A private trip to Blenheim
Yesterday morning we took a cab from the hotel to Paddington Station (right) to catch the train to Oxford on our way to Blenheim Palace, the ancestral home of the dukes of Marlborough and birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. Neither JH nor I had ever taken the National Rail before. It's about an hour's ride from London up to Oxford where we caught a cab up to Woodstock where Blenheim is located. Our tour was organized by Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill, the daughter of the Duke of Marlborough. Lady Henrietta whom we met about twenty-five years ago when she came to Los Angeles to visit her aunt, our friend Lady Sarah Churchill. Lady Henrietta is now a very prominent international interior designer and an author of several books on interior decorating. She is currently working on a book on the history of Blenheim and the dukes (her father is the 11th) who've occupied Blenheim since it was first built for John Churchill, the first duke of Marlborough in the first part of the 18th century. We had already been to Blenheim as NYSD readers know, the previous Saturday. What made this trip unique was that Lady Henrietta was going to give us, and some friends from Atlanta, a tour of the private residence of the palace as well.
Above, left: The interior south courtyard of Blenheim. Left: the main courtyard with a view of the south wing and the private apartments. Above: The mural by John Thornhill painted in 1714 when Blenheim (which was begun in 1705) was abuilding. The mural is a symbolic depiction of John Churchill's great military victory.
Blenheim was a gift to General John Churchill from a "grateful nation" after his winning the Battle of Blenheim in what is now Belgium against the forces of Louis XIV in 1704. By Act of Parliament, under the reign of Queen Anne — who was Sarah Churchill's intimate friend — Churchill was given 2000 acres of royal hunting land and £240,000 (tens of millions in today's currency) to build the palace which was intended also as a war monument.
Lady Henrietta has been working on several private residences for Atlantans, some of whom are shown in the picture above. One night when she went to dinner at the home of Bill and Cindy Voyles, she asked if it would be possible to have a "private tour" of Blenheim the next time they were in England. Yesterday's group was the result. Those in the photograph are all pals who often come to England together to tour and attend the Olympia and Grosvenor antique shows. Standing in the front courtyard of the palace, from left to right: Bo and Eileen DuBose, Bill Voyles, Elizabeth Allen, Cindy Voyles, Lady Henrietta Spencer Churchill, Bill Matthews, Linda and Mark Alexander, Jimmy Adams, and Cathy Matthews.
On the first floor of the palace is the bedroom where Sir Winston Churchill was born in December 1874. Winston's father Lord Randolph Churchill and his American mother, the former Jenny Jerome, did not live at Blenheim but were visiting when Jenny went into labor six weeks prematurely. The child was delivered in this bedroom which was officially the palace chaplain's bedroom. In a frame over the bed center are several blonde curls cut from the little boy's hair when he was a very small child. In the center right of the photo, hardly visible, is a portrait of the child Winston with his long blond curls. The bedrom is just a few steps down the corridor from the Great Hall.
Display of Sir Winston's purple velour lounging suit and his purple monogrammed slippers (WSC) and a bronze sculpture of his head in a display just outside the bedroom. He wore this lounging suit when working in wartime office in London, putting it on in the late afternoon, early evening, so that if there were an air raid and he had to go down to his bunker and stay for the night, he could also sleep in it. An interesting aspect of the suit on the maniquin is that it reveals his rather short stature (five-seven or eight).
Left: The Green Salon, the first of the Salons enfilade, with furniture from Versailles, the gold cornices by Nicholas Hawksmoor and a full length portrait of George, the 4th duke of Marlborough.

Above: A detail of the Hawksmoor cornices.
Above, left: The Red Salon. The large portrait is of the 9th duke and his duchess, the former Consuelo Vanderbilt and their two sons, John, the eldest who would become the 10th duke and father of the present duke, and Lord Ivor, painted by John Singer Sargent. The duchess, who was forced against her will to marry the duke when she was just eighteen years old, was taller than her husband. The portraitist cleverly placed her on a higher step than the shorter duke so as to dispel the difference in their heights. Hanging above the fireplace is the last portrait (a self-portrait) painted by van Dyck. Above, right: the enfilade from the Red Salon. It is said that if all the doors were closed, they are so perfectly aligned that one can look through the keyhole of one door and see to the end of the enfilades through the keyholes of all the doors.
There are ten or fourteen tapestries woven at a 200 thread count of wool and silk in Belgium between 1710 and 1723. Above in the center, to the right of the corner of the tapestry is General John Churchill who was in his early fifties at the time of the Battle of Blenheim (pronounced Blen-num by the British and Blen-hime by everyone else).
Above: The Grand Salon which is used mainly as the Royal Dining Room for official occasions.

