Downton Downtime; How You Can Live like a Lord for a Week on an English Heritage Stay; Downtime Just T like Downton

Sunday Mirror (London, England), September 27, 2015 | Go to article overview

Downton Downtime; How You Can Live like a Lord for a Week on an English Heritage Stay; Downtime Just T like Downton


Byline: DAVID JELLY

The visitors have all gone, the gates are locked behind them, and we're alone at last in our very own stately home. The evening sun kisses the sandstone walls with a honey glow, ducks waddle across the sweeping lawns for a last paddle in the river, and a blissful quiet descends. We're off for a stroll through the grounds like Lord and Lady Grantham before cracking open a bottle of bubbly to celebrate our good fortune.

Audley End House is a huge, elegant country mansion and one of the jewels in English Heritage's crown. On the Essex/Cambridgeshire border, just three miles from the charming market town of Saffron Walden, it was one of the greatest houses of Jacobean England.

EMBEZZLED My wife and I are actually staying in the rather less lavish but no less delightful Cambridge Lodge, the Victorian gate house to the estate.

It boasts two double bedrooms, a fully equipped kitchen with more mod cons than the servants of Audley End - or even Downton Abbey - could ever have dreamed of, a cosy sitting room and dining room with views across the lawns.

The house is named after Sir Thomas Audley, Henry VIII's Lord Chancellor, who converted a former monastery into a great country house. Between 1603 and 1614 his grandson, Thomas Howard, Earl of Suffolk and Lord Treasurer to James I, rebuilt it on a massive scale, lavishing the equivalent of PS5million of today's money.

The gardens were landscaped by no less a designer than Lancelot "Capability" Brown, who even artificially widened the River Cam to create a stunning view from the state rooms.

But Howard's plans went disastrously wrong. The king discovered his minister had embezzled huge sums of money from the Treasury to spend on the refurbishment, and he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Luckily for him, he managed to hang on to his head, but he had to spend the rest of his life repaying the money. Audley End was eventually bought by Charles II as a base for attending the nearby Newmarket races.

The house then passed into the hands of the Braybrooke family who lived in it for several generations. It was even used as a secret training headquarters for the Polish resistance in World War II before it was purchased for the nation in 1948.

Today the house and gardens are one of the best places in Britain to discover how a great mansion worked.

From the grand state rooms with their ornate ceilings, rich furnishings and art treasures, you pass through the libraries with their thousands of old books to the private family apartments; Lady Braybrooke's sitting room, dimly lit as it would be on a winter's evening, the Neville bedroom with its red four-poster, and the Howard suite with its specially-made bed for the visit of the "mad" George III.

Sadly the king never visited and the bed has never been slept in.

The nursery suite was restored using old pictures as a guide and shows how the privileged children, their nannies and tutors lived. …

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