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  • (♪ The Old Garden Gate, Bea Hankey ♪)

  • One and a half miles from the medieval town  of Saffron Walden in Essex we find a true East  

  • Anglian treasure: Audley End. A stone-clad  mansion surrounded by sumptuous gardens  

  • which witness an explosion of colour every  spring as 19,000 bulbs burst from the soil.

  • In the early days of summer, a walled kitchen  garden packed with organic produce witnesses  

  • thousands of brightly-coloured irises and  peonies in a cascade of purples and pinks.

  • Meanwhile, all year round, the  River Cam glides gracefully by.

  • When first built, Audley End was one of the  largest and most opulent houses in Britain.  

  • It was a fantastic Jacobean mansion that was for  a time even a royal palace and it speaks to us of  

  • grand families and the rise and fall of fortunesIt's filled with beautiful art, furniture and some  

  • of the most remarkable collections that still fill  the rooms and the halls here. But it's also filled  

  • with extraordinary human storiesThe house sits in a Capability Brown  

  • landscape and while the grounds themselves  look tranquil today, the relationship between  

  • Capability Brown and Sir John Griffin Griffinthe owner at the time, was far from tranquil and  

  • it's clear from their letters that they had  some serious disagreements and fallings-out.  

  • Thankfully for us today, those fallings out and  that enmity doesn't seem to have translated into  

  • the landscape that we see around us. In the 19th  century the house was significantly remodelled  

  • giving us the treasure house that we  see today where features from throughout  

  • the house's long history are still visible and  we really get that sense of the different phases,  

  • the different fortunes that the house had been  through. They're all here. We can read them all.  

  • During the Second World War Audley End was home  to Polish soldiers of the Special Operations  

  • Executive who trained here in secret before being  dropped behind enemy lines in occupied Poland.  

  • It's an interesting recent story  and again it tells us of these  

  • extraordinary human stories that  are associated with this place.

  • Away from the lavish reception rooms and  the elaborately-decorated royal apartments,  

  • you step into the Service Wing.

  • This was the engine of the house where around  30 servants worked day in day out in addition  

  • to another 80 or so staff who worked across the  estate. These people were just as much a part  

  • of the house as the lords and ladies they served  and we can find their stories captured here too.

  • A house like this speaks to us of  all the grand and the fine things  

  • but it can also open the door to  the world of domestic service.  

  • A house like Audley End required a huge number  of people to enable it to function. It's like a  

  • machine. Just to give one example, coal must be  brought into the building and it must be stored,  

  • it must be moved around the building into the  kitchens and into the many, many fireplaces.  

  • Those fires must be lit, food must be brought infood has to be prepared, food has to be taken out,  

  • served at table. Lamps have to be lit. Every  single one of these activities requires expense.  

  • They're expensive places to maintain. They require  constant spending of money in the form of wages,  

  • repairs, material and supplies. The  house has had its ups and downs as well,  

  • initially a house of huge proportions and  literally fit for a king -- Charles II in  

  • this case. It had to be scaled back in the early  1700s just to make it a more manageable size.  

  • The house was successively modernised and  remodelled in the 18th and 19th centuries  

  • but by the middle of the 20th century it still  did not even have gaslight, let alone electricity.  

  • Looking at a house like Audley End with its  fantastic art collection and its beautiful  

  • architecture and its landscaped grounds, sometimes  it's easy to forget that these were the backdrop  

  • to a complex series of human relationships  but we're really lucky that we've got and  

  • we continue to uncover documentary evidence  that really helps to fill in the detail  

  • about the lives that were lived intertwined with  the house and its gardens. And these are intensely  

  • personal histories that speak of love, separation  and even occasionally of secret relationships.

  • We're pairing this beautiful Essex mansion with  an exquisite traditional song that was originally  

  • documented by the famous song collector and  composer Vaughan Williams when he heard it sung  

  • in 1904 in the Essex village of Hornden. The song  documents the compexities of human relationships  

  • and features a story of a woman forced to  reject the approaches of the man she loves  

  • as she's aware that he's been unfaithful. The  song, sung for us by Bea Hankey, ends with a  

  • poignant warning to girls who might courtfalse lover: untrustworthy men are described  

  • as being like a star on a foggy morning. You think  they're near, but in truth they are far, far away.

(♪ The Old Garden Gate, Bea Hankey ♪)

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The Old Garden Gate | Songs of England #4 | Audley End House and Gardens, Essex

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    Summer posted on 2021/02/19
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