Posts Tagged ‘hallmark’

At this point we’re starting to have seen pretty much all reasonable sites of historical interest, so we’re having to research to find new weekend expedition destinations. We’d been over near Oxford in the summer and spotted Blenheim Palace but also spotted the ticket price which suggested it was more than a 30 minute stopover, so we went back this weekend.

We had hoped to go with our friend Elaine to see the place and all the Christmas decorations but there was a last minute change as she had to play hostess, and if I were one of Joe’s mates coming over for the party, I would definitely appreciate her presence and help in dishing up pizza and working the video projector in the shed. (I still want a shed…)

Not a butcher's shop

Not a butcher’s shop

Bear had gotten the impression that Winston Churchhill was the son of a shopkeeper who pulled himself up by his bootstraps and was completely working class. This, apparently, is not the case. The Palace, the only residence with that designation which isn’t occupied by royalty in the country, was built in the early 1700s by Churchill’s ancestors, the Dukes of Marlborough (and in particular the first Duchess, Sarah, who is described as “cantankerous but capable of great charm”).

Nor a bakery

Nor a bakery

The style is English Baroque which was only around for a very brief time. I can’t say I’m much on architectural history but there was a lot of drama and conflict and at one point Capability Brown was brought in to help with damming up a river to create a lake.

That's' maybe a third of the original bridge

That’s’ maybe a third of the original bridge

There’s a subplot here about how you can exchange your day ticket for an annual pass at no charge once you get inside and they take your picture for the photo ID. My theory is that at 21 pounds for a single day they have to give you something so you don’t feel yourself being scalped. Instead you think, “Ooo, I’ve got a whole year and if I just come back two more times, this will be really cheap!”

I think it was a chapel...

I think it was a chapel…

The house/palace was in full Christmas decor as a Dickensian Christmas and they had a group of a capella carolers in the main area which, except for the large number of featured children, were really nice. I have a violent aversion to children’s choirs. There’s something about the pitch of their voices that’s like fingernails on a chalkboard to me, although obviously that’s a personal issue as the Vienna Boys’ Choir is internationally renowned and technically proficient. I had been hoping to listen more to the carols but after four that opened with two verses of kids piping along I had to flee.

No sugar plum fairies in sight

No sugar plum fairies in sight

Slap a wreath on

Slap a wreath on

The house itself was as ornate in some ways as Versailles and you could even see the room where Churchill had been born. Thankfully no one saw a need for a mannequin diorama of the event.

The long library room designed by Christopher Wren with a pipe organ at one end

The long library room designed by Christopher Wren with a pipe organ at one end

“…a Welte automatic player was added in 1931 … This remained in use for some time: the Duke of the time is said to have frequently sat at the organ bench and pretended to play the organ to his guests and they would applaud at the end. This practice is said to have been halted abruptly when the player started before the Duke had reached the organ.” — Blenheim Palace article

Yep, it's a palace

Yep, it’s a palace

There was an exhibition about Churchill’s life also which I wasn’t completely sure about. Some of it was interesting and new to me, but overall it didn’t feel as though it had been recently curated. I know that’s tacky of me but I can’t help noticing these things when I go to exhibitions and the captions on photos are obviously printed on paper, cut out and sort of glued in place it seems and you wonder if anyone has met a decent graphic designer recently.

The one stunning thing I discovered was a connection between Churchill and the founder of Hallmark greeting cards. Apparently he was a painter on the side and they used some of his designs for cards. I guess if politics don’t work out, you just do what you can to get by.

Waterfront Cafe in the white tents

Waterfront Cafe in the white tents

We had lunch overlooking some gardens at the Waterfront (very original) cafe where Bear had a chicken curry and I had a vegetarian risotto…with chicken and chorizo. Awesome. I love this country. We walked around the gardens after lunch and spent some time photographing the grounds.

Italian Garden

Italian Garden

Pretty tree. I miss pretty trees.

Pretty tree. I miss pretty trees.

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