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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.


Use this  map to explore the stories of some of the radical women of Saffron Walden.

All of these women kicked against their perceived place/role in society to create change in their community and/or explore their own creative output and interests.

This interactive includes prompts for you to explore the lives of these women through creative writing.

We would love you to share your creative output with us to include in this map. Please email to  

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1) Methodist Church, Castle Street                              Charlotte Bergen & Mrs Webster, 1820s.              

They stood on upturned soap boxes on Castle Street passionately  defending their beliefs for hours on end, whatever the weather. They set up a women’s refuge in what was then a squalid and dangerous neighbourhood. Their determination to continue, despite threats of violence, led to the establishment of this church.                                                            

See if you can imagine what Charlotte Bergen and Mrs   Webster’s lives would have been like on a daily basis.


2)The Fry Art Gallery, Castle Street                     Sheila Robinson (1925–1988).                                                 

Robinson was a protegee of Edward Bawden, a famous artist from the Great Bardfield community of artists.  She assisted him with his famous mural in the Lion and Unicorn Pavilion for the Festival of Britain at South Bank, London in 1951.  She married the artist Bernard Cheese with whom she had two children, one of them the artist Chloe Cheese.  After her children left home and she had divorced She moved to a cottage on The Common in Saffron Walden. The RCA created the Sheila Robinson Drawing Prize in her honour.  To be a woman and a mother and to continue working full-time as an artist as the breadwinner was then quite radical.
Imagine what it might have been like to live in this  community of artists.  Imagine them having a supper together. What is it like? Try to describe it.


3) Side cut through from Castle Street to St Mary’s Church: Dame Joanne Bradbury (1450-1530).         

Widowed twice, Bradbury was extremely wealthy with considerable influence, her 2nd husband was Lord Mayor of London, she owned significant property in her own right and had many powerful  connections. As a result listed in the  London Book of Medieval Widows.

An exceptionally religious woman, believing that what you did in this life guaranteed your place in heaven. She therefore made substantial charitable donations including to St. Mary’s Church, where her brother was Vicar. 

She set up a grammar school in her own name, in the town on a site near the parish rooms. She was also one of several wealthy influential people who in 1513 petitioned Henry VIII to "redeem the customs and tolls" imposed on local trade and to reorganise how the town and market were run.  Historians argue that this was crucial in securing the town’s future.  She was clearly a powerhouse. That level of power,  ambition and money in a woman at that time, must have put a lot of people’s noses out of joint!      

Imagine her character and think about how she might have defended her position…..You could start with the words  ‘ he told me I couldn’t and I said….’

4) King Street – Clinton Cards and the Card Factory, next to Phase Eight Joyce Turnball.                              

The original site of Harts Books; it was sold to the Turnbull    family and Jack Turnball, a conscientious objector, ran it for a number of years

His wife Joyce left school at 14 to join the war effort. During WW2 Joy and her husband bought an ambulance and during the raids in London provided medical attention.   Together they were responsible for providing the local         emergency ambulance service before the NHS was established in 1948. Joy was a home midwife, a nurse for the Women’s  Royal Voluntary Hospital Service at the local hospital and     established the town’s St John’s Ambulance Brigade,  later  becoming its superintendent.

When they struggled to get support after the birth of their disabled child, she established the town’s branch of Mencap, where local people could hire specialist equipment and access practical support and eventually creating a dedicated center for this in Jubilee Gardens.  She had to fight considerable           opposition, as the government at that time believed support for disabled people was not essential.  The center ran until 2009. The couple continued loaning equipment to families, from their garage space.  She was  honoured for her contribution to the town by the House of Commons.  She was described as    someone who made “quiet powerful waves.”
Try writing a poem for Joy, using the phrase ‘some people work in the background, a pair of hands’


5)Quaker Meeting House, High Street
There are many Quaker women who were radical beyond their time, but only scanty records exist. The Quaker ethos is “a meeting of people from different lifestyles and backgrounds.”  The  Quakers quite literally built this town, paying for the street     paving, the library, the water fountain, the school – you name it!

