Thursday 23 April 2015

A visit to Audley End House and Gardens: Kids Review

It was a busy Easter holidays for us and we were fortunate to be able to take some day trips to places like Willows Farm, and Stockwood Park with friends.

We rounded off the Easter Holidays with a wonderful visit to Audley End House in Saffron Walden, which is one of the properties included in our English Heritage membership. There is lots to do there including the house to look around, gardens to enjoy, working stables with horses to visit and a childrens playground and cafe facilities.

We went last Summer for a visit but it was a very busy weekend day and so although we had a lovely time enjoying the grounds and facilities, it did feel like a bit of an impersonal visit, and I wouldn't say the kids learnt a lot about the history of the house from it.

Our visit this week was a completely different experience as we picked an inset day and so it was a beautiful day, but also very quiet at the property with not many visitors. However, the quietness played to our advantage because the members of staff and volunteers were all so fantastic and we were able to ask lots of questions and learn about the property.

Our visit to the stables meant that we caught the groom telling an intimate crowd about "Bob" the horse and the girls were able to quiz the Groom and learn lots about Bob. Apparently he is 16 hands high and a cross between a shire horse and a french horse!

The staff and volunteers inside the house spent lots of time explaining the history of the house and grounds to the children, pointing out paintings of note in the rooms including a rather impressive original painting of King George the second and some beautiful paintings of Venice in Italy, as well as the watercolours painted by the children of the family who owned the house.

They were also challenged to find the fairies on the fireplace and ceiling in the library, and to read the very old manuscript in there too. Eldest was able to play some of the old music on the piano, and they were able to learn all about how the children of the house were pretty much seen and not heard and not even allowed to dine in the grand dining hall!

The highlight of their visit for the children was the nursery where they were able to try on outfits which the children of the family would have worn, and they had free reign to play with all of the toys in the nursery including the lovely dolls house, Noah's Ark and Rocking Horse.

They were then put to work in the coal gallery where a wonderful volunteer told them about how the servants would have to do all the fetching and carrying, keep the house heated using coal from the coal stores, hoisted up three floors to the top of the house for safekeeping and scrub the floor with large bars of caustic soap. They also learnt the difference between a nobleman's candle (beeswax) and a servants candle (animal fat!).

A final visit to the kitchens and laundry, where the girls cooked up a storm rounded off our lovely day.

The girls had an absolutely fantastic time and I was so impressed with how the staff and volunteers really made the property come alive for the kids and were so knowledgeable and helpful too. I really liked that the children were able to be so hands on and pick up and touch stuff, and really immerse themselves in history. We would definitely recommend a visit to Audley End as we think that it is fab for adults and kids alike!

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