Audley End House in Essex brought back to former splendour for 2015

    Audley End, Essex. © Robert Smith/StudioHire Ltd
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    English Heritage has invested a further £1 million to continue the conservation work being carried out at Audley End.

    The exterior conservation repair work being carried out at Audley End House and Gardens has entered its second £1 million phase. Having already undergone £1.8 million worth of improvements, the property will now see remaining repairs to the back and side of the house take place.

    English Heritage has been working hard to ensure this popular stately home is brought into a good state of external repair and that it is well-presented and cared for, for future generations of visitors.

    Audley End was one of the greatest Jacobean prodigy houses, built between 1605 and 1614 by the first Earl of Suffolk on the site of an earlier house converted from the buildings of Walden Abbey. It was bought by Charles II and used as a Royal Palace until 1701 by which time it was in poor condition and considered horribly old fashioned. Financial pressures led to the house being reduced in size and remodelled in several stages during the 18th century, chiefly for Lady Portsmouth and her heir Sir John Griffin Griffin. It was again remodelled, this time in an antiquarian style for the third Lord Braybrooke and his wife Jane Cornwallis in the late 1820s and early 1830s. Today, it remains one of the most important places in the history of great houses of England.

    A soft limestone called Clunch was used extensively in the facades at Audley and over the years it has begun to deteriorate. The corners of the building have suffered particularly badly, losing their sharp definition and leaving a ‘nibbled’ silhouette. Rather than replace all of these stones the project team assisted by David Odgers Conservation are trying a new technique which employs ceramic armatures to support lime mortar, allowing moisture to readily move into and out of the stone, ensuring it is tough enough to recreate the edges of the corner stones and halt further decay, whilst still creating a visual match to the existing stone. Then once the work has been completed the parterre will be replanted by the team of gardeners.

    Around 1,500 windows make up the beautiful façade of Audley End House. The window frames on the house were replaced in the mid 20th century and are now rotten in places. Almost 500 of them on the front elevation of the house were repaired last year, with the remainder being looked at over the coming months. Where possible, the rotten areas will be cut out and new timber sections will be pieced into the existing frames. Some frames will be replaced if they are beyond repair.

    As well as ensuring the outside of the house will look majestic, work will be carried out on the interiors whilst the house is closed over winter, to ensure the ceilings and wall linings are in good condition when it re-opens in the Spring. One of the rooms that will be re-presented is the Howard Dressing Room. Just as last year’s work uncovered evidence of original wallpaper in the newly opened nursery suite, which was then painstakingly researched and recreated, so too has the preparatory conservation work on the walls in the Howard Dressing Room. English Heritage will be looking to return this room to its former glory when it was occupied by Sir John Griffin Griffin, in keeping with the adjoining rooms.

    While the work is carried out on the house, the extensive grounds, stable yard and walled kitchen garden will remain open to visitors and a special scaffold tour will allow English Heritage members to view the conservation works at close hand in the New Year.

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