In Oxfordshire, England, Blenheim Palace stands tall and regal, the beautiful 18th-century estate, that houses a wealth of history. The palace has been called “the real Downton Abbey” and you can see why. A monumental country home in the small village of Blenheim where people have been visiting since 1722. The architectural design is that of English Baroque and it was during World War I that the palace was turned into a hospital for any of the wounded soldiers. The palace and its estate is classed as a “true national treasure.” The name given to this outstanding building shows how special it is, after all not just any old place is given a name with “palace” incorporated. It is the only non-royal house in England with the title. During recent restoration works, something ancient was uncovered and no one can quite believe it. After all this time, it seems there were certain things about the palace that were not passed on to the next generation.
Nestled in Oxfordshire England, the stunning estate has been visited by people for decades. It was in October 2018, that restoration work began to take place, during which time, something unknown was discovered. When they unearthed this ancient old mystery, an astonishing story unfolded.
Surrounding the palace, the Grand Bridge has been graced with one of the most eloquent titles, “the finest view in England”. The order of the restoration works was requested to revive the area back to its former glory. The project was set to cost a staggering $15 million! But what was lurking underneath its foundations?
What Could It Be?
Of course, nothing but the best was needed for this breathtaking 18th-century structure. Unbeknownst to the workers and architect on site at the time, there was something lurking beneath the Grand Bridge, and it surprised more than just them.
Blenheim Palace was built in the early 18th Century to celebrate a magnificent victory over the French in the War of the Spanish Succession. It was specifically built as a gift to the 1st Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill. But what did he do to be awarded such a grand prize?
Battle Of Blenheim
John Churchill was the military commander who led the Allied forces in the Battle of Blenheim on 13th August 1704. Following the battle, Marlborough himself received the surrender from Marshal Tallard, leader of the French forces.
To honor the Duke’s victories, Queen Anne rewarded him the ruined Royal Manor of Woodstock, along with £240,000 with which he could build a house to commemorate his achievements… And what a house he did build, that years later a secret would be revealed.
Prime Minister Of Britain
Blenheim Palace became a popular spot once Winston Churchill had become the Prime Minister of Britain – as he was born here in 1874. Did the Churchill family know about this new find? Or were they the ones to hide it?
The Grand Bridge was given its charming title by Churchill’s father, Lord Randolph Churchill. As with most of the outstanding dated buildings in England, Blenheim had been passed down through prestigious family ties.
The Duke and Duchess of Marlborough currently reside there and it was in 1708, that an architect named Sir John Vanbrugh was assigned a very trusted job. He was to develop the palace. What were his plans?
After much thorough planning, Vanbrugh began to execute his plan to develop a “habitable viaduct” inside the grounds of the estate. The construction would take around two years to complete and so it was in 1710 that the Grand Bridge, sometimes known as theVanbrugh Bridge, would be revealed. Although there were some who opposed his plans.
The palace has been passed on from each Duke of Marlborough to the next. Currently living in the wonderful home is Charles James Spencer-Churchill, who goes by the name, Jamie.
With the given title of the 12th Duke of Marlborough, Jamie succeeded the Dukedom following his father’s passing in October 2014. To pay respects to its name, whoever is living in the palace has to tender the French Royal flag each year.
The flag is raised on the anniversary of the Battle of Blenheim. The residents remain active in the areas of the palace that are open to visitors. Lord Edward Spencer-Churchill, who is the brother to the current Duke, has a strong tie to the palace and organizes many art exhibitions.
When the recent discovery was made, all those close to the building couldn’t believe that, after all this time, the secret find never came to light.
The First Duchess of Marlborough was the first person to speak out againstVanbrugh’s plans, deeming them expensive and too ambitious. However, the Duchess did not speak out until after he had completed the Grand Bridge and with that, he was banned from the grounds, leaving his architectural piece unfinished.
As well as being chosen as the architect for Blenheim Palace, Vanbrugh was also famously known for his work on Castle Howard. Not only an architect, but he was also a dramatist and wrote a couple of argumentative comedies titled The Provoked Wife and The Relapse.
