February 2023 talk by Peter Auger

Memories of his time as Garden Manager at Blenheim Gardens working for “his Grace” the Duke of Marlborough.

Peter gave us a wonderful insight into life at Blenheim Palace with a fine set of photographs that illustrated the beauty of the landscaped gardens designed by Capability Brown. Peter also reflected that at times working for the aristocracy was challenging and that managing the gardens was often easier than managing “the family”!

Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown created a spectacular setting for Blenheim Palace over 10 years starting in 1763 for the 4th Duke of Marlborough

At Blenheim Capability Brown created a spectacular, tree-fringed lake as the setting for one of England’s grandest houses, for the 4th Duke of Marlborough. Queen Anne had given the estate to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, following his victory at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. In around 1763 Brown was called in to complete and modernise the landscaping around Blenheim Palace, which then centred on an existing lake, Grand Bridge and a long, straight avenue. Over the next 10 years Brown built two dams and created a huge 40-acre lake. He planted thick belts of trees around the park boundary, designed new drives and remodelled the entrance to the north of Blenheim Palace.

In a letter dated 29 June 1763, the duke made it clear that Brown was to make Blenheim his priority, although he had also been making plans for the duke’s estate at Langley in Buckinghamshire. Spyers carried out the survey at Blenheim in that year, assisted by a local lad, James Stuckly. His fee was £24 (£41,720 in 2015).

We know that Brown was at Blenheim at least twice in 1765, based on letters he sent that year. He seems to have placed great confidence in foreman Benjamin Read, who also worked for him at Croome.

Blenheim Palace remains the home of the Spencer-Churchill family. The 12th Duke of Marlborough succeeded to the title in 2014.

Blenheim became a World Heritage Site in 1987, in recognition of the quality of the architecture by John Vanbrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor and Brown’s landscaping. The house (Historic England) and the 2,000 acres of parkland and gardens (Historic England) are all listed Grade I.

Blenheim is one of the best examples of Brown’s skill and vision in creating a seemingly natural and sublimely beautiful landscape.