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.

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

This year our social evening will take 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 maybe even music, we will look 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.


The programme for the remainder of Spring 2019 will be available very shortly.

© Saffron Walden Town Library Society, 2017-2018

The events of the last 12 months

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 Saffron Walden Town 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.

Wednesday 9 May 2018 at 7:30 pm
Annual General Meeting, followed by an illustrated talk:
A Great Fight in the Church at Thaxted between the Sequestrators and the Minister, August 22, 1647, by Richard Till

On 22 of August 1647, sequestrators appointed by parliament arrived at Thaxted church. They were there to remove the royalist minister, the Rev. Sam Hall. Hall's ultra-royalist views were popular with Thaxted's elite but had divided the community. Hall was in trouble with the authorities. "He had preached a malignant sermon in Cambridge." His high-handed ways annoyed many. But to Thaxted's puritans he was the epitome of everything they loathed. Given the divisions he had caused, it was probably a mistake to try and remove him during a service in his own church. When the sequestrators tried there was a riot, led by the women of the congregation. The sequestrators were driven out in fear of their lives.

Richard Till was born and educated at Nuneaton in Warwickshire. He attended University College, Swansea, and completed his post-graduate research at the University of Wales in 1970. His thesis was awarded the University's history prize. Mr. Till worked in education throughout his career, ending as head of Birchwood High School in Bishop's Stortford. Later, the need to protect Thaxted from over-development led to his being asked to produce a background paper on the town's history. This led to a joint approach between the Thaxted Society and the University of Leicester to sponsor local research. The "Great Fight" was one result of that research. It was published in the Local Historian in January 2017.

Wednesday 18 April 2018 at 8:00pm
Saffron Walden, Magic and the Elizabethan State: William Harrison, the Harvey Brothers and the Cambridge Connection, by Professor Glyn Parry

Gabriel, Richard and John Harvey, the sons of a Saffron Walden rope-maker, became prominent intellectuals at Cambridge University, at the Court and in London. However, their careers eventually foundered, partly because of their early education under the magus John Dee in his magical academy at Mortlake, west of London. There they learned astrology, alchemy, and how to contact angels, all studies which came under attack at Cambridge in the 1570s and 1580s, leading to a wider cultural and political reaction against occult studies, exemplified by William Harrison, Rector of Radwinter, who knew many of the individuals mentioned in this talk.

Glyn Parry is Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Roehampton, London. He published a study of William Harrison's thought, and more recently a biography of John Dee, The Arch-Conjuror of England (Yale UP, 2012). He is currently completing a book about Thomas Digges, Dee's most famous mathematical pupil, whose other career as a con-man, fraudster and forger made him a target of conservative critics of magic and mathematics.

Thursday 15 March 2018 at 8:00pm
The Fortunes of Francis Barber: The True Story of the Jamaican Slave Who Became Samuel Johnson's Heir, by Michael Bundock

This talk told the story of the remarkable life of Francis Barber, who was brought to England as a slave from Jamaica in 1750 and became a servant in the household of the renowned man of letters Dr Samuel Johnson. Making an unlikely friend in Johnson and caring for him during the writer's later years he eventually became Johnson's heir. Many slaves were brought to Britain in the eighteenth century, but little is known of their lives. Francis Barber's story opens a window onto London at a time when slaves had yet to win their freedom.

Michael Bundock is the author of The Fortunes of Francis Barber: The True Story of the Jamaican Slave Who Became Samuel Johnson's Heir (Yale University Press, 2015). He is a Director of Dr Johnson's House Trust, President of the Johnson Society for 2017-2018, and an Honorary Research Associate in the Department of English at University College London. He is a barrister by profession and, when not writing about the eighteenth century, likes to practice maritime law.

Wednesday 7th February 2018 at 8:00pm
The Truth About Grunty Fen and the Allure of Squalor, by Christopher South

Christopher South told how he was led astray and after 50 years as a serious journalist fell into the clutches of a comic yokel. Born as a stage act, Dennis of Grunty Fen grew into a radio cult that lasted for 17 years. Now the mad fantasy world of a squalid fen village survives in Christopher South's ever-earnest and occasionally disgusting books like the latest, "Customs and Folklore of Grunty Fen", which pokes gentle fun at social historians like Martyn Everett. He hopes you'll tell him why so many people like to hear about awful people and awful places.

Christopher South began in journalism in Saffron Walden 63 years ago and still writes and broadcasts regularly. His interviews range from royalty to a tramp. He is widely travelled, has helped found three successful charities and has been married to Janet for 53 years for most of which they have lived in Little Chesterford.

Wednesday 3rd January 2018 at 8.00 pm
New Year Social Evening and Readings: Four centuries toing-and-froing in Europe

This New Year's programme highlighted some accounts of journeys into various other European countries made by people from the United Kingdom, using the trip to France and Italy undertaken by George Stacey Gibson and his family in 1865 as a jumping off point.