Blenheim Palace
Churchillís birthplace

Seema Chopra

The natural setting of Blenheim Palace adds to the beauty of English Baroque architecture
The natural setting of Blenheim Palace adds to the beauty of English Baroque architecture

The Red Drawing Room is adorned with exquisite porcelain, tapestries, portraits and Boulle furniture
The Red Drawing Room is adorned with exquisite porcelain, tapestries, portraits and Boulle furniture

AS one takes the A44 towards Woodstock, situated just eight miles from Oxford is Blenheim Palace. Birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill and home to the Eleventh Duke of Marlborough it needs no introduction.

Set in 2,100 acres of landscaped green surroundings, the palace was declared a World Heritage site in 1987.

The natural setting of Blenheim Palace adds to the remarkable beauty of English Baroque architecture.

The grounds of Blenheim Palace are a popular venue for public shows, films and other private events. Many Hollywood, British and Bollywood films have been shot here. Blockbuster Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, too, was picturised here.

Huge majestic iron gates welcome the visitors before they proceed to the main entrance inside a large courtyard. A quick`A0climb up the steps of the great courtyard leads to the palace as one passes through tall oak doors to enter aptly named Great Hall, with its 20m high, painted ceiling and stone carvings. Sir James Thornhillís 18th century painting, depicting the victorious First Duke of Marlborough presenting the action plan of the Battle of Blenheim to the queen, adorns the ceiling. Blenheim was a gift by Queen Anne to the first Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill, after the victory over the French during the Wars of the Spanish Succession. He was the military commander who skilfully led the Allied forces to victory on August 13, 1704, at Blindheim (Blenheim).

Near the Great Hall is the next major attraction Ė the birth room of Sir Winston Churchill, who served two terms as the British Prime Minister and saw Britain through the World War II. Churchill was the grandson of the Seventh Duke. He was born, married and later buried in the grounds of Blenheim. A lock of Churchillís baby hair is among the exhibits along with many of his other belongings.

The west and south corridors, the three State Rooms, the Red Drawing Room, the Green Writing Room, the Long Library; each of these rooms, as well others, at Blenheim Palace have beautiful interiors.

The Grand Saloon has intricate work on the walls and ceiling and beautifully designed black and white flooring. The dining table is laid out with spotless table linen, well polished crockery and candle stands. The progress of the First Duke after the victory has been carved beautifully on a silver centrepiece. The present Duke and his family still use the saloon once a year on the Christmas day, when it is closed to public.

The State Rooms are next, adorned with exquisite porcelain, tapestries, portraits, sculptures and Boulle furniture. Taking pride of place in the Green Writing Room is the famous Blenheim Tapestry, showing Marlborough in his hour of triumph as he accepts Marshall Tallardís surrender after the Battle of Blenheim. The tapestry is a superb example of the weaverís art and is the first in a series of 10 victory tapestries, which grace the walls of the other State Rooms.

These magnificent State Rooms are characterised by a dull antique gold look on every object. Every inch of the space on the floor, walls and ceiling had been attended to and decorated.

The third State Room leads into the 180-ft Long Library. It runs from the east to west of the Blenheim Palace and was originally designed as a picture gallery. This is said to be the second longest room in any stately home in England. The room displays fine stucco decoration in the false domes done by Isaac Mansfield. On view are full-length portraits of Queen Anne, King William III and the First Duke of Marlborough. But perhaps the most impressive feature of this room is the magnificent Willis organ.

The tour culminates in the Chapel with its supreme simplicity and peaceful solitude.

It is said that in 1705 when Sir Vanbrugh laid the foundation of Blenheim Palace, the landscaping of gardens was started simultaneously and fully-grown trees were planted in symmetry to create the formal gardens. Over the years several Dukes have made a considerable difference to Blenheimís fascinating parks and gardens.

The Fourth Duke brought Capability Brown and William Chambers to make major changes to Palace Park and Gardens. The Fifth Duke, who was a horticulturalist of international standing, developed extensive gardens. These are now sadly lost except for the Rose Garden, which was recently restored by the present Duke. The Ninth Duke created the formal gardens to east and west of the Palace. He also restored of the Great Court and replanted the entrance avenue and the grand avenue. In total he had half million trees planted in the Park.

Apart from these there are the evergreen Italian Gardens, the secluded Secret Garden, the Temple of Diana (It was here at temple in the summer of 1908 Winston Churchill proposed to Miss Clementine Hozier, who later become his wife) and the picturesque waterfall Ė Grand Cascade and the Lake, etc.

Then there is the exotic butterfly house, the 1.8-acre large Marlborough Maze created out of alphabet-shaped hedges, the giant chess, the mini golf course in the Palace Park and gardens. There is even a mini train to take visitors the pleasure garden on the other side of Blenheim Palace.

There is also a Water Terrace Cafe for visitors, set in front of a patterned garden with fountains and sculptures. It serves an unending range of typical English fare of teas, coffees, sandwiches, cakes, salads, etc.

The shopping arcade at the Blenheim Palace offers the memorabilia associated with it, including books, arts and craft items, estate-produced foods and beverages (jams, honey, wine, and champagne).