Quaker women made significant contribution in large numbers to the suffragette movement, to improving working conditions and encouraging racial equality. The Brightwen sisters lived in a house on London Road.  They founded The Negro Friend Society in the 1830s. Petitioning, campaigning, producing pamphlets and goods to sell to raise funds.

A local woman who was caretaker of the Quaker meeting house, took part in the Greenham Common protests and was imprisoned for not paying the fine imposed on her for attending.  This 1980’s protest at RAF Molesworth ran parallel and in partnership with the women’s peace camp at Greenham Common. Both protests were trying to stop US cruise missiles being stationed there.  The Greenham Common protests were of seminal     importance to the peace movement and the changing nature of protest itself.
Think about protesting….what would you care enough about to passionately protest and risk your life for.

6) Library, Olive Cook (1912- 2002).                             

Passionate, intelligent, forthright, dedicated and disciplined, fun to be around but probably also a traditionalist and a self-confessed elitist! The writer Olive Cook is best known for her work with her husband, the photographer Edwin Smith.  Together they published books exploring English architecture and way of life, with his images and her writings. They also produced a book called The Stansted Affair in response to attempts to expand the airport, which they were strongly against.

In her working career she held many professional positions, including at Chatto and Windus, The National Gallery, the Carnegie Institute and was a visiting tutor in painting and architecture at Denman College from 1956.

When the artist Edward Bawden moved to the town as a widower, Olive Cook was one of his closest companions and in the 1980s helped to establish the Fry Art Gallery.  She has been described by some as Edwin’s muse, but she was more than that, earning money to support them with her own creativity and provided stability for Edwin.  She worked to establish an arts center in the town based in the library and worked to get      notable local buildings listed, including Barclays, the hospital, the library and the council offices. It would have been a very different town without her efforts.
Stand with your back to the Library, look at the Market Square, whether it is market day or not, think about it in her voice and use her favourite word which was ‘adorable.

7)Town Hall Clara Rackham (1975-1966)                             

Rackham lived in Cambridge, but when she stood as the Labour parliamentary candidate for Saffron Walden in 1935, she was the first female candidate in Essex. She lost to RA Butler. She was a suffragette and magistrate and had worked as a WW1 factory inspector. She established the first family planning clinic in Cambridge and campaigned for the 40 hour working week.  She was a pioneering broadcaster, one of the first females to be heard on the air waves on BBC Radio. Her commitment to the world of working women was huge.  Described as one of the women who got us to where we are now. She regularly attended meetings in the Town Hall.                                                

Imagine her about to go on air, knowing she is one of the first women to be on the radio. How would she have psyched herself up and given herself confidence.


8)10 Emson Close, The Walden Local Offices
Harriet Shaw Weaver (1876-1961)                                                

A radical political activist and magazine editor, supporter of women’s suffrage and socialist, later communist.  Form a wealthy family, She wanted to go to university but her father didn’t believe there was any value in it for her. This spurred her on and she funded and established the New Freewoman’s       magazine, a feminist magazine which later became “The      Egotist”. The journal serialised James Joyce’s ‘portrait of an artist as a young man’,  praised by HG Wells but  described by the editor of the Sunday Express as ‘the most famously obscene book in ancient and modern literature.’  She continued to support Joyce commenting on his manuscripts, correcting his proofs, bank rolling him and became executor of his literary estate and caring for his daughter after his death. She later  published Ulysses. Later in life she became a communist, selling copies of the Daily Worker in the street.  She died in 1961, bequeathing her letters and papers to the British Museum. Her life was dedicated to protecting writers from censorship.

9)Saffron Walden Museum: Radical Women Display Your final stop, pop in and see some artifacts exploring the theme of radical women in our dedicated display. 

Artist residency

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 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

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 "Essex Girl"?

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.

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Ms. Lang

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.

Lady Buttler

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.

Mrs Kalan

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! 

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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 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. 

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