48. Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace, just outside Woodstock, is a true masterpiece of 18th Century baroque architecture and, as a World Heritage Site, it is high on the list of places to visit in the Cotswolds.
Home to the 12th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough and the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, Blenheim boasts more than 2,000 acres of ‘Capability’ Brown parkland and formal gardens and a magnificent lake.
Blenheim Palace was built to celebrate the victory over the French in the War of the Spanish Succession. In particular, it was built as a gift to the First Duke of Marlborough - the military commander who led the Allied forces in the Battle of Blenheim on August 13, 1704.
To honour The Duke’s heroics, Queen Anne granted his family the ruined Royal Manor and park at Woodstock, along with the promise of funds needed to build a house to mark the victorious occasion. In return, The Duke also ensured that the Palace became a monument to the Queen.
The building project was beset with difficulties, not least that the Royal funds for the Palace dried up. Building came to a halt in the summer of 1712 and eventually had to be completed at the Duke’s own expense.
Over the past 300 years, several Dukes have made a considerable difference to Blenheim Palace and its surrounding areas.
The 8th Duke introduced gas, electricity, an internal telephone system and central heating to the Palace, but the greatest impact on Blenheim Palace was made by the 9th Duke.
He created the formal gardens to the east and west of the Palace, restored the Great Court and replanted the entrance avenue and the Grand Avenue. In total, he planted half a million trees in the park. Inside the house, the 9th Duke was responsible for a complete redecoration of the State Rooms, and added extensively to the Palace’s collection of furniture.
The 11th Duke, who died in 2014, committed his life to the preservation of this great house and in 1987 the palace and its formal gardens and park were created a World Heritage Site. A great deal of restoration and conservation work has been undertaken in recent years, despite the fact that Blenheim does not currently receive any external funding support.
While all the Dukes and Duchesses made their own impact on Blenheim Palace, the most famous member of the family was Sir Winston Churchill, who was born at Blenheim in 1874 and spent a considerable amount of time at the palace. He was grandson of the 7th Duke and also a close friend of the 9th Duke and Duchess.
Visitors to Blenheim Palace today can witness delicate detail balanced with ambitious architecture on the grandest scale, from the imposing Great Hall to the beautifully intricate State Rooms.
Stunning portraits, tapestries and an exquisite collection of furniture grace the palace interior, set against a magnificent backdrop of ornate ceilings and striking stone work.
Visitors can enjoy a range of special tours of the palace and there is also the chance to take part in an innovative visitor experience called Blenheim Palace: the Untold Story where visitors can discover fascinating real-life stories at Blenheim Palace from the last 300 years. Sir Winston Churchill features prominently in the various exhibitions that run at Blenheim.
The majestic formal gardens are the jewels in Blenheim's crown. Commissioned by the 9th Duke, their beauty is exemplified in the serene water terraces, the secret garden and The Duke’s Italian garden.
Elsewhere, there’s family fun to be found at The Pleasure Gardens – where a miniature train, giant maze and tropical butterfly house provide perfect entertainment for children. Visitors can unwind in Capability Brown’s wonderfully vast landscaped park, which remains one of the most tranquil and serene landscapes anywhere in Britain.
Woodstock, Oxfordshire OX20 1PP