We can tell Saffron Walden was important by cross referencing with various sources available to us. In A. C Edwards’ “A history of Essex”, he shows that Saffron Walden was bigger than many other towns in a map. In fact, Saffron Walden was a corporate borough, which meant that not only was Saffron Walden allowed to have a market, it was also able create laws without any government involvement. We can then infer from that Saffron Walden was very important. In Holinshed’s Chronicles, published in 1557, it is written that the saffron of Saffron Walden was the most “excellent” of them all, ultimately meaning that Saffron Walden was important, considering it’s saffron is ranked at the top.
One problem with this source is that it is written by monks who are nowhere near Saffron Walden, meaning they had gotten their information from gossip. We can however, confirm the information with visual evidence that saffron was important to Saffron Walden due to its name “Saffron” Walden. Saffron Walden’s Coat of Arms also has saffron on it, also supporting the importance and integrity of Holinshed’s Chronicles.
A problem with the Coat of Arms is that it’s anachronistic, which means that there are things present on the Coat of Arms that were missing from the town. For example, the Coat of Arms had walls, whereas the town never did, therefore we cannot be sure that the saffron existed on this source alone. But Saffron Walden’s museum’s “The Saffron Crocus” and a crocus carving in the Saffron Walden Parish Church (dating 1480) confirm this.
Saffron Walden was also a very rich town. “The story of Saffron Walden Parish Church” by WJ Fancett tells us that Saffron Walden’s church was most “sumptuously equipped and furnished”, and that the citizens furnished it with “painted windows, carpets, candlesticks, vestments,” and “gold and silver plates”. This clearly says that Saffron Walden was very, very well off. A problem with this source is that it doesn’t give us a date, or idea of a record. However, we can confirm this by visual evidence – we can visit the church and see it for ourselves. The reason Saffron Walden was so rich is because of its saffron trade, for which Holinshed’s Chronicles says that “the saffron from Saffron Walden surmouteth all the rest and therefore, beareth worthwhiley the higher price”. This shows us that the saffron from the town was worth paying the extra for its higher quality.
From this, we can infer that Saffron Walden was a rich town. Again, the problem with this source is that it is written by monks, who receive their information from word of mouth, but it’s highly unlikely that they have heard false information. We can however, cross-reference with the Coat of Arms; which bears the saffron crocus, saying that it was important to the town, confirming its financial benefits to the entire town. A map from “A history of Essex” by A.C Edwards shows us that Saffron Walden was one of the bigger towns in Essex. This once again confirms that Saffron Walden was very rich. Also the fact that Saffron Walden had a castle and a church also suggests its wealth.
We can confirm this with cross referencing by visual evidence – we can see the remains of the castle and we can also see the church standing fully. The same map also shows us that Saffron Walden’s market was outside the inner bailey, meaning the market was too big to fit inside the inner bailey. We can infer from this that there was a lot of trade, meaning more money for the town. There are also buildings outside the inner bailey, saying the town was big and rich. There is a carving in the Saffron Walden Parish Church of the saffron crocus, confirming that it was the main source of income, and considering that the carving would have been expensive to carve, it says that the town was rich enough to hire someone to do it.
Saffron Walden was also a very religious town. “The Story of Saffron Walden Parish Church” by WJ Fancett tells us that the church was “sumptuously equipped” with “painted windows, carpets, candlesticks, vestments” and “gold and silver plates”. This tells us that the citizens cared enough for the church, and thus, their religion, to spend an amazing amount of money on it. The source however, has no date, but we can see the church today to cross-reference. We can also cross-reference with “The Saffron Crocus”, published by Saffron Walden Museum, which tells us that Geoffrey Symond left two Saffron Gardens to funds to pay for a priest to perform certain services on his body.
Saffron was very expensive and treasured, and the fact that he left a priest two gardens confirms his faith in God and religion. From a map of Saffron Walden, 1758, we can see that its church was next to the majestic castle, this again shows Saffron Walden’s religious beliefs. Again, the carving in the Saffron Walden Parish church, which must have been very expensive, says that the citizens were prepared to spend a large amount of money on their religious beliefs. We can confirm this by visiting the church today.
We can also say that Saffron Walden was a planned town. A map of Saffron Walden from 1758 shows us that Saffron Walden had specialised trading areas – saying it must be planned. A specialised trading area is a street with a name confirming to its sale, for example, Baker Street would sell bakery items. This is cross-referenced in “Essex Markets and Fairs”. SR Basset’s “Saffron Walden to AD1300” says that Saffron Walden had a rectilinear (rectangular) layout. Its boundaries are also aligned. It also says that buildings were equally laid out, which we can see examples of by walking around the town. This all suggests that the town was planned. From all this evidence, we can clearly see and say that Saffron Walden was rich, religious, important and planned, which is why it was so successful in the medieval days.