Essex’s largest church: 500-year-old question of ownership is resolved

PUBLISHED: 08:01 10 August 2010

St Mary's Church Saffron Walden

St Mary's Church Saffron Walden

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A QUESTION of ownership surrounding a room in St Mary’s Church in Saffron Walden, which stretches back nearly 500 years, has finally been resolved.

A QUESTION of ownership surrounding a room in St Mary’s Church in Saffron Walden, which stretches back nearly 500 years, has finally been resolved.

Members of Saffron Walden Town Council agreed that the church’s Muniment Room – which was once used to store the town archives – is owned solely by the church.

The council accepted that they had no claim over the room despite its history as a meeting place for early forms of local government.

Historian and town clerk, Malcolm White, said he had been reminded of the history of the Muniment Room by a resident and thought it best to have the issue resolved.

“The church is preparing to invest a large sum of money on repair works to the room and I believe that it is important that this matter is put to bed,” he said. “I ask the council to formally acknowledge that the ownership of the room is solely and absolutely in the hands of the rector and the churchwardens of St Mary’s Parish Church and their successors.”

The town clerk explained that there had been some question surrounding the ownership of the room since 1514 when Henry VIII created a crude form of local government called the Guild of Holy Trinity which met in the Muniment Room, located above the church’s South Porch, and may even have paid for its construction.

The room became known as the council chamber and was the original meeting place for Saffron Walden Borough Council, which was created in 1835, who kept hold of the keys.

Despite council meetings moving to the town hall in 1879 the town archives were kept in a magnificent oak chest in the Muniment Room until the Second World War when they were moved for their safety.

For many years there was a tradition of the town council visiting the room on mayor making day until the practice was stopped in 1981 when the then mayor had a fall on the steps.

Mr White said: “There is little doubt in my mind that the ownership of this room resides with the church authority, whatever may have happened to the keys in the past.

“Even if it could be proved that the Guild paid for the erection of the South Porch, neither the pre-1835 council, the borough council or the present town council were successor authorities to the Guild and would therefore have no claim whatsoever on the room.”

The church has acknowledged that the oak chest, which was home to the archives, is the property of the town council and that the authority may visit the room for ceremonial purposes.

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