Boy the Elder is now 13. I have stared at him very hard for two days now but there is no discernable difference is his nature or comportment.
As mentioned in Saturday’s blog, The Father of My Children (TFMC) and I took The Boys, plus six of their friends, down to Audley End in Essex for the day. I’m sorry to say that the weather was not kind, but we all had raincoats and, despite the fact that Boys of That Age are normally very fearful of water (or soap or toothpaste) they’ve worked out that rain will not kill them. Saying that though, there was one girl in the group, who certainly has the power to encourage more than one of them to spontaneously freshen up.
The Stable Block
We arrived at about 10.30 – it was dull and damp but not actually raining – and went straight to the newly opened stable block. From the outside, it’s hard to believe that this beautiful building was designed purely for the comfort of thirty horses as it looks like a fairly luxurious country house in its own right. Inside there were two tiny ladies demonstrating the harnessing of two of the largest horses I have ever seen; a big black shire horse and a ginger Suffolk Punch. They explained what sort of work the horses would have done and that there are only 400 Suffolk Punch horses in existence.
We then went to the play area to let them all run off a bit of energy (while TFMC and I had coffee in the warmth of the cafe) before a tour of the house. The father of one of the boys had said to me before we left “Oh, So-and-So doesn’t do culture” so I was a little worried about how they would cope going round the enormous and spectacular Jacobean mansion. My two are used to it, but one’s never sure of other people’s children. I had given the little ones activity sheets which they completed with great seriousness, but we lost sight of the older ones almost immediately.
Audley has been much altered, enlarged and shrunk throughout its history. Initially it was adapted from Walden Abbey, after the dissolution of the monasteries, by Sir Thomas Audley. It was then re-built by his grandson to three times is current size, fell to rack and ruin, bought by Charles II, proved too costly for William III and was then returned to the Suffolk family. When the Suffolk’s died out, the Countess of Portsmouth bought it for her heir who later became the first Baron Braybrook. It then stayed with the Braybrook’s until 1948 when it was purchased for the nation.
The grounds were modelled by Capability Brown and a suite of rooms was created by Robert Adam. The art collection was acquired by the young gentlemen of the house during their Grand Tours and it is a collection of such quality and beauty it would make you weep. The boys got very excited about the Natural History Collection which comprised a corridor lined with glass cases full of hundreds and hundreds of stuffed birds and animals. The 4th Lord Braybrook’s motto should have been “I came, I saw, I shot and stuffed things”. Latin translation please…
Then we looked around the magnificent kitchens where servants were working as though it was a real, living kitchen; baking things, mixing with their hands, making butter and talking to each other as though it was still 1881. Brilliantly done and it really brought everything to life.
It was starting to drizzle a bit, but we bravely set out our picnic on the tables by the Cloud Hedge and tucked in with gusto. We attempted to light BTE’s candles on his cake, but it was too windy so he just pretended to blow them out, made a wish and we cheered like mad and sang Happy Birthday.
We prowled around the gift shop hoping that it would stop raining, but instead the clouds hit the ground and the torrent began. “Let’s go to the Temple of Concord!” (in the far reaches of the grounds) a hardy boy shouted. “Yes let’s!” they cried in soggy chorus. “Not bloody likely” said the grown-ups. “We’ll meet you in the cafe and get the hot chocolate ready”. And off they went, returning half an hour later having seen the Temple, fallen off the ha-ha, and visited a tent full of birds of prey for whom, sadly, it was too wet to fly. They had an absolute ball, with the boy who “didn’t do culture” having more questions than any of them. I was also most gratified when a member of EH staff came over and complemented us on how enthusiastic and well behaved the children were.
Making spicy cabbage
We were just planning to leave, when a fellow visitor reminded us that it was Apple Day and there was a big marquee full of people cooking things with apples – a delightful cook and food historian called Monica Askay was making spicy red cabbage which filled the tent with a tantalisingly piquant aroma. The Estate was selling produce from the enormous and impressive organic kitchen garden, there was row upon row of obscure varieties of apple, the Essex Bee Keeping Society were being informative and selling their produce – it was a hive of activity! (sorry). We saw a Victorian apple press and drank the juice, sampled fruit wines and were beguiled by a tray of insects demonstrating the differences between bees, wasps and hornets.
Finally we left for home, sopping wet, tired and happy. They all came into the house briefly to open presents and run about shouting, after which they were delivered to their respective homes. BTE and his lovely friends so enjoyed themselves and we could tell by the expressions their faces that it was a day they would all remember.
And, because we are English Heritage members, it hardly cost a thing