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Audley End, Saffron Walden, Essex: designs for the house and park for Sir John Griffin Griffin Bt (later 4th Lord Howard de Walden), 1763-85 (18)

Signed and dated

  • 1763-85


Audley End was the site of Walden Abbey, a twelfth-century Benedictine monastery, awarded to King Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas Audley in 1538. The monastery was converted into a house, although this fabric was demolished by Sir Thomas's grandson, Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Suffolk, the Lord Treasurer, who rebuilt Audley End as the largest of the Jacobean prodigy houses in which to entertain King James I to designs probably by John Thorpe (c1565-1655) in 1605-14. Howard reputedly spent £200,000 on the house, undoubtedly funded by nefarious means, as in 1619 he was sent to the Tower of London for embezzlement. A fine of £30,000 (later commuted to £7,000) secured his release. Audley End was sold in 1668 for £50,000 to King Charles II as a royal palace, and he used it when attending the races at Newmarket, although the house was returned to the Earls of Suffolk in 1701. It was largely reduced and remodelled during the eighteenth century by architects including Sir John Vanbrugh (1664-1726), Nicolas Dubois (c1665-1735), Bernard Janssen (dates unknown), and John Phillips (c1709-75). When the 10th Earl of Suffolk died without an heir in 1745 the estate was purchased by a distant relation, Elizabeth, Countess of Portsmouth, who intended to leave it to her nephew, Sir John Griffin Griffin. Sir John inherited in 1762.

Sir John Griffin Griffin (formerly John Griffin Whitewell) (1719-97), was an MP for Andover (Whig) in 1749-84, and an army officer. He served in the War of Austrian Succession, and the Seven Years War, eventually rising to the rank of General in 1778, and Field Marshal in 1796, and was installed as Knight of the Bath for his military service. In 1784 he established a claim to the Barony of Howard de Walden through his maternal grandmother, and became the 4th Baron. Later, in 1788, he was also created 1st Baron Braybrooke. Sir John married twice, first Anna Maria (d1764), daughter of John, Baron Schutz in the Holy Roman Empire, and in 1765 he married Catherine (d1807), daughter of William Clayton of Harleyford. Despite this he died without an heir and his titles went into abeyance.

Sir John Griffin Griffin inherited Audley End from his aunt, the Countess of Portsmouth, in 1762, and immediately commissioned Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown to landscape the park, and Robert Adam to create new reception rooms on the ground floor of the south wing in 1763-65, including decorative paintings by Biagio Rebecca, as well as a two-storey L-shaped domestic office, a three-arched bridge in 1764, the Temple of Victory in 1772, and the Palladian bridge and tea house in 1782-83. Although Adam made the designs for Audley End, many of which were executed, he was not the executant architect. Sir John died without any children, and Audley End passed to his cousin, Richard Neville. His son, the third Baron Braybrooke recast much of the interior in the Jacobean taste from 1825, and restored the house with the reception rooms on the first floor, to designs by Henry Harrison (c1720-1802). During World War II the house accomodated the Special Operations Executive, and in 1948 it was sold to the Ministry of Works (later English Heritage) who have restored many of the Adam interiors.

There is a collection of Adam drawings for Audley End in the Essex Record Office, along with the accounts and day books.

See also: Audley End, Saffron Walden, Essex; Saville Row, number 10

A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index pp. 2, 73; E. Harris, The furniture of Robert Adam, 1963, Index p. 48; D. Stillman, The decorative work of Robert Adam, 1966, pp. 81, 98; D. Yarwood, Robert Adam, 1970, pp. 160, 189-90; G. Beard, The work of Robert Adam, 1978, pp. 25, 59; P.J. Drury, 'No other palace in the Kingdom will compare with it: the evolution of Audley End, 1605-1745', Architectural History, 1980, pp. 1-39; R. Chamberlin, and R. Gray, Audley End, 1986, pp. 1-23; J. Cornforth, 'Audley End, Essex - I-II', Country Life, 27 December 1990 and 3 January 1991, p. 30; English Heritage Review, 1997, p. 53; G. Hughes, 'A new display on Robert Adam's work at Audley End House', English Heritage Review, 1999, pp. 88-91; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, pp. 162, 198-99, 322-323, 386, Volume II, p. 265; J. Bettley, and N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Essex, 2007, 95-105; E. Harris, The country houses of Robert Adam: from the archives of Country Life, 2007, pp. 181-83; J. Brooke, 'Griffin, John Griffin (1719-97), of Audley End, Essex', The history of Parliament online

Frances Sands, 2012



Digitisation of the Drawings Collection has been made possible through the generosity of the Leon Levy Foundation

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Contents of Audley End, Saffron Walden, Essex: designs for the house and park for Sir John Griffin Griffin Bt (later 4th Lord Howard de Walden), 1763-85 (18)