Wanderer at Large: Essex & Suffolk – Audley End

A tour guide’s all-time favourite UK places.

Sponsored by Your London Tours.

This September, Visit Britain, the marketing arm of the British tourist industry, is launching its ‘Great British Staycation Campaign’ to encourage people to holiday in the UK.

Soul City Wanderer (aka Frank Molloy) is one of the UK’s most accredited and experienced tour guides. Over three decades he has visited nearly every part of the country, touring many of the places that Great Britain and Ireland has to offer.

In a new blog series, he will list his all-time favourite five places by area (spiralling out from London*). These are personal choices, some obvious, some obscure.

This week, the area north-east of London that includes the counties of Essex and Suffolk.

Audley End
Audley End Rd, Audley End, Saffron Walden CB11 4JF.

In the county of Essex stands Audley End, a magnificent stately home with royal connections.

Audley End has passed through various owners in its 500-year history. In the 1530s, as part of the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry VIII gave the Benedictine monastery property to Thomas Audley for helping him facilitate his divorce from Katherine of Aragon.

It was inherited by Thomas Howard, Admiral of the Royal Navy during the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Indeed, Queen Elizabeth I visited the mansion that Howard had rebuilt. In 1666, King Charles II who bought it to be near his stables at Newmarket. In the 18th century, when it was owned by the Griffin and Neville families, the greatest designers worked on it. Today, the architecture spans Tudor, Jacobean, Gothick, Georgian and Victorian.

The drawing room has the stamp of Robert Adam, the grand staircase, John Vanbrugh. The saloon retains its original Jacobean ceiling. The chapel by John Hobcraft is in the Gothick style reminiscent of Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill House. The state bedroom was designed specifically to welcome King George III, though he was too ill to stay here.

The art collection features original portraits of Lady Jane Grey, George II and Lord Cornwallis, plus paintings from the school of Canaletto.

Unusually, the coal cellar is upstairs. Through the windows there is a wonderful view of Saffron Walden church in the distance.

In the grounds, landscaped by none other than Lancelot Capability Brown, grows the Audley End Oak, a rare species which was planted 250 years ago. A perfect spot for a picnic. Audley End is administered by English Heritage.

As impressive and historic a stately home as you will see in the UK.

Note: All sites mentioned were operating pre-lockdown. Please check relevant websites before embarking on any potential visit. Another recommendation will appear tomorrow.

For the very best in guided private tours of the UK visit www.yourlondontours.com

*Operators in the UK tour industry often separate the areas of the country according to what touring can be achieved in a region in one day. As a London-based operator, my ‘map’ spirals outwards from the capital and is separated thus:

  1. London
  2. Northern Home Counties (Beds/Herts/Cambs)
  3. Eastern Home Counties (Essex/Suffolk)
  4. Southern Home Counties (Kent, Surrey, Sussex)
  5. Western Home Counties (Ox/Berks/Bucks)
  6. South coast (Hants/Dorset)
  7. Western England (Somerset/Gloucs/Wilts)
  8. South West England (Devon & Cornwall)
  9. Wales (north & south)
  10. Welsh Borders (Herefordshire/Shropshire/Cheshire)
  11. Western Midlands (Brum/Worcs/Warks/Staffs)
  12. Eastern Midlands (Northants/Leics/Rutland/Hunts)
  13. Northern Midlands (Notts/Derbys)
  14. East coast (Norfolk/Lincs)
  15. Yorks (all ridings)
  16. North West (Manchester/Merseyside/Lancs/Lakes/Cumbria)
  17. North East (Durham/Tyne & Wear/Northumberland)
  18. Southern Scotland (Borders/Lowlands)
  19. Northern Scotland (Highlands/Islands)
  20. Ireland (Northern/Southern)

Published by Soul City Wanderer

Soul City Wanderer is the alias of London journalist and author Frank Molloy, a writer on the city’s history and culture. Born south of the river, he has an MA in London history (Birkbeck) and lectures at various institutions including the Museum of London and the National Portrait Gallery. He is also a fully-qualified Blue Badge Guide (MITG), Westminster Guide and City of London Guide.

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