Audley End House & Gardens

I have been to Audley End quite a few times and it has gradually changed and improved over the years, if the weather is good, you can spend quite a few relaxing hours there...we took deckchairs and a picnic.

Once you have past the entrance gate you follow the signs to the car park.  Try and park near the duck pond because if you are planning to have a picnic, this is the best area and you can set up close to your car but still enjoy the peaceful setting of the pond. It is also only a short walk from the rear of the house and the parterre, so a good place to start your visit.

It's probably best  to begin your tour by taking the path from the car park to the parterre, where you can wander around for awhile and admire the symmetry of the rear of the house and the colourful gardens. If you walk round the left side of the House, as you look at it, you will pass under the impressive cedar of Lebanon tree, which was planted in the 18th. century. When you reach the front of the house, pause and admire the view across the River Cam and  up to the folly on the hill opposite.

Audley End was one of the greatest houses of early 17th-century England. In about 1605–14 Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Suffolk, took an earlier house created by his grandfather Lord Audley on the site of Walden Abbey, and rebuilt it on the scale of a royal palace. It was alledgedly built to impress King James I, who visited on two separate occasions. It is claimed that the cost of building the house was more than ten times that of the renowned Hatfield House, which was also built around the same time. Over the years, the house was altered substantially and unfortunately made smaller, with its interior being remodelled a few times. Robert Adam transformed this house for Sir John Griffin Griffin in the 1760s, while Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown remodelled the grounds, to create one of England's finest landscape gardens.

Along with many other technological advancements, the House was one of the first country houses in England to have flushing toilets. The first of Joseph Bramah’s new hinged-valve water closets was purchased in 1775, and a further 4 were bought in 1785 at a cost equivalent to the wages of two servants for a whole year! Although none of the Bramah toilets survive, there are two other early loos from the 1870s, one next to the chapel and another in the Coal Gallery.
In more recent times, Audley End was used during the Second World War as a training base for the Polish Special Operations Executive. It was known as Station 43. There’s a memorial urn near the parterre, which serves as a memorial to the many agents, trained at Audley End, who lost their lives trying to free their homeland.

Inside the House
Although it is a relatively short self-guided tour, there are a number of  staff and volunteers to help you admire the interiors of what was once one of the largest and most opulent houses in Jacobean England. You begin in the impressive great hall,  and then visit state apartments, intimate dressing rooms, libraries and 18th century gothic-style chapel. Highlights include the state bed, one of the most important surviving late 18th-century beds in the country, commissioned in anticipation of a royal visit in 1794.  There is a unique natural history collection of stuffed animals and birds. Also a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the family's children who lived in this nursery suite with their governess, nursemaids and tutors. The suite has been restored to how it would have been in the 1830s, and you can see the toys the children would have played with and the nursery furniture they used, as well as a short film.  Another interesting room is the Coal gallery, where you learn about the harsh life of  Victorian servants in the coal gallery.  Bunkers are filled with coal, cupboards stocked with soap and candles, and soundscapes are used to create the hustle and bustle of the servants' daily routine.

The house tour ends with an insight into life in the service quarters, which have been carefully restored to its former heyday you can wander through an interesting world 'below stairs' including a kitchen, scullery, laundry, dairy and larders.

The Gardens
When you wander around the gardens, you are looking at  the work of two of the most famous and influential designers of the 18th century. Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown swept away the remnants of a declining formal garden to create extensive views, a serpentine lake and more natural planting. Towards the end of the 18th century, Sir John Griffin, commissioned Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown to remodel the gardens.  In addition, the kitchen  garden was extended and greenhouses were built to supply the household with fruit, veg, and flowers. The elegant garden buildings, such as the bridge over the River Cam, are the work of Robert Adam. The neoclassical designer who also designed a suite of rooms in the mansion.

The kitchen gardens and greenhouses are lovely and they produce fruit and veg for the restaurant and local businesses, and have some for sale.  They have planted fruit trees that using the methods introduced by Thomas Rivers (a local nurseryman in Sawbridgeworth sadly now closed).

For some visitors, the most striking part of the gardens is when you first drive in and when you look at the house from the front. There’s the block of cloud hedging, which is very impressive and consists of mature yew and box. Don't miss the ha-ha at the back of the house. The reason for doing this rather than using a fence is to preserve the uninterrupted view of the landscape and to stop animals getting into the planted garden areas.

The gardens are really worth the visit, so if it’s a pleasant day, definitely take the time to wander around, so you can enjoy the beautiful flowers, and all the other areas that make up the gardens. Don't miss the bit down by the River Cam, which runs through the grounds. Here you will find ducks, geese and fish and some wonderful neo-classical architectural examples including bridges and a waterfall.
In some ways Audley End is unique in terms of English country houses, because in the 19th. Century the focus moved from beautiful landscaped gardens to agriculture. The gardens became a lot more practical and useful rather than just being something nice to look at. A visit to the walled garden and the greenhouses will really give you an understanding of this development.

The Stable Block
A short walk from the House you'll find the stable block and the walled gardens. The stables don’t look like stables at all – they are very grand buildings. There are currently a couple of horses stabled in the very impressive stable block, originally built  to accommodate a royal entourage, but soon converted to stables.  Be sure to pay a visit to the resident horses in the stables and check the timetable of daily events to see what the horses get up to.  There were also a couple of the estate's old fire engines on display on the other side of the stable yard from the stables.

we sat by this 'pond' and had our picnic lunch
How to get there:  Leave Ampthill on A507 heading east towards the A1. Drive through Baldock and follow the A505 in the direction of Royston. Stay on the A505 by-pass Royston and after about 5 miles you will need to turn right onto B1383 in the direction of Saffron Walden. This is very much a country road (Sat Nav postcode is CB11 4JF) but you will soon see the brown signs to Audley End if you don't have a sat nav. It takes about an hour (39 miles) depending on traffic conditions.
Busy tending the garden, a particularly dry summer.