Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Blenheim Park & Gardens

Blenheim Palace and Grand Bridge set in Capability Brown's landscaped park by Martyn Ferry Photography

A couple of weeks ago I visited Blenheim Palace park and gardens for a spot of photography. Located in the village of Woodstock in Oxfordshire, this magnificent building and surrounding gardens are always worth a look.

The building of the palace was originally intended to be a reward to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, from a grateful nation for the duke's military triumphs against the French and Bavarians during the War of the Spanish Succession, culminating in the 1704 Battle of Blenheim.

Designed in the rare, and short-lived, English Baroque style, architectural appreciation of the palace is as divided today as it was in the 1720s. It is unique in its combined usage as a family home, mausoleum and national monument. The palace is also notable as the birthplace and ancestral home of Sir Winston Churchill. At the end of the 19th century, the palace was saved from ruin by funds gained from the 9th Duke of Marlborough's marriage to American railroad heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt.

The water gardens at Blenheim Palace by Martyn Ferry Photography
The water gardens were built by French garden designer Achille DuchĂȘne. He was the garden designer most in
demand among high French society at the turn of the twentieth century. He built up a large office to handle
the practice, which was responsible over a period of years for some six thousand gardens in France and

The estate given by the nation to Marlborough for the new palace was the manor of Woodstock, sometimes called the Palace of Woodstock, which had been a royal demesne, in reality little more than a deer park. Legend has obscured the manor's origins. King Henry I enclosed the park to contain the deer. Henry II housed his mistress Rosamund Clifford (sometimes known as "Fair Rosamund") there in a "bower and labyrinth"; a spring where she is said to have bathed remains, named after her. 

Beautiful Italian Garden in the Blenheim Palace gardens in Woodstock by Martyn Ferry Photography
The "Bernini Fountain",  although not working on the day I visited, is located in the Italian Garden, and is a
scaled copy of the fountain in Rome's Piazza Navona given to the 1st Duke, it was placed on the second
terrace by Duchene.

It seems the unpretentious hunting lodge was rebuilt many times, and had an uneventful history until Elizabeth I, before her succession, was imprisoned there by her half-sister Mary I between 1554 and 1555. Elizabeth had been implicated in the Wyatt plot, but her imprisonment at Woodstock was short, and the manor remained in obscurity until bombarded and ruined by Oliver Cromwell's troops during the Civil War.

Roses in bloom at the Rose Garden at Blenheim Palace in the Cotswolds by Martyn Ferry Photography
The Rose Garden

When the park was being re-landscaped as a setting for the palace the 1st Duchess wanted the historic ruins demolished, while Vanbrugh, an early conservationist, wanted them restored and made into a landscape feature. The Duchess, as so often in her disputes with her architect, won the day and the remains of the manor were swept away.

Beautiful rose in the Blenheim Palace Rose Garden by Martyn Ferry Photography
And here are a few roses from that garden, purely because they look very nice.

The Blenheim Palace Rose Garden with flowers in full bloom by Martyn Ferry Photography

A single rose in the Rose Garden at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock by Martyn Ferry Photography

Cascades on the river Glym that runs through Blenheim Palace gardens by Martyn Ferry Photography
The Grand Cascade where the water flows out of the Great Lake.

Blenheim Park is home to the Temple of Diana situated by the great lake by Martyn Ferry Photography
The small summerhouse known as "The Temple of Diana" down by the lake, is where in 1908 Winston
Churchill proposed to his future wife.

Vanbrugh planned Blenheim in perspective – that is to be best viewed from a distance. As the site covers some seven acres (28,000 m²) this is also a necessity. Close to, and square on, the facades can appear daunting, or weighed down by too much stone and ornamentation.

The warm Cotswold stone shapes these statues at Blenheim Palace by Martyn Ferry Photography
Some of the 'decoration' that can be found on the walls of the Palace.

Blenheim sits in the centre of a large undulating park, a classic example of the English landscape garden movement and style. When Vanbrugh first cast his eyes over it in 1704 he immediately conceived a typically grandiose plan: through the park trickled the small River Glyme, and Vanbrugh envisaged this marshy brook traversed by the "finest bridge in Europe". 

Thus, ignoring the second opinion offered by Sir Christopher Wren, the marsh was channelled into three small canal-like streams and across it rose a bridge of huge proportions, so huge it was reported to contain some 30-odd rooms. While the bridge was indeed an amazing wonder, in this setting it appeared incongruous.

Capability Brown's Grand Bridge over the lake at Blenheim Park by Martyn Ferry Photography
The Grand Bridge, a wisp of it's former self, but all the better for it.

Capability Brown arrived in 1764 and the 4th Duke put him to work immediately, so began an English landscape garden scheme to naturalise and enhance the landscape, with tree planting, and man-made undulations. However, the feature with which he is forever associated is the lake (image at the top of the page), a huge stretch of water created by damming the River Glyme and ornamented by a series of cascades where the river flows in and out. 

The lake was narrowed at the point of Vanbrugh's grand bridge, but the three small canal-like streams trickling underneath it were completely absorbed by one river-like stretch. Brown's great achievement at this point was to actually flood and submerge beneath the water level the lower stories and rooms of the bridge itself, thus reducing its unbecoming height and achieving what is regarded by many as the epitome of an English landscape.

Blenheim Palace in Woodstock is home to the Grand Bridge by Martyn Ferry Photography
The partially submerged Grand Bridge reflected in the River Glym as it enters the Great Lake beyond.


  1. Woodstock is a town, not a village. It has lots of shops, and even a town hall !

    1. You're absolutely right, I'm not sure why I re-designated it as a village!