Views of the House : Rear [above] and Front [below]
Today I travelled from Norfolk to Huntingdon via Audley End House and Gardens. It’s easy to spend a day there.
The house had various owners since the first buildings were established here by Geoffrey de Mandeville, 1st Earl of Essex, who founded a Benedictine priory at Walden, which became Walden Abbey in 1190. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries Henry VIII granted the site to Sir Thomas Audley, Lord Chancellor. He transformed the abbey buildings into a mansion. Thomas Audley’s grandson Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Suffolk, later rebuilt the house, making it the largest private residence of its day. In 1667 Charles II bought the house for its convenience to Newmarket Race Course. Following decline and rescue in the 18th century Sir John Griffin Griffin, a professional soldier, inherited Audley End. He employed Robert Adam to modernise the house and ‘Capability’ Brown to remodel the gardens and park. Further restoration and remodelling occurred again the mid 19th Century and it continued as a family home into the 20th Century. During the Second World War it was a training centre for Polish SOE soldiers. The house passed to the nation in 1948 and is currently presented to the public by English Heritage. The contents are on loan from the Braybrooke family. The 10th Lord Braybrooke died in June this year .
The following notes are a combination of notes from leaflets, what we discovered from volunteer room stewards and the Audley End English Heritage website.
The Temple of Concord. English Heritage is carrying out repairs to the fabric of the Temple – a Grade 1 Listed Building commemorating George III’s return to health after an incapacitating illness. The supporting columns have deteriorated to such an extent that 14 of them will need replacing.
The Cloud Hedge : This unusual hedge in the shape of clouds is a mixture of box and yew with the oldest around 200 years old. It has been trimmed like this for about 70 years and trimming takes about month in the autumn.
The Howard Oak is a self sown rare hybrid oak thought to be a cross between holm oak and sessile oak. It dates to the late 1700s and is named for Thomas Howard, the owner who built the palace at Audley End. The acorns are sterile so it can only be propagated by grafting. There is only one other specimen growing in England.
The Cedar of Lebanon planted in the 1760s when ‘Capability’ Brown was refashioning the estate. It is his signature tree – spreading architectural shape and beautiful seed cones.
Robert Adam’s Tea Bridge in the Elysian Garden : the River Cam and the old London Plane tree planted in 1782 [below].
Cambridge Lodge : It’s possible to stay here at this ornate two storey Victorian gatehouse located at the exit gates of Audley End overlooking the cricket pitch. It was built in 1842.
The Organic Walled Kitchen Garden : The garden, with its glasshouses, bothy and potting shed is a fascinating example of the workings of a Victorian kitchen garden and is run on strictly organic lines. The glasshouses contain displays of tender plants, grapevines and peach trees.
The Parterre : At the rear of Audley End House is the restored 1830s parterre garden. The current plan follows closely the original plan discovered after archeological excavation. It’s a formal garden of shaped flowerbeds filled with 15,000 bedding plants and includes roses and peonies.
No photography is allowed in the house which contains paintings and furnishings collected over the centuries plus a massive collection of taxidermy (the Braybrookes’ unique collection of natural history), a State Bed built for the proposed visit of King George III and his wife Queen Charlotte which, due to his ill-health, never actually took place, a suite of Robert Adam rooms on the ground floor and the nursery arranged for the 8 Braybrooke children and their staff.
The Coal Gallery : But we were allowed to photograph the unusual Coal Gallery on (I think) the second floor. Apparently, to make it easier for the indoor staff the tenant farmers were contracted each year to bring the coal (by pulley system on the outside of the house) to deposit in these coal bunkers. The cupboards were also stocked with candles and soap.
There was so much more to see outside but the weather was against us. There’s a pictorial history exhibition of the site from Iron Age to the present day in the stable block; horses are also stabled here and are ridden round the estate each day; more gardens and further walks are possible. Despite the weather we managed to fit in most things!