24/03/2014Victorian nursery unveiled at Audley End House
From April, visitors can explore the never-before-seen Victorian nursery in one of England's greatest country houses. A hidden world of privileged children, their nursery maids, governesses and tutors has been re-created by English Heritage from the household accounts, diaries and watercolours. Young and old will be able to experience the rooms as they were originally intended, try on period costumes and play with replica Victorian toys.
This suite of rooms on the second floor of the house has lain abandoned since the 1940s, when it was last used by the Army during World War Two. However, they still retained many original features from cupboards and closets, to fireplaces, a bed pole and even a dolls' house.
Detailed paint and wallpaper analysis combined with historic watercolours of the nursery meant that English Heritage's team of experts could re-create the original vine-patterned wallpapers and vibrant patterned carpets. Period-appropriate chairs and writing tables complete the rooms along with everything you would expect a child of the time to have, including a rocking horse, Noah's Ark, card games, chess, jigsaws and a replica dolls' house, which can all be enjoyed by visitors to the house.
The end result is a fascinating glimpse into the 1830s when the 3rd Lord and Lady Braybrooke and their children were living at the house. Visitors will discover all about the lives and personalities of the five boys - the eldest child, Richard - an avid collector of a variety of things but also a sickly child; Charles - sporty and particularly good at cricket; Henry - dashing, handsome, and destined for a career in the Army; Latimer - both sporty and studious, and shy, sulky, smoker Grey - all of whom grew up there until they went to Eton at the age of 11 or 12. The three girls - quiet and pretty Mirabel, keen plant collector Louisa and vivacious pianist and chess player Lucy - remained at home until their education was considered complete at 17 or 18.
A different side of 19th century life will also be unveiled with the opening - also for the first time - of the Victorian Coal Gallery which provided coal and hot-water for the mansion. One of the coal bunkers still survives, as do a copper and calorifier used for heating water and the remains of a crane used to hoist coal up from the ground below. Bunkers will be refilled with coal, pails and jugs will be lined up as if in readiness to carry to rooms for washing and hip baths, cupboards stocked with soap and candles, and soundscapes introduced to create a sense of bustle.
Throughout, Audley End House will feel more like a home with a roaring fire now lit in the Great Hall's fireplace, a grand piano for visitors to play in the library, and the re-dressing of the bedrooms to evoke the family's return after a night out. There will also be improved lighting of the magnificent State Bed, made for Sir John Griffin Griffin in 1786 in anticipation of a visit by George III.
Andrew Hann, Senior Properties Historian at English Heritage, said: "Audley End was always a family home and so we wanted to bring the children back into the picture. We've restored the nursery, opened it for the very first time and revealed the stories of the - sometimes lively - children who played there. And in these same rooms, today's children can get their hands on Victorian toys, dress up and have the same fun playing the same games as their Victorian counterparts.
"Plus with the newly restored Coal Gallery just a few doors down from the nursery, visitors will also get a glimpse behind scenes into the business end of the house.
"With the addition of a piano for people to play in the Library, a warm fire to enjoy in the Great Hall and less rope barriers, we've also made Audley End House feel a lot more like a home."
Now on a free-flow system, Audley End House & Gardens is a full day out for a unique glimpse of Victorian life above and below stairs and every weekend from June to September, costumed interpreters will portray the household staff including governess, Miss Dormer upstairs in the nursery and the domestic staff, busy at work in the service wing.