Saffron Walden: The Making of a Market Town

PUBLISHED: 20:33 02 March 2014 | UPDATED: 20:33 02 March 2014




This year will be a very special year for Saffron Walden. During 2014, this charming market town in the north of the county is set to commemorate 500 years since the awarding of the King’s charter granted by Henry VIII in 1514 to the Guild of Holy Trinity.

The charter is arguably the town’s most valuable piece of history, as it gave the Guild of Holy Trinity local government-type powers, including the right to run the windmill, the market and the malt mill. These were monopoly powers which allowed the ownership and the Guild to be able to keep all of the income from these sources. Initially a rent was payable to the King, but following various machinations, the town owned the market outright in 1618.

Simon Lloyd, town clerk for Saffron Walden, believes there is no question that the town’s ownership of the market helped to make this area the most identified town in the local region. He explains: ‘The town was bypassed by the main road links and had no navigation, so without the market it is very unlikely that Saffron Walden would have developed to the extent that it did. The market itself only became important once the town could keep its income, which the 1514 charter allowed.’

Following the civil wars between King Stephen and Queen Maud, Geoffrey de Mandeville was killed in 1144 and market rights were forfeited to the King. A number of charters followed throughout the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries, but in 1485, Henry VII decided to review all his finances and realised that more money could be made from tolls on markets and started increasing them. This had a devastating effect on Saffron Walden’s economy and in 1513 a number of prominent residents approached the newly-crowned King Henry VIII. He agreed to the creation of a religious guild, to which powers of local government could be attached, and on May 12, 1514, a new charter was granted to the guild.

The market had a monopoly rule, which meant no other location could hold a market within six and two-thirds of a mile of the town. This was a substantial financial advantage as the owner of the market could charge tolls, payable by the local peasantry that wished to sell goods.

Simon believes this anniversary is an event to be recognised and local residents and visitors have a great opportunity to learn the history of the town through various events to mark the occasion. Simon explains: ‘This is a very important time in Saffron Walden and it’s a perfect excuse to celebrate. I’m looking forward to everybody joining in and having a great deal of fun, while combining the event with educational learning about the town.’

On May 9 to 11 this year, the idyllic Saffron Walden Common will host a weekend of Tudor-themed events and activities for local residents and regional spectators to enjoy. The bespoke medieval experience will include a number of wooden Tudor-style buildings, shallies and wooden canvas stalls to create an authentic and historic feel.

There will also be a Tudor-themed market, that will only be selling products that would have been available around that period, including a range of art, clothing and accessories all made from natural materials.

Paul Kennedy, managing director and owner of the Market Square Group in Peterborough and the man responsible for organising the celebrations in Saffron Walden, believes the town council approached him because he has a track record in delivering the needs for these particularly niche events. ‘This is going to be a fantastic, family fun and educational event, combined with retail therapy for everybody to enjoy,’ says Paul.

‘Everything is going to be covered to make it a real medieval experience. 
We welcome the opportunity to work with such a forward-looking town council in the wonderful scenic surroundings of historic Saffron Walden.

‘There will be a food festival serving typical foods from this period, including wild boar and venison, and we will be providing contemporary foods too.

We are keen for more local British food suppliers from the Essex and Suffolk area to get involved, so if you are interested in exhibiting at the market, please get in touch with us. We will be choosing authentic products that can help make this a real medieval experience.’

Further plans include Tudor pottery workshops which will include potters undertaking demonstrations and teaching people the types of ceramics and pottery that were made during this historical era, helping visitors to make specific pieces. Tile and tapestry making will also be on show and there will be a Tudor camp featuring historic re-enactors demonstrating further arts, crafts and skills too. There will be a variety of entertainment throughout the three-day event, with plenty to keep the children occupied too, including workshops teaching some basic cooking skills and lessons in how to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy foods.

‘This event has lots going on and we will be combining it with a number of other things, such as Mayor Making. 
So overall it will be a very good weekend,’ adds Simon.

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