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Saffron Walden's rich heritage and wealth is reflected in the large number of old buildings whilst retaining the original medieval street layout. Bridge End, Castle Street, Myddylton Place and Church Street display many timbered houses dating from the 15th century, of which the Youth Hostel and the Old Sun Inn are outstanding examples.
Why not follow this trail and discover the hidden gems located in the cobbled streets of this charming town?
Forget the traffic and forget the noise. The gently rolling landscape of Essex, sprinkled with rivers and lit by constantly changing East Anglian skies, miles of country lanes, hidden byways, bridleways and public footpaths is best explored by walking or cycling.
1. Market Place
The market is still held here on Tuesdays and Saturdays as it has been since the 13th century. The Market Place is dominated by Victorian buildings. Barclays Bank was designed by Eden Nesfield as a bank for Gibson & Co. in 1874. The stone portico and timber framed additions to the Georgian Town Hall were designed by Edward Burgess and were a gift to the town from George Stacey Gibson in 1879. The Tourist Information Centre is housed here. The drinking fountain was also a gift to the town from the Gibson family in 1863 to commemorate the marriageof The Prince of Wales to Princess Alexandra of Denmark. The Library, once The Corn Exchange, is of Italianate style designed by Richard Tress and completed in 1848.
2. The Old Sun Inn
The crossroads at which the Old Sun Inn stands has timber framed buildings on all four corners. The Old Sun Inn is a range of Grade I listed homes and shops dating from the 14th century with many different types of decorative plaster work called ‘pargetting’. These include incised repeat patterns, some freehand designs and later basrelief of birds and fruit, possibly dating to 1676. The end gable shows two figures and opinion is divided as to whether they are Tom Hickathrift and The Wisbech Giant or Gog and Magog.
3. Saffron Walden Museum and castle ruins.
The museum collections are housed in one of the oldest purpose built museum buildings in the country, completed in 1835. Its ethnographic collection is of national importance. It has everything from mammoth tusks to mummies, from an early Tudor bed to a natural history museum gallery. The castle ruins are located in the grassy grounds and make a perfect setting for a picnic.
4. Castle Street
This street was part of the new town plan of the 1230s but most of the timber framed hall houses now date from around 1500. Some of the houses are Grade II* listed properties with many examples of ancient and modern pargetting. There are a number of unusual Wealden houses, the easiest to identify is at No 49/51. This style of hall house under a single roof is normally associated with Kent. The house also has sliding sash windows which are commonly found in Saffron Walden houses. By the 1800s this was the poorer section of town with many of the houses divided into small cottages. Clear breaks in the roof lines give clues as to the extent of the original houses.
5. Bridge End Garden
A series of seven interlinked gardens laid out by the Gibson family in the nineteenth century. These Grade II listed gardens are open to the public each day free of charge. Careful restoration has replicated gardening techniques and designs typical of the Victorian era and has brought the garden back to its full splendour.
6. The Fry Art Gallery
Situated in the centre of Saffron Walden, the gallery houses an impressive number of paintings, prints, illustrations and decorative designs by artists of the 20th century including Edward Bawden RA, Eric Ravilious, Michael Rothestein RA, Kenneth Rowntree and others.
7. Youth Hostel and The Close
The Youth Hostel is Grade I listed and is one of the finest medieval buildings in the town. It was built as a combined shop, home and warehouse in the 1490s. There is a fine doorway into Bridge Street and a carved dragon post on the corner. The sack hoist in the roof was added in the early nineteenth century when part of the building was converted to a malting. Diagonally across the road from the Youth Hostel stands The Close, a fine late fifteenth century timber framed house with later additions including an unusual seventeenth century ‘Spider’ window.
8. Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin
The earliest features of the largest parish church in Essex date from 1250 but the majority of the church was rebuilt in the Perpendicular Style around 1450 under the supervision of John Wastell, who also designed King’s College Chapel in Cambridge. With a total length of nearly 200 feet and a spire of 193 feet this church stands proud overlooking the historic market town. Among the monuments are Lord Audley’s Belgian slate tomb in the south chapel and R.A.Butler’s memorial plaque, his grave being at the east end of the churchyard.
9.The Cross Keys
The Cross Keys is a fifteenth century timber framed former house and shop with later additions. The roof was raised in the early nineteenth century and new windows added on the ground and first floors of the King Street frontage. The plaster on the entire timber framed section was taken off in the early twentieth century and some first floor windows reinstated. At the corner of King Street and High Street on the ground floor are two of the original fifteenth century shop windows.
10. The Rows
At the start of the Rows, on the corner of King Street and Cross Street stands a large late fifteenth century hall house. The house shows
clearly how large houses were divided into three different elements with the open hall section having its roof raised in the eighteenth century. The Rows were the town’s shopping centre from medieval times onwards. On Cross Street are some of the best preserved Tudor shop windows.
11. Audley End House and Gardens
Built by Thomas Howard, Earl of Suffolk to entertain King James I, Audley End is one of England’s most magnificent stately homes. Enjoy over 30 lavishly decorated room interiors by Robert Adam and a wonderful collection of paintings and furnishings. Explore the beautiful Elysian garden, 19th century parterre with its elaborate floral displays and the organic Kitchen Garden.
12. Audley End Miniature Railway
Lord Braybrooke’s private 1.5 mile railway through mature woodland adjacent to Audley End House. A wonderful addition to your day at Audley End.
Map & Directions
Parking available in Saffron Walden.
Public Transport Directions
Nearest train station: 2.5 miles from Audley End station.