It was later on in his life that he became an architect and still to this day, no one is quite sure why he chose such a dramatically different career path. Those around him were quoted saying, “Van’s genius, without thought or lecture, is hugely turn’d to architecture.”
Perhaps it was Vanbrugh’s lack of qualification or experience that swayed the Duchess’ mind when it came to his work on Blenheim Palace. It was said, that during a prison stint in France, he spent time admiring architect Louis Le Vau’s work.
Eye For Detail
Although he lacked experience, it was certain that he had an exceptional eye for detail and perspective. The Grand Bridge stood strong, and despite the disagreement, Vanbrugh was proud that some of his work remained, but it didn’t last for long.
As time moved on, it was fifty-eight years later that another architect was selected to work on the grounds, but this time, with the task of adding several lakes to the area. How would he do it?
The project was awarded to Lancelot “Capability” Brown and little did he know back then, he would be making history all these years later. Wondering how he would be able to add several lakes to the grounds, Brown had an idea, he would flood the inside area of the Grand Bridge to create a lake.
As part of the 160-acre lake project, Brown sure met the demands with his vision but it was in that moment history was lost – without anyone knowing anything about it. The area inside of the bridge had gone, never to be seen again, until now that is.
Man Made Lakes
As time passed, the water began to damage the Grand Bridge and we can tell you how. The man-made lakes were named the Queen Pool and the Great Lake, and over time, they have begun to dry out. What would they have to do to fix the problem?
With the structure of the bridge being surrounded by water for so long, it had now become dependent on it, and as the water drained away, the bridge was no longer secure. So where did the water go?
As the water drifted away from the Bridge, experts explained the reason behind it, and it was down to a build-up of silt, a process that had been happening for decades. How would they fix it?
The only way to secure the area would be to have skilled engineers pull 400,00 tons of silt out of the lake beds, restoring it to the depth it was back in the 18th century.
Experts started the difficult task by installing multiple dams, siphons, and groundwater wells to begin lowering the water. To enable them to examine the foundations of the bridge, the water needed to be reduced by six and a half feet.
And it was there, that an 18th-century secret was revealed. This discovery was a pivotal life-changing moment in history.
His Plan Was Hidden
During Vanbrugh’s time and his plan of a “habitable viaduct”, he had designed something extraordinary. Without his work ever being passed on, and little attention paid to it, no one knew exactly what his plans entailed.
There, hiding beneath the water, inside of the Grand Bridge for all this time, was something nobody expected to find. Amazingly, submerged by water, there were thirty rooms.
Vanbrugh had a fantastic plan, that unfortunately, no one took much notice of. But as his plan came to a halt, his idea was drowned later by Brown and his quest to create several lakes within the grounds.
What else had been covered up and lost in history? Those making the findings were in shock. It was not as though the estate had been abandoned, people had been actively living there for a very long time, and still, no information was passed on.
Somewhere To Live
The rooms were found to have been plastered, meaning that people would have been able to live there, and the workers wondered if they did. Amazingly, researchers were called to Blenheim Palace where they conducted a 3D survey, and the results were outstanding.
Hidden in the depths of the water all this time were habitable rooms, made up of fireplaces, stairways, cooking ranges, chimneys and even a theatre like chamber. Nobody could quite believe what they were seeing, and there was more.
Not only had they discovered these hidden features, but they had also found that where the plaster had managed to stay on sections of the walls, there was uncovered graffiti and it dated all the way back to the 1760s!
The researchers couldn’t believe it and continued to look around. Walking around this astonishing find, the researchers went on to find several incredible objects, including several 1950s boats.
The reason as to why or how the boats sunk are still unknown. Blenheim Palace opened to the public for the first time in 1950, and there was more to be discovered.
There are not many places that have a hidden history such as the one at Bleinhem Palace. It is lucky for us, that there are dedicated foundations who’s job it is to protect such sights and in turn share them with the world.
