New booklet reveals boyhood memories on Audley End Estate

Jilly and Hugh, holding a copy of the book, at Audley End House.

Jilly and Hugh, holding a copy of the book, at Audley End House. - Credit: Archant

One man’s boyhood memories of freedom and endless mischief have been recorded in a booklet set to be launched next week.

Hugh Kidd comes from a long line of Head Woodmen on the Audley End Estate. They lived at the Ring, a miniature manor house hidden in the woods on the estate.

When war came to Littlebury, it seemed only to add to the sense of adventure. His early years were deeply interwoven with estate life – right down to the soles of his shoes which were cut from the leather hosepipe of the mansion’s fire engine.

Seventy years on, and following a chance meeting with Arkesden resident Jilly McNaughton during a visit to the historic house with his grandson in 2012, his memories have been re-produced in a booklet – An Audley End Boyhood.

Hugh, who went on to become an engineer, said: “I bring my grandson here after school and during the holidays. I’m gregarious and will talk to anyone. I started talking to Jilly about my connections here and it just went from there – it was absolute chance.

“My son said that it [the booklet] is great but that there must be lots of people of my age with a vintage story.

“I remember I used to listen to my grandfather’s stories and think ‘I’ve heard it all before’. Now my son says that ‘dad is on one again’.

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“So I suppose this is a bit of posterity for my grandchildren, as well as a record.”

He added: “It’s a lovely opportunity and I doubt I would have done it if it were not for Jilly.”

In the booklet Hugh recalls an act of kindness by Lady Braybrooke, who stepped in to help the family when his father died, as well as seeing her Ladyship in the river at Littlebury with “her dress tucked in, cutting reeds with a scythe”.

It is one of many stories that Jilly loved.

“Hugh’s recollections are affectionately told with all the skill of a natural story teller. They vividly depict a bygone time when village life revolved around serving the local ‘Big House’,” she said.

“He was visiting with his eight-year-old grandson, Nathan, which he does regularly. We got talking and Hugh began to tell me stories about his family and their connection with the estate.

“The role of woodman was of particular interest to me, as they seemed to be slightly removed from the other staff on the estate, working as they did out in the woods, away from the hub of the mansion itself.

“Hugh agreed to be interviewed and this booklet is the result of that interview.

“I hope it will serve to further connect local people with their shared past and also to remind us of what we value about the present.”

The booklet launch is on Thursday, June 26, 7pm at the Queen’s Head in Littlebury, where copies will be available to buy. Copies are also available in Saffron Walden Tourist Information Centre Profits from the sale of the booklet will go to Crossroads Care East Anglia, which Hugh volunteers at. The charity helped him when he was caring for his wife.