It is believed the town’s original name was Walden, meaning, ‘Valley of Britons’. During the Middle Ages, the burgeoning cloth industry had a profound financial effect on the town when it started to grow saffron for dyestuffs for the cloth trade, food colouring, medicine. It was about this time that
Saffron was added to the town’s name.
Soon after the Battle of Hastings of 1066, William the Conqueror granted the manor of Walden as well as other lands to his comrade in arms, Geoffrey de Mandeville, who most probably built a motte and bailey castle on an earlier Saxon site. Geoffrey also became Constable of the Tower of London.
The present castle dates from around 1141, built by Geoffrey de Mandeville II, who King Stephen made, 1st Earl of Essex and custodian of the Tower of London as well. It seems possible that Geoffrey changed sides on the death of his father-in-law in a London street, at the hands of royalist supporters. From this point he strongly supported Empress Matilda in the period of ‘Anarchy’.
The castle stood on natural high ground and comprised a 60 ft high square keep with a curtain wall.
It is thought, the building had been completed when Geoffrey was seized and arrested, at St Albans, for treason, by King Stephen, 29th September 1143. Agreeing to give up his offices, lands and castles, including Walden, Geoffrey was released and made his way to the Isle of Ely where he made his base for attacks against the King. While attacking nearby Burwell he removed his helmet because of the heat and was shot in the head by a crossbowman. Geoffrey died 26 September 1144, never again to reclaim or
see his completed castle at Walden.
In 1157 King Henry II ordered the castle to be slighted.
The town’s streets are still shaped by the outline of the castle bailey but only
the rubble core of the ruined castle walls remain.
The stone facings were removed in the 18th century.
The ruin is open all year round, next to the Saffron Walden Museum.
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