Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sunday, July 11, 2010. Blenheim Palace Oxford, and Paddington Station

The front door of Blenheim Palace

Today I decided to go see Blenheim Palace, the "house" where Winston Churchill was born.  The common misconception was that Churchill lived here, but he didn't.  The house belonged to his uncle and passed to his cousin.  But Winston was born at Blenheim because his mother had gone to a weekend party at Blenheim and danced too much and took a bumpy pony cart ride.  Well Winnie was ready, and that's all the encouragement he needed!  We got to see the room where he was born and the little gown he was put into.  The 1880's onesies were very sweet!

The palace was built around a courtyard that was about
 the size of a small mall.  This is East Wing of the Palace.
The Palace defied description!!!  The land and money to build the house as well as the hereditary title, the Duke of Marlborough, were given to John Churchill, as a reward for winning the Battle of Blenheim. It turns out that Blenheim is in Germany.  I wondered about that because Blenheim doesn't sound or look like an English name.  The title of Duke, by the way, is the highest title in English nobility other than the royal titles.  Prince Phillip's own title is the Duke of Edinburgh.  So John and Sarah went from Queen Anne's dear friends, the Churchill's, to the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough.  Not bad! 

Isn't it astounding what lots and lots of money can do!
The Palace was enormous and very GRAND. It was filled with portraits painted by all sorts of famous artists.  There was even a full sized pipe organ at the end of the long, lovely library.  It was obvious that the library was well used and loved!  It did my heart good to see that! 

The house took 27 years to build, and the Duke only got to live in it for two years before he died.  It wasn't even finished.  His wife, Sarah Churchill didn't even like it!  I asked the guide why.  He said very politely, "Well, would you want to live here?"  I had to think about it a second, then I answered, "No, it's too big!"  And the lady next to me added, "I bet it's freezing in here in the winter time."  All the British people rolled their eyes and said, "Too right!" and "Cor blimey!"  It was adorable.

I also asked about the unusual golden color of the house.  The guide told me that the house was built from limestone, and over the years the embedded iron ore has leeched out to created this lovely ochre color. 

Blenheim was also one of the first great houses to join the National Trust.  It turns out that these grand houses were more of a curse for these rich families than a blessing.  The first generation was usually given lands and money to create the estate, but the future generations usually struggled, mightily, to maintain the house.  This was the reason some of the great families started marrying rich American heiresses in the late 1800's.  In their minds, they were marrying down, but exchanging a title for ready cash was appealing. 

The State Dinning Room
When England introduced the national income tax some time after World War II, many old families simply couldn't afford these grand properties any more.  Some just gave up and gave the house to the government.  That's when the National Trust was formed to preserve these treasures.  Some families like the present Duke of Marlborough's family, worked out a compromise.  They continue to live in their ancestral home, but in exchange, the property was opened to the public at certain times.  The money raised was, and is, used to repair and maintain the houses, the grounds, and the works of art inside.  Even with tourist money rolling in, these palaces are expensive to maintain.  But, the system seems to work well.  It would break my heart to see these art collections and beautiful homes broken up, or worse, fall into disrepair. 

Just one of the many gardens on the grounds.
I paid extra to take a behind-the-scenes tour. These "secret peek" tours are always worth every penny, and this one was no exception. A very posh, head butler type man took us into the section of the house where the current Duke of Marlborough and his family live. They're away on the continent right now. Cor blimey! The family lives in the same part of the palace where the first Duke and Duchess lived. It was the first wing to be completed and and the entrance was very low key. It's was a simple, nondescript, side door that looked like a servants' entrance.  We even had to walk down several steps to get to it like we were going through a basement door. How deceptive!  The inside looked like those pictures of English country houses you see in Architectural Digest and Veranda. Comfortable, squashy couches. Expensive tapestries and rugs. Pictures of kids and dogs in silver frames. And, incredible views of the rose garden and the Long Walk in the park. There was also an adorable marble lined baking room left from the original kitchens.  It over looked the rose garden and was full of light.  Now they use it to display all the different sets of china the family has collected over the years.  Our guide said that every time he takes tours into this room, all the women sigh and coo, and all the men roll their eyes.  It was my favorite room.  In my next life I want to be stinking, filthy, rotten rich! Well, maybe just stinkin' rich.

The other entrance which provides a front view of the Palace.
Later in the tour as we were standing in a long hallway looking at a portrait of Winston Churchill, our guide told us that during World War II, Blenheim was never bombed, even though there were and still are several military bases close by. Of course, I asked why. He said that Hitler gave orders to leave Blenheim untouched because after the war he wanted to use his arch-rival, Winston Churchill's family home as his personal residence in England. He also planned to set up the headquarters of the Third Reich in nearby Oxford. Oxford was the first university ever created in the entire world.  It has been a home for free thought for over a thousand years.  The thought of Hitler setting up his Nazi empire in Oxford sent chills down my spine! Thank goodness for Winnie!

The Long Walk approach to Blenheim Palace. 
That's it in the distance!
Every other tree is a linden wood tree.
The house and grounds were so lovely and peaceful! When I arrived, I walked down the Long Walk about a quarter of a mile to the house. It's an old and very effective trick in the art of the power play. You look down this vast vista at this impressive house, and as you get closer, the house only grows in size and impressiveness! Ah the English! The Long Walk is lined with trees. I noticed that there was a delicious, sweet smell all down that drive, but I couldn't see any flowers. As I was leaving at the end of the day, a German man told me that the aroma was coming from the trees. Every other tree was a Linden wood tree. I had read about them, but I didn't know this was what I was seeing and smelling. It's been a little frustrating looking at all these beautiful and unfamiliar plants, trees, and birds. Most of the time when I ask someone what they are, I get a shrug and a, "Beats me, luv."

A picture of beautiful Paddington Station from the Internet.
I was so busy trying to figure out where to catch the train,
that I forgot to take a picture.
This morning when I left Paddington Station, the train was packed! There were three cars reserved for a huge group of French teenagers. Mon Dieu! There was no question of having an empty seat next to me; many people were standing in the aisle. A young girl from Malaysia sat next to me. Her parents were in London for a week because she was about to graduate from college. She studied law and is about to spend a year studying for the bar exam. She told me that since Malaysia is a British Commonwealth country (I didn't know that), if she gets a law degree in England, she can practice in any commonwealth country. That's convenient. She was very talkative and very up on American TV shows, movies, and celebrity gossip! I didn't know that that many of our TV shows were shown over here. And, why would anyone in the UK care about Miley Cyrus and Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie? No wonder they tend to think we are shallow if that's all they have to judge us with! Hollywood has a lot to answer for.

Tomorrow it is suppose to rain! I know it sounds crazy, but it has not rained, or even been overcast once since I got here.  I want some good old miserable English weather to complain about.  After all, I bought a new umbrella and I want to use it!


I'm pretty sure I saw this bridge on "To The Manor Born." 
I can just picture Penelope Keith strolling across.

At the end of the Long Walk, you finally reach the gates to enter Blenheim.
How's that gate for One-Up-Man-ship?

The inner gates of Blenheim just continue the suspense.  Where's the house? 
 If these are the gates, how grand is the house?

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