Thaxted and Saffron Walden

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Date of travel

June, 2016

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Adult family

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There may be some raucous answers to the implied question above but there are also some easy ones.

First, find a place to park. Thaxted has a free car park a few metres from the High Street but there is also limited on-street parking. When we arrived there was a small market open but by the time we’d had lunch and the rain had set in it was closed.

With just enough time for a glance at the Guildhall and towards the church we found a reasonably priced place called Parrishes. It had been a cycle shop in the fifties, when the owner had been friendly with two East End characters named Ronnie and Reggie, the infamous Kray twins. There had been talk of opening a pub in Thaxted with the same name as their London local – I wonder if to provide an alibi should they murder someone there and admit to being in the same pub but in Essex. Anyway there is a photo of them with a brief summary on the stairs.

In contrast, our parking place had been outside the former home of Gustav Holst, as famous for transporting listeners around the planets as the Krays had sent people to Kingdom Come.

The rain was heavy and there isn’t much to do but look at buildings, though to be fair the wonderful church would have provided shelter and an insight into the Peasants’ Revolt, since the celebrated (or infamous, depending on your view) preacher John Ball is commemorated there. A week or so later and we could have stayed for a concert in the Thaxted Festival, perhaps featuring Holst.

Hoping to pass through the rain and out we headed to Saffron Walden. There is at least covered parking there, for the price of £10 spent at Waitrose – never a problem. In a brief period of respite I went to the Fry Art Gallery, which was closed on our last visit.

The Richard Bawden exhibition had ended but his father, Edward, and friends from the Bardfield group were on display. It’s a delightful collection of 1930s to 1950s art in various media. The Edward Bawden room also has a library of books illustrated in one way or another by members of the group. There is also china with designs by both Bawden and Eric Ravilious. In addition there was an exhibition of photographs by the son of Ravilious.

If it seems the Fry is just a place to spend a rainy hour, please visit if you can to see that it’s anything but. Ravilious, Bawden, Keith Vaughan and others of the group are also to be found in national collections. The first two contributed invaluable wartime art from different fronts until Ravilious was killed in an air crash at sea.

Obviously both Thaxted and Walden can be visited with more comfort on sunny days and Finchingfield, where Dodie Smith lived while writing “101 Dalmations,” is not far away. But this was yet another result of the forecasters’ “barbecue summer.” For people arriving at a reasonable hour to or from Stansted Airport they are a delightful last or first view of a still relatively rural England half way between London and Cambridge.


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