Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, Part Two

Sir Winston Churchill by Arthur Pan

The most famous name associated with Blenheim in modern times is Winston Spencer Churchill, grandson of the seventh duke. He was born at Blenheim in 1874, son of Randolph Churchill (a second son) and his American wife, Jennie Jerome.

Jennie was staying at Blenheim when she went into labor and the baby arrived, typical of his later impatience, two weeks before his due date. Winston proposed to Clementine Hozier in the Blenheim garden folly known as the Temple of Diana.

Sir Winston and Lady Churchill are buried in the graveyard of St. Martin’s Church in the nearby village of Bladon.

As an archetypical English country house, Blenheim today is a museum of art and historical memorabilia, featuring such attractions as the victory dispatch the first duke wrote to Sarah on a restaurant menu, elaborate tapestries depicting his campaigns, ducal coronation robes, and the memorabilia of three centuries.

The gardens at Blenheim have been redesigned many times and currently reflect a variety of styles from formal, at left, to the rolling hills of Capability Brown’s tastes.

In the long library, there is a chart of the family’s genealogy, a familiar object in most English Stately Homes. However, instead of  just showing the family’s lineage back to William the Conqueror, this Spencer-Churchill (Marlborough) family traces its origins to Charlemagne.

Below, see the long library set up for a wedding.
Blenheim is one of many stately homes which can be rented for a lavish ceremony and reception.

As I mentioned in my first post on Blenheim, it is not a house designed for a family to live in. Wandering through the remarkable but sadly bleak trappings of Blenheim, one is struck by how much the first Duke of Wellington learned from Blenheim’s dominion over the entire Marlborough family. When offered a great Waterloo Palace as a gift from the nation after his victory over Napoleon (much as the first duke of Marlborough had been promised a great estate after his victory at Blenheim), Wellington proceeded cautiously. The Iron Duke knew what a burden Blenheim had been to its owners. What Wellington did, the story of Stratfield Saye, we will save for another blog post.

The Great Hall is 67 feet high with stone carvings by Grinling Gibbons. The arms on the stone arch are those of Queen Anne.  The ceiling,  painted in 1716 by Sir James Thornhill,  shows the Duke of Marlborough kneeling to Britannia.
The door leads into the saloon.

The Saloon is also known as the state dining room and is now used by the family once a year on Christmas Day. The magnificent ceiling was painted by Louis Laguerre. Various nations are represented in wall paintings, whilst the ceiling shows the 1st Duke in victorious progress but stayed by the hand of peace.

Another view of the saloon.

In the Green Writing Room, below, the Blenheim tapestry depicts the first Duke of Marlborough accepting the surrender of the enemy in 1704, the accomplishment for which he was honored with the dukedom and the estate.

                              A detail of the Battle of Blenheim tapestry.

The above tapestry showing Marlborough on the way to the battle hangs in the First State Room.

The Green Drawing Room, Red Drawing room and the Green Writing Room ceilings are the work of Nicholas Hawksmoor and the walls feature beautiful portraits of members of the family.  The tapestries are superb examples of the weaver’s art; ten Victory tapestries grace the walls of the State Rooms.
The Second State Room
The architects of Blenheim designed the house as a monument not as a family home, much to the disapproval of Sarah, first Duchess of Marlborough, who wanted a livable residence.  Continued maintenance of the estate has caused many generations of family to become the slaves of their legacy. The house is vast but the rooms, to me, almost seemed claustrophobic, crowded and anything but comfortable.
Nevertheless, it is worth a visit, even with the steep entrance fees.  But go soon, because it is ever more becoming a theme park. We will write about that in a future post on Blenheim, Part Three. 

New On the Shelf – A Wild Romance

In Wild Romance: A Victorian Story of a Marriage, a Trial, and a Self-Made Woman (March), first time author Chloë Schama sheds light on one of Victorian England’s biggest real life scandals. Theresa Longworth wanted the life of a married Victorian Englishwoman, but soldier Charles Yelverton was the wrong man to choose. She fell in love with him on a steamer from France to England in 1852 and married him. After then being abandoned by Yelverton, Theresa was forced to prove in court the legitimacy of their marriage. Trials ensued in Ireland, England, and Scotland, and a public uproar followed.

Theresa’s story is both a courtroom drama full of steamy accusations and intrigue and the story of how one woman made a life for herself as an unmarried author and public speaker in a society that had no place for such a woman. From her days as a convent schoolgirl on the European continent to her later life traveling across the wilds of America as an independent woman, Theresa Longworth Yelverton became a woman larger than life, when all she had wanted was a life as large as a home with a husband inside it.

Free London Tour iPhone Application!

Walk Talk Tours has teamed up with Sploro, the New Jersey based multi-media company to launch its self guided walking tour as iPhone Applications. Users can now download the Ride & Stride tour from Sploro in the Apps store. The 2 hour tour starts with a ride on an iconic Routemaster bus from Trafalgar Square to St Paul’s Cathedral, and continues with a stroll across the Millennium Bridge to Tate Modern and the South bank. The tour then explores the many sights en route to Tower Bridge and the Tower of London, where it finishes. The interesting and informative 45 minute commentary is accompanied by good quality images, clear directions and a geo coded map ensuring that 3G users will never get lost.

Commenting on the development, Walk Talk Tours co-founder Phil Nash said: “We are delighted with the iPhone format for our tours and the popular London Palace Trail is already proving a hit with iPhone users. We are now preparing our other London and British Tours for release from the Sploro application in the next few weeks. This will also include the French, German and Spanish versions of our London Tours”

The tours cost $8.99 or £5.49 in the Apps store – but Ride & Stride is free until 31st May 2010 download it now and use it later!

All London, Edinburgh, York, Chester and Manchester walk talk tours can be downloaded in MP3 format from http://www.walktalktour.com/

The Sweet Things in Life

Oh, ice cream . . . one of the sweetest things in life. Now that the summer weather approaches, I thought it might be time for a blog on the history of the icy treat.

The first recorded serving of ice cream in England was in 1672,  when King Charles II’s table at a banquet was served ‘one plate of white strawberries and one plate of iced cream.’ The first English cookery book to give a recipe for ice cream was Mrs. Mary Eales’ Receipts of 1718. Ice being rare, ice cream was a luxury reserved for the wealthy and had to be made and served immediately, there being no way to store it for any length of time.

The production of ice cream depended upon ice, which could be gathered from ponds and lakes in winter, while the use of ice houses goes back several centuries. By packing ice into an insulated underground chamber ice could be stored for months, sometimes years.  In the early 19th century importation of ice started from Norway, Canada and America, this made ice cream readily available to the general public in the UK. Ice was shipped into London and other major ports and taken in canal barges down the canals, to be stored in ice houses, from where it was sold to ice cream makers. This burgeoning ice cream industry, run mainly by Italians, started the influx of workers from southern Italy and the Ticino area of Switzerland to England. In London, the huge ice house pits built near Kings Cross by Carlo Gatti in the 1850s, where he stored the ice he shipped to England from Norway, are still there and have recently been opened to the public at The London Canal Museum.

Although they had been available in England since the 1670’s, ices were popularised by French and Italian confectioners who set up shops in London and elsewhere in the 1760’s, when horticultural and pastural themes became popular as decoration for entertainments.  Tables were laid in imitation of formal gardens or parks, complete with flower-beds of coloured sugar, gravel walks made from aniseeds, trees of candy and sugar paste figures. In 1765, the Duke of Gordon purchased a complete garden dessert from the Berkeley Square confectioner Domenico Negri for £25-7s-9d and served his guests at a table decorated with a brass-framed plateau adorned with Bow figures, china swans, glass fountains, parterres, a china umbrella and a kaleidoscopic display of sugar plums and bonbons. A surviving trade card advertising Negri’s shop is illustrated with fantasy temples, pagodas and fountains. Many decades later, these nature themes remained popular, with Lady Blessington having a live song bird presented at table in a spun sugar cage.

Domenico Negri had a shop at the The Pot and Pineapple at Nos. 7-8 Berkeley Square from about 1765. Two of his apprentices published recipe books later in the century, which both have large sections on ice creams. One of these, Frederick Nutt, whose The Complete Confectioner first appeared in 1789, gives thirty two recipes for ice cream and twenty four for water ices.

Twenty years later, Negri took Gunter on as a partner and by 1798 Gunter alone was running the shop, which stood on the east side of the Square. By that time, it had become a fashionable Mayfair rendezvous, with all the ton stopping to eat ices and sorbets. Ladies remained in their carriages, whilst their gentlemen leaned against the nearby railings, the shop’s waiters running back and forth across the street taking and delivering orders. Though it was not proper for a lady to be seen alone at many establishments, it was perfectly acceptable for her to be seen at Gunter’s. In addition to the ices, Gunter’s was known for their heavily decorated, multi-tiered wedding cakes.

In Grantley Fitzhardinghe Berkeley’s memoirs, titled My Life and Recollections (1865), Berkeley offers the following anecdote:

On these hunting days some very amusing things happened with my hunt which I have since seen attributed to various other persons. The Gunters, the renowned pastrycooks of Berkeley Square, were all fond of hunting, were frequently out with my hounds, and subscribed to the hunt.

