Another prompt start as thirty-nine of us left Chelmsford at 9am for the journey to Blenheim Palace after enjoying a forty five minute break in the pleasant surroundings of Beaconsfield Services we found the second half of the journey rather slower. We all breathed in as Tim our excellent driver skilfully negotiated the narrow entrance. Unusually for a palace, the frontage was plastered with posters and boards in bright garish colours. It turned out Blenheim was having a youth art event.
Following a rather uncertain start to the weather the day had turned out hot, bright and sunny and large number of families with dogs and children were enjoying themselves in the beautifully landscaped undulating grounds originally the work of Capability Brown. A less pleasant life form was the swarms of large lively wasps attracted to the area by the picnickers on the grass and the food on the tables outside the café.
Nineteenth century special claim of fame for Blenheim is that of the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. This only happened by chance as his parents were visiting his father’s Ducal relatives when the baby decided to arrive. A building in the courtyard houses a Churchill exhibition with photographs and memorabilia from the great man’s life and quotes from his speeches.
Just opposite in the stables an exhibition housed in a former stable block told the story of the many different kinds of horse which were employed on the estate. These range from the stately carriage horse to sturdy plough horses. In one stall stood an endearing figure of a horse made of straw. In another stall stood a large tree with a quantity of bowler hats hanging from the branches. Visitors were invited to stand under the hats and hear stories from the people who used to work the horses -unfortunately inaudible!
An ongoing project at the Palace is the restoration of the Orangery. Contemporary with the main house the orangery was used for growing oranges and lemon trees but suffered a disastrous fire. Eventually restored to its original use, but with a glass roof instead of the original slate roof, the orangery continued in its purpose till the last century. Falling into disrepair it was later rebuilt as a restaurant when the Palace opened to the public in 1950. A sobering thought is that the plans for the restoration include returning to the original solid roof, as forecast of temperatures due to global warming would make a glass roof intolerable.
A four-hour visit is not enough to cover a structure of such magnitude and grandeur as Blenheim Palace and my personal admission is that I did not set foot in the house, with its nearly two hundred rooms! They contain a dizzying number of treasures of all kinds and we can only thank Paul for organising what meant literally be called a great day out!