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 meeting:

Tuesday 7 January 2020
in Saffron Walden Library.
An Evening from the Spare Room - the 2020 Social Evening

Bringing a stranger into a spare room or rooms in a house for a cash-in-hand rent is a longstanding way of easing the financial burden of home-ownership. But the relationship between landlords, landladies and their lodgers can be an awkward one and so has been the subject of comedy, tragedy and moral panic for centuries - from Chaucer to Jack the Ripper.

Our 2020 New year social will present a variety of readings, songs and images that explore this theme, using items from the Gibson Library collection and beyond.

The details for the remainder of Spring 2020 will be available shortly.

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© Gibson Library Society, 2017-2019           

The events of the last 12 months

Wednesday 13 November 2019
in Saffron Walden Library.
Henry Winstanley: Print-maker - by Martin Rose

Best known for his design of the Eddystone Lighthouse, Henry Winstanley was also an enthusiastic self-taught print-maker whose prints have left us with a faithful record of the great Jacobean palace of Audley End. This talk will ask what we can learn from Winstanley's prints, explore his motivations and the political significance of the network of patrons who commissioned them.

Martin Rose lives in Catmere End. He read history and later as a postgraduate, Middle Eastern History, at Oxford, longer ago than he cares to remember; and spent thirty years with the British Council including postings in Baghadad, Rome, Brussels, Ottawa and Rabat. He has recently completed a biography of Henry Winstanley, which should be published in 2020.

Wednesday 16 October 2019
in Saffron Walden Library.

3:00 p.m. Reception to launch the Gibson Library, with writer, speaker and broadcaster Gillian Darley, author of Vesuvius, Villages of Vision, Octavia Hill, John Soane, John Evelyn and more recently Excellent Essex.

7:30 p.m. "Excellent Essex" a talk by Gillian Darley.

"It's the county everyone's heard of; the place few of us know. Based on her new book, Gillian Darley's talk takes us on a vivid, personal tour, from the seaside piers to the empty marshes and the New Town tower blocks, revealing a landscape and a story like no other. Alongside Essex Man and TOWIE, there's the Essex that nurtured the first Puritan settlers in America, welcomed refugees from Europe, fugitives from the underworld and bombed-out East Enders. Where dreamers and makers, punk poets, anarchist sects and inventors all found inspiration.
Drawing on everything from ancient maps to reality tv, Excellent Essex is no guide book, but a wonderful guide to England's most misunderstood county.

Thursday 19 September 2019 at 8:00 p.m.
in Saffron Walden Library.
"The Grand Tour of Richard Aldworth Neville (1750-1825)"
by Dunstan Roberts

Unfortunately because of speaker illness this talk had to be cancelled at short notice; we hope to re-schedule it for a future date.

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

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

"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).

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.