Picture gallery: Blue plaques commemorating some of Saffron Walden’s key characters are unveiled

Henry Winstanley: Sandra Eden (mayoress), Keith Eden (Mayor) and John Ready.

Henry Winstanley: Sandra Eden (mayoress), Keith Eden (Mayor) and John Ready. - Credit: Archant

BLUE plaques to celebrate the life of some of Saffron Walden’s most influential characters have been unveiled in a series of small ceremonies.

Jack Cardiff: Niki Cardiff (widow) and Mason Cardiff (son).

Jack Cardiff: Niki Cardiff (widow) and Mason Cardiff (son). - Credit: Archant

Six former residents, who all achieved distinction in their chosen careers or fields, were commemorated in the scheme organised by the Saffron Walden Initiative.

Relatives of some of the chosen few were present at the unveilings, which took place on Saturday and Sunday.

Their lifetimes span the years from 1545 to 2009 and reflect a wide range of achievement in scholarship, the arts, creativity and citizenship, and it is hoped the scheme will be a source of interest for residents and visitors alike.

But who were they? Here the Reporter gives an insight into the distinguished men...

Gabriel Harvey (1545-1630) – poet and scholar.

Plaque: At his parental home in Gold Street (Saffron Walden Laundry office)

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The eldest son of a rope-maker, Gabriel Harvey matriculated at Christ’s College Cambridge in 1566 and was elected fellow of Pembroke Hall in 1570. As a poet he sought to become “epitaphed as the Inventour of the English Hexameter”.

Having become professor of rhetoric in 1576, he was invited two years later to dispute before Queen Elizabeth I on the occasion of her visit to Sir Thomas Smith at Audley End House.

Harvey’s reputation as a notable scholar and wordsmith was compromised by his unbending and quarrelsome character. Two attempts to be elected master of Trinity Hall were ultimately unsuccessful and he maintained a vitriolic literary correspondence with Thomas Nashe over several years.

Henry Winstanley (1644-1703) – Inventor and builder of the Eddystone Lighthouse

Plaque: Place of birth, 5 Museum Street (former Conservative Club)

As a young man Winstanley worked at Audley End as a porter and then a secretary, before embarking on a grand tour of Europe which lasted nearly five years and stimulated a strong interest in architecture.

On his return he made a set of engravings of Audley End House, which took 10 years to complete and, from 1679 to 1701, held the position of Audley End’s Clerk of Works, a role in which he earned the respect of Sir Christopher Wren.

Winstanley was well known in Essex for his fascination with mechanical and hydraulic gadgets and had a house built for him at Littlebury which was filled with mechanisms of his own design and construction. This ‘Essex House of Wonders’ became a local landmark which attracted a number of distinguished visitors.

The name of Winstanley is most associated, however, with the construction of the Eddystone lighthouse.

George Stacey Gibson (1818-1893) – Banker, philanthropist and botanist

Plaque: Lived at Hill House, High Street (1845-83)

A member of the notable Quaker family of Saffron Walden, whose wealth was accumulated through brewing, banking, and land ownership, George Stacey Gibson gave a lifetime of public service, scholarship and philanthropy.

He was a town councillor and alderman for 24 years and twice elected mayor. He was treasurer of the local British Schools for 45 years, vice-chairman of the Board of Guardians, and chairman of the management committee of the Saffron Walden Hospital. He played a prominent part in bringing the railway to Saffron Walden.

On his death he left a substantial estate of £342,456 – equivalent to £25m today – which was distributed to the hospital, the museum, the literary society, the Grammar School, the British Schools, the Friends’ School, the training college for female teachers, and the almshouses, as well as worthy causes outside the town.

Gordon Jacob CBE (1895-1984) – Composer and arranger

Plaque: Lived at 1 Audley Road (1959-84)

Gordon Jacob was educated at Dulwich College before serving in the First World War, during which he was taken prisoner.

In 1919 he gained a place at the Royal College of Music to study composition, theory and conducting and, during his student years, published the popular William Byrd Suite and arranged Ralph Vaughan Williams’ English Folk Song Suite for full orchestra.

He taught at the Royal College of Music until his retirement in 1966, becoming a Fellow in 1946. His personal teaching skills and influential books on orchestration were highly regarded.

The height of his reputation was in the 1950s, during which his Music for a Festival was played at the opening of the Royal Festival Hall, his arrangements of the National Anthem and Handel’s Zadok the Priest featured prominently in the Queen’s Coronation.

He lived in Saffron Walden from 1959 to 1984 with his second wife, Margaret and was awarded the CBE in 1968.

Edward Bawden CBE (1903-1989) – Designer, printmaker and illustrator

Plaque: Lived at 2 Park Lane studio (1970-89)

Edward Bawden was educated at the Friends’ School and the Cambridge School of Art before winning a scholarship to the Royal College of Art, where Eric Ravilious was a fellow student.

By 1930, Bawden was producing illustrations for London Transport, Westminster Bank, Twinings and Shell-Mex, and in the early 1930s some of his most innovative work was commissioned by Fortnum and Mason and Imperial Airways.

Bawden moved to Great Bardfield and, in addition to his commercial design work, developed his watercolour technique painting local rural scenes.

During the Second World War he served as an official war artist.

After the death of his wife Charlotte in 1970, he moved to Saffron Walden where he continued to work until his death, aged 86. Bawden was awarded a CBE in 1946, appointed Royal Designer for Industry (RSA) in 1949 and elected a Royal Academician in 1956.

The Fry Art Gallery holds a substantial body of his work in its permanent collection.

Jack Cardiff OBE (1914-2009) – Oscar-winning film cinematographer and director

Plaque: Lived at 7a High Street (1993-2000)

Jack Cardiff’s career spanned the development of cinema from silent film, through early experiments in Technicolor to the sophistication of the late 20th century.

He was best known for his visionary colour cinematography while working with major directors such as Powell and Pressburger, Huston and Hitchcock.

In the post war years, he made his reputation as the cameraman for A Matter of Life and Death, The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus. A string of big-budget films followed, including The African Queen with Hepburn and Bogart, War and Peace with Hepburn and The Prince and the Showgirl with Olivier and Monroe.

He also claimed to have discovered Sophia Loren and was responsible for her first screen test. As a director, his 1960 adaptation of Sons and Lovers won a Golden Globe.

In 1995, he was presented with a lifetime achievement award by the American Society of Cinematographers, awarded an OBE in 2000 and in 2001 received an Honorary Oscar for his contribution to the development of cinema.

Jack Cardiff retired to live in Saffron Walden from 1995 to 2000 and took part in the first film presentation and interview organised by the newly-formed Saffron Screen in 2006. He died in 2009 aged 94.