Saffron Walden Museum is proud to be a partner of Snapping the Stiletto. The purpose of Snapping the Stiletto: Campaigning for Equality is to find and tell the stories of women of all ethnicities, LGBTQ+ individuals, working women, and women with disabilities.
On this page you will find a number of resources to help you explore some of these themes using objects from the museums collections. To find out more about Snapping the Stiletto take a look at the project website.
Artist Heidi Sharp held a residency at Saffron Walden Museum over the summer of 2021. The aims of the residency were to:
1) Explore how the collection currently represents women/presents the stories of women. Find and highlight any gaps in this representation.
2)To use her practice to highlight the stories she has discovered and engage with the public to fill gaps in the representation of women and their stories within the Museum.
You can explore Heidi's creative practice through her sketch book to the left and then get involved by joining in with some of the creative activities below. You an also read about Heidi's experience of the residency below.
We would love to see what you make in response to the project, so if you would like to share that with us please email pictures/copies to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Search the term "Essex Girl" on google and you will find a number of meanings ranging from:
"woman viewed as promiscuous and unintelligent, characteristics jocularly attributed to women from Essex" - Wikipedia,
"a young woman who dresses and behaves in a way that attracts attention, and shows that she is not intelligent or stylish, thought of as typical of some people from the English county of Essex" - Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press
Recently there has been a successful campaign to remove the term Essex girl and the following definition from the Oxford English dictionary:
"contemptuous term applied (usually jocular) to a type of young woman, supposedly to be found in and around Essex, and variously characterized as unintelligent, promiscuous and materialistic".
What do you think about the term Essex Girl and the stereotype it portrays?
The Museum's collections include stories of many Essex women from the Anglo Saxon era to present day. You can explore the stories of some of these "Essex Girls" below.
Ruby Violet Hurn was born in 1908 at Madison Bull Lodge, Audley End.
Ruby was educated at Cambridge House in Saffron Walden and from an early age, she showed a considerable talent for music, particularly the violin. In 1924, aged 16, she was awarded a place at the Royal College of Music. Her fees were paid for by Lord & Lady Howard de Walden and the local community raised funds to buy her a quality violin.
During World War II, Ruby joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and was stationed in Kent. She entertained the troops with her music and played at RAF garrisons across the country.
In 1943 Ruby went for an audition with the Sadlers Wells Opera Company. She was invited to join the company and she toured the country with them, returning to London after the war. Ruby also toured with Pearl Barber as ‘Ruby and Pearl’, in Ruby’s van. Ruby later became sub-principal violin and deputy leader of the Sadlers Wells Orchestra.
Gertrude Daisy Lang was the Matron in Charge of Saffron Walden Workhouse from 1916 until 1924.
Her husband, Herbert Henry Lang, was the Master of the Workhouse. The workhouse provided accommodation, employment, health care and education for up to 400 people.
Gertrude’s husband died in 1924, aged 34, from tuberculosis of the bladder.
Gertrude became a single mother of two children, aged seven and eight. After the death of the Master of the Workhouse, the Matron was required to give up her post so Gertrude applied to be Chief Officer of the Saffron Walden Board of Guardians. The Board administered the workhouse. Gertrude was appointed and fulfilled this role until her retirement.
Mollie Montgomerie was born in 1907, the eldest daughter of Frank and Esme Montgomerie. Her father was a gentleman farmer and owner of Great Codham Hall in Essex. Both parents were descended from lowland Scottish families. "Money was never plentiful in our house" Mollie was later to recall in her memoirs, August & Rab.
She married August Coultard in 1932, during their married life, Mollie accompanied August on several expeditions, becoming one of the first women to visit eastern Greenland.
Mollie's second husband, Rab Butler, was a cabinet minister in Macmillan's government.
In the early 1990s, she was kept busy helping and advising English Heritage on their great – and very expensive – project to restore and refurbish Sir Stephen and Lady Ginie Courtauld's Eltham Palace.
Stephanie Kalan was born in Austria in 1909. From early childhood she studied music playing the piano and organ. In her twenties she graduated in musicology from Vienna University. Stephanie Kalan came over to England with her husband a few months after the German Wehrmacht had crossed the border into Austria on 12 March 1938.
In 1950 she took up a pottery course at the Camberwell School of Arts & Crafts in London. The hobby developed into a full-time occupation. In December 1962 Stephanie and Anton Kalan bought a bungalow in a village of Newport, Essex, where they ran a successful pottery until the end of their lives -
Stephanie Kalan is particularly known for pioneering and perfecting the use of crystalline glazes on pottery and porcelain. She invented her own recipe for the glaze that remained a closely guarded secret. Stephanie Kalan also did an extensive research on clays and glazes and was deeply interested in the chemistry of pottery.
Her works can be found in Victoria and Albert Museum, the Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna, the Dorman Museum in Linthorpe, Middlesbrough, and in many private collections.
Inspired by artist Heidi Sharps work, for her residency here at Saffron Walden Museum, we would love you to design your own flag or banner for the "Essex Girl". We would love you to use this creative activity to challenge stereotypes and show the world what being an Essex Girl means to you!
