News and Events

Forthcoming events

All events are held in Saffron Walden Library except where stated. There is no charge for admission and non-members are welcome. The Library has disabled access.

The programme up to June 2017 is described in detail below, plus the provisional dates for the remainder of the year.

Wednesday 10 May 2017 at 7.30pm
AGM, followed by Historic libraries in a digital age, by David Pearson.

Saffron Walden Town Library has served many generations as a wonderful quarry of knowledge and ideas. Like many such libraries, its future may be increasingly questioned when so many books and journals are now readily available online. This talk will explore numerous ways in which the Library does in fact have unique and enduring value through the individual and collective histories to be found among the books of George Gibson and others.

David Pearson has recently retired as Director of Culture, Heritage & Libraries for the City of London Corporation, having previously worked in numerous major libraries and collections, including the British Library, the V&A, and the Wellcome Library. He has also written and lectured extensively on aspects of books and their history, and on how they have been owned, used or bound; his books include Provenance Research in Book History (1994), English Bookbinding Styles (2004), and Books as History (2008).

Please note the earlier start time of this meeting. Non-members are welcome to attend but may not take part in the business of the meeting.

Thursday 22 June 2017 at 8.00pm
William Morris: Aesthetics, Politics, Revolution, by Owen Holland.

The Victorian poet, designer and revolutionary socialist William Morris was a man of many parts. Often known today for his wallpaper and soft furnishings, this talk will focus primarily on the contemporary relevance of his political commitment, and the way in which this commitment grew out of Morris's artistic ideals.

Owen Holland is lecturer in nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature at Jesus College, Oxford. He is also editor of the Journal of William Morris Studies.

Provisional dates for the remainder of 2017:
12th July (Wednesday) - day visit to Norwich Cathedral & its library
21st September (Thursday)
19th October (Thursday)
8th November (Wednesday)

© Saffron Walden Town Library Society, 2017

The events of the last 12 months

Thursday 20 April 2017 at 8.00pm
Saffron Walden, Quaker radicalism and the Hadstock arrests of 1661, by Kevin Davey.

Kevin Davey is the author of English Imaginaries (2000) an analysis of national identity in the twentieth century, Moscow Gold (2013) with Paul Anderson, an account of the influence of the Soviet Union on the British left, and most recently Playing Possum (2017) a modernist detective novel about T S Eliot, silent cinema and Kent in the 1920s. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, he advises technology businesses in Shoreditch and social enterprises across the UK. He grew up in Hadstock in the 1960s.

Thursday 16 March 2017 at 8.00pm
The Making of the West End of London in the Nineteenth Century, by Rohan McWilliam.

By the later nineteenth century, London's West End had established itself as one of the world's great pleasure districts. It had become a constellation of theatres, restaurants, department stores, exhibition sites and grand hotels. At the end of the century it became home to a new invention: the cinema. But how did the West End come to be? This talk explored the ways in which the West End took shape. An area that had formerly served the leisure needs of the aristocracy became available to all.

Rohan McWilliam is Professor of Modern British History at Anglia Ruskin University. He is Director of the Labour History Research Unit and a former President of the British Association for Victorian Studies. Currently, he is at work on a history of the West End of London since 1800.

Thursday 16 February 2017 at 8.00 pm
George Clausen and the Painting of English Rural Life, by Elizabeth Allen.

In 1881 George Clausen (1852-1944) and his new wife left London to settle in the countryside. It was a bold, decisive and political act which shaped Clausen's future career as a painter for in doing so he abandoned the fashionable subject matters which had brought him to the attention of the critics and declared his intention to record the realities of rural lives, of the people who worked and thereby lived closer to nature. A decade later he moved to Widdington, Essex and maintained a deep and intimate connection with the area for the rest of his long life. This talk described the work of George Clausen and his Paintings of Rural Life.

Elizabeth Allen gained an MA from the Courtauld Institute of Art and is an art historian and freelance lecturer who has worked for many years at the National Gallery and other London galleries as well as teaching at 'A' Level and undergraduate level.

Wednesday 4 January 2017 at 8.00 pm
Sketches of Saffron Walden

Readings about our town and its surroundings, from the 14th century to the 1940s, based on John Player's descriptions of walks in and around Walden that he published in the 1840s as starting points, including some which may be well trodden, others now overgrown.

Wednesday 16 November 2016 at 8.00 pm
Masters' Secrets Revealed: the Art and Science of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts, by Dr Paola Ricciardi

This talk complemented the current exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum 'Colour: the Art and Science of Illuminated manuscripts'. "Discover the secrets of original masterpieces and modern forgeries. Find out what cutting-edge technologies reveal about their painting materials, and the images' meaning and value to their owners."

Paola Ricciardi is a Research Associate in the Department of Manuscripts and Printed Books at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, which she joined in 2011. She earned her PhD in cultural heritage science from the University of Florence, Italy in 2008 and then spent three years as a post-doctoral Fellow at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. Her main research interest is the application of non-invasive analytical methods to the study of artists' materials, with a focus on pigments and paint binders used in illuminated manuscripts and other works of art.