” Mr. Gunter,” remarked Alvanley, ” that’s a fine horse you are on.”

” Yes, he is, my lord,” replied Gunter, ” but he is so hot I can’t hold him.”

” Why the devil don’t you ice him, then?” rejoined his lordship.

Gunter looked as if he did not like the suggestion.

Originally, ice cream was sold on the street in glasses that were wiped clean and re-used. These glass “licks” remained in use in London until they were made illegal in 1926 for health reasons. However, the forerunners of the ice cream cone as we know it also existed. G. A. Jarrin, an Italian confectioner working in London in the nineteenth century, wrote about almond wafers that should be rolled “on pieces of wood like hollow pillars, or give them any other form you may prefer. These wafers may be made of pistachios, covered with currants and powdered with coarse sifted sugar; they are used to garnish creams; when in season, a strawberry may be put into each end, but it must be a fine” . . . He suggested turning another of his wafers into “little horns; they are excellent to ornament a cream.” Ice cream cones were also mentioned by Mrs Agnes Marshall in her book Fancy Ices of 1894.

The first ice cream bicycles in London were used by Walls in London in about 1923. Cecil Rodd of Walls came up with the slogan “Stop Me and Buy One” after his experiments with doorstep selling in London. In 1924 they expanded the business, setting up new manufacturing facilities and ordering 50 new tricycles. Sales in 1924 were £13,719, in 1927 £444,000. During the war years (1939-45) manufacture of ice cream was severely curtailed, and the tricycles requisitioned for use at military installations but in October 1947 Walls sold 3,300 tricycles and invested in freezers for it’s shops. Walls remains the market leader in the UK for individual hand-held products such as Cornetto and Magnum.

Needless to say, the craze for ice cream continues today and I’m sure that Regency folk would be amazed to find that ice cream is nowadays affordable, can be kept at home and is offered in flavors with names such as Chunky Monkey and Rum Raisin – the sweet things in life, indeed.

The London and Waterloo Tour – Hampstead, the Heath and Kenwood House and Gardens

What can I say about Hampstead Heath except that it lives in the mind as a preserve for brigands and highwaymen; a wild and woolly expanse of nature that can only be traversed at one’s peril? Okay, okay, I know that it has shrunk’s considerably in size until it now totals 790 acres and that the Heath has grown decidedly tame, more’s the pity, but I still want to see it with me own eyes. Located just four miles from Trafalgar Square, the Heath is one of the highest points in London, includes 26 ponds, a few bogs and includes an area of land that runs from Hampstead to Highgate.

In June, I want to visit Hampstead and see the Heath. Hampstead is supposed to be worth a trip in and of itself, a picture postcard pocket of London. I’m looking forward to exploring an area of London I haven’t seen before and to strolling the streets and promenade, visiting the shops and the Spring at Well Walk and to simply enjoying the scenery. Oh, and to stopping in at Louis Patisserie, which everyone says has the best cakes and pastry ever. Afterwards, I plan to head out on foot across the Heath to Kenwood House.

Kenwood House is a former stately home on Hampstead Heath with an art collection boasting Rembrandts, Turners, Reynolds, Gainsboroughs and Vermeers. The House itself is a stunning neoclassical white villa whose Adam Library is considered one of the most important rooms designed by Robert Adam in the country. The home was owned by the great judge, Lord Mansfield. Later Earls of Mansfield redesigned the parkland and Kenwood remained in the family until 1922.
When developers attempted to buy the estate, the house and grounds were saved for the public by the brewing magnate, Edward Cecil Guinness, the first Earl of Iveagh, who bought Kenwood House and 74 acres of parkland in 1925. In 1928, when he died, the Earl bequeathed the Kenwood Estate and part of his collection of pictures to the nation. As you may expect, I’m especially anxious to see The Brummell Children, painted 1781-82 by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Yes, that Brummell, and his brother, William.

This is the first year that I’ve been gardening seriously – from digging out the garden, to planting it and to babying it. So I’m especially eager to see Kenwood’s gardens, which were laid out by Humphry Repton in the 1790s. Thankfully, the farm, dairy, stables, kitchen garden, lakes, woods and meadows are all still in existence, as is Repton’s strictly ornamental false bridge shown at right. You can read more about the gardens here.
Oh, and if you happen to be a Blondie fan, she’ll be giving a concert at Kenwood House Saturday, 26 June 2010 at 7:30 p.m.