1763 – c1767
Saffron Walden CB11 4JF
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Research for this Capability Brown landscape has made fascinating reading. Another Robert Adam, Lancelot Brown blend and another. masterpiece it would seem. However, it soon became apparent that all did not run smoothly for Brown with this commission – not from a time management perspective at least. In addition to the landscape element, there’s an engaging history linked to the characters associated with the house and site, which I encourage you to track down through these links and elsewhere.The mansion itself is built on the abbey site of Walden, which was gifted by Henry VIII in the 16th century to Sir Thomas Audley, the 1st Baron Audley who became Lord Chancellor. Thomas Audley’s grandson, Thomas Howard the 1st Earl of Suffolk and Lord Treasurer, later built the grand mansion of Audley End c1600, and all was looking well until the Earl was sent to the tower for embezzlement – he died back at Audley end in 1626. It’s worth saying that Audley End was impressive enough to attract the attention of King Charles II, who became its owner from 1668, and although the palace gradually reduced in size after this, its present form appears to have lost none of its grandeur.
Audley End’s present form owes much to the investment made by Sir John Griffin Griffin, 4th Baron Howard de Walden. Sir John, a military man who served in the Seven Years’ War, bought in the expertise of Robert Adam who worked largely on the mansion, and Lancelot Brown to layout the grounds. Roger Turner quotes the cost of improving Audley End to have been in the staggering region of £100,000 over a thirty year period from 1762, an endeavor that employed some of the leading craftsmen of the day. It also appears that to accomplish the external works, permission was sought to move roads farther away, and part of the nearby village was removed entirely.
Brown’s achievements in the landscape appear blighted due to a disagreement between himself and Sir John over the time taken to complete the works and the related costs. It was very involved, and once again makes fascinating reading, but essentially the contract seems to have began with an unrealistic completion date that ultimately wasn’t realised, but despite the disagreement between Lancelot and Sir John, and the first contract being cancelled, the work did continue for a few years more.
Lancelot is credited with widening the River Cam that flows across the west front of the house, laying out the gracefully arching approaches, and of course seeding the requisite lawns up to the house. A ha-ha was constructed to the east, and tree planting on the usual Brownian scale that intended to blend the garden into its surroundings, screen a road, and also most likely; for the love of the trees themselves. To describe the scale of Lancelot’s planting at Audley End, I turn to Jane Brown’s ‘Omnipotent Magician’ – ‘1,300 larches, with limes, silver firs, Portuguese laurels, poplars, birches and 3000 Dutch alders’. In addition to this were the essential Cedar and Plane trees.
The disagreement between Sir John and Lancelot didn’t tarnish the physical development of Audley End, which continued without Brown. Robert Adam continued his work for Sir John, looking to have been the more successful contractor – on this occasion at least! Further architectural elements were added including a fine tea house bridge, north-west of the house by Adam c1783, and a temple, east of the house by Robert Brettingham, c1790, as a tribute to George III.
Audley End today is managed by English Heritage, and the garden is thriving having received much attention. A loss in terms of Brown’s design is a victory for formal garden followers in the shape of a Victorian formal, or parterre garden feature designed by William Gilpin. Planted each year with masses of bedding, it offers a colourful contrast to the greens of the landscape garden beyond. Another notable feature, amongst many, is the walled garden, worked in the past in association with Garden Organic. The relationship appears to have drawn to a close now, but organic principles are still strictly followed and. promoted.
I don’t mind admitting that assembling this post was quite a challenge. In relation to the rest of the blog, it should as ever have focused mainly on Capability Brown and his involvement. The more I rummaged however; the more I discovered about Audley End to draw me in. There’s a captivating history of development to a mansion property and landscape garden that grew unbelievably in size and stature. The gardens today are said to have remained true to their Brownian roots, with matured trees, garden structures and a mansion, though a slither of its former self – looking stunning both within and without. Have you visited or worked there? Tell me what you think of Audley End!