Stunning Blenheim Castle the birthplace of Churchill
As a visitor to England, one of the many things we have on our bucket list is Blenheim Palace which was the birthplace of Churchill. We were lucky to be housesitting in Oxfordshire and Blenheim was high on our list of must-sees.
Blenheim Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage of outstanding universal value. Blenheim Palace is the only building in England that is considered a Palace even though there is no Queen (or King) in residence. For some strange reason, they often call this the “real Downton Abbey“. I’m guessing they call it that because it has inspired much of Julian Fellowes documentaries and work.
An easy day trip from London you will find lots of tours and guided trips to Blenheim from most areas of the City.
The History of Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh in 1705 and built in the early 18th century and presented by the nation to John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough, in recognition of his victory in 1704 over French and Bavarian troops. It was this victory which decided the fate of the Empire.
The Battle of Blenheim was fought on 13 August 1704, and it was the major battle of the War of the Spanish Succession. The overwhelming Allied victory ensured the safety of Vienna from the Franco-Bavarian army, preventing the collapse of the Grand Alliance.
Blenheim Palace sits within a large walled landscape park, designed by Lancelot “Capability” Brown and considered a “naturalistic Versailles”. Originally the landscape was set out by Vanbrugh who adjusted the course of the River Glyme to suit his building. It was Capability Brown who later created the two lakes and developed what became known as the naturalistic style of landscape design.
In a touch of understatement, Blenheim Palace was considered a country house for the Duke and his family who visited often when not in the City.
Blenheim Palace is also closely associated with William Churchill of WWII fame who was born in the Palace. The Palace is privately owned but is open to the public because the cost of running such a massive estate by the Duke of Marlborough would be impossible.
How to get to Blenheim Palace from London
Blenheim Palace by train
Blenheim is an easy trip from London If you get the train from London to Oxford Parkway Station. When you reach the station you will get the 500 bus which will take you about 15 minutes to get to Blenheim. If you show your bus ticket at the door Blenheim will also give you a 30 % discount which is awesome.
Blenheim Palace By Bus
To reach Blenheim Palace from London, you can take a bus to Oxford, and a bus ride takes about 1.5 hours. Once you get to Oxford, the main bus station, you can pick up the #500 bus to Blenheim Palace.
Driving to Blenheim Palace
Parking is free at Blenheim Palace and it is a bit of a walk to the Palace itself from the parking lot. I would say around 10 minutes or so but there is disabled parking nearby if you have a sticker on your car. This is where I highly recommend bringing your sticker with you if you are travelling and renting a car.
Blenheim castle admission prices
These are the costs for an admission ticket to Blenheim. What is really cool if you are visiting, housesitting or simply living nearby you could visit the Palace all year at no extra cost if you donate your entry fee to the Blenheim Palace Heritage Foundation Charity.
Blenheim Palace entrance fee:
Palace, Park and Gardens – £27 (Adults) £16 (Children) this is the one you can donate to the charity and get to enter free all year.
Park and Gardens – £17 (Adults) £7.60 (Children)
Shakespeare’s Village and Rose Theatre Popup
When walking from the parking lot to the Palace we saw a new attraction for 2019 which was a pop-up Shakesperean Theatre.
Reminiscent of the Globe Theatre this popup structure could seat up to 900 for some thrilling Shakespearean performances.
The Village itself had a selection of street style food and a small gift area where you could pick up some great t-shirts with Shakespeare quotes and small memorabilia.
This was a lovely area to sit and have a drink and a rest on the way to the parking lot.
Blenheim Palace tours
There is an audio guide available at the entry and it is very helpful as a guide through the magnificent rooms.
When you arrive at Blenheim Palace you will enter through the grand East Gate. If you see the standard flying it means the Duke is in residence. The massive iron gates through which you will pass have the gilded double-headed eagle crest of the Churchill family and were displayed at the Great Exhibition in 1851.
Right in front of you will be the state apartments building, you will see the Marlborough Coat of Arms is above the entrance.
Palace State Rooms
Today, the Palace is home to one of the most important and extensive collections in Europe, which includes portraits, furniture, sculpture and tapestries.
You enter into what is called the Great Hall with its massive pillars and classical statues looking down on your from the first floor.
The painted ceiling depicts Marlborough’s victory at the Battle of Blenheim.
From the front entry and around 3 sides of the Great Hall you will see an array of family portraits, cases of Meissen and Sevres china and the stairs to the first-floor apartments. Each of the staterooms runs into the next with a limitless display of gilding, portraiture and stunning antique furniture.
Nothing was too good for the family over its long history. There is an outstanding collection of Louis XIV furniture, Belgian Tapestries and paintings by the likes of Sargent, Van Dyke, Romney, and many more.
The Green Drawing room has green silk walls and furniture with a simply stunning crystal chandelier. There are family portraits and gilded family crests in the corners of the room.
From here you move into the Red Drawing Room with its large pier glass mirrors and incredible paintings.
The Green Writing Room has two immense tapestries depicting the surrender of Tallard at the Battle of Blenheim. There are two incredible clocks next to the doors and that ceiling is beyond belief.
In the First State Room there hangs a portrait of Consuelo Vanderbilt, who was the wife of the ninth Duke and whose American money preserved and built upon the wealth of Blenheim Palace. You will see a beautifully carved cradle that was used by Consuelo for her children.
The Second State Room has tapestries commemorating Marlborough’s final victorious campaign at the Siege of Bouchain.
