Thursday, April 30, 2009


Over the last fortnight, listeners to BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour have had a treat. Lady Audley’s Secret, written by Mary Braddon in 1862 was “book of the week” Cleverly adapted for radio, it was read to millions worldwide. The background of the intriguing story is set at Ingatestone Hall – our very own Tudor treasure – located so close to Brentwood. This is, of course, the ancestral seat of Lord Petre and his family dating back to 1540.

A few years ago, a film was made from Mary Braddon’s book and for those who have visited Ingatestone Hall; the start of the descriptive first chapter seems a little familiar.

‘Audley Court lay low down in a hollow, rich with fine old timber and fertile pastures… At the end of the avenue there was an old arch and a clock-tower, with a stupid, bewildering clock, which had only one hand. Through this arch you walked straight into the gardens of Audley Court.’

Of course we all recognise the setting immediately and interestingly Essex, Brentwood, Chelmsford and Romford are all mentioned, as is the location and proximity of the railway station to the Hall. Although Ingatestone Hall was chosen as a perfect location for the film, neither the young director nor the actors realised that the author of their story had actually lived at the Hall for a few years while writing the book.

During her 55-year writing career, Braddon wrote 80 novels, nine plays and numerous short stories. In 1861, she began writing Lady Audley’s Secret which was serialised in up-market periodicals and reprinted as a three-volume novel. Critics were horrified at the scandalous nature of the book, but her tale of a beautiful murdering bigamist became an instant best-seller. Braddon became known as “The Queen of the Circulating Libraries”. It is believed that even Queen Victoria was a fan of this novelist.

Ingatestone Hall is open to visitors: