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Watercolour - The Pillory in the Castle Ruins, Saffron Walden; Recording Britain Collection
  • The Pillory in the Castle Ruins, Saffron Walden
    Robins, born 1882 - died 1959
  • Enlarge image

The Pillory in the Castle Ruins, Saffron Walden; Recording Britain Collection

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Saffron Walden, United Kingdom (painted)

  • Date:

    1941 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Robins, born 1882 - died 1959 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Pne and ink and wash on paper

  • Credit Line:

    Given by the Pilgrim Trust

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level D, case RB, shelf 10, box F

By the time Robins painted this scene, Walden Castle had been in ruins for nearly 200 years. Originally built in the twelfth century by Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex, the castle suffered damage in the Civil War and was rebuilt in stone in the fourteenth century. By the eighteenth century, much of that stone had been removed for local building projects. The pillory, a common method of punishment and humiliation, probably dates from that time; its use was outlawed in England in 1837.

Physical description

A monochrome wash drawing of the pillory, surrounded by thick foliage, with glimpses of the castle ruins through the branches. Signed, dated and titled.

Place of Origin

Saffron Walden, United Kingdom (painted)


1941 (painted)


Robins, born 1882 - died 1959 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Pne and ink and wash on paper

Marks and inscriptions

'The Pillory in the Castle Ruins, Saffron Walden'
'W. P. Robins 41'


Height: 11.50 in, Width: 11 in

Object history note

This work is from the 'Recording Britain' collection of topographical watercolours and drawings made in the early 1940s during the Second World War. In 1940 the Committee for the Employment of Artists in Wartime, part of the Ministry of Labour and National Service, launched a scheme to employ artists to record the home front in Britain, funded by a grant from the Pilgrim Trust. It ran until 1943 and some of the country's finest watercolour painters, such as John Piper, Sir William Russell Flint and Rowland Hilder, were commissioned to make paintings and drawings of buildings, scenes, and places which captured a sense of national identity. Their subjects were typically English: market towns and villages, churches and country estates, rural landscapes and industries, rivers and wild places, monuments and ruins. Northern Ireland was not covered, only four Welsh counties were included, and a separate scheme ran in Scotland.

The scheme was known as 'Recording the changing face of Britain' and was established by Sir Kenneth Clark, then the director of the National Gallery. It ran alongside the official War Artists' Scheme, which he also initiated. Clark was inspired by several motives: at the outbreak of war in 1939, there was a concern to document the British landscape in the face of the imminent threat of bomb damage, invasion, and loss caused by the operations of war. This was allied to an anxiety about changes to the landscape already underway, such as the rapid growth of cities, road building and housing developments, the decline of rural ways of life and industries, and new agricultural practices, which together contributed to the idea of a 'vanishing Britain'. Clark also wanted to help artists, and the traditional forms of British art such as watercolour painting, to survive during the uncertain conditions of wartime. He in turn was inspired by America's Federal Arts Project which was designed to give artists employment during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Over 1500 works were eventually produced by 97 artists, of whom 63 were specially commissioned. At the time the collection had a propaganda role, intended to boost national morale by celebrating Britain's landscapes and heritage. Three exhibitions were held during the war at the National Gallery, and pictures from the collection were sent on touring exhibitions and to galleries all around the country. After the war, the whole collection was given to the V&A by the Pilgrim Trust in 1949, and it was documented in a four volume catalogue published between 1946 and 1949. For many years the majority of the collection was on loan to councils and record offices in each county, until recalled by the V&A around 1990. The pictures now form a memorial to the war effort, and a unique record of their time.

Historical context note

Walden Castle was built in the 12th century by Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex, on the site of an 11th century Norman motte and bailey fortress. Humphrey de Bohun added stone crenellations in 1347. Much of the stone was removed in the 18th century for local building projects, and only the flint core of the three-storey Norman keep survives.

Descriptive line

Watercolour, 'The Pillory in the Castle Ruins, Saffron Walden', by William P. Robins; from the Recording Britain Collection (Essex); England, 1941.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Catalogue of Drawings in the 'Recording Britain' Collection given by the Pilgrim Trust to the Victoria and Albert Museum published by the Victoria and Albert Museum, Prints, Drawings and Paintings Department, 1951.
The full text of the entry is as follows:

ROBINS, William P., R.E.


The Pillory in the Castle Ruins, Saffron Walden.
Signed and dated W.P.Robins 41.
Inscribed with title.
Pen and ink and wash (11 ½ x 10 15/16)
(Reproduced Vol.II)

Palmer, Arnold, ed. Recording Britain. London: Oxford University Press, 1946-49. Vol 2: Essex, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, Northhamptonshire and Rutlandshire, Norfolk, Yorkshire. p.1.
'In 1940 Essex seemed in more urgent need of recording than any other county except Kent. Apart from being an easy target for air-raiders and a convenient dumping-ground for bombs from machines which had failed to reach objectives farther inland, it was also a likely area for invasion, and consequently sure of priority in the attentions of the War Office. Records of Essex, then, were wanted, and quickly, before the county was occupied by the British, or the German, Army.'
Palmer, Arnold, ed. Recording Britain. London: Oxford University Press, 1946-49. Vol 2: Essex, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, Northhamptonshire and Rutlandshire, Norfolk, Yorkshire. pp.44-45, illus.
'Down in the dungeon of the Norman castle, now carpeted with grass and wild flowers and ceilinged with the sky, stands a pillory brought from Newport, three or four miles away. As an instrument of punishment the pillory has a long history. This one is not of immense age, but the construction of pillories seems to have reached perfection quickly and few improvements were introduced...'


Paper; Pen and ink; Wash


Wash technique

Subjects depicted

Topographical views; Ruins; Essex; Saffron Walden; Pillories


Recording Britain Collection; Paintings

Collection code


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