Audley End Miniature Railway features in Christmas story written by Neville sisters Amanda and Emma
Growing up in Audley End House's enchanting woodland, surrounded by fascinating flora and fauna, provided the Neville sisters with the perfect environment for their sense of imagination to bloom.
Now Amanda and Emma – daughters of the late Lord Braybrooke, who died in 2017 at the age of 85 – have co-written their first book, a charming festive tale called A Christmas Catastrophe in the Enchanted Audley End Woods.
It is set in the ancient woodlands that surround the largely early 17th-century country house near Saffron Walden which is renowned as one of the finest Jacobean properties in England. Now in the stewardship of English Heritage, from 1788 it was the family seat of the Barons Braybrooke.
The book tells the tale of Elvin, a naughty elf who accidentally gets Father Christmas’s sleigh stuck under the railway track. Working with the elves, brother and sister Robin and Hetty use their wit and determination to free the sleigh, just in time to get Santa on his way delivering presents around the world.
The setting for their debut novel is one with which the co-authors are very well acquainted. Amanda and Emma spent their childhoods playing in the Audley End woods, acting out their imaginative stories, and their father founded the estate's miniature railway.
Born in 1932, Robin Henry Charles Neville became the 10th Baron Braybrooke in 1990. Two years later, he became Lord Lieutenant of Essex and, in 2000, he officially opened St Clare Hospice in Hastingwood.
Since he was a boy, the father of eight girls harboured a love of railways. During the Second World War, when he was seven he was evacuated to Carmarthenshire in south-west Wales. A retired guard of the Great Western Railway cared for him, sparking his interest in trains, and in the 1960s he had a miniature railway built at Audley End.
In their Christmas tale, Amanda and Emma have paid homage to their father by naming one of the main characters, Robin, after him.
Their other protagonist, Hetty, is named after a beloved late family member, Henrietta Neville, Lord Braybrooke's third daughter, who died in a riding accident when she was just 15. She is said to have been at her happiest when she was playing in the family estate, surrounded by nature and the woodland animals.
Emma said: “It’s been such a joy working with my sister and bringing the characters, who are so close to our hearts, alive in this story.”
Amanda added: “During this second lockdown, the ‘Christmas Catastrophe’ book is helping to keep our magical attraction alive in the imaginations of our young readers when our doors have to remain closed.”
The book is beautifully illustrated by British artist Philip Shaw, also known as 'Tall Chin', who has captured the timeless moments of the story in his iconic style. The charming watercolour images are studded with woodland animals and captivating details for children to discover.
Each copy of the hardback book includes a golden bell – the reward Robin and Hetty receive in the story for helping Santa. This is hidden in a red velvet pouch for every reader to uncover on Christmas morning.
The sisters hope this story will be the first of a series documenting the adventures of Robin and Hetty in the enchanted Audley End Woods.
* A Christmas Catastrophe in the Enchanted Audley End Woods is available to buy online for £12.99 plus P&P. Visit www.audley-end-railway.co.uk to order a copy.