Above, right: the ceiling of the Grand Salon.

Right: Detail of the frieze of the Grand Salon.
The Long Library (left) contains several thousand volumes collected by the 9th duke although much of the collections from the 18th century were sold to raise funds by the time he began collecting. The room today also contains photographs and memorabilia of the 9th, 10th and 11th dukes, such as the coronation robes and coronets of the last two dukes and duchesses.

At one end (above, right) is a statue of the Sarah and John Churchill's benefactress, Queen Anne (who later fell out with both of them). At the far end (right) is a massive organ installed by the 8th duke in 1891. On this day, the family's butler (shown at lower right) was at the organ and entertained us with a lively piece by Bach. Lower left: The Long Library set for the birthday dinner of John Loeb, Saturday, June 11.
Above, left: Looking across the forecourt and main entrance to Blenheim. On the right is the chapel under which are the crypts of the first eight dukes and their duchesses (Consuelo and Winston are both buried in the churchyard at the nearby village of Bladon). When Consuelo was in residence as the duchess (after seven years of marriage she and the duke separated and seven years after that they were divorced), she had chapel services held every morning when they were in residence.
DPC looking west on the lawn of Blenheim
The entry hallway to the private apartments where the dukes and their families have always lived. Portrait to the right is of Rosita, the present duchess of Marlborough. Far right: the same entrance hallway looking west. The hallway is long and cavernous yet warm and made cozy by the lighting and the family pictures, collections and memorabilia.
The private residence has about twenty guest bedrooms and as was once the style, they were often filled with weekend guests. Above: the guestbook which has been kept since the beginning of the house's history, recording the guests for dinners as well as weekends at the prviate residence. Visiting monarchs had a whole page of the guestbook to themselves. There is an entry in the autumn of 1936 where the first signed in guest is "Wallis Simpson." Under her is "Ernest Simpson" her husband. On the opposite page is "Edward R" then King Edward VIII who would abdicate from the throne only a few weeks later to marry Mrs. Simpson whom he referred to in his abdication speech as "the woman I love." Among the other guests who were signed in on the same page as Mr. and Mrs. Simpson were Duff Cooper, his wife Lady Diana Cooper, the Earl of Dudley and Emerald Cunard.
Above and below: The Tower bedroom where the King Edward VIII stayed on that weekend only a few weeks before his Abdication in December 1936. Through the bathroom there was a passageway accessible to the bedroom where Mrs. Simpson was ensconced (by herself) for the weekend.
Left: The main corridor in the private residence. The guestbook is on the table to the left. Above: a sitting room in the private residence.
The duke's bedroom with his view of the private garden.
Left: A view of the palace forecourt from the corridor in the private residence. Above: The yellow sitting room in the private residence.
Above, left: The bed (early 18th century) of Sydney Godolphin, Lord Treasurer to Queen Anne and close associate of the first duke of Marlborough, who often stayed at Blenheim. The bed, now in a suite of rooms in the private residence known as the Godolphin rooms, has been, like the room it sits in, unused and derelict for centuries and ripe for restoration. Above right: View of the Great Hall as seen from the balcony off the private residence.
Among the improvements made when Consuelo became the duchess (and there were many, thanks to the very ample Vanderbilt dowry of railroad stock) were bathrooms (left) built off an inner courtyard and connected to the corridors of the guest bedrooms. Right: portrait of Consuelo, the duchess to the 9th duke. Theirs was an unhappy union for both made possible by the duchess's powerful and willful mother and the huge Vanderbilt fortune which remains effective in the family's life to this day more than a century later. After her death (and second marriage) Consuelo returned to Blenheim and is buried right next to her friend Winston at Bladon.
The 47 callboard bells for the rooms in the butler's pantry.
The chef and assistant chef at Blenheim preparing a lemon cake and a salad respectively.
Above, left: The dining room in the Orangerie often hired and used for banquets, private dinners, and wedding receptions. Above, right: The Capability Brown bridge over the pond which contains thirty rooms and was originally used for guests and dinners.

After our tour of this amazing palace, steeped in English history
and politics and now legend, Lady Henrietta hosted a delicious cold luncheon off the Orangerie, of chicken salad, cole slaw, cold poached salmon, tomatoes, mozarella and haritcots verts, ham and cheese quiche, salad, cheeses and biscuits and a desserts of creme brulee and fresh fruit served with a Blenheim wine and Blenheim water, now a popular bottled brand in England, taken from the springs underneathe the Blenheim estate.
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June 17, 2005, Volume V, Number 107
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch/NYSD.com


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© 2006 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/NewYorkSocialDiary.com