Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Quintessential English Town

I took a break from London today to visit a small little town in Essex called Saffron Walden. The best thing about the day was the bus ride through many a little English village, with stone walls and thatched roofs and the Tudor-esque style of architecture in which the first floor juts out beyond the ground floor.

There has been a settlement near current-day Saffron Walden since before the Roman occupation of Britain, and thereafter, an Anglo-Saxon town was established. There is still the foundation of Walden Castle, which was constructed in 1116 and is near Saffron Walden's quaint museum.

The early town was known as Chipping Walden. The saffron crocus was grown in the area during the 16th and 17th century. Saffron is extracted from the flower's stigmas and used in medicines, condiments, perfumes, and as an expensive yellow dye. The production of saffron became an industry for the town, thus it changed it's name.

Saffron Walden is a market town, with the center based around a large square that holds market a few days a week. I had lovely chats with a few of the shopkeepers I visited and a leisurely lunch in a lovely little cafe. Many of the old buildings in Saffron Walden exemplify a decorative plasterwork unique to East Anglia, which adds color to the streets and mixes nicely with the Georgian architecture  and yellow-bricked buildings. The town is small enough to walk the whole thing in about an hour. And like any proper English town, there is a Common and a church. Saffron Walden's parish church, St. Mary the Virgin, is the largest parish church in Essex and was built in 1430 under the supervision of the designer of the Chapel at King's College, John Wastell.

The one thing I didn't have a chance to do while in Saffron Walden is visit Audley End, which is on the ground of Walden Abbey. Henry VIII granted Walden Abbey to Lord Chancellor Sir Thomas Audley (I'm assuming a result of the seizures of the monastic lands, an idea by Thomas Cromwell to raise money for the crown.) It was converted into a domestic house for Audley, known at the time as Audley Inn. The original  building was demolished by the first Earl of Suffolk and a grander mansion was built to entertain King James I. Christopher Wren was one of the architects involved in the redesign.

Reflecting on my day in the English country, the one thought I continued to have was really a question - when can I move here? Life in the English countryside truly does seem idyllic.

Photos from the day can be found here.

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