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.

Programme for February to May 2018:

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

Christopher South tells 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.

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 will tell 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 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.

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.

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

© Saffron Walden Town Library Society, 2017-2018

The events of the last 12 months

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.

Sunday 12th November 2017 at 3.00 pm
LITTLEBURY (film by Lizzie Sanders) at Saffron Screen

A charity screening (in aid of Addenbrooke's Charitable Trust - Haematology department) of Lizzie Sanders' fascinating and moving film of Littlebury which assembles historic and contemporary images.

This intimate portrait of the parish combines historic and contemporary photographs generously given by the people of Littlebury, museums, and libraries and of Lizzie's own recording. These unique pictures are threaded through the seasonal changes of a farming parish, showing the changing village as the backdrop for work, local events, moments of joy and affecting poignancy covering over a century.

Wednesday 8 November 2017 at 8.00pm
The Forgotten Slave-owners of the Hundred Parishes and Beyond, by Dr Nick Draper

For two hundred years Britain has rightly celebrated its abolitionist history. But in doing so it has sometimes forgotten its period of colonial slavery that preceded abolition and ran from the 1620s to the 1830s. New work at University College London has begun to peel back some of the layers of forgetting, revealing the presence of men and women throughout Britain who drew money from the slave-estates, as owners, annuitants and legatees. This talk explores the local legacies of such slave-owners in the areas surrounding Saffron Walden, and places them in the wider context of British slave-ownership as a whole.

Dr Nick Draper is the Director of the new Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership at University College London. His book Legacies of British Slave-ownership: Colonial Slavery and the Formation of Victorian Britain (with C Hall et al) was published in 2014 by Cambridge University Press. His The Price of Emancipation: slave-ownership, compensation and British society at the end of slavery (CUP, 2010) was awarded the Royal Historical Society's Whitfield Prize and shortlisted for the Frederick Douglass prize. He is a member of the Finance Committee, and a Fellow, of the Royal Historical Society. Prior to his current research, he worked in the City of London for 25 years.

Thursday 19 October 2017 at 8.00pm
The Arts and Crafts Renewal of Stained Glass 1880-1950, by Peter Cormac

None of the 'artistic crafts' was more profoundly affected by the philosophy of the Arts & Crafts Movement than stained glass. As this lecture demonstrated, many of the Movement's leading figures were closely involved in the art, as designers, patrons or technical innovators and, significantly, it was the one field in which women gained real parity - in status and achievement - alongside their male colleagues.

From the late 1880s onwards, stained glass had a prominent place in Arts & Crafts exhibitions and also in the Movement's polemical campaigning, which aimed to develop the public's understanding and appreciation of the handicrafts. All too often neglected in the literature of the Arts & Crafts Movement, stained glass is now recognised as one of its core activities, with many of its exponents enjoying long careers that lasted well into the late twentieth century.

Peter Cormack, MBE, FSA is the author of Arts & Crafts Stained Glass (Yale University Press, 2015). A Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, he was formerly Keeper of the William Morris Gallery, London, where he curated many exhibitions on aspects of the Arts & Crafts Movement, and is the Honorary Curator of Kelmscott Manor, Morris's country home in Oxfordshire. He is a Vice-President and Honorary Fellow of the British Society of Master Glass-Painters and a director on the board of the Charles J Connick Stained Glass Foundation in the USA.

Wednesday 12 July 2017, the annual visit to Libraries ouside Saffron Walden.

This year the Town Library Society joined with the Historical Society for a visit to Norwich. The visit included an excellent guided tour of the Cathedral by a very informative guide, and a visit to the Cathedral Library where we heard a talk about its history and then were able to roam its ancient bookshelves.

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 focused 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.

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 explored 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 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).

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.