Posted on Leave a comment

Blenheim Palace where Winston Churchill was born

Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace has been  the official residence of the Dukes of Marlborough for over 200 years, is called Palace but it does not belong to the Royal Family, a unique case in the UK.

Since 1987 it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is  in Oxfordshire, about an hour and a half from London.

The history of its construction was troubled, it was built in honor of John Churchill the first Duke of Marlborough, after his victory at the Battle of Blenheim against the French and Bavarians.

The wife of John Churchill, Sarah, wanted the architect Christopher Wren, who had built the new cathedral of St Paul’s in London. While her husband called Sir John Vanbrug, who was a playwright and not an architect. But in those days, many competed to build buildings, even though they were not professional architects, so that was not very unusual.

In the meantime during the construction of Blenheim Palace, Sarah, who could not stand Vanbrugh, made life impossible for the playwright. The Duchess wanted not only a monument to her husband but also a home to live in and the plan of Sir Vanburgh was not really suitable to be a home.

The beginnings of Blenheim Palace

The duchess was also concerned about finances and how much money was needed for this project. She finally managed to banish Sir Vanbrugh and the project was completed by the architect Nicholas Hawksmoor, after the death of the Duke in 1722.

Foto: © Copyright Nigel Brown and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

blenheim palace

However Blenheim Palace was built in the English Baroque style , one of the few buildings in this style that lasted a very short time.

The idea was to create an austere monument to the Duke, a building which would be visible from kilometres in the distance.

It was not a great success, many hated this building, including Winston Churchill himself (cousin of the Duke of Marlborough at the time) who was born and spent part of his childhood there.

You must look at Blenheim Palace from afar, Sir Vanbrugh had played a lot with prospective, and the effect of the palace together with the park and gardens. The views that you can see are well choreographed, nothing was left to chance.

After her husband’s death, The Duchess was not very interested in the gardens, left abandoned until the fourth Duke of Marlborough, who decided to take on the famous gardener Capability Brown.

As a part of the house the gardens are open to the public although this is still the home of the Duke of Marlborough.. During the year they also held several events.

How to get to Blenheim Palace?

Blenheim Palace is near Oxford, you can include it when you are visiting this city, or visit directly from London. There are direct buses from Victoria Coach Station on certain days of the year.

Otherwise National Express always offers coach tickets at very low prices.  You can also reach Oxford by train from London or other cities in England. There is a bus from Oxford  City Centre that will take you to Blenheim Palace in about 35 minutes.

Posted on Leave a comment

Carlisle Castle; its history and what to see

carlisle castle

The castle of Carlisle is  in the city of the same name in Cumbria, not far from the Hadrian’s Wall, but does not date back to Roman times, in fact it is much more ongoing battles.

Foto:  © Copyright David Dixon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Defeated the Scots once again, William II wanted a castle built where three rivers joined, King Henry I later reinforced the castle to protect the city of Carlisle.

For about 200 years the castle was targeted by Scottish armies, which were almost always defeated. For this reason at least until 1400 the castle was well kept and substantial sums of money bestowed to maintain and reinforce it.

castello di carlisleOnce the relationship between England and Scotland calmed down a bit, Carlisle’s castle lost importance (and investments), the only thing that was noticeable at the time was that Mary Stuart was imprisoned here for a short period.

Foto: © Copyright Christopher Hilton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

With the English Civil War the castle of Carlisle returned to its moments of  glory, in fact it was besieged for months and months but then conquered, it also took part in the Jacobine rebellion in 1745. But all this marked the end of the castle’s war history.

Now in peace times,  you can visit Carlisle Castle which often has exhibitions and other events. You can also visit the tower where Mary Stuart was held prisoner by her cousin Elizabeth I.

In the castle there is also a museum dedicated to military life. The castle is now managed by English Heritage and you do not pay the entrance fee if you are a member of this organisation.

How to get to Carlisle Castle?

The castle is located in the centre of Carlisle which is well connected by train and bus with the rest of the country.

