I’m discovering that there is so much more to the UK than I realised because the more I explore, the more I find. Audley End House was one of my new discoveries when I arrived back to the UK. I was working at a summer school in Bishop’s Stortford, and I wanted to go somewhere for the day. One of my colleagues, a local, told me about Audley End House. It took me a while to get there, and I risked life and limb. I’m not joking. I went to Audley End train station and walked from there. I thought it would be a short, pleasant walk, but it was neither. The unpleasant bit was when the pavement disappeared, so I had no choice but to walk on the road with cars frequently passing at a fair speed.
When I finally arrived at Audley End House, I found out that it was an English Heritage site, and the entrance fee was more than I had bargained for. Having just returned from Poland, the price definitely made me raise my eyebrows. The thing is, I was there, it had been a bit of nightmare to get there, and what else was I going to do? It wasn’t as if I could get in a car and drive to another location. To cut a long story short, I joined English Heritage. It cost me more, but I didn’t have to pay the entrance fee. It probably sounds like strange logical, but there was some logical in there somewhere… honest!
Audley End Gardens
Towards the end of the 18th century, Sir John Griffin, commissioned Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown to remodel the gardens. In addition, the garden kitchen was extended and greenhouses were built to supply the household with fruit, veg, and flowers.
The stables don’t look like stables at all. They are certainly the grandest ones I’ve ever seen. They were built when the house was originally constructed, to house the royal entourage. However, shortly after completion, they were used as stables.
An interesting link for me, having recently returned from living in Poland, was the fact that Audley End was used during World War II to train the Polish Special Operations Executive. It was known as Station 43. Of the 527 women and men who trained there, 316 were parachuted into occupied Poland, and 108 of them sadly lost their lives. There’s a memorial urn which serves as a reminder.
There’s a ha-ha at the back of the house. I had no idea what that was until my visit to Audley End House. If, like me, you have no idea what it is, let me explain. It is a recessed landscape design that creates a vertical barrier. The reason for doing this rather than using a fence is to preserve the uninterrupted view of the landscape and to stop animals getting in.
There’s a gorgeous cedar of Lebanon tree, which was planted in the 18th century at the side of the house.
For me, though, the most striking part of the gardens is when you first walk in and when you look at the house from the front. It’s the block of cloud hedging. It’s incredible. I’d never seen a hedge like it. It’s artistic, and it’s so fluid. The hedge is mature yew and box.
It all changed 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.
Having said that, the gardens today are just stunning. If it’s a nice day, make sure you take the time to wander around, so you can enjoy the beautiful flowers, and all the other parts that make up the gardens. There is a lot to enjoy, including down by the River Cam, which runs through the grounds. There you will find ducks and geese.
Audley End House
Having strolled around the gardens, I wandered around the house when it opened at 12 pm. The house was built in the 1600s by Thomas Howard, the 1st Earl of Suffolk. He built this palatial mansion to impress the reigning king, King James I, who visited on two separate occasions. Apparently, when the house was built, it cost £200,000. To give you some idea of how expensive that was, Hatfield House, built around the same time, cost £12,000. The house was sold to King Charles II in the latter part of the 1600s when accusations of financial irregularities caused the earl a few problems. At the start of the 18th century, the Howard family got the house back. Over the years, the house reduced substantially in size, and its interior was remodelled a few times.
Interestingly, Audley End was one of the first houses to have a flushing toilet. Such things were rare in the 18th century. In London, Joseph Bramah installed water closets (toilets) which were designed to a patent obtained by Alexander Cumming. However, he found those toilets had a tendency to freeze in cold weather. His boss improved the design to stop that happening, but Joseph Bramah was the first to patent the new design in 1778. These toilets were installed in Audley End.
I just happened to be at the right place at the right time for a free tour of the gardens. I would highly recommend it. Information and the meeting point is by the cafe.
The price of the ticket varies depending on the time of year. If you go in the high season, as I did, it will cost quite a bit more. Check on the website for the price when you are thinking of visiting. If you are a member of English Heritage, it’s free entry.
This magnificent house and gardens is located in Essex. On the map, you can see where it is located in relation to Cambridge and London. It isn’t far from either city. If you use public transport to go to Audley End House, I would recommend going to Saffron Walden and walking from there. It’s about the same distance as going from Audley End train station, but you won’t have to walk on the road with no pavement. It’s by far a safer option.
Have your say
Have you been? If so, what did you like best?