Vanbrugh's biographer, Laurence Whistler, wrote: 'Though Blenheim as a whole is Vanburgh's, yet there is not one detail of which one could say with certainty that Hawksmoor had not designed it'.
The first Duchess of Marlborough, Sarah, and her friend Queen Anne discussed ways in which the nation could show its gratitude to the Duke for his victory at the Battle of Blenheim on 13th August, 1704. They considered statues, a square in London and a London house, before settling on an estate worthy of his reputation.
The estate chosen was the ancient Royal Manor of Woodstock, and Parliament granted funds to build the house as a monument to and a mausoleum for the first Duke of Marlborough.
Later, on visiting the Palace with Queen Charlotte in 1786, King George III declared “We have nothing to equal this.”
In the early 1700s, Woodstock Manor was a rambling building which had fallen into disrepair over the preceding centuries. Vanbrugh wanted it left as a romantic ruin but Sarah disagreed. Vanbrugh, a lover of history, ignored Sarah and set about making repairs to it.
Vanbrugh moved into the Manor as he found it a very useful place from which to keep an eye on the building progress of the Palace. Sarah got wind of this and so visited Woodstock to see at first hand how matters lay. She was shown around the Manor by a caretaker who, unaware of Sarah's feelings on the place, praised the improvements that had taken place.
Woodstock Manor House was duly pulled down and the rubble used as foundations for the Grand Bridge. Today, a stone plinth marks the spot where the Manor House stood. You can see it if you look at the side of the bridge opposite the Palace.
The foundation stone was laid beneath the bow window at 18.00 on 18th June 1705. The stone was 8ft square, finely polished and upon it were the words laid in pewter, 'In memory of the Battle of Blenheim. June 18th 1705'.
Finding the stone to build the rest of the Palace was not as easy as first hoped. Vanbrugh had expected to be able to take the stone from the Park, but after they had opened up four quarries in the Park, he realised the stone was not good enough to be used for the Palace it might serve for inside walls but it was not strong enough for the outside. Consequently, stone was brought in from the nearby Cornbury Estate, owned by Lord Rochester, and from 22 quarries in the Cotswolds. In 1706, there were 136 carters bringing stone from the Burford and Taynton quarries alone.
Stone from outside the Cotswolds, including Portland Stone and Plymouth Stone, was used for the entrance steps and the paving. This stone was brought by barge to Abingdon (south of Oxford) and then by road to Woodstock.
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