Audley End House
Audley End House (grid reference TL524381) is largely an early 17th-century country house just outside Saffron Walden, Essex, south of Cambridge, England. It was once a palace in all but name and renowned as one of the finest Jacobean houses in England. Audley End is now only one-third of its original size, but is still large, with much to enjoy in its architectural features and varied collections. It is currently in the stewardship of English Heritage though remains the family seat of the Lords Braybrooke.
The nearby Audley End railway station is named after Audley End House.
Audley End was the site of a Benedictine monastery (Walden Abbey), granted to the Lord Chancellor Sir Thomas Audley in 1538 by Henry VIII. It was converted to a domestic house for him, known as Audley Inn. This dwelling was later demolished by his grandson, Thomas Howard (the first Earl of Suffolk and Lord Treasurer), and a much grander mansion was built, primarily for entertaining King James I.
The layout reflects the processional route of the King and Queen, each having their own suite of rooms. It is reputed that Thomas Howard told King James he had spent some £200,000 on creating this grand house, and it may be that the King had unwittingly contributed. In 1619, Suffolk and his wife were found guilty of embezzlement and sent to the Tower of London. However, a huge fine secured their release, but Suffolk died in disgrace at Audley End in 1626.
At this time, the house was on the scale of a great royal palace, and soon became one after Charles II bought it in 1668 for £5 for use as a home when attending the races at Newmarket. It was returned to the Suffolks in 1701.
Over the next century, the house was gradually demolished until it was reduced to its current size. However, the main structure has remained little altered since the main front court was demolished in 1708, and the east wing came down in 1753. Some rooms have been substantially remodelled, though, especially the huge Hall.
Sir John Griffin, later fourth Baron Howard de Walden and first Baron Braybrooke, introduced sweeping changes before he died in 1797. In 1762, Sir John commissioned Capability Brown to landscape the parkland, and Robert Adam to design new reception rooms on the house's ground floor, which he did in the style of the 18th century with a formal grandeur. The Great Drawing Room proved problematic as it had to be the grandest room for receiving guests, but it possessed a very low ceiling, and this was considered most undesirable at that time. Robert Adam solved the problem to a large extent by making the furniture unusually small and lowering the chair rail. His design of the Little Drawing Room for the Ladies was exceedingly odd, based on the style of ancient Rome, and Lady Griffin had difficulty moving between the columns when dressed in her evening gown.
The third Baron Braybrooke, who inherited house and title in 1825, installed most of the house's huge picture collection, filled the rooms with furnishings, and reinstated something of the original Jacobean feel to the State Rooms.
Audley End was offered to the government during the Dunkirk evacuation but the offer was declined due to the lack of facilities at the house. It was later requisitioned in March 1941. It was initially used as a camp by a small number of units before being turned over to the Special Operations Executive. The SOE initially used the house as a general holding camp before using it for the Polish branch of the SOE. A memorial to the 108 Poles who died in the service stands in the main drive. After the war, the ninth Lord Braybrooke resumed possession, and in 1948 the house was sold to the Ministry of Works, the predecessor of English Heritage. Lord Braybrooke moved to the Abbey House in the grounds of Audley End, an irregular L-shaped two-storey house with an early 17th-century timber-framed and 19th-century brick core. It was remodelled by Sir Albert Richardson and Eric Houfe in the 1950s and then enlarged to three times its former size by Philip Jebb in 1967-70 for the Hon. Robin Neville. Symmetrical north front with two canted bay windows in the centre. The building history is most apparent from the south, where the gables of the first house can be seen behind those of the 19th-century rear wing. The house has interior decoration in Classical style by Dudley Poplack.
Gardens and grounds
The Capability Brown parkland still includes many of the mock-classical monuments, although some are not in the care of English Heritage. The grounds are divided by the River Cam, which is crossed by several ornate bridges, and a main road which follows the route of a Roman road. The park beyond the river is frequently used for open air concerts. There is also a miniature circular railway in the grounds.
The walled kitchen garden in its grounds was painstakingly restored by Garden Organic, the UK's leading organic growing charity, in 1999 from an overgrown, semi-derelict state. Renovated to its former glory it now looks as it would have done in late Victorian times; full of vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers.
- Roger Turner, Capability Brown and the Eighteenth Century Landscape, 2nd ed. Chichester, 1999, pp. 92–93.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Audley End House.|
- Audley End information at English Heritage
- Images of England (requires free log-in)
- Garden Organic at Audley End