The Essex coat of arms
The Essex coat of arms features on many flags and banners around the county. The name Essex originates in the Anglo-Saxon period and has its root in the Anglo-Saxon name Ēastseaxe (the East Saxons). The county's coat of arms shows three Saxon seax knives, arranged on a red background. The seax on the arms are probably a pun on the name Ēastseaxe/Essex.
Do you think this flag is a good representation of the women of Essex? Could you design a better one?
Use the resources below to design your own flag or banner for the women of Essex. You could take inspiration from artists such as Grayson Perry, Michael Landy and Elsa James.
Use your creative output to tell untold stories of the women of Essex who are not shown in the media as they don't fit the Essex girl stereotype.
We would love to see your designs, why not email them to us at email@example.com or tag us in a social media post.
Create a collage:
Why not create a design for your flag or banner using collage? Select images and text that you think represent Essex and the women of Essex today. Cut out parts of the images and put them together to create a design. Artist Heidi Sharp demonstrates how below.
Why not use some of the images from the museums collections in your collage, you can download and print PDF of them on the right.
Heidi's example shows images of Colchester and the Poet Jane Taylor. Born in London, Jane Taylor lived with her family at Shilling Grange in Shilling Street, Lavenham, Suffolk, where her house can still be seen. Her mother was the writer Ann Taylor. In 1796–1810, she lived in Colchester. "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" was written in New House, Ongar.
What you will need:
Things to think about when putting together your design:
1. What do you want to say with your design?
Do you want to show the wonderful things that women in Essex are capable of? There skills and achievements?
Do you want to show the Essex landscape and all of its variety?
Do you want to show the diversity of the women of Essex?
2. How will show your message? What design techniques will you use to do this? Think carefully about:
The colours you use
The composition (how parts of your design are arranged)
If you are going to include text
If you are going to include drawn elements.
Earlier this summer, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity of artist in residence at Saffron Walden Museum in collaboration with Snapping the Stiletto. The aim of the residency was to use the resources available at the museum to inspire and drive my work, with the eventuality of creating something that reflected the Essex woman, from a more historical perspective, challenging the very misconstrued idea of the modern ‘Essex girl’. Being from Essex, this has always been a problematic term for me, one that belittles us and wrongly portrays us. It feels so far from all the real Essex girls I know and love, and I was keen to produce something that truly identifies us and our roots – celebrating us for the strong-willed women I have always known us to be.
Throughout my time at the museum, I’ve really been given the opportunity to learn more about the ‘Essex Woman’ with thanks to the vast wealth of knowledge that was suddenly made available to me. Very early into the residency I was lucky enough to get my hands on the diaries of local woman, Evelyn Coleman, previously Evelyn Nee Parker. These diaries dated back as far as 1940 and continued all the way through to 2009. This was particularly interesting as I could get a good feel of a journey of a place and a time, much before I was born, right into a year that I can relate to and remember. However, it was the earlier years of these diaries that intrigued me most for this project. Evelyn speaks about the war as a teenager and then in time, ends up joining the land army. This insight into the land army made me think also about our county's connections to agriculture, with East Anglia being recognised as the ‘most productive crop producer in the UK’. It was this, alongside a cross stitch piece by a young girl who went by the name Martha Smee that can be found in the Costume, Textiles, Toys and Games gallery, that inspired the floral element within the wall hanging that I later went on to produce. I chose the common poppy to feature in my work after I researched whether Essex had a flower associated to it – and indeed, it was the common poppy. Further research taught me that the common poppy was also recognised in Roman and Greek culture as a sign of fertility of the land, therefore, it seemed most appropriate to include it (not to mention our Roman links – with Colchester being the first Roman capital of Britain!)
The work also includes a stiletto – inspired by the one on show in the Costume, Textiles, Toys and Games gallery. I decided that this object deserved centre stage in the work, with the ‘Essex girl’ so often associated to white stilettos, and as a nod to the group that helped make this happen – Snapping the Stiletto. It’s a fierce looking object, particularly when blown up to the scale I’ve made it on my work. Its name is derived from the stiletto dagger, due to its small stature and fine, sharp point. This tool was used within the textile industry, initially to create holes in animal skins so that they could be laced together, however their design and use has become broader and more sophisticated throughout the years.
Whilst there is plenty more I could say about this piece, one of the most important parts I am yet to mention is the back of the wall hanging. The whole piece has been screen printed by myself, and the front entirely designed by me. However, the back is a more collaborative effort that stemmed from a monoprinting and collage workshop I ran with a group of local women. Over the course of the residency, I had the pleasure of running a couple of workshops, the first being with this group of women whose work has become part of the finished piece. Using photos and other resources from the museum's library, the participants breathed new life into these images, by reimagining them in a different medium. Monoprinting is quite an unforgiving method and likely not best suited to those whom consider themselves perfectionists, but the outcomes you can achieve are truly beautiful, and can even be somewhat haunting, and as the name suggests – each one is unique.
With the whole theme of this piece being about women and Essex women specifically, it felt important to me that this was somehow included in the work. After kindly being given permission by the artists to use their work, I spliced them together digitally and created a screen print of them altogether. A nice finish to what now feels even more so like a community project – something that represents many of us, made in collaboration.