Sir Thomas Audley was given the lands of Walden Abbey by Henry VIII, and adapted the abbey buildings as his mansion. His grandson Thomas, first Earl of Suffolk, rebuilt this mansion between 1603 and 1614. The new Audley End was truly palatial in scale, but Suffolk fell from power after 1618.
Charles II bought the house in 1668, using it as a base for attending Newmarket races. By the 1680s, Sir Christopher Wren was warning of the need for major repairs. The cost of these caused William III to return Audley End to the Suffolk family. When the Suffolk line died out in 1745, it was bought by the Countess of Portsmouth for her nephew and heir, Sir John Griffin Whitwell. Following his inheritance, he became known as Sir John Griffin Griffin – also the fourth Baron Howard de Walden and first Baron Braybrooke. He made changes to the house, adding a suite of neo-Classical rooms designed by Robert Adam and a Gothic chapel. Meanwhile, ‘Capability’ Brown had been employed to remodel the grounds.
Today, the house’s interior is largely the result of ownership by the third Baron Braybrooke, who inherited it in 1825. He installed his extensive picture collection and filled the rooms with furnishings. The fourth Baron Braybrooke’s natural history collection also remains an appealing feature of the house.
After nearly 30 years in store, a rare set of English tapestries by the Soho weaver Paul Saunders has been conserved and displayed in the Tapestry Room. Depicting figures in a landscape with ruined buildings, they were originally supplied to Audley End in 1767. Following paint research, the room has also been redecorated in the warm stone colour used when the tapestries were first installed there.
Much has been done recently to restore the park and the fine Victorian gardens to their former glory. An artificial lake, created with water from the River Cam, runs through delightful 18th-century parkland. The Classical Temple of Concorde, built in 1790 in honour of George III, and the restored 19th century formal parterre garden dominate the views from the back of the house.
Visitors can see Robert Adam’s ornamental garden buildings, and the Elysian Garden cascade. The thriving organic walled Victorian kitchen garden – with its box-edged paths, trained fruit and 52 m (170 feet) long vine house, still as it was in its Victorian heyday – is a memorable part of any visit. Also worth visiting are the historic kitchen and dry laundry.
Please note: In some rooms, light levels are reduced to preserve vulnerable textiles and other collections. No photography or stiletto heels allowed in the house. Please call the site for special events information.