The picturesque medieval town of Saffron Walden is situated in the heart of some of the finest rolling countryside of Essex. It is a small country market town with early origins, the name Walden meaning ""valley of Britons"". The early settlement lies to the west and south of the present town where an Anglo-Saxon cemetery was discovered in 1876.
Following the Norman Conquest the manor was allocated to the De Mandevilles who most probably built the castle. The area was dominated by this castle and its enclosure ditches determined the present street pattern.
During the Middle Ages the growth of the East Anglian cloth industry had an impact on the town. The nearby Abbey kept flocks of sheep and it was at about this time that the name Saffron was added to Walden when it became the major English centre for the production of the saffron crocus. Saffron was used to produce dyestuffs for the cloth trade, food colouring and medicine. This trade continued until the 18th century when cheaper saffron from Spain and the Middle East was imported and more artificial dyes were developed.
Notable residents of the town included Gabriel Harvey, the Elizabethan poet and astrologer, Henry Winstanley, who built the first Eddystone lighthouse in 1699, and the Gibson family. Prominent Quakers, the Gibsons started in Saffron Walden as brewers but eventually formed the Gibson Bank (one of the founding companies of the present Barclays Bank); they were also important benefactors to the town.
Saffron Walden was designated a Conservation Area in 1968 and there are some 400 buildings in the town of special architectural or historic interest. The Saffron Walden Town Trail will take you to some of the most charming buildings and locations in the town.
Saffron Walden also has a thriving artistic community, with numerous galleries located in the town, including The Fry Art Gallery which houses an impressive number of paintings, prints, illustrations, wallpapers and decorative designs by artists of the 20th century and the present day who have local connections and have made a significant contribution to their field. The gallery is open on certain days only from Easter Sunday to the last Sunday in October, further details on www.fryartgallery.org