Open To The Public
Inside this hidden world, they also found an ancient canal system. Thankfully, in 1987, Bleinhem Palace had been awarded a UNESCO World Heritage Site accolade, meaning the estate had to be continuously looked after and maintained
It was because of this, that the restoration had been requested, however, the project was never meant to be too time-consuming.
The time limit set for the works on the lake had been estimated to be around five months, however, after this historical find, it would take much longer. The discovery now means that the work will most likely take around two years as the project is a lot more delicate than what they originally thought.
The restoration plan set for Bleinhem Palace will be something that will continue for decades to come. It is an important part of English heritage that has had a promise set against it and its history.
After all, this is a very precise job, and the Grand Bridge task was four years in the making. As the years pass by, more restoration projects will be ordered and we can’t wait to see if they find anything surprising in their next project.
Each part of this project is looked over by several skilled professionals, in all types of fields. Next on the agenda at the Bleinhem Estate is preserving High Park, a mysterious area of ancient woodland enjoying its place. The forest boasts it’s own important title.
The stunning forest is classed as one of the world’s most important ancient oak forests. Luckily, they are now making it easier for the public to visit so people can enjoy its enchantment.
Blenheim Palace is easily accessible by car and with a new public transport initiative being introduced, this should increase the estate’s visitors, and we’re sure there will be plenty of people lining up to visit following the discovery underneath the Grand Bridge.
The Oxford Mail
Part of the visiting fee will go towards the restoration project but how easy is it? Actually, the project is far from easy. An English newspaper, the Oxford Mail, met with the head of estates at Bleinhem, a gentleman named Roy Cox, who told the newspaper some very interesting information.
When talking about the next phase of the restoration works, Roy Cox said, “The dredging of Queen’s Pool and the repairs to the Grand Bridge are not only our greatest challenge to date but also marks some of the most ambitious stonework and dredging projects ever attempted in the U.K.”
Due to the age of Blenheim Palace, it was a building that was used during the First World War as a convalescence hospital. Later, from 1939 until 1940, while the Second World War was happening, the palace was used as a school.
There were around 400 pupils that were evacuated from Malvern College, and they used the buildings State Rooms as classrooms and dormitories. When they needed more space, the bathrooms would be used as classrooms as well.
Used By MI5
The house’s surroundings, including the lake, was used to prepare for the D-Day landings (the largest seaborne invasion in history) and the building was used by the British Home Guard, whose role was to defend from invasion.
The vast building quickly became a place for such things and went on to be occupied by the MI5 over several instances.
Around The Palace
Today, the palace is used for many things, from festivals to art galleries and more. With a wealth of rooms, there is much to see. The Palace State Rooms show some of the most extensive and important collections of art, sculptures and furniture.
Visitors are able to be shown the rooms by an expert guide or they can opt to walk around on their own and listen to an audio guide.
Surrounding the palace are some of the most stunning gardens in the world. From the Duke’s Italian garden, the heavenly Water Terraces, the secret garden, which has plenty of treasures visitors have to look for to the beautiful rose garden, this is a place to die for.
The gardens are some of the most visited in England and we can see why.
Due to the size of Blenheim Palace, there are various walking tours that are available, depending on how much time someone has or how much of the building they want to see. With a two hour option, a four and an option above four, there is beautiful at every corner.
There is an ‘Untold Story’ tour where visitors can get to see the palace in a whole new light, with this interaction creation. There is a magical Butterfly House that will leave you feeling like you have stepped inside of a fairy tale.
An exciting part of the grounds in the Marlborough Maze that you can reach by either The Miniature Train or a ten-minute walk. Astonishingly, the maze is a whopping two-miles in length and created with hundreds of yew trees.
The maze is a lot of fun for all ages with a deck that enables you to look over the maze to plan your escape.
We can all admit, that the discovery of the hidden rooms was nothing short of astonishing. Those memorizing details that dated back to a time that is so lost now.
Even without the restoration works, Blenheim Palace is one of the finest places of historical beauty in England.