Little Walden is a quiet little hamlet a few miles from Saffron Walden, on the way to Hadstock. Near the Hall Farm is said to be the line of a Roman road, and there is some evidence of transitory Roman settlement hereabouts - grave goods of the first and second century AD can be seen in Saffron Walden Museum. The present Hall Farm dates to about 1800, with three barns and a fine brick wall also nearly 200 years old. Newer cottages have been built on plots which originated as smallholdings in medieval times, but there is at least one old house, Thatched Cottage, built around 1700.
Almost opposite the farm is a little church, remnant of Victorian concern for the spiritual welfare of the very poor labourers who lived here then. While Methodists held outdoor services here, and Congregationalists opened a chapel in a house opposite the pub, the Anglican church was actually paid for by a Quaker! In 1842, a missionary employed by Saffron Walden churches to visit the poor, reported that ‘Little Walden is highly favoured, and the people of that place seem fully to appreciate their privileges’.
The 18th-century Crown Inn was formerly three cottages, and is very pleasant, with good food and hospitality. Nearby is the Petlands estate, built to meet the post-war housing shortage, and presumably named from the field on which it stands,Perritt Land, which may derive from a Saxon word pirige meaning pear trees. The little village green once lay beside an old road, Water Lane, now abandoned in favour of the present road, Petts Lane which follows what used to be just a field boundary.
The hamlet was founded at the head of the Madgate Slade. The land along Petts Lane was called North feilde in medieval times when it was a common field. There are also little crofts named after past farmers, lots of ponds, hedges and woods and, in the countryside around, some attractive, old timber-framed houses such as Burntwood End Farm, Ravenstock Green Farm, Cloptons, St Aylotts, Sadlers and Mitchells, whose 17th century owner, Charles Parris was one of those who suffered anti-Catholic persecution, accused of ‘popish recusancy’, and had his estates confiscated.
Nearby is the site of Little Walden Park, the hunting ground for the lords of the Walden Manor and one of 150 deer parks in medieval Essex. In 1578 the Saffron Walden Corporation spent two shillings ‘for mendynge the way at Little Walden Park’, the same year that Elizabeth I came to Audley End so quite possibly she came here to hunt. The park declined during the 16th century, and much of its history was erased when the nearby airfield was developed during the last war – among lost buildings is the 16th century Little Walden Park mansion. The USAAF airfield was operational from 1942-45, but has long since gone back to agriculture. It is said to be haunted by the ghost of a headless young airman!
Jacqueline Cooper (this is an edited extract from Discover Walden: Saffron Walden countryside history & wildlife walks, on sale at Saffron Walden tourist information centre).