Blenheim Palace, located about 20 miles from Oxford has 2 claims to fame – it is the only palace in UK that is not a royal residence, and it was the birthplace of one of UK’s most famous Prime Ministers, Sir Winston Churchill.
Our visit coincided with one of the Nocturne concerts, which that night featured The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. This resulted in some areas not being open and the home closing earlier than usual.
A building designated as a Palace, is normally a Royal residence, but Blenheim Palace is the home of the 12th Duke of Marlborough, or the Spencer-Churchill family. You are probably thinking, they must be very special to have their home designated as a Palace.
General John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough, commanded the UK Forces during the War of the Spanish Succession, winning many battles, including Blenheim in 1704. In recognition of his war efforts, the Monarch, Queen Anne provided the funding for the construction of Blenheim Palace, which started in 1705.
Spencer Churchill Pennant
During our tour, the guide explained that the Duke must deliver a pennant, similar to the one above, before a specific date every year, to maintain ownership of the estate. With a huge home and 2,000 acres you wouldn’t want to miss the deadline.
Entrance to the home
Blenheim Palace’s more recent claim to fame, is being the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, who was a nephew to the Duke. Entering the home you can visit the Churchill Museum and State Rooms on the lower floor, or an audio-visual presentation upstairs.
Entrance foyer 3-levels
The foyer is huge, with polished marble floor and a ceiling that must be 50 to 60 feet high.
Top level of foyer
We opted to start with visiting the Churchill Museum, dedicated to the life of Sir Winston Churchill.
Entrance to Winston Churchill Museum
The museum starts with the family history, showing the family tree.
Spencer-Churchill Family Tree
Although he was actually born at Blenheim, his dad was the 2nd son, so it was unlikely that his dad, or Winston would attain the title of Duke. However, he spent a large portion of his childhood at Blenheim. Receiving a commission in the army, he served in India, Sudan and South Africa.
Dress uniform of Oxfordshire Hussars as worn by Churchill
Following his army career, they covered his life as a politician, ultimately serving as Prime Minister on 2 occasions.
Portrait depicting life of Sir Winston Churchill
Churchill Coat of Arms
Completing the Winston Churchill Museum, we commenced walking through the State Rooms. About 1/2 way through we joined a group with a guide, who provided a constant stream of information.
First of the State Rooms
The first few State Rooms were based on the colour of the wallpaper, with a selection of old family portraits displayed on the walls. The ceilings and coves were also highly decorated.
The Red Room
The next series of rooms commemorated the 1st Duke of Marlborough’s exploits in battle, which were represented in a series of tapestries.
Tapestries depicting 1st Duke in battle
Doorway between 2 of the rooms
Library with statue of Queen Anne
Dinning room being set for a function
Organ at opposite end of dinning room from the library
Upstairs is an audio-visual presentation through a series of rooms that covers the family history. Each room contains a different story, as they take you from the 1st Duke through to the current family, which is the 12th Duke.
Before taking a wander through the extensive gardens, we visited the Water Terrace Cafe, one of 4 restaurants at the Palace. I enjoyed a pot of tea and scone, while Judi had a light lunch. With a view of the water terrace, this was an excellent starting point for touring the gardens.
Part of the water terrace
The entire water terrace was immaculate, with about a dozen gardeners working diligently, with no detail too small.
Water terrace, which covers about 1 acre – it’s huge
Judi enjoying lake views before setting off towards the waterfall
Leaving the water terrace we elected to complete the waterfall route, which follows along the lake to the waterfall at the end. The round trip is about 1.5 miles and is mostly gently undulating, with a short, moderate grade after the waterfall.
Looking up lake towards the Palace
View from top of waterfall
Judi at the waterfall
Ducks below the waterfall
Lawns heading back to the Palace
Some of the many large trees
Judi in the rose garden
Sir Winston Churchill Garden
The garden is semi-circular, with wild flowers along the fence. The walkway through the garden contains a timeline of the major events in his life, including receiving honourary US citizenship from Congress & President JF Kennedy. The gardens were built at the location where Churchill proposed to his future wife.
Sir Winston Churchill bust in the honourary garden
Returning to the palace, it was approaching closing time due to the concert. so we commenced the lengthy trek back to the car, to continue our adventure into the Cotswolds.
Aerial View of Palace and the grounds
In total, we spent about 6 hrs at Blenheim and attended or saw possibly 25%. To see it all, expect a full day, or allow for a couple of days at a leisurely pace. Some of the attractions we missed include:
- Churchill’s destiny – a presentation exploring the parallels between the 1st Duke and Sir Winston Churchill.
- Indoor Cinema
- Formal Gardens Walking Tour – departs once daily at 12:30, lasting about 1 hr.
- Garden trails – the map included with your admission outlines many more trails through the gardens, which could take hours to fully explore
- Miniature train ride
- For additional cost, you can also visit – Upstairs Tour, Downstairs Tour, Duke’s Floor and Buggy Tours of the lake and formal gardens.
- They also have themed activities – concerts, photography courses, butler school, classic car exhibitions, to name but a few.