Audley End House is a Jacobean house located close to Saffron Walden in Essex. It has had a varied past, once a Benedictine abbey and even a palace it now sits in the care of English Heritage.
The abbey on the site was called Walden Abbey and was founded by Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex some time between 1136 and 1144 as a Benedictine priory. It was granted the status of an abbey in 1190 by Richard I. It was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538. Excavations in 1979 found remains of the Abbey and that parts of the foundations and lower walls of the cloister were used in the construction of Audley End House.
In 1538 after the dissolution, the abbey was granted to Lord Chancellor Sir Thomas Audley and converted to a domestic house and became known as Audley Inn. This was demolished by his grandson, Thomas Howard, first Earl of Suffolk and Lord Treasurer, to build a huge mansion so he could entertain King James I.
It is reported that he spent £200,000 building his mansion for the King, but to raise this, he was embezzling the treasury. He was caught and sent to the Tower of London. He was fined heavily and after the fine was paid he was released but died in disgrace at Audley End in 1626.
The mansion became a royal palace after it was bought by King Charles II in 1668 for £50,000 to use as a home while attending the races at Newmarket. The Suffolk's reacquired it in 1701 but the front court was pulled down in 1708. Many parts of the building were becoming derelict, over the next century they were pulled down reducing the size of the mansion. In 1753 the east wing was finally pulled down.
The house was remodeled but as shadow of its former self when Sir John Griffin, fourth Baron Howard de Walden and first Baron Braybrooke, made sweeping changes. He commissioned Capability Brown to landscape the land surrounding the mansion and Robert Adam to design new reception rooms on the ground floor in the style of the 18th century with a formal grandeur.
The third Baron Braybrooke collected a huge art collection which he installed into the house and restored some of the original furnishings to give the house a more Jacobean feel inside.
In World War II the house was offered to the government during the Dunkirk evacuation but it did not have the necessary facility's but it was later requisitioned in March 1941. It was used as a camp for a small number of units but it was given to the Special Operations Executive. They used it as a general holding camp but later it was given to the Polish branch. A memorial to 108 Polish soldiers who died in action stands on the main drive.
The house was returned to the ninth Lord Braybrooke but he soon sold it to the Ministry of Works, who later became English Heritage. Lord Braybrooke moved to the Abbey House in the grounds of Audley End
The Capability Brown parkland still 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 also a miniature circular railway in the grounds. The walled kitchen garden in its grounds was restored by Garden Organic, the UK's leading organic growing charity, in 1999. Renovated to its former glory it now looks as it would have done in late Victorian times; full of vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers.