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.

Details for the next few meetings:

Saturday 15 June 11:00 am
Friends' Meeting House, High Street, Saffron Walden.
"Gertrude Colmore: Writing for the Vote"
Kathrine Cockin

Please note time, date and meeting place.

"Gertrude Colmore" was one of the most prolific writers of the women's suffrage movement. Her short stories were regularly published in women's suffrage newspapers. She also published a very successful novel, Suffragette Sally (1908) and a timely biography of Emily Wilding Davison after the tragic and spectacular death of Davison at the Epsom Derby in 1913. "Gertrude Colmore" was the pen name of Gertrude Baillie-Weaver (1855-1926) who lived at Widdington near Saffron Walden. This talk will explore the writings of "Gertrude Colmore" in the context of women's suffrage politics and the "Home Counties".

Professor Katharine Cockin, University of Essex, has published books and articles on women's suffrage theatre. She is the editor of a collection of Gertrude Colmore's women's suffrage literature (Routledge 2007) and her most recent book is Edith Craig and the Theatres of Art (Bloomsbury Methuen Drama 2017).

Thursday 25 July 2019 at 2:00 pm
Visit to the Whipple Library and Museum, Cambridge - more information to follow.

The details for the remainder of 2019 will be available shortly.

© Gibson Library Society, 2017-2019

The events of the last 12 months

Wednesday 15 May at 7:00pm
Reception and Presentation of bound volumes of collated material on the history of Littlebury, compiled and donated by our member Lizzie Sanders. Members are asked to confirm their attendance in advance to Gillian Williamson:

Thursday 9 May at 7:30 pm
AGM and Lecture: 'Peterloo in Text and Images'.
John Gardner

The aftermath of the Peterloo massacre on 16 August 1819 produced a mass of media that tried to take control of how the event would be narrated and understood thereafter. Representations continue to this day, with a graphic novel appearing in this year of the bicentenary as well as a major film directed by Mike Leah. This talk returned to the cultural moment of the massacre and outlined how responses battled to dominate narratives of the event. Events and stories are owned by no-one, but remain to be retold to fit with the times, ideologies and concerns of the author. As with any event, the moment passes, but the story of the event remains in text in image. Authors examined will include anonymous balladeers, Samuel Bamford, George Cruikshank, William Hone, Percy Shelley and William Wordsworth.

John Gardner has written on a range of authors and topics in the fields of eighteenth and nineteenth century literature and culture, and is the author of the monograph Poetry and Popular Protest; Peterloo, Cato Street and the Queen Caroline Controversy. He is Professor in English Literature at Anglia Ruskin University and is currently working on intersections between literary and engineering cultures.

Please note the earlier time. Non-members are welcome to attend the lecture after the AGM, but may not participate in the business of the AGM.

Thursday 11 April 2019 at 8:00pm
Pageant Fever! Historical Pageants in Britain: from Saffron Walden in 1910 to the 2012 Olympics and Beyond.
Professor Paul Readman

In the years before the First World War, Britain succumbed to 'pageant fever', or 'pageantitis'. Hundreds of thousands of people caught the contagion, giving up their time to organise and perform dramatic re-enactments of the past of their home towns and villages. These were large-scale events: casts could run into the hundreds, even thousands, and whole communities were involved. The movement began in Sherborne, Dorset, but quickly spread across England, with Saffron Walden holding its own pageant in 1910. This talk told the story of these pageants across Britain as a whole, which after the Great War became common in large cities such as Birmingham and Manchester as well as remaining very popular in smaller places. It explored the motivations behind their staging, their interesting (and sometimes bizarre!) historical content, the rise and fall in their popularity, and their place in the local history and memory of communities. It also showed how the legacy of pageants has persisted into the twenty-first century, as evident not least in Danny Boyle's 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony.

Paul Readman is professor of Modern British History at King's College London. He has written widely on nineteenth- and twentieth-century British history, his most recent book being Storied Ground: Landscape and the Shaping of English National Identity (2018). Professor Readman leads 'The Redress of the Past', a large research project examining historical pageants across twentieth-century Britain. This project has published a free-to-use interactive database, containing information about and essays on more than 600 pageants. It can be accessed via the project website, here: (

Wednesday 20 March 2019 at 8:00pm
The David Parr House - an extraordinary Cambridge home.
Tamsin Wimhurst

Decorated in the late Victorian era this house lay undiscovered until a few years ago when its extraordinary story began to be uncovered. David Parr was an 'artistic decorator' who worked for some of our best-known Victorian designers of the day such as William Morris and George Bodley. He decorated churches and palaces for those who could afford such decoration but in his spare time he came home and decorated his humble terrace house in the same style. Lived in by his granddaughter until a few years ago its interior remained a wondrous hidden secret. Now it will be saved, restored and opened up to the public so that many more can enjoy its unique atmosphere.

Tamsin Wimhurst is a Trustee and founder of the David Parr House Charitable Incorporated Organisation which was set up in 2014 to conserve and open up the house to the public. Before this she worked in curation, project management and education in the heritage industry, working with a wide variety of communities in order to help them access their history and encourage an interest in their past. She is a passionate supporter of small independent museums, with a special interest in local and women's history.

Wednesday 20 February 2019 at 8:00pm
Views of London before 1800.
Bernard Nurse

The 'Views' form part of the extensive Gough topographical collection in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. They provide an invaluable record of London and the surrounding area during the period and the collection includes many unique and rare items. A selection from the recent book will be shown with some images of the East of England. These are proposed to be used for a book in preparation on British towns.

Bernard Nurse is the former Librarian of the Society of Antiquaries of London. He is the author of London: prints and drawings before 1800, the Gough collection (2017). He lived in Newport in the 1980s, is the joint author of A Village in Time: the history of Newport (1995) and contributor to The Victoria History of Essex: Newport (2015).

