Saffron Walden Town Council: historic table fears raised

Keith Eden, Sandra Eden, Mike Hibbs, Hilary Shibata, Cliff Treadwell, Daphne Cornell, Jim Ketteridge, Saffron Walden, Essex

Seven past Mayors of Saffron Walden attended the Council Meeting to object to the “disposal” of the Council Table. From left: Keith Eden, Sandra Eden, Mike Hibbs, Hilary Shibata, Cliff Treadwell, Daphne Cornell, Jim Ketteridge - Credit: submitted

Fears that an historic table could be disposed of sparked seven former mayors to attend Saffron Walden Town Council's meeting this week, and three speakers to raise the issue.

But councillors at the meeting criticised the time spent listening to the query rather than focussing on how they could best support the people fleeing from invaded Ukraine, whose homes were being bombed.

Cllr Jonathon Toy said: "I'm absolutely gobsmacked that we have spent 20 minutes talking about a table."

All councillors stood for a minute's silent reflection on the situation in Ukraine at the end of their meeting.

Public speakers Mike Hibbs, Jim Ketteridge and Simon Trimnell addressed the full council in the Assembly Hall to ask why an earlier Assets and Services Committee had voted to dispose of the council chamber's table and chairs, which are in storage.

The table, they told the full council, had deep historic links.

Saffron Walden Town Council's Chamber and large table with chairs

Saffron Walden Town Council's Chamber and large table with chairs - Credit: submitted

Mike Hibbs asked the meeting to revoke the decision.

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He said the town hall was listed as a building as a whole, the Gibson family gave the money in the 1870s and it was not unreasonable to think the table dated from that period.

Jim Ketteridge said he had sat around the table for 35 years and had never heard any criticism of it, and neither had a former town clerk.

"There we have it, a table believed to have been purposely built in situ for the Council Chamber in 1879 around which George Stacey Gibson financed, Joseph Bell who built the redesigned town hall and Joshua Clarke who donated the chain with which you are adorned Mr Mayor, and many, many other distinguished people and benefactors of the town would have sat.

"The table would have seen discussions on the first electricity supply in town and other significant early 20th century utilities, not to mention two World Wars and six monarchs."

He asked the mayor and councillors to restore the council chamber, its furniture and its heritage to its "original and rightful state".

Simon Trimnell said he was aged four or five when he first came into the council chamber with his grandfather. His grandmother made tea at civic functions and he used to help his grandmother polish and clean the table.

"If you move these items or sell them on you will be removing part of Saffron Walden's civic history and I think it that will be very sad and a great shame to see that happen."

The Assets and Services Committee's on February 28 had heard that the issue had been talked about for some time.

In October 2019, the full council had heard the table's large size meant councillors had their backs to members of the public, and the public was forced to sit around the edge of the room.

They were advised that public attending the meeting had said they found the room layout restrictive and uninviting as a result of the table.

The full council meeting heard that while the minutes of the Assets and Services Committee were on the agenda for noting only, the decision and any subsequent conversation would be for the Assets and Services Committee.

Market Square partial closure

Monday night's meeting also agreed on the partial closure of Market Square in the town centre, seven days a week from 8am to 4pm.

An alternative proposal for a partial weekdays-only closure was submitted by Cllr Barbara Light but her motion did not gain support. 

The decision follows two public consultations. The request will now go to Essex Highways. The meeting heard Essex County Council will start their own consultation before the change is made.