Famous for its elegance and grandeur, and once briefly home to royalty, Audley End is one of the country's most spectacular historic properties - and I was lucky enough to spend the day there! The stunning location is perhaps best known as the setting for the popular Netflix drama, The Crown. The English Heritage-owned property, located in Saffron Walden, Essex, is a spectacular Jacobean mansion, and its interior was used to portray the likes of Balmoral, Windsor and Eton College in the drama. Although the exterior was not used, the decadent Great Hall and Library were picked to film scenes starring a youthful Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. The period drama, which aired last year, documents the Queen's early reign and her marriage to Prince Phillip - with British actress Claire Foy taking on the role of the monarch and Doctor Who star Matt Smith playing the Duke of Edinburgh.
Now only a third of its original size, Audley End is still large, with plenty to enjoy thanks to its architectural features and various art collections. The Jacobean Great Hall has kept its richly carved oak walls and screen, although it was once painted white in keeping with the Georgian era. Some of the notable scenes from The Crown include a young Princess Elizabeth learning to sing, as well as watching debates or scholarly discussions during her period at Eton. This was definitely the production's biggest and grandest set that they used in the first series. Not much was needed in terms of furniture but the crew were allowed to move desks and chairs to various locations.
Following the tour, I was given the chance to meet the resident horses as I learnt the reality of daily life in a Victorian stable. Here I was given a run-down of how women rode "aside" or sidesaddle – no mean feat! Although it may look very elegant and charming, riding sidesaddle certainly requires a great deal of skill. I was allowed to try on an outfit from the Victorian era consisting of a long, flowing skirt. I felt very restricted and could not help but think how difficult it must have been for both the rider and horse to travel in this way. The skirt could easily get caught in a bush or even get entangled in the horses' legs. I then travelled a few miles down the road towards Bishops Stortford for clay pigeon shooting. All rugged up in my winter knits, I was ready to take aim and crack the clays on the shooting range. With a thorough rundown of the regulations, the skipper got me ready in position before I requested permission to start firing. It was definitely a memorable experience!
"As a charity, the income English Heritage receives from hosting filming projects such as The Crown goes towards looking after Audley End and the other historic sites in its care, many of which are open for free." The property is open to the public. The Crown is available on Blu-ray™, DVD and Platinum Edition Blu-ray™ and DVD now.