Relive grandeur of centuries past with a visit to Audley End House in Essex
Stars and Stripes May 4, 2023
Being stationed in the U.K. is a great opportunity for Americans to immerse themselves in the rich history lying within a short drive of their doorsteps.
I think it’s important to understand and appreciate how the people who lived in this country in centuries past days experienced it, and how that shapes what we see today.
To that end, I’ve been visiting a variety of historical sites, including Audley End House and Gardens in Essex, which is about a 30-minute drive from RAF Lakenheath and the other nearby bases.
Visitors are shown the gorgeous landscaping and garden as well as a day in the life of a Victorian-era servant in a 17th-century country house.
The house itself is Jacobean, an adapted Renaissance architectural style known for ornamented columns and rounded arcades that developed in the 15th and 16th centuries.
My family and I took the self-guided tour through the house, showing all the major rooms, including the great hall, where there is a vast collection of portraits of kings and nobility.
We explored the dining areas and living quarters and were very impressed with the upstairs gallery where the servants kept coal to heat the house, and where one of the first flushing toilets in the country is located.
It was installed in 1775, the same year the American Revolution began. My wife was particularly impressed with the giant library and the window seats that looked out onto the gardens.
Our children enjoyed exploring the nursery rooms, which had antique toys available to play with, while their mom and dad got to enjoy a quick movie and a chance to sit down.
After that, we walked through a gorgeous chapel and learned that the family had its very own vicar and private Sunday church service.
The tour ended with a walk through several trophy rooms displaying hundreds of taxidermized birds. Since the home is owned by a private collector, I was unable to take pictures inside.
Afterward, we stopped for lunch at the cafe on the grounds. The menu was nothing special, offering a typical assortment of sandwiches, scones and beverages.
As we toured the servants’ quarters, my wife said it was like walking through the set of “Downton Abbey,” with the large kitchen that housed the traditional stoves and ovens and the yard that housed the larder and vegetable garden.
The most fascinating place in the house for me was the laundry room, where we learned that it used to take a whole day just to clean and dry one garment.
The children enjoyed the various stations and pulleys, such as the mangle, which was used to wring out wet clothes. I can’t imagine working as a servant having to go through this process every single day. Thank goodness for the inventor of washing machines and driers.
Once our exploring was done, we enjoyed some ice cream from the gift shop and a walk through the gardens all the way to the horse stables.
We’ve seen numerous historical sites throughout our time in England, and I can say this trip was the most enjoyable.
The beautiful weather on the day we went made a perfect pairing with the magnificent house and gardens, leaving us with a memory that we will enjoy for a long time.
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Audley End House and Gardens
Address: Off London Road, Saffron Walden, Essex, England
Prices: Members of English Heritage, free; adults, 18.10 pounds; children 5-17, 11.30 pounds; children 4 and under, free; adults over 65, 16.30 pounds
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Information: Phone: 0370 333 118; Online: english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/audley-end-house-and-gardens