Audley End was the site of Walden Abbey, founded by Geoffrey de Mandeville, 1st Earl of Essex in 1139, a Benedictine monastery that was granted to the Lord Chancellor Sir Thomas Audley in 1538 by Henry VIII. The abbey was converted to a domestic house for him and was known as Audley Inn. It was demolished by his grandson, Thomas Howard (first Earl of Suffolk, fourth creation, and Lord Treasurer), and a much grander mansion was built, primarily for entertaining the king, James I. The layout reflects the processional route of the king and queen, each having their own suite of rooms. It is reputed that Thomas Howard told King James he had spent some £200,000 creating this grand house, and it may be that the king had unwittingly contributed. In 1619, Suffolk and his wife were found guilty of embezzlement and sent to the Tower of London but a huge fine secured their release. Suffolk died in disgrace at Audley End in 1626. At this time, the house was on the scale of a great royal palace, and became one when Charles II bought it in 1668 for £5 for use as a home when attending the races at Newmarket. It was returned to the Suffolks in 1701.
Over the next century, parts of the house were gradually demolished until it was reduced to its current size. The main structure has remained little altered since the main front court was demolished in 1708 and the east wing came down in 1753. Some rooms have been substantially remodelled especially the huge hall. Sir John Griffin, fourth Baron Howard de Walden and first Baron Braybrooke, introduced sweeping changes before he died in 1797. In 1762, he commissioned Capability Brown to landscape the parkland, and Robert Adam to design new reception rooms on the house's ground floor in the style of the 18th century with a formal grandeur. The Great Drawing Room proved problematic as it had to be the grandest room for receiving guests, but it possessed a very low ceiling which was considered undesirable at that time. Robert Adam solved the problem by making the furniture unusually small and lowering the chair rail. His design of the Little Drawing Room for the ladies was based on the style of ancient Rome, and Lady Griffin had difficulty moving between the columns when dressed in her evening gown.
The third Baron Braybrooke, who inherited house and title in 1825, installed most of the house's huge picture collection, filled the rooms with furnishings, and reinstated something of the original Jacobean feel to the state rooms. Audley End was offered to the government during the Dunkirk evacuation but the offer was declined due to its lack of facilities. It was requisitioned in March 1941 and used as a camp by a small number of units before being turned over to the Special Operations Executive. The SOE used the house as a general holding camp[ before using it for its Polish branch. Designated Special Training School 43 (STS 43) it was a base for the Cichociemni. A memorial to the 108 Poles who died in the service stands in the main drive. After the war, the ninth Lord Braybrooke resumed possession, and in 1948 the house was sold to the Ministry of Works, the predecessor of English Heritage. Lord Braybrooke moved to Abbey House in the grounds, an irregular L-shaped two-storey house with an early 17th-century timber-framed and 19th-century brick core. The house was remodelled by Albert Richardson and Eric Houfe in the 1950s and enlarged to three times its former size by Philip Jebb in 1967–70 for the Hon. Robin Neville. Its symmetrical north front has two canted bay windows in the centre. The building's history is most apparent from the south, where the gables of the earlier house can be seen behind those of the 19th-century rear wing. The house has interior decoration in Classical style by Dudley Poplack.
The Capability Brown parkland includes many of the mock-classical monuments, although some are not in the care of English Heritage. The grounds are divided by the River Cam, which is crossed by several ornate bridges, and a main road which follows the route of a Roman road. The park beyond the river is frequently used for open-air concerts. There is a miniature 10 ¼" gauge 1.5-mile circular railway through Estate woodland which is managed as a stand-alone visitor attraction. The walled kitchen garden was restored by Garden Organic, the UK's organic growing charity, in 1999 from an overgrown, semi-derelict state. Renovated to its former glory, it now looks as it would have done in late Victorian times: full of vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers.
Access to the house is via loose gravel, tarmac, cobbles and smooth grass. Some gentle undulation. Gardens accessed via tarmac and gravel paths and very smooth grass. Ground floor is level. Several bridges either have a step or steep slope. Three steps to self-service café in the Servant’s Hall. Wheelchairs are unable to access the first floor in the house without negotiating stairs. Level access to toilets and shop. Restaurants have ramped access to tearooms. Assistance Dogs Welcome. Items in the historic kitchen are available to look at and touch. There is also a children's dressing up box at the stables. Virtual tour of the house is available in the visitor centre. There are 5 disabled parking bays. Fountain, wildfowl and bird song in grounds; kitchen, flower and rose gardens.
Location : Off London Road, Saffron Walden, Essex, CB11 4JF
Transport: Audley End (National Rail) then bus (1.25 miles). Bus Routes : Stephensons 6, 59 & 313; C.J. Myall service 101; 132 (Sun only); TGM 301; Viceroy 34, 59, 590; all stop near by.
Opening Times : Daily 12:00 to 17:000
Opening Times Stables, Service Wing, Gardens: Daily 10:00 to 18:000
Tickets: Adults £16.60; Concessions £14.90; Children (5 - 15) £10.00
Tel: 0370 333 1181