Historic Houses and Glorious Gardens

Whether it’s meandering round a manor or stepping back in time 

Meander round a medieval barn, wander among works of art and get away from it all in Essex’s inspiring gardens and historic gems.

In the heart of the county, September sees the return of the Chelmsford Heritage Open Days (8th to 11th September) with a host of properties again welcoming visitors and offering free admission. Highlights include access to the grounds of Pleshey Castle, tours of Hylands House and joining in the open days programme for the first time this year, Writtle Agricultural College and the Little Baddow History Centre. For more information, visit  www.heritageopendays.org.uk   and search events for ‘Chelmsford’.

A palace in all but name, Audley End is not just one of Essex’s grandest country houses but one of the nation’s. Amongst the Jacobean splendour, the history of the house and people who lived and worked there down the centuries is brought to life, and this summer the whole family can experience a series of events centering upon the wonderful Victorian stables.

Audley End House and Gardens

As well as a new weekend stable yard timetable, there will be marvellous monthly horse shows on the first weekend of the month, until September. Find out about the life of a horse on a Victorian estate, from the elegance of carriage driving to working in harness. The resident horses and their visiting friends will be on hand to demonstrate the horse work that would have taken place at Audley throughout the 1800s.

On Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 September, Audley End welcomes the ladies of the Victorian period for Stunning Side Saddles. Join these historic heroines as they take a stroll in the grounds, with demonstrations and experts on hand to tell you everything you want to know about horses and the modest but challenging art of riding side saddle. For full details of these and other events, click on www.english-heritage.org.uk/Audley

In nearby Saffron Walden, tucked away amongst the medieval market town’s picturesque back streets is Bridge End Garden. Consisting of seven, lovingly restored interlinked gardens, Bridge End is a Grade II-listed evocation of the Victorian taste for both formal and practical horticulture. In the case of the former, visitors can delight in a knot garden, complete with hedge maze (the largest in the world), whilst the latter reveals the 19th century diet through the garden’s herbs and vegetable plots. www.visitsaffronwalden.gov.uk  for more information.

Saffron Walden Bridge End Garden

The exotic-sounding Forgotten Gardens of Easton Lodge are a ‘must’ for romantics and keen gardeners alike. Easton Lodge was originally built by Henry Maynard, former Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I. His mansion followed the ‘H’ ground plan, typical of the era but was destroyed by fire in 1847. A gothic pile replaced it, which came to Frances ‘Daisy’ Maynard in 1865. Renowned as a great beauty, Daisy was courted by European aristocracy but eventually married Lord Brooke, the Earl of Warwick.

In 1902 she commissioned Harold Peto to redesign the grounds and he did so by bringing his passion for Italianate and French designs to Easton Lodge. These were greatly feted and much photographed during the Edwardian era, but the Second World War saw the estate requisitioned by the War Office and transformed into an airfield. Thousands of trees were either felled or blown up to make way for a runway and to create a base suitable for bomber aircraft.

After the cessation of hostilities, Greville Maynard demolished the house and bequeathed what remained of the estate to his daughter, Felice Spurrier in 1960. Felice sold the remaining buildings on and in turn, the grounds have been passed on to a number of individuals. However, in 1993 a small but enthusiastic group of volunteers undertook to restore the gardens of Easton Lodge. The intervening years have seen painstaking work to restore Peto’s gardens and though it continues, the areas recovered from nature’s wilder habits, are magnificent.

Whilst Copped Hall is another great house that fell victim to fire and abandonment, it too is now enjoying a renaissance thanks to volunteers. Reflecting its Tudor, Georgian and Victorian past, the once splendid hall’s gardens are undergoing restoration and visitors can get a sense of the house’s once majestic lawns, parkland and walled kitchen garden; produce from which – including fresh vegetables, fruit and flowers – can be bought on site.

Copped Hall gardens

In 1594, to celebrate his marriage to the Countess of Southampton, Sir Thomas Heneage – the house’s then owner – commissioned Shakespeare to write a play. The resultant A Midsummer Night’s Dream was thus first performed at Copped Hall, after the wedding ceremony in London. Acknowledging this a garden theatre has been created in the grounds.

Not far from Southend’s beaches and expansive waterfront sits Southchurch Hall and Gardens. Originally built in the 1300s, the medieval moated manor house is wonderfully preserved with its interiors laid out in a series of period rooms, including a great open hall reflecting life in the later Middle Ages, a Tudor kitchen with magnificent fireplace, and a solar wing displaying rooms in late Tudor and Stuart style. The surrounding five acres of park include ponds which are ideal for entertaining small children with that most traditional of pastimes, feeding the ducks.

Southchuch Hall

For enthusiastic gardeners looking for inspiration and indeed, plants, the Beth Chatto Gardens are a must. Covering 6 acres, these beautiful gardens have become world famous. Creative use of the space has seen Beth and her team transform something of a wasteland into both a visitor attraction and important resource. There are four principal gardens across the site; scree, gravel, woodland and water all with lush leafy plantings of Gunnera, Eupatorium, Phormium and impressive Miscanthus around a series of natural ponds. New for summer 2016 is an audio tour voiced by Beth herself. To help plan your visit, have a look here www.bethchatto.co.uk

For more ideas of historic houses and glorious gardens to explore and enjoy and details on the attractions mentioned, please visit www.visitessex.com

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