Located a short train ride from London’s Liverpool Street Station, Audley End (House & Garden) is one of the grandest Jacobean estates in the country. The house and its surrounding gardens sit in Saffron Walden in the Essex countryside and have been rebuilt numerous times over several centuries, but have maintained a reputation for grandeur and opulence.
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It’s no surprise, then, that producers of The Crown opted for this destination. The exteriors are clearly breathtaking, but its the interiors that capture what it was like for Queen Elizabeth and her family growing up in mid-20th-century Britain.
As a charity, the income that English Heritage receives from hosting projects such as The Crown goes towards looking after Audley End and the other historic sites in its care, many of which are open to the public for free.
The gardens are home to a working kitchen (with fruits and vegetables grown onsite), as well as stables and resident horses. On our visit we were shown how to ride sidesaddle, the equestrian method used predominantly by women. The technique might seem cumbersome and unnecessary but, as we saw, there are benefits, and once you get used to it, it actually isn’t all that different from the more traditional method of sitting on a horse.
The (mostly) 17th-century house is one of those quirks in English heritage that can claim to be a “prodigy house” – meaning it is a palace for all intents and purposes, but does not have the title of one. The main building, still vast and imposing, is only a third of its original size, having been redesigned due to financial constraints and changing ownership. Audley End also has a nearby train station named after it and, although currently under the stewardship of English Heritage, remains the seat of the 9th Lord Braybrooke.
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The links to the royal family and ruling classes date back to the early 1600s: Thomas Howard (the 4th Duke of Norfolk and, later, the Earl of Sussex) used the house his father (Sir Thomas Audley) passed on to him to entertain James I. Soon after, however, Howard and his wife were accused of embezzlement and, following a stint in The Tower of London, lived out their final days in disgrace.
In 1762 famed landscape architect Capability Brown was hired to work on the gardens surround Audley End House. The River Cam splits the grounds and a nearby road dates back to the Roman occupation of England.
It’s well worth spending time both inside the house and in the gardens, as there are several monuments outdoors and spectacular works of art inside. A standout is a superb Canaletto that hangs in one of the upstairs quarters.
Scenes from The Crown were filmed in several rooms, and there are children’s bedrooms (which have remained largely untouched for almost a century) that one can imagine the young queen and her sister growing up in.
In addition to Audley End, and in the run up to the release of the series on DVD, we enjoyed a banquet designed to recreate the 1953 coronation dinner, which the Queen herself approved of. Although a modern interpretation, we got a flavour of the menu from over 60 years ago, and the regal surroundings of London’s St Ermin’s Hotel added to experience.
The six course re-interpretation of Queen Elizabeth II’s 1953 Coronation Banquet is available to members of the public as well. St Ermins executive head chef Alexander Boyd explained how he went about creating the special menu:
“The original Coronation banquets were served in the summer but also limited by the fact rationing was still in force. Our re-imagining is a seasonal interpretation designed with provenance in mind, featuring the finest local ingredients – including elements grown on the St. Ermin’s Roof Kitchen Garden – and rather more luxurious, which seems fitting given the fact that The Crown: Season One is an incredibly lavish show.”
The dishes on offer are a clear lobster soup with truffle, herbs and a lobster crostini; a Salade Royale of foie gras and scallops; Délices de Sole with langoustine, cauliflower, bacon and samphire; and a rack of lamb with ceps, sweet garlic and celeriac purée, raisins pickled with whiskey and a ‘new’ potato soufflé.
Additionally you can enjoy a pre-dessert of Boite de Fraises Reine Elizabeth (champagne and strawberry jelly with a sablé biscuit) preceded Boyd’s own reworking of the Queen’s favourite dessert, Chocolate Perfection Pie – a chocolate mousse with cinnamon cream and meringue that came in the form of an edible crown.
The Crown is available on Blu-ray™, DVD and Platinum Edition Blu-ray™ and DVD now