April and May have been hectic months. Preparation and travels for Easter holidays, then more travels in May and I want to talk only about one of these experiences I have had.
England is rich in mansions, estate houses and abbeys open to the public and because we had to decide on the last minute what we will do with all the free time we had – 3 full free days – we stopped at a property known to us only from a friend’s recommendation – Audley End House.
I believe that many of you will think that this house is in Audley End, which is by the way a train stop away from both Cambridge and Stansted Airport, but the reality is that this house is in Saffron Walden.
Now that I have mentioned it, you can travel by car or if you have time and are in Cambridge you can take the bus 132 – from the train station stop no.3. The journey will take about 65-70 minutes, but it can take less than that.
Going back to the house we have visited. Originally on the same spot as the house was a Benedictine monastery. On King Henry VIII time, monasteries were closed and their possessions were given to noble families. The lands of this abbey were given to Lord Audley who was King’s chancellor. He, Lord Audley, is buried in a early classical, black touchstone tomb in St. Mary the Virgin Church, in Saffron Walden. We have been to the church but could not find his tomb.
After Lord Audley’s death, the property was inherited by his grandson Thomas Howard, the 1st Earl of Suffolk and Lord Treasurer to James I and he built the house on the exact place where the abbey was and it was 3 times bigger than it is today.
One of the royal families came to visit Audley End and seeing how large and grand the property was, the king said that a such a house is not appropriate for the king, but perhaps for his treasurer is. Not long after this visit, the king asked the owner of the house to demonstrate the origins of all his founds to build and maintain such a house. As this request could not be fulfilled, the family was arrested but then let free on a condition to pay a fine.
I do not remember the names of all the owners of this house, but listening to it, it gave me the impression that the house is cursed. Families will have no children or only daughters in which case the house passed to some of the male cousins, or had sons but they all died at a young age.
During the WWII, the house was the headquarters of the Polish Section of the Special Operations Executive. Polish volunteers willing to join the Polish underground movement were trained here before being dropped into their occupied home country. After the war, the house returned to its legitimate owners, but because they could not cover the debts and pay the tax, the house was sold to the English Heritage Trust.
The late owners of the Audley End’s house, Lord’s Braybrooke family now owns the Miniature Audley End Railway theme park just across Audley End’s house. More information about it here.
Today, you can visit the house, the gardens and the stables where you will see some of the horses and see the firefighters old machines.
People bring their own food and just sit on the beautifully maintained grass, in the shadow for a relaxed day. If you want to eat, there is a cafeteria in the main house and a coffee show just outside where the farm shop is – on the corner. The price for the food is reasonable and the quality is good too.
In the old kitchen, you will see some of the staff dressed like in the 19th century and in the nursery children have the chance to dress up and take pictures in some of the clothes provided – free of charge 🙂
If you fancy to read something or just relax on one of the sofas, then you can do so in the sitting room or the library. You are even allowed to read something from the collection – just ask.
Besides its beautifully decorations, you will be pleasantly surprised of the rich collection of oil paintings (of which about 90% belong to the latest owners of the house) and the birds collection.
Take a day to fully enjoy the property and relax. It is worth your time and money.
There are more things to say about this beautiful house, but I believe that it is better to see than many times to hear about it. For more information about the house, click here.
Travel safe and wise!