This is not a day trip from London, of course, but you can include a visit to the castle if you’re staying in Cumbria and the Lake District area.

trinity college cambridge

Trinity College Cambridge; what to see and how to visit it

Trinity College Cambridge, one of the college founded by Henry VIII. Even now to enter it you have to pass by a Tudor-style gate of 1546, called the Great Gate. Just look at the statues at the entrance, try to identify the one of King Henry VIII. Iff you look carefully  the king holds the […]


Langley Wood; ancient oak forest not far from London

Langley Wood is not far from London, north of Southampton and  in the northern part of the New Forest. It  is an ancient oak forest. Left to grow in its natural state is now home to a large amount of lichen  and five different types of deer who can roam and reproduce (including fallow and roe […]


All Hallows by the Tower – a church in London you should definitely visit

Many visitors to London forget the many old churches, several of those can be found in what  is called The City of London. Those found in today’s City have almost all been damaged or destroyed by the Great Fire and/or by the German bombings during the Second World War. Many have been rebuilt and should […]

Posted on Leave a comment

Hever Castle – visit Anne Boleyn’s castle

anne boleyn's castle

Hever Castle is the famous Anne Boleyn’s castle. The castle is  only 45 km from London in Kent, and is therefore an idea for a day trip from the capital. The Tudors are now fashionable, thanks to the TV series and various books,  so you will not be the only one to visit it, especially if you go in the summer months.

Foto: © Copyright Malc McDonald and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

What can you find at Anne Boleyn’s castle?

Anne Boleyn lived in this castle when she was young and you will find objects belonging to her and a permanent exhibition about her life. In addition to this, the castle has a very long history and you can visit its many rooms with historical furniture.

To be honest, it was not exactly a castle but a fortified house. Purchased in 1462 by George Boleyn, who was Anna’s great-grandfather, and had been Lord Mayor of London. It was later inherited by Sir Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire and father of Anna in 1505.

The count rebuilt most of the house and built the Long Gallery you see today. Here Anne and her sister Mary spent long periods of their childhood and this is where King Henry VIII courted Anne.

Count Thomas and his wife Elizabeth ( the latter was not very visible in life and after death,  in fact her body was not buried in the church of St Peter’s in Hever Castle along with her husband) had as many as 10 children.

Unfortunately none of the ten children was . Seven died as children and of the three remaining Anne, George and Mary the first two were beheaded. Mary, on the other hand, after having been the lover of several nobles and powerful, ended up in misery.

Inside the Anne Boleyn’s castle you can also visit an exhibition on torture instruments. You can rent one of the audio guides in English or other languages,  the tour will take you around 45 minutes.

hever castleThe gardens surrounding Hever Castle have won prizes and are definitely worth a visit, especially when it is not raining.

In the gardens there are also different types of birds, in addition to the usual ducks and wild geese.

Foto: © Copyright Dr Neil Clifton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The pond is a recent project, having been completed in 1906. It still allows you to have a few excellent walks and even a boat ride. In summer there are many events and you can easily spend the entire day in the castle’s grounds. Check out the current events on the castle’s official website.

How to reach Hever Castle from London?

To be honest it is not easy to get to Anne Boleyn’s castle if you do not have your own car, but with a little planning,  it is still feasible.

You can take a train from Victoria Station and get off at Edenbridge Town, from here you have to take a taxi and it is a 5 kilometers ride, so it should not be too expensive.

Otherwise, get off at Hever (train to East Grinstead and change to Hurst Green, take the train to Uckfield) and walk a mile. Here you can find a map from the station to the castle.

Posted on Leave a comment

Rivers in Oxfordshire; a detailed description written in 1912

rivers in oxfordshire

This book written by P.H. Ditchfield called “Oxfordshire” was published in 1912 but rivers have not changed much since then! You can find the actual digital version of the book here. The book is in the public domain. 

The Thames and other rivers in Oxfordshire

The rivers, as already stated, form a distinguishing natural feature of the county. They are so numerous and are fed by so many streