A TOUR GUIDE AT BLENHEIM PALACE

You may recall that in my last post about my recent trip to England, Sandra Mettler and I spent my first day in London touring the City on the Hop On, Hop Off bus. It was a glorious day, and the summer weather continued, as you’ll see by the headline above. Having spent the past thirty years living in Southwest Florida, 27c (or 80 fahrenheit) was a nice cool down for me and Sandra was just happy to be out from beneath the snow piles she’d left back home in Wisconsin.

So next day, we decided to take the train out to Blenheim Palace, as I hadn’t been there before, believe it or not. In addition, they were holding an antiques fair on the grounds that weekend.

Blenheim Palace, above, was gifted to John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, as a reward from a grateful nation after his victory at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. Of course, there’s a lot more to the story, which you can read here. Likewise, the grateful nation wanted to gift the Duke of Wellington with a similar “Waterloo Palace” after his victory at that battlefield two hundred years on. The government said they’d like to give him something along the lines of Blenheim and, upon hearing that Wellington had never seen Blenheim, a contingent of ministers took him out to Oxfordshire to rectify that oversight. As I looked at Blenheim for the first time, I could only imagine Wellington’s face as he took it all in. Ever practical, his answer to their offer of a similar pile was, “Oh. Hell. No.” Or words to that effect. Instead, he chose Stratfield Saye, already built and much more in the style of a family home.

Here are some bits of the Blenheim facade in photos I took on the day. I couldn’t fit it all into a single frame . . . .

 

 

 

 

The ceiling of the entry portico is decorated with six eyes: three blue and three brown and all of them left eyes. They were painted in 1928 by artist Colin Gill based on strict instructions from Gladys, the beautiful, American, eccentric 2nd wife of the Ninth Duke of Marlborough.

And the dining room is set up in what should naturally be the entry foyer . . . .

The rest of the Palace is a bit less eccentric –

Consuelo Vanderbilt, 9th Duchess of Marlborough
The First State Room
The Long Library
The Green Writing Room
Winston Churchill’s boots
The Chapel

After touring the Palace, Sandra and I took a turn around a portion of the gardens –

And then carried on through the grounds to the nearby market town of Woodstock.

The gate leading off the estate and into Woodstock

Woodstock was established in 1179, when King Henry gave the town a Royal Charter. From the 16th century, the town was known for glove making, but the town changed substantially once the 1st Duke of Marlborough took up residency at Blenheim and by 1720, the primary business of the town was fine steel work, evolving shortly thereafter into the manufacture of cut steel jewelry.

 

Except for the cars and modern day street signs, Woodstock retains most of its historic charm, the streets lined with period buildings.

 

The Bear Hotel has stood in Park Street since the 13th century and continues to draw in customers today – Sandra and I were unable to pass it up, choosing instead to stop in for a refreshing afternoon pick-me-up.

As we sipped our drinks, I mentioned to Sandra that, once we’d returned to London, I’d like to swing by the Duke of Wellington pub, near our hotel in Sloane Square and where we’d be meeting my friend, Ian Fletcher, the following night.

This we did and you can no doubt imagine my shock when I found the place locked up tight, the furniture cleared out and the sign board gone . . . until the next installment!

THE DEATH OF WELLINGTON AT WALMER

The Duke of Wellington by Count d’Orsay

The Duke of Wellington died at Walmer Castle on September 14, 1852

 From The History of Walmer and Walmer Castle by Charles Robert Stebbing Elvin (1894)

“The Duke of Wellington was Lord Warden (of the Cinque Ports) for nearly four and twenty years, and during all that time rarely missed coming to Walmer after the prorogation of Parliament, staying usually till about the middle of November; and, before leaving for Strathfieldsaye, generally held at Dover a Court of Lodemanage, to discuss and settle the affairs of the Cinque Ports’ pilots.

” . . . The Duke was accustomed to rise early, but, on September 14th, 1852, when his valet called him as usual at six o’clock, he found the Duke particularly drowsy, and thought it best to leave him undisturbed for an hour longer. He therefore withdrew, but remained within hearing. It was fortunate he did so, for soon after he was alarmed at hearing groans from the Duke’s room, and on re-entering was requested to send for Dr. Hulke of Deal, who came, prescribed some simple remedies, and, seeing nothing serious in the Duke’s condition, departed. Shortly after this, however, the Duke became much worse, and messages were despatched for further help. On the return of Dr. Hulke with his son and Dr. McArthur, they found his Grace breathing laboriously, unconscious, and very restless. To assist respiration he was raised and put into his easy chair, where for a time he breathed more freely; but the end was very near, and at five and twenty minutes past three he expired. A message had meanwhile been sent to London for Dr. Williams, who only arrived in time to find the mortal remains of his illustrious patient laid out upon his little camp-bed.

