In 1895, the weather was so cold that Mrs. Gibley of Saffron Walden used a hot brick to warm her bed. She was fortunate that her neighbor rescued her from the fire that resulted and burnt her home to the ground. The weather of this time meant that Saffron Walden was the host for a unique moonlit tobogganing festival. The violent storms that occurred across Essex as a result of the warm weather of 1923 caused lightning to split a huge tree from top to bottom that was in the grounds of the nurses quarters at Saffron Walden General Hospital. In 1977, John Banks took a photo of a whirlwind near Saffron Walden. This is an extremely unusual weather event and although it was traveling at about 30 mph no real damage was done.
Saffron Walden History
There have been settlements in the area of what is now known as Saffron Walden since the Bronze Age. Following the withdrawal of the Roman’s from Britain, Saffron Walden began to flourish as a town and focal point for rural business life in the area. The Norman invasion of Britain led to the building of Walden Castle as well as the foundation of Walden Abbey. By 1141, the town had established a market (which had transferred from the nearby village of Newport) and was given its town charter in 1300. Known at that time as 'Chipping Walden', it was in the 17th century that the town was renamed Saffron Walden after the saffron crocuses that were widely grown in the area to produce the stigmas that are used as a spice and were used in medicines of the day. Saffron Walden had strong stirrings of puritanism and, in 1647, acted as the headquarters of the New Model Army during the English Civil War. By the close of the 18th century Saffron had lost its popularity and so Saffron Walden became a centre for malt and other brewing crops. During that period the town had over 30 maltings and brewers within it. Saffron Walden has a number of historically significant buildings. The Corn Exchange and Guildhall are particularly fine in the centre of the town, as are the ruins of Walden Castle and the extensive estate and house at Audley End on the edge of the town.
Saffron Walden has many links to notable residents, past and present. Geoffrey de Mandeville, 1st Earl of Essex, built Walden Castle and was patron of Walden Abbey. Sir Thomas Smith, who was Secretary of State to Queen Elizabeth I, was born in Saffron Walden, as was Henry Winstanley, the artist and engineer who built the first Eddystone Lighthouse. Other notables include actress Hattie Jacques and actor Ian Lavender, as well as racing drivers Stig and Tom Blomqvist.