Wednesday 26 October 2016 at 6.30 pm
Book Launch: Return of Evacuee a Postwar Childhood, by Brian Sanders

Launch of the sequel to Brian Sanders' illustrated memoir: Evacuee a Wartime Childhood (now in its second edition.) This new book covers his life in Central London following the Blitz and his return to Saffron Walden every school holiday into his teens. It includes many aspects of life in the town and its surrounds during the late 1940s and '50s.

Wednesday 12 October 2016 at 8.00pm
A Peculiar People? The New Life in Essex in the 20th century, by Ken Worpole

Because of its proximity to the turbulent social and political world of late Victorian East London, rural Essex became home to many different 'experiments in living' in the 20th century. These ranged from anarchist and Tolstoyan land colonies (Laindon, Purleigh, Maylandsea), artistic communities at Great Bardfield & Pebmarsh, to religious retreats and rehabilitation centres (Hadleigh, Othona, Osea Island), as well as exercises in industrial democracy (Silver End & Bata). In this talk, writer and social historian Ken Worpole provided an overview of the nonconformist impulse in the Essex landscape, and asked how how this impulse fares today.

Ken Worpole is the author of many books on architecture, landscape and public policy. He collaborated with photographer Jason Orton on two books exploring the coastal landscape of the Thames Estuary and East Anglia: 350 Miles (2005) & The New English Landscape (2013). His most recent book, New Jerusalem: the good city and the good society, was published by the Swedenborg Society (2015).

Wednesday 20 July 2016 the annual visit to Libraries ouside Saffron Walden.

This year the Society visited two libraries in Cambridge: the Wren Library at Trinity College and the old Library at Jesus College.

Trinity College's huge Wren Library is named after the architect who gave his services for free, building it to complete Neville's Court. It houses many original manuscripts, including over 1,000 medieval ones, and into more modern times with the original of Winney the Pooh. It also has some 750 books from pre-1500, Newton's own annotated copy of his Mathematica Principia, indeed 70,000 books from pre-1820, and the collections of Wittgenstein, RA Butler and many others.

Jesus College's Old Library is a smaller, more intimate library than Trinity's, but still has many pre-1500 manuscripts and early printed works. It also holds the library created by TR Malthus (father of the more famous son).

Wednesday 15 June 2016 at 8.00 pm
"Richard Fitzwilliam, 7th Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion and Sir John Soane: Two Regency Collectors and their Museums", by Tim Knox.

This lecture looked at two very different collectors, Richard, 7th Viscount Fitzwilliam and Sir John Soane. Both were contemporaries, and both founded museums that bear their name. It is an unequal comparison, Lord Fitzwilliam, despite his high rank and great wealth, is a shadowy figure who it seems deliberately left little trace, while Soane, a self-made man from humble origins, carefully orchestrated a comprehensive memorial in the form of his autobiographical house-museum, his collections and publications. Moreover, the museums that commemorate them have evolved into very different institutions.

Tim Knox was brought up in Nigeria and Fiji, before studying History of Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art. Between 2005 and 2013, he was Director of Sir John Soane's Museum in London, and is now a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge and the Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

He regularly lectures and writes on country houses, architecture, sculpture and the history of collecting. Publications include Sir John Soane's Museum London (2010), and The British Ambassador's Residence Paris (2011).

Wednesday 11 May 2016 7.30 pm
Annual General Meeting, followed by a lecture: "The Shepherdess and the Conman: Romancing the Maid of Buttermere" by Gillian Williamson.

Mary Robinson, daughter of the humble landlord of the Fish Inn, was a Lake District tourist attraction as the 'Maid of Buttermere' on account of her great beauty. Her fame seemed complete in 1802 when she married unbelievably well, to the Honourable Colonel Alexander Augustus Hope, MP, brother to the Earl of Linlithgow. Her groom, however, vanished almost immediately. Keswick society and a watching nation soon learned that it was all too good to be true: 'Hope' was no nobleman, but impostor and fraudster John Hatfield, a former linen draper's apprentice. Hidden in the false bottom of a box he had left behind, Mary discovered a further truth: he already had a wife and child abandoned in Devon.

Mary's story captivated the Romantic imaginations of Coleridge and the Wordsworths, and of the wider public. There were prints, songs, a novel, and a play. This talk examines Mary's and John's fascinating tale of class, sex and money at a time of political and international turbulence.

Gillian Williamson received a doctorate from the University of London in 2014. Her thesis is published by Palgrave Macmillan as British Masculinity in the Gentleman's Magazine, 1731-1815 (November 2015). She was also co-editor of Littlebury: A Parish History (2005) and a contributor to The Victoria History of Essex: Newport (2015).

Wednesday 13 April 2016 at 8.00 pm
"The Angel Roofs of East Anglia" by Michael Rimmer

It has been estimated that over 90% of England's figurative medieval art was obliterated in the image destruction of the Reformation in the sixteenth century. Medieval angel roofs, ornate wooden carvings in the roofs of historic churches around England, were hard for Reformation iconoclasts to reach. Angel roof carvings comprise the largest surviving body of major English medieval wood sculpture. Though they are both masterpieces of sculpture and timber engineering, angel roofs have been almost completely neglected by academics and art historians, because they are inaccessible, fixed and challenging to photograph. Michael Rimmer redresses this neglect and to bring the beauty, craftsmanship and history of these astonishing medieval creations to a wider audience. This is an updated version of the talk given two years ago.