English Heritage

“The Union Jack now drooped at half-mast high upon the castle ramparts; announcing to the world that the Iron Duke, the nation’s idol was no more. The body of the departed hero remained at Walmer Castle until the eleventh of November, in the irregularly-shaped room shown in the engraving; which still retains the name of “The Duke’s Room.” The scene at Walmer, subsequent to the removal, cannot be better described than in the following extract from a contemporary record, which conveys a most graphic idea of all the solemn proceedings of this time :—” In the small irregularly shaped death-chamber lay the body of the Duke, inclosed in an outer coffin covered with crimson velvet, and with handles and funeral decorations richly gilt. On the lid, near the head, rested the ducal coronet, and beyond it the pall, gathered back, to give visitors a complete view. The coffin rested on a low stand, covered with black cloth, round which candelabra with huge wax lights and plumes of feathers were arranged. The walls and roof of the small apartment were, of course, hung with black cloth, the single deep-recessed window closed, and candles, reflected against silver sconces, barely relieved the gloom of the sombre display. Visitors entering at one door passed by the end of the coffin, and then out at another without interruption. The ante-chambers and corriders were also darkened, hung with black, and lighted with candles placed at intervals on the side walls.

“The first day for admission of the public was Tuesday (Nov. 9th). Through the low strong archway of the entrance the visitors passed, first, along the curved glass-covered passage, then through the dimly lighted anterooms into the chamber of death, and then along corridors and down staircases and across the garden on to the beach. All the way at a few paces distance from each other on either hand, the guard of honour of the Rifle Brigade were placed, each man with his arms reversed, and leaning in a sorrowful attitude on his musket. Along the beach, as far as the eye could reach towards Deal, a long train of visitors dressed in mourning passed and repassed throughout the day, while from greater distances conveyances arrived and took their departure in quick succession.

“The stream of visitors continued throughout the Tuesday, and until four o’clock in the afternoon of the following day; during which time upwards of nine thousand people are said to have visited the chamber of the late Duke to witness the lying in state. But about 7 p.m. on Wednesday (Nov. 10th), the body was removed to Deal Station, en route for London, under an escort of about 150 men of the Rifle Brigade, commanded by Colonel Beckwith, and attended by mourning coaches in which were seated the Duke’s eldest son and successor, Lord Arthur Hay, Captain Watts, Mr. Marsh of the Lord Chamberlain’s office, and others.

“As the funeral cortege prepared to leave the grounds, the solemn booming of the minute-guns resounded from the castle walls; while the wind brought back the echo from Deal and Sandown, where the like honour was paid to the memory of the deceased. Down the “sombre avenue,” lighted by the lurid glare from the flambeaux with which a body of men led the way, and through the silent crowds who lined the road undeterred by chill darkness of a November night, winded the slow procession; moving with measured tread, until at length they reached Deal Station; the melancholy march of a mile and three-quarters having occupied no less than one hour and a half. There they were awaited by Mr. James Macgregor, M.P., the chairman of the South-Eastern Railway Company; and the hearse having been transferred to a truck, the journey onward to London was resumed at a quarter past nine.

“On arriving at the Bricklayers’ Arms station, the hearse with the coffin was removed to Chelsea Hospital, under an escort of the 1st Life Guards; and there the remains of the Duke continued to lie in state till removed for the Grand State Funeral which took place on the following Thursday, November 18th.

“In 1861, shortly after the appointment of Lord Palmerston (as Lord of the Cinque Ports), several articles were removed from (the Duke of Wellington’s room at Walmer) to Apsley House, with the consent of Lord Dalhousie’s executors, in consequence of a threatened sale by auction; but these have all been recently restored, through the generosity of the present Duke of Wellington, as related further on; and “The Duke’s Room” is once again as it used to be, even to the yellow moreen curtains and the orignal bedding and chair-cover. The bookshelves have, however, been wisely covered with glass doors, and so converted into a cabinet, in which many articles of interest are kept under lock and key; including the Duke’s set of his own printed despatches, in twelve vols., the first volume of which has been despoiled of its title-page by some thief, or thievish collector, for the sake no doubt of the autograph. This cabinet also contains, among other things, two pairs of “Wellington” boots, and a volume of Statutes relating to the Cinque Ports, of the date of 1726. The latter was presented to the Duke of Wellington by Lord Mahon, and contains the autograph of each. One pair of the “Wellingtons,” described in the schedule of heirlooms as a pair of “Field Marshall’s ‘Wellington’ boots,” are believed to be the same that were worn by the Duke at the Battle of Waterloo. The famous camp-bedstead has now a green velvet coverlet, presented by the Countess of Derby in 1893.

“The engravings in this room include portraits of Mrs. Siddons, Mr. Burke, and Lord Onslow, as well as the Duke’s print of the Chelsea pensioners reading the Gazette announcing the victory at Waterloo; and in the adjoining dressing-room, is a curious piece of work, made by the Duke’s house carpenter and shown at the Exhibition in 1851, being the representation of Strathfieldsaye House, in the form of a picture, composed it is said of 3,500 pieces of wood. The Duke of Wellington thought so much of this picture that it used to hang during his lifetime in the dining-room.”

OSBORNE HOUSE – Part Two

by Victoria Hinshaw, with Kristine Hughes Patrone

After a break we eagerly went upstairs to see the personal rooms of the royal couple and their children.

Some of the children
Skylight at the top of the staircase
Prince Albert’s Dressing and Writing Room

Victoria and Albert had adjacent suites of rooms on the first floor. after Albert’s death in 1861, the Queen kept his rooms just as he had left them.

Prince Albert’s dressing and Writing Room
The View from Prince Albert’s desk

The painting above, hanging in Prince Albert’s Writing Room, shows the Queen’s portrait of Princesses Louisa and Helena in costume for a play they performed.

Queen Victoria’s Sitting Room

Victoria and Albert worked side by side in this room, where the family also gathered for informal activities.

 

Victoria’s piano, on which both she and Albert were accomplished performers
Florinda, by F.X. Winterhalter, 1862

The painting above, described by the guidebook as  “remarkably sensual,” was a birthday gift for Albert from the Queen.

 

Queen Victoria’s dressing Room

The Minton dressing table set was commissioned by Prince Albert as  a Christmas gift for the Queen in 1853. The room contained a bath and a shower, in addition to a WC, all tastefully paneled in mahogany.

Queen Victoria’s Bedroom

Victoria died in this bed at 6:30 am on January 22, 1902, memorialized in the plaque above.

The painting The Entombment was painted by Gustav Jaeger, 1845, a favorite of Prince Albert’s.

On the ground floor again, the Horn Room is filled with stag’s horns, many from Balmoral.  Often used as a visitor’s waiting room, here you find Sorrow, the portrait of Queen Victoria on her pony Flora held by John Brown, her Highland servant and confidante.  The artist Landseer exhibited it at the Royal Academy in 1867. Below is a better image from the Royal Collection.

The Stag Room
Landseer, Sorrow, or Osborne 1865
Sir Edwin Landseer, 1867

THE DURBAR WING

Constructed in 1890-91, this wing honors the Queen’s position as Empress of India. Mainly a reception hall, it is sumptuously decorated with Indian motifs and houses an extensive collection of treasures from the sub-continent.

The Durbar Room is breathtaking… but there is more in the gardens and beach.

Part Three coming soon!

If you’d like to see Osborne House first hand, please take a look at Number One London’s 2019 Queen Victoria Tour – also on the itinerary are Kensington Palace, Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and the Royal Pavilion at Brighton.

THE CARRIAGE HORSE – Part Two

From The Horse-World of London by William John Gordon (1893)

Thousands of horses are imported and exported annually. So great is the Continental trade, that at Harwich, for instance, the Great Eastern Railway Company have provided stabling for eighty horses, which is frequently full. As many as 120 have been sent across the sea in one boat, most of them being Irish; indeed, the whole Belgian army used to be horsed from Ireland, the shipments, of course, going direct. We import mostly for the cheaper kinds of work, and we export for hard work, breeding, and waste, and in a whisper be it mentioned, for various food preparations, though not largely for these last. Sometimes the exports exceed the imports; sometimes, and oftener, the balance is the other way; though it is always on the right side as far as cash is concerned, for the imported horses average 111. as their value, while the exported horse is worth 54L.

In 1890, 19,400 horses came into this country and 12,900 went out; in 1889, 13,800 came in and 14,200 went out; and in three years the exports realised 2,532,000L, while the imports were declared at only 804,000L In 1876, when our horse-world was in a bad way, as many as 40,700 came in, but the imports have ever since shown a tendency downwards. Of these foreigners London has always taken the largest share. They are of all classes. On one occasion Tattersall’s sold a batch of carriage horses from the States—good upstanding animals of sixteen hands or more, with good teeth and the uncut tail so much valued by jobmasters for their fashionable hirers, and these fetched in some cases 80 and 120 guineas. But the bulk of our imports are not of this quality, and come from nearer home. The draught horses come in from Denmark, Holland, Belgium, and Prance; the ponies from Norway and Sweden, and East Russia and Poland and Finland; the riding and driving horses from Hanover and Hungary. Some, as we have seen, come from the United States, some from Canada—the Canadian horse having many admirers—and even the South American mustang and the South Russian tarpan have figured in the carriages with less than four wheels licensed by the Board of Inland Revenue.

It is the general opinion that our carriage horses are not as good as they used to be, and we are told of the wonderful work that was accomplished by them before the railway monopolised the long-distance passenger traffic. A carriage horse that travels a hundred miles a week is now thought to be a treasure, but many horses in the past did fifty miles a day. The travelling carriage with its two horses would then do about ten miles at the rate of six or seven miles an hour, and halt for a quarter of an hour, during which the horses would wash out their mouths and eat a wisp of hay; the next stage would be about six miles, when there would be a halt for half an hour, during which the horses would be unharnessed and rubbed well down and fed with half a peck of corn; at the end of another ten miles there would be a halt of a quarter of an hour and a bait as before; at the end of six miles further there would be a halt of two hours, during which the horses would have both hay and corn; then would come another ten-mile stage, ending with a quarter of an hour’s bait; and then would come the remaining eight miles, at the end of which the horses would have a mash before their night meal. This was the way people travelled when George the Fourth was King, or perhaps it would be more correct to say, ‘the way some people travelled,’ for it is clear enough that this sort of horse was the exception and not the rule. Of course, a large number went by post-horses; and then there was the coach traffic, so curiously limited in its capacity.

There are coaches now; even during the winter there are half-a-dozen working on the roads to and from London; but these coaches can hardly be taken seriously as representing the coach of those ‘glorious old days,’ the recollection of which has lasted so much longer than their existence.

The mails have been carried by train for a longer period than they were carried by coach. The first mail coach appeared in August 1784, it having been then introduced by Major Palmer, the Duke of Richmond’s son-in-law. What may be called the dominant idea of his invention was the cutting up of the road into short stages so as to change horses every ten miles, and use just as many horses as there were miles to be travelled. About 1835, when coaching was in its prime, there were seven hundred coaches at work, and these averaged ten miles an hour. Each horse ran for only one hour in the twenty-four, and stayed at home on the fourth day. He lasted about four years, and he cost 25Z. to buy; but the horses used within the tenmile radius of the large towns were very different from the roughish cattle that took their places along the country stretches. Nowadays our coaches are horsed with teams of level excellence all the way down. To horse the Brighton coach of 1891 forty-five horses were used, and these at Aldridge’s realised under the hammer 3,811 guineas, or an average of 85 guineas each. In 1877 the Brighton stud fetched 80L each; in 1878 they fetched 75L; in 1885 the Guildford horses fetched 74L 10s. each, and next year the Windsor horses fetched over 601. The truth is that our modern coachhorses are really hunters, while the business coachhorse of the past was more of an omnibus horse. Of course the only coach-horses that come into our London ‘world’ are those used on the home stage, and their number is insignificant in a herd of hundreds of thousands such as that with which we are dealing.

As with the horses so with the coach. The present coach is merely a drag for passengers only, and differs greatly from the old mail, which went swinging along, with a lurch every now and then, no matter how cleverly it might be ballasted. Its fore boot was full of parcels, so was its hind boot; its roof was piled up with baggage, with a tarpaulin lashed over the pile; game and baskets were hung on to its lamp irons; and underneath it was a ‘cradle’ of more luggage, all carefully packed, it is true, but giving a very different look to the whole affair than we get to-day in the handsome drags that leave the Metropole. The coaches, as now, were mostly supplied by contract. Vidler of Millbank was the great man, and he used to sell them right out at 140 guineas, or lend them out at so much a mile. And the horses were also hired out. Chaplin was the largest contractor; he had 1,700 horses at one time at work on the roads out of London. Horne was another contractor in an expansive way; he, like Chaplin, had been a driver, and the time came when he became his partner, and dropping coaching took to cartage, for which, as Chaplin and Home, they became better known.

As London now has its Cart-horse Parade, it had then its parade of mail coaches, which took place at Millbank, where the coaches were mostly built and the harness made. It was held on May Day, and brought together all the large London coach proprietors, the Sherborns, the Hearnes, the Faggs, and others, men who prided themselves on the fact that nowhere in the world were to be found such horses, such coaches, such drivers, or such guards. ‘The coaches and harness were either new or newly painted and furnished,’ says Mr. J. K. Fowler in his interesting Echoes of Old Country Life, ‘the horses in the pink of condition and beauty, the coachmen and guards in new liveries of scarlet and gold, each proprietor vieing with his opponent in an endeavour to produce the most perfect turn-out. Critics abounded, and the judges gave the awards unbiassed by any predilections for the teams which passed through their respective districts. The procession started, and dense crowds of spectators thronged the route from Westminster, through the Strand, Fleet Street, and Ludgate Hill, by the Old Bailey, to the General Post Office.’