Sunday 10 March 2019, 2:00 to 4:30pm
From Purchas to Post - European Travellers in Africa.
Len Pole

Africa as a continent in which to undertake explorations and adventures has been a focus of European interest since the time of Herodotus in the 5th century BCE.
The Town Library has a broad range of accounts of European journeys in the continent, from 15th to 20th centuries. There is a concentration on the more recent period, from about 1760 to the 1880s, particularly those expeditions involving missionary work and the various attempts to discover the sources of the major rivers, such as those made by Park, Livingstone and Stanley. As with all travel reports, the fascination is as much with the personalities involved (both European and African) and actions witnessed, as with the landscape and scenery.

Len Pole grew up in London, and has been working in museums since the 1960s, having studied psychology and social anthropology at Bristol University and University College, London. He ran the Saffron Walden Museum for over 20 years before moving to Exeter to work at the City Museum there. He started his career at the Horniman Museum, in south London, and then at the National Museum of Ghana, studying African forms of metal-working and weaving. He now works as a museum consultant, particularly on ethnographic collections (

Wednesday 9th January 2019 at 8:00 pm
New Year Social Evening and Readings: Scenes from Old Walden.

This year our social evening took us back to May 1910 and the Saffron Walden pageant 'Scenes from Old Walden'. The Town Library and Museum hold copies of the script, the programme and souvenir album, photographs, cuttings of press reviews from local and national papers and other documents. Some of these will be on display in the Reading Room. Through readings and music, we looked at how and why the pageant was organised, meet some of the people who were involved and share with you some of the scenes themselves.

Wednesday 14 November 2018 at 8:00pm
Books and Power in Tudor England: The Renaissance Library of Sir Thomas Smith (1513-77)
Lucille Munoz

In addition to being a brilliant Queens' scholar and controversial Tudor statesman, Sir Thomas Smith, native of Saffron Walden, was an inveterate doodler in the margins of the books that formed his renowned Renaissance library. This talk explores Smith's surprisingly wide interests and features his carefully inscribed portrayals of rulers, towns, adulterous women and other marginalia, to reveal the essential role played by books in politics and governance in Tudor England.

After a BA in Literature and a MA in Book History and Librarianship in Strasbourg and Lyon, Lucille started her career as Project Cataloguer at Lambeth Palace Library in London. She is now working as Rare Books Curator at Queens' College, Cambridge.

Saturday 20 October 2018 at 2:30pm
Maps of the Gibson Library.
Peter Walker

Maps can be used for many purposes, such as building and family history, boundaries or footpaths, as well as appreciation of the map as an artefact in its own right - its design, production and contents. Maps, after all, are a synthesis of geography, science, history and art. In this talk Peter covered some of the many types of map in the Town Library across many centuries and their many purposes.

Peter Walker is the author of Printed Maps of Essex from 1576, being the catalogue of printed maps at the Essex Record Office.

Thursday 18 October 2018 at 8:00pm
Who wants yesterday's papers? Reading rubbish.
Gillian Williamson.

When a young printer, the future American statesman Benjamin Franklin wrote his own epitaph: 'Like the Cover of an Old Book, Its Contents torn Out'. To us the idea of ripping books apart seems like sacrilege. But it was not quite so in the eighteenth century. The rows of rare books on library shelves are rare precisely because many, even most, printed texts had a twilight existence as waste paper, a valuable resource. This talk captures something of the twilight existence of much printed matter and of the readers it may have met along the way.

Gillian did much of her PhD research into the 18th-century Gentleman's Magazine at the Town Library and is now the secretary of the Town Library Society. Her book British Masculinity in the Gentleman's Magazine, 1731-1815 includes a chapter on reading practices and this led her to consider what happened to the magazines that were not kept and bound after they were first read. She is currently writing a book on life in London lodgings in the 18th century.

Thursday 19 July 2018
The annual visit to Libraries ouside Saffron Walden - Visit to Dr Samuel Johnson's House, followed by a visit to the St Bride Printing Library and Museum, London.

Dr Johnson's House is a charming 300-year-old townhouse, nestled amongst a maze of courts and alleys in the historic City of London. Samuel Johnson, the writer and wit, lived and worked here in the middle of the eighteenth century, compiling his great Dictionary of the English Language in the Garret.

Housed in a beautiful Victorian building and opened in 1895 the St Bride Library quickly established itself as one of the world's most significant collections of books about printing, typography, paper-making and graphic design.

From the late 1950s, the collections expanded to include many of the physical objects of printing and type-founding, including presses, punches, matrices and type-casting equipment. Original artwork for Eric Gill's eponymous sanserif may now be found alongside scale models for Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert's UK road signs. Printed books include a substantial fragment of Caxton's Consolation of Philosophy and William Morris's Kelmscott Chaucer.

Thursday 21 June 2018
George III as Revealed by the Georgian papers programme: A progress report, by Arthur Burns.

The Royal Household is collaborating with King's College London, along with other partners including the College of William and Mary and the Library of Congress, to make available all the Georgian papers held at Windsor Castle online for free public access, some 350,000 pages in all. Only 15 per cent of these have previously been published. In this talk, the academic director of the project, Arthur Burns, outlined the project and how it is making us think about George III differently. Not only have there been new discoveries, but digitization itself is creating new perspectives and asking new questions about the king and his times.

Arthur Burns is professor of Modern British History and academic director of the Georgian Papers Programme at King's College London. He is a former vice-president of the Royal Historical Society, is currently President of the Church of England Record Society, and is an honorary fellow of the Historical Association. Predominantly a historian of later Hanoverian England, his publications on religious and political history cover the whole of the modern period of British history.