I celebrated a very special birthday in late spring which despite Lockdown was a truly special day.
Presents included a Paragliding flight which I have yet to take and lots of other treats including a voucher for Afternoon Tea at Blenheim Palace. I am very lucky to have so many wonderful friends including Sally & Chris who gave me this fabulous present.
As I write this we are in the middle of another Lockdown so the Palace is currently closed although the gardens are open and the woodland walks. When we visited Blenheim just before this preset Lockdown, the Palace was open but some of the areas were closed including ‘The Churchill Exhibition’. Notwithstanding that, you could walk through the stunning gilded State Rooms and The Long Library. As you can probably tell from the pictures above it was quite a grey old day when we were there but it did brighten up in the afternoon when we walked around the grounds.
I decided to split this Blog into two so the second part will be pictures of the formal gardens and our meanderings around the grounds before going into The Orangery for Afternoon Tea.
Whenever we visit a National Trust place or any other stately home I love taking pictures inside preferably avoiding any people in the shot. If I see a great painting or photograph, I just have to take a picture of it and so you’ll see a few of those here.
A little bit of history to start with …Blenheim Palace is one of England’s largest houses with 187 rooms. It was built between 1705 and 1722 on land gifted by Queen Anne and is the principal residence of the Dukes of Marlborough. It’s the only non-royal house in England to hold the title of ‘Palace’. It’s famous for its unique Baroque style of architecture and in 1987 was designated a World Heritage Site. Today’s it’s the home of the 12th Duke & Duchess of Marlborough. The Palace is also famous as the birthplace and ancestral home of Sir Winston Churchill.
Because of the Covid restrictions we had to queue quite a while before going into the palace. We hadn’t realised that we could have booked a timed slot but despite some very dark clouds overhead it didn’t rain on us so we weren’t too worried.
As we entered the Great Hall which is very impressive, the first thing we noticed was the painting on the ceiling and then the very large painting depicting the life of Sir Winston Churchill. It’s a fantastic montage covering all aspects of Winston’s life but turning to go down the corridor the painting below was the one that caught my eye. It depicts the society beauty Consuelo, formerly a Vanderbilt who married Charles Spencer Churchill, the 9th Duke of Marlborough. This lady deserves a paragraph all to herself along with Gladys Deacon who became the second wife of the Duke …
Consuelo Vanderbilt was born 1877. Her mother was determined her only daughter would marry the highest-ranking aristocrat possible and set her sights on the 9th Duke of Marlborough. Consuelo had no interest in him and was secretly engaged to an American. Eventually she had to marry the Duke because her mother appeared to be at death’s door and told her daughter it was all because she was refusing to marry this English aristocrat. Sadly for Conseulo she did marry him as it turned out to be an ill-fitting match and a loveless marriage. The Duke, not surprisingly turned elsewhere for affection. He fell in love with Gladys Deacon, another American beauty who had little money but great intellect. He brought her to Blenheim Palace in the late 1890’s and she became friends with Consuelo even though Gladys was clearly the Duke’s mistress. The 9th Duke and Consuelo didn’t divorce until 1921 whereupon he married Gladys the same year. Once again the marriage didn’t turn out too well. Later in their unhappy, childless marriage the story was she kept a revolver in her bedroom to warn the Duke from entering. Consuelo died in 1964 and is buried in St Martin’s Church, Bladon.
When Gladys and the Duke began drifting apart she became increasingly erratic and started retreating from the world. Her mental state was a great cause of worry to the family and she was forcibly moved to a lunatic asylum were she died in 1977 aged 96. There is a biography written by Hugo Vickers entitled ‘The Sphinx’ about the life of Gladys Deacon which tells of …’scandal, misery and madness marking the life of this society beauty’. The striking thing for me is the picture chosen for the front cover looks so like the late Princess Diana.
Moving down the first hallway you turn into the bedroom Churchill used when he visited Blenheim. Sir Winston was born at Blenheim Palace on 30th November 1874. His mother, Jennie Randolph Churchill was visiting Blenheim when Winston decided to arrive two weeks early. He was born in a cloakroom near the entrance after Jennie went into labour prematurely during a ball being held there. Sir Winston always loved Blenheim and proposed to his future wife, Clementine Hozier in the grounds, at The Temple of Diana.
There is a permanent exhibition at Blenheim which follows the life of Sir Winston, ‘The Churchill Exhibition’ also in the West Courtyard is ‘Churchill’s Destiny’ which tells the story of two great wartime leaders. Sadly both exhibitions are closed at the moment as they are unable to meet social distancing requirements. It would have been interesting to see the exhibition but at least we were able to walk through the magnificent Palace State Rooms.
These rooms are full of sumptuous wall hangings, carpets, gilded furniture, paintings and interesting artefacts – hardly a square inch anywhere that doesn’t smack of opulence.
There’s another painting in one of the State Rooms which I really liked. I think it’s of the 1st Duchess of Marlborough, Sarah Churchhill. She was a great friend of Queen Anne’s who was instrumental in donating the land on which Blenheim Palace stands.
Walking through the State Rooms then takes you through to The Great Hall with its central table laid out for an evening dinner party. If the guests felt they were watched whilst eating they were quite right. Set back between the faux doric columns are paintings of people. These are superb examples of the ‘trompe l’oeil effect.
And before you know it …you have arrived in the last room which is The Long Library. It certainly lives up to its name! There are some interesting artefacts in here as well as the 10,000 books. I love the set-up with the tables for afternoon tea with delicate sherry glasses and sweet little china cups.
Once again I was drawn to the photographs on the side tables and the ephemera alongside them.
I was delighted to spot a photograph of Gladys Deacon ; it’s the picture which was used for her biography. I think the photograph alongside that one is also of her.
The picture below, which I’ve enlarged shows just how similar Diana looked to the Duchess even though Gladys wasn’t part of the Spencer bloodline.
And finally before leaving the Long Library I must mention the giant 125-year old organ. It was built by ‘Father’ Henry Willis and was transported in sections to the estate in 1891. The organ was commissioned by the 8th Duke who was Winston Churchill’s uncle. Sadly the Duke died just a year after the organ was installed.
During the First world War the Long Library was used as a convalescent hospital and the organ was played to entertain the troops. There’s no doubt it is magnificent but like many of these fine things its in need of restoration.
My final picture is a close up of one side of the organ showing the stops. Apparently not all of them work at present but its hoped when concerts can begin again that the £400,000 needed to restore this beautiful instrument will be raised.
So that’s finished this Blog on the inside of Blenheim Palace, I imagine there’s lots of skeletons in the cupboards of the Marlborough family hidden from Wikipedia where I ‘lifted’ some of these facts. I hope you found them interesting along with a little history about this magnificent house. The next Blog will have less text and (probably) even more pictures.