Friday, October 21, 2011

Saffron Walden

Saffron Walden is picture postcard pretty.  So here are some picture postcard pretty pictures.

I took them really to show to Tom when I got home, but then thought I'd make a collage just to give everyone a taste of ye olde half-timbering, pargeting. warm brickwork, greensward churchyard etc.  According to my niece, who lived there for a time, it gets surprisingly rough of a Saturday night, however.

Still, a nice thing about it is the Fry Gallery (good link, if you keep returning to the home page, they background image changes every time), which is a small but beautiful space chock full of things by the likes of Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden, which are so much in the cultural and visual idiom in which I grew up that even when I hadn't actually seen them before I felt like they resonated with some atavistic, DNA-based part of me.  There's a small room off to one side that contains Festival of Britain china and shelves full of illustrated books such as the Shell Guide to Britain which quite create a sensory hallucination of slipping back in time to somewhere I never quite left.

That's my sister going through the prints.

Outside was a wall covered in variegated ivy,

complete with wagging butterflies, like in Intercession in Late October.

As any fule no, or could deduce, Saffron Walden is called that because they grew saffron there once.  (But how many know that Croydon was also called after the autumn crocuses grown there for saffron, which pleased me because Charmless Dutch Bulb-growing Neighbour once pompously corrected me for referring to colchicum as autumn crocus, since, he said, they were unrelated.  Or that saffron is to be found in cookery wherever the Phoenicians went, from Persia to Cornwall.  Amazing what an upbringing immersed in Radio 4 and the Shell Guide to Britain can do for you...).

Anyway, the saffron crocus (colchicum) motif is to be found around the place in the town, from the crest with the three rather bizarrely heraldically rendered flowers in the top left of the collage,

to a rather handsome bit of woodwork, a rail and table, in the church, which is more elegantly autumn crocus-like.

Postscript: Thanks to Zephyr, who is unparalleled in matters horticultural, I must east humble pie with saffron (which wouldn't then be so humble, in view of the costliness of the spice).  Colchicum, though called autumn crocus too, is not the flower from which comes saffron, but is in fact highly toxic.  The saffron autumn crocus is a true crocus crocus sativa which looks a bit similar but has different leaves and growth habit.  In fact I think that the church carvings look rather more like colchicum, so perhaps others have been confused too.

This also means Charmless was right.  He often is, which is somehow serves to exacerbate his general annoyingness. Alas, I am not always a nice person.


zephyr said...

hmmm...i thought saffron crocus was crocus sativus, also fall blooming, but does not send up those huge leaves in spring, the way colchicum does?

Saffron Weldon is lovely--thank you for sharing Tom's postcard! And i particularly love the beautiful woodwork

the polish chick said...

love the woodwork. how charming these old world towns are. i feel all lost in my charmless north american existence. thank you for these little escapes!

Zhoen said...

A prayer to the most treasured spice - saffron.

Lucy said...

Thanks three.

Zephyr, you are quite right, I shall append a postscript. Sadly that means so was Charmless, but I must accept this. Colchicum are indeed also called autumn crocus, and do look quite similar, but are poisonous, and as you say, the leaves are quite different. In fact the woodworked flowers look rather more like colchicum than crocus sativum, so perhaps I am not the only one to be confused.

PC - I always feel that photos of pretty thatched and timbered English towns, or indeed stone and ramparted French ones, is a bit of a cheat, like photographing only photogenic and narcissistic people, on the other hand treasuring the old and weathered has something going for it!

Z - odd how it isn't grown commercially here any more, when it was clearly such an important crop once; perhaps the climate changed, or people's tastes... I always have it around but am often slightly disappointed when I use it, perhaps I'm not generous enough with it, or haven't got the hang of using it.

earlybird said...

Lovely post. Thank you. The church woodwork is rather wonderful. Had the local ladies echoed the motif in their kneelers, I wonder.

They grow saffron not far from here too. Be generous with it to make marvellous golden creamy risotto Milanese to accompany an osso bucco... mmm. Good autumn food.

I don't really like it in sweet things.

Anonymous said...

All your photographs are beautiful, but your collages are particularly beguiling. Little wordless stories. I'd like to frame them and put them on my walls.
- alison

zephyr said...

i think you're right, Lucy...the artisans who created the beautiful woodwork must have been using colchicum for their reference.

i can only imagine the extreme backache caused by bending over thousands of crocus when it was time to harvest! Perhaps that is why it is not grown commercially there became impossible to hire people willing to do that back-breaking work.

earlybird said...

You might find this link interesting, Lucy,

It's less than an hour's drive from where I live - sadly I couldn't go to the fête last Sunday.

Lucy said...

Earlybird, thanks for that lovely link, very interesting and some beautiful images. The flower is more like the heraldic one (except the leaves!) in that the stamens really do stand out proud from the flower. Some interesting recipes too.

marly youmans said...

You do a good job of rendering what might be sentimental and ye olde England, Lucy!

I remembering writing a paper in graduate school that had much to do with saffron and Saffron Walden and some literary work. For the life of me, I cannot remember what it was. But enjoyed your tour. Love the way the enterprise colored architecture. I always liked the way the Corinthian columns on Playmaker's Theatre in Chapel Hill, NC included tobacco leaves...