So after a few days spent in Eastbourne I thought it might be a good idea to stop off somewhere on my way home. Two places of interest immediately sprung to my mind; Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire and Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. After driving past Waddesdon on my way to Aylesbury in Spring last year I was initially drawn to the pure beauty and grandeur of this stunning building.
But then there was Blenheim Palace, known for its history and one man in particular…Sir Winston Churchill.
After a long deliberation I decided that this time i would visit Blenheim which would then mean that i would have to visit Waddesdon another time.
Before I visit each place i have to do a bit of background research. On this occasion i discovered that Churchill is buried at a church in nearby Bladon, just a 2 minute drive away from Blenheim. Therefore it felt only right to visit his resting place before I arrived at Blenheim.
I set off from Eastbourne on the Sunday morning and just under 2 and a half hours later I had arrived at St Martin’s church in Bladon. Bladon is a pretty little village, located 10 miles North of Oxford and the church is situated on the top of a hill with views of the Cotswolds all around.
It didn’t take me long to locate Churchill’s grave as he is surrounded by all his family and is buried with his wife Clementine. What was interesting to find out was that the Churchill’s have actually owned Blenheim palace since the buildings completion in 1733.
John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Malborough, gained his title following the Monmouth Rebellion after changing sides when William of Orange invaded so because of this, William awarded him with this title in his coronation honours in 1689. After the Spanish succession broke out in 1703, John Churchill had the responsibility of heading the allied
forces. During the next two years he would prove to be instrumental in defending Holland against France and then was victorious in the battle of Blenheim. As a reward from Queen Anne, she informed the 1st Duke that a house would be built as a lasting monument to his great victory.
Winston Churchill was born at Blenheim in 1874. He was baptised in the Palace Chapel, spent many of his formative years there, proposed to his wife Clementine there and spent his first few honeymoon days and nights there so as you can imagine, Blenheim was a major source of inspiration to him.
So after visiting Churchill’s resting place I then headed towards Blenheim Palace.
UNESCO declared Blenheim a world heritage site in 1987 and as soon as I arrived it was very clear why.
I was in awe of what I saw. A beautiful English baroque style building, surrounded by a river and fields that stretched for miles! To say that my first impressions of Blenheim made my jaw drop was an understatement; I had fallen in love with the place as soon as I had arrived!
I made my way through the gift shop and Great Court to the main entrance of the house. As I entered i was informed that i would be given an audio guide ( I find these guides very informative as they give you the history of each room in the house). My first stop would be the great hall. I was taken aback by the sheer quality of all the wonderful stone carvings and paintings, the ceiling in particular showcases some of Sir James Thornhill’s best work with a painting of the 1st Duke of Malborough presenting his plan of the Battle of Blenheim to Britannia being one of the highlights.
The green drawing room was my next destination. This room showcases the first of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s original ceiling and includes a portrait of George Spencer, the 4th Duke of Malborough, who was the first Duke to live exclusively in the palace. This room then led on to the red drawing room which was probably my favourite room in the house. This room is filled with portraits including paintings by John Singer Sargent who was unique in that he would exaggerate the normal head to body ratio of around 1:7 to 1:12 and this is evident in the portraits showcased in this room.
As I continued my way through the house one thing I noticed was the sheer amount of tapestries on show. These tapestries are the world renowned Malborough tapestries which are located in four different rooms: the green writing room and the first,
second and third state rooms. These were commissioned by the 1st Duke of Malborough and include the Blenheim tapestry which shows the moment during the battle of Blenheim when the French commander surrenders to the Duke of Malborough.
Other rooms that I visited on the tour of the house included: The saloon, the first, second and third state rooms and the long library. Each room had its own story to tell and I feel privileged to have had the chance to explore each room within the house.
After finishing my tour of the house i then made my way out to the formal gardens. This garden was designed between 1900 and 1910 by the French architect Achille Duchene, however in later years the 9th Duke of Malborough called on Duchene to redesign all of the gardens on the East and West sides of the palace which resulted in the completion of the Italian garden and the water terraces. The water terraces were surrounded by statues of sphinxes and caryatids and it reminded me a lot of the water fountain at Chatsworth House (I have now found out that the original gardener at Blenheim, Henry Wise, was also the gardener at Chatsworth!). The lower terrace of this garden includes a model of Bernini’s river god fountain which reflects brilliantly into the water along with the reflection of the palace.
I then made my way along to the West side of the building to the Italian gardens. Unfortunately these gardens are restricted to the public because they are the current Duke’s private garden, however I was still able to use the walkway so that i could
admire its beauty.
The secret garden is located just slightly to the West of the Italian gardens. This garden was commissioned by the 10th Duke and in 2004 extra features were added by Trevor Wood, the former palace head gardener, as part of the battle of Blenheim tercentenary celebrations. This garden in particular showcased the true colours of Autumn and was a pleasure to walk around.
One garden that I didn’t get chance to have a look around was the Churchill memorial garden. This was opened on the 9th June 2015 to mark the 50th anniversary of Churchill’s death and is sited next to the temple of Diana as this was where he proposed
to Clementine in 1908.
After exploring the gardens I then made my way to the lake and the grand bridge. When the bridge was originally designed it was believed to have had around 33 rooms inside, however there is no evidence to prove that the bridge was ever inhabited. In 1764
a new plan was created which would see two dams and a cascade built near Bladon which would allow the ground floor of the bridge to be completely flooded resulting in lakes on either side of the bridge. The views of the palace from the lake are outstanding and really justify Sir Sacheverell Sitwell’s quote that ‘There is nothing finer in Europe’.
Before I set off to head back home there was one last place that i had to go and see… the column of victory!
This monument stands at 134 foot high so as you can imagine it can be seen for miles (this was actually the first thing that I noticed when I walked towards the entrance of the palace!). At the top of the column stands the 1st Duke of Malborough dressed as a Roman general, with eagles at his feet and a winged victory in his hand. The monument was completed in 1730 and contains inscriptions of extracts from the Acts of Parliament that settled the estate. When I was reading the information board by the column, I noticed that it said that if you stand behind the column it lines up directly with the front entrance to the palace (such precision!).
Soon after that it was time to depart.
I found it really hard not to love this place and couldn’t recommend it more! I felt privileged that I actually had the chance to visit and I’m sure that I’ll be back in the new year.
Blenheim palace is without a doubt the best stately home that I have visited to this day!
Hope you all enjoyed the read!
Until next time,