased significantly if he owned a complete set of weights.

Often newly wedded men were gifted a full set of these weights to enable them to successfully enter the merchant trade.  The sets of weights varied in size from 12 weights to more than 50.  As well as having a practical function it is believed that the weights also represented cultural stories, riddles, and codes of conduct (particularly those promoting equality and justice) that were intended to help guide the Akan people.  The weights were originally meticulously carved and then cast using the lost wax technique, but as their functional use declined they began to be mass-produced for tourists.  It is estimated that there are now around 3 million Akan gold weights in museums and private collections around the world. 

Chiefs and notables stored gold dust in these delicate cast-brass containers, which were modelled after prototypes from North Africa, that had been brought to Ghana during its early involvement with the trans-Saharan gold trade.

(pictured left: rectangular box, used by the Akan people to store gold dust. It is made from cast copper alloy and has a geometric triangular design, with the figures of 8 birds on the lid. Pre-1910)

Current Exhibition


Lost Language of Nature

Runs 16 July - 30 October

Lost Language of Nature brings stories of animals and nature from around the world to Saffron Walden Museum. 

Part of a year-long project to begin to recognise and discuss the global origins of the museum’s taxidermy items and to respect, share and record their international stories through community work and exhibitions.

The focus of our community work is to collect both local and international stories and cultural information about our taxidermy specimens from the public. 

(below: image of the exhibition being installed before the private view launch which was held on Friday 15 July)


Summer Holiday Activities 


School Summer Holidays

Crafts at the Castle: Saffron Walden

Wed 3 August, 10.30-3.30pm

Crafts at the Castle: Day at the Seaside - make a peg clam, yogurt pot jellyfish, and Winstanley’s lighthouse

Wed 10 August, 10.30am-3.30pm

Crafts at the Castle: Treasure! - make a treasure chest, gold torque and design a coin.

Wed 17 August - See Lost Language of Nature event below. 

Wed 24 August, 10.30-3.30pm

Crafts at the Castle: Saffron Walden - try pargeting on clay, make a model of a local building and a saffron crocus. 

Wed 31 August, 10.30-3.30pm 

Crafts at the Castle: Harvest - make a cow mask, a harvest mouse and a corn dolly.

How to take part:

Pre order the activity pack from our art tickets page (we may have some packs available on the day for walk ups).

Each pack contains the materials you need to complete the three activities, a trail to do around the museum and an instruction booklet.

Come to the museum on Wednesday to collect your activity pack and, weather permitting, join us in the Museum grounds near the castle where we will help you with the crafts in your pack and supply basic materials and equipment.

Why not bring along a picnic blanket and stay for the day! If it is raining, take your pack to do at home. Please note, pack price does not include entry to the Museum. Museum admission fees apply. 


Family Fun Day Wed 17th August – Lost Language of Nature project

Join us for a one-off day of activities for the whole family as Saffron Walden Museum launches a brand new art commission for Uttlesford to record, celebrate and share your lost or hidden stories about the plants and animals we see every day. Get up close and personal with fearsome birds of prey, let our storyteller take you to fairy tale times and fantastic wild places, explore the Museum and Castle grounds like never before with bug hunts and plant surveys for important local wildlife, step back in time with a scythe demonstration in our wildflower meadow, and get making with children’s Crafts at the Castle. Standard museum entry fees apply (£2.50 / £1.25 / under-18s FREE).

Community Art Commission – Lost Language of Nature project

We were thrilled to receive so many applications to our art commission in partnership with Essex Cultural Diversity project, with a very high standard of applicants across the board. Interviews are being held at the end of July so keep your eyes peeled for more exciting announcements to come!

little learners

tattoo models

Object in Focus: Horniman Museum

Objects in Focus is a loans programme run by the Horniman Museum in London, funded by Arts Council England, which aims to improve access to their collections and strengthen their partnerships with other museums and cultural organisations, by offering a range of objects for loan free of charge.

In July the Museum is loaning some tattoo design examples from the Horniman Museum under this Objects in Focus scheme.  These tattoo models from Sarawak, Borneo date to the 19th century.  We will use them, along with other items from our collections, to share with visitors more about the history of tattooing around the world.

‘Tattooing is a magical, romantic, exciting and often-misunderstood art-form’

Dr Matt Lodder, University of Essex

The display will also include a tattoo implement from Fiji, made from a bone plate with a bamboo handle, which has been decorated with plaited coconut fibre.  It was collected in Viti Levu, Fiji, Oceania Polynesia in 1876.

The display will be supplemented by an online talk by Dr Lodder, from the University of  Essex, who curated the British Tattoo Art Revealed exhibition which was on display in 2018 at the National Maritime Museum in Cornwall, of which you can find out more here


Wildlife in the Museum and Castle grounds

We are very excited to share the results of a first botanical survey carried out by members of Essex Field Club Botany Group, led by Ken Adams, across the whole site. Ken and his fellow volunteers recorded 133 species of plants, including several notable species. Up to 300 examples of fiddle dock were found across the unmown areas, a plant which has only a handful of known records in the area. Few-flowered fumitory was also identified in a museum flower bed, this plant is classed as ‘vulnerable’ by the conservation charity Plantlife, and is a chalk-soil specialist restricted to suitable areas of eastern and southern England. Three interesting species of butterfly spotted were marbled white (only returned to Uttlesford in the last 5-10 years), meadow brown (a grassland species) and ringlet (common in damp grassland or woodland edges).

world cultures

Project Update:

Greater in Spirit,

Larger in Outlook

Epping Forest District Museum in Waltham Abbey and Saffron Walden Museum have received an Arts Council National Lottery project grant of £100,000 to work in partnership on their world culture collections.

The aim of the project is to ensure the museums and their collections reflect their diverse communities by working directly with cultural groups to research different objects and tell their stories.

The project’s title, ‘Greater in Spirit, Larger in Outlook’ is inspired by Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974. Museum staff will work with relevant community groups including the Ethiopian History Society, to explore, explain and exhibit the collection leading to a new permanent display at Epping Forest District Museum, due to be completed by the end of 2022.

A spokesperson from Ethiopian History Society UK said: We are delighted to partner with Epping Forest District and Saffron Walden Museums for this vital project.”

Other cultures represented in the collections include West and East Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.

Both museums are looking to work with relevant community and cultural groups linked to these collections which will lead to a major temporary exhibition in 2023.

Hazel Edwards, Area Director (South East) for Arts Council England, said:

We’re delighted to be able to support a project that will see source communities for these exciting collections given the important opportunity to work with Epping Forest District and Saffron Walden Museums to research, reinterpret and redisplay the material for audiences to engage with, explore and enjoy.

"I look forward to the resulting exhibitions and seeing how it might inspire other museums to work with cultural organisations to deliver similar projects.”

For more about the project:

(pictured left): Image of Saffron Walden Museum's world cultures gallery. 


Skip Clearance 

Behind the scenes with staff and volunteers we have continued to be busy re-organising and rationalising the contents of our storage areas for equipment. All the tables, chairs, painting materials, display equipment, display cases, packing materials, etc which are used in running the museum and delivering our busy programme of exhibitions, events and projects. 

In the last few weeks this work has moved on to focus on the roof space of the museum. 


Anglo-Scandinavian Hooked Tag

This tiny silver hooked clothes fastener, no bigger than a 5p piece, came off someone’s clothing in the High Roothing area one thousand years ago.

At that time, in the early 11th century, parts of eastern and northern England already had a population of mixed English (Anglo-Saxon) and Danish (Viking) descent, and the Danish king Knut became King of England in 1016 after a long campaign.

The spiral decoration on this little object is in Scandinavian style, so whoever wore this was at least adopting Anglo-Scandinavian tastes, if not actually of Danish descent.

The Museum was pleased to acquire this object recently through the Treasure Act, with thanks to the metal detectorist finder for reporting this find. It will go on display later in the year and joins a small by growing number of archaeological objects from Uttlesford suggesting Viking influence in our district.

loan boxes

Learning & Outreach

Saffron Walden Museum is committed to sharing stories from its collections through its learning and outreach services.

We welcome schools and community groups to the Museum or offer outreach sessions. 

Why not book for the next school term or for your community group.

Our loan boxes are also available for hire, £18 for 6 weeks, and will be quarantined in between hires to ensure they are Covid secure.




Shop Focus

This month to align with the Crafts at the Castle ‘Winstanley’ event we are looking at the shop items related to Henry Winstanley.

We stock a booklet titled “Henry Winstanley: Artist, Inventor and Lighthouse-Builder, 1644-1703. Paperback: 21 pages, priced at just £2.

We also stock marble lighthouses on sale at £5.95. They are “marble lighthouses” made using the finest marble from the foothills of the Himalayan mountains. The highly polished and smooth finish makes these an attractive and decorative gift idea for the home. 



Volunteering at the Museum

Big thank you to Liz, Jerry and Jeanette for their help with the annual stocktake.  Counting all those rocks and minerals, books, postcards and souvenirs is a big task!

Thanks again to Waitrose, Cook and Tesco for their community support for our recent Volunteer Tea Party. 

Here's a picture of our staff and volunteers taken at the tea party event last month.  Our Curator Carolyn is shown holding our framed certificate for a Community Update Magazine award for Commitment To Excellence, which was recently awarded to the Museum.  

Would you like to join our team?

We are always looking for additional new volunteers to join our welcome desk team on a regular or adhoc basis. 

To find out more about these and ‘Learning and Support’ volunteer opportunities please contact the museum using the details below.



Phone: 01799 510333