Audley End Miniature Railway (AEMR) is in Saffron Walden, Essex. It was designed by David Curwen, for Lord Braybrooke and was opened to the public by Sir Stirling Moss in 1964. It weaves and winds its way through the surrounding woodland and Capability Brown designed gardens that surround Audley End House, the former home of the Braybrooke family, now owned and run by English Heritage.
Whilst it is a miniature in scale with the gauge only 10 1/4", it has big aspirations as a family attraction. In 1979 it was extended to its current 1 1/2 mile length. As part of that extension, it crosses two rivers - The Cam and the Fulfen along with two tunnels. For the passengers, these have the effect that any steam enthusiast loves, of the smoke billowing around you as you exit the tunnel.
With the passing of Lord Braybrooke, his daughter Amanda Murray took over the railway and was determined to make it more relevant to young families in the surrounding Essex area. With the help of two of the CAP.Co team, in Bob and Johnny, the entire experience was replanned, repositioned and relaunched. This reinvention has been a huge success and has seen visitor numbers more than doubled in recent years.
After the creation of a Fairy House within the Fairy and Elf Walk, a few years ago, we worked with the AEMR team to create a brand new adventure play area, to add an exciting new layer of fun for visiting families.
As can be seen from the initial sketches below, the idea of building the play around a circular track emerged in early brainstorming sessions. This allowed us to create a unique play space, with a strong sense of place that totally roots it in the history of the site.
The location chosen for the new play development was an open lawned area, within one of the loops of the track. Starting with an open space like this creates a blank canvas, which can be beneficial in terms of simple topography to work with, but can often be tricky in terms of determining the right scale for the space. You'll see in the final build, the orientation of the play is nestled beside an impressive Plane tree, close enough to feel intertwined and for it to give shade and dappled light throughout the day, but far enough away so cause harm by interfering with its root system.
As the design began to emerge, the references to the site at Audley End were brought into more clear focus. The shape and form of the locomotive was modelled on the most famous of Audley End's miniature steam engines, Bruce. Named after Lord Braybrooke's favourite dog!
The shape and span of the bridge are clearly designed to follow the lines and spirit of the distinct Adam Bridge over the Cam. The station buildings are modelled on those you can see from original station buildings of 1964
We always love the 3D development stage and this set of images below, are no exception. It allowed us to experiment with colour and materials, sizes and even scale to act as one final check that our plans sit well within the space.
The build was a mix of hand-crafted structures created in our Norfolk workshop and carefully seasoned local chestnut that keeps our timber miles to a minimum. As usual the CAP.Co build team blended these elements together seamlessly and professionally, with strong praise coming from the client, Amanda.
"There is nothing but praise for your team on site. The project is going up so quickly and efficiently. Everyone is excited and it is so much more in real life than we had envisaged on paper. I just had to let you know that your team have been a credit to you and energised my site team!"
We were all booked in for the grand opening in March and on that very day, the nationwide lockdown came along and changed all of our plans overnight. The whole of the UK shut down for many weeks. Audley End, along with its brand new play area remained closed. However, on July 4th, the time finally came to open the site to excited customers, albeit a slightly paired back affair than first envisaged! With new cleaning regimes and reduced capacity, the public were finally allowed to enjoy the play. Families arrived to run, jump and skip, let off steam and enjoy the slides, tunnels, bridges and walkways within the new adventurous railway play area.
The feedback from all has been sensational so far, with the play area allowing Audley End, against all the odds, to flourish once more. An exciting and fulfilling project for all involved, we'll let Amanda have the final word.
"From the horrors of March to June to our current trajectory it is surreal! I wanted to thank you all once more as we have definitely hugely benefited from the “CAP.Co” effect."