Audley End House & Gardens, Essex March 2016

by Emma Bumpus on April 6, 2016

Spring takes careertraveller and family to Essex where a skyline of architectural silhouettes and quintessential English Garden bring history alive.

Driving in to this treasured estate is a rather noble affair as we pass the stately Lion Gate and Lodge, whose Coade stone Howard Lion statue commemorates the barony of Sir John Griffin Griffin. It is here we step into a natural style landscape of green-fingered gardens with fairy-tale sweeping lawns, auspicious flowerbeds and majestic trees that accentuate Audley End House, a Jacobean mansion house that defines English heritage.

On the foundations of a 12th century Benedictine monastery ‘Walden Abbey’ we experience an Eastertide palette of daffodil yellow, serpentine blue and evergreen parkland that celebrates the work of landscape gardener Lancelot Brown, nicknamed ‘Capability’. Amidst verdant acres of of wide open park and woodland we encounter an artistic show of seasonal spring gardens bursting with new growth, colour and variety, the type that marks 2016 the 300th anniversary of Capability Brown and Year of The English Garden.

Strategically placed specimen trees provide a trail of statuesque and harmonious composition that leads the eye pleasantly around picturesque contours of rural Essex countryside. Cloud Hedge, shaped in the form clouds, is a heavenly textural mass of 200-year-old box and yew, which goliath in size cleverly shields the estate’s domestic offices.

Symmetrically poised stands the celebrated Cedar of Lebanon, which planted by ‘Capability’ in 1760, provides a timeless elegance with its delicate spreading shape. Complementary neighbour Lime Walk is a romantic path evocative of late spring lime scented lime trees that sway towards the eye-catching Adam Bridge. Beautifully designed by architect Robert Adam, 18th century stone curves offer soft light, texture and renowned “Capability’ vista of vistas that glides across the shimmering river Cam with serpentine lake and signature rolling hills. Stunning!

With gardens that beckon picnic and play we refresh at the Cart Yard Café and whilst the little one rides on the wooden horse we discover the house has it’s own Victorian Stable Yard with horses and groom who emerge from the Kitchen Garden. Entertaining, educational and functional stands a beautiful walled organic garden, another dimension to Audley End with lovingly restored Bothy, vine house and orchard boasting over 120 varieties of unusual East Anglian apples and fruit.

Capability’s fashionable use of art to heighten nature lives on with the Palladian Bridge, which designed by Robert Adam sits in a tranquil glade of 50 shades of green or Elysian Garden, careertraveller favourite. Garden after garden is a step into England’s story where the likes of Thomas Lord Audley converted the monastery into a house, which over centuries has entertained nobility and provided training headquarters of the Polish section of the Special Operations Executive during the Second World War.

Inside is an abundance of history that unfolds in the shape of opulent furnishings, private painting collection and artefacts depicting 18th, 19th and 20th century living. Service Wing areas of the 1880s present a Scullery, Pastry Larder and huge Kitchen where traditionally dressed maids prepare seasonal dishes of the Victorian era. The Wet and Dry Laundry with wooden washboards and mangles provides a stark contrast to the grand reception rooms and Saloon which takes centre stage for it’s huge informal space, large sofas and original 17th century ceiling panels teeming with sea creatures!

Audley End House is a palace of infinite culture wrapped up in lovingly restored relics and sophisticated interiors that unravel the pastimes and chronicles of the Braybrooke family. Two sky scraping libraries filled with gilt binding books and a drawing room displaying Canaletto’s famous Venetian scene The Bucintoro at the Molo on Ascension Day are the icing on the cake as we wander through the ground floor Adam Rooms detailing lavish gilding and fine neoclassical ceiling. Restored to their 1770s appearance we embrace formal 18th century living and admire the symmetrical pillars in the Dining Parlour whose clever design reveals a room within a room and a scene set for ladies who parade pre dinner.

Our tour ends on the second floor in the recently restored Nursery, a suite of rooms brimming with inventive toys that once entertained the eight children of the 3rd Lord Braybrooke and wife Lady Jane Cornwallis. Corner to corner is a gala of play and recreation with wooden rocking horse and original Doll’s House, a regency inspired masterpiece created by the children of the house. Sublime!

Audley End House and Gardens are a magical day out most worthy of a weekend break in Essex, can’t wait to return!

Further information:

Audley End House & Gardens

English Heritage

Visit Essex

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