The Third State Room was originally the state bedchamber. It was redecorated by the Ninth Duke with gilt panelling reminiscent of the Palace of Versailles. Above the fireplace is a portrait of John Churchill, the First Duke with Colonel Armstrong who was his military engineer and close friend and fought with him.
The Long Library was the last room to be finished and it was turned into a library by the Third Duke. Bookcases are arranged along the base of the walls with portraits above them.
On one end of the Long Library, there stands a statue of Queen Anne which was commissioned as a memorial to her after her death. It was this statue that Julian Fellowes says inspired him to create the Downton Abbey Film with the King and Queen visiting Downton. At the other is a stunning organ.
The Churchill Story
The Churchill Exhibition celebrates the life of Winston Churchill and much of his WWII efforts.
You can take a walk through the rooms he wandered through as a child and even see a lock of his baby hair in the room where he was born.
Churchill was born prematurely and so Blenheim was not expected to be his birthplace as his parents were waiting for their London residence to be made ready.
Don’t forget when you are in the park to visit the Temple of Diana where he proposed to his wife Clementine.
Untold Story Exhibition
This is an exhibition on the first floor rooms so be aware that there is no access to the area for people who require a lift or elevator to reach this floor. This exhibition covers 300 years of Blenheim Palace’s history up to WWII.
This tour covers 11 rooms and is supposed to be an intimate fascinating look behind the scenes of the family stories. It takes about 40 minutes and truth be told is a little boring.
Blenheim Palace Chapel
The tour ends at the Chapel down a superb double staircase which descends down into the Chapel. The magnificent plaster ceiling crowns a simple wooden altar and the pews all face into the middle of the Chapel.
There is an impressively huge memorial to Marlborough on the south wall and his body is interred here with Sarah’s.
On the wall opposite is the memorial to Randolph Henry Spencer Churchill, father of Sir Winston Churchill.
There are additional tours of the Palace which you might like to see, however, you can’t see them unless you have an annual pass.
The ‘Blenheim Palace Upstairs’ Tour – Visit the Marlborough family’s private apartments.
The ‘Blenheim Palace Downstairs’ Tour – Find out what life was like for the servants at Blenheim Palace.
Blenheim Palace Gardens
There is a lovely miniature train available to take you to the gardens from the house entrance at a cost of 50p each and another 50 p to return.
Blenheim Butterfly House
The Blenheim Palace butterfly house is a lovely surprise and where you can see species from around the world.
Simon Q from United Kingdom [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]
At 2 miles long the maze is quite a challenge if you are mobility compromised and the reward is finding the Cupid statue in the centre.
Dining at Blenheim Castle
There are 4 locations you can find food within the Palace.
- Water Terrace Cafe which has outdoor and indoor seating and overlooks the stunning water gardens. This is a really pretty place to grab a coffee or tea. The food is terrible though and much too expensive for what you get.
- The Oxfordshire Pantry sits between the Park and the Palace and again is very pricy and I suspect the food is much the same as the Water Terrace Cafe.
- The Orangery looks gorgeous and very classicly English. Here you can enjoy an afternoon tea at a very high price. Two courses at the Orangery costs 2 courses £26.00 per person or here is a typical high tea menu.
The Orangery Afternoon Tea is £34.00 per person it includes the following:
Finger sandwiches: Cream cheese, cucumber / Egg mayonnaise, English cress / Coronation chicken / Searcys smoked salmon, dill,
Scones: lemon Scones Plain buttermilk scones, clotted cream, strawberry jam
Afternoon tea cakes Selection of individual William Curley patisserie and your choice from the cake table: Pistachio and raspberry financier / Amedei chocolate Sacher / Lemon and Earl Grey macaron / Black Forest tart
A pot of loose-leaf tea or coffee
- The Pleasure Gardens Pizza Cafe serves Two Pizzas or Salads* and a Carafe of sparkling Italian wine, Pinot Grigio, Vinuva Terre Siciliane or Montepulciano D’Abruzzo for just £25.00. Also available is a selection of craft lagers and wines.
TIPS FOR VISITING BLENHEIM PALACE
- Take some pocket change so you can take the miniature train.
- Don’t eat at the Cafe by the formal gardens the food is terrible – bring your own picnic.
- Events at the Palace, you will find that outside the main doors there are often special talks or exhibitions. When we were there a lesson in duelling was hosted by two fine actors. They demonstrated the art of the duel with both sword and pistol and it was immensely entertaining.
- If you are an annual pass holder check out some of the annual events that take place at Blenheim. We saw listed fabulous dinners with renowned chefs. Marathon races, horse trials, chocolate evenings, Halloween bashes and something I would love to go back for a Christmas Market and an illuminated evening.
- Visit the Churchills’ graves at St. Martin’s Church in Bladon where you can see memorials to the Spencer-Churchill family. Yes, they are distant relations of Princess Diana and the Spencer family.
Blenheim Palace is steeped in English history, the very stones hold so many memories and events it is damned inspiring. Funny story though recently a very expensive exhibit was stolen from Blenheim Palace – America the 14K gold toilet has gone missing. Worth £4.8m, and it was made by Italian conceptual artist Maurizio Cattelan.
This grand gold toilet was actually plumbed in and usable and when it was removed it caused significant damage. The toilet was installed opposite the room in which Sir Winston Churchill was born in.
You too could have used the Golden Loo as the Brits called it.
Have you been to Blenheim? What did you most enjoy about the place? For me, it was the stunning gardens I do so love an English formal garden and wish I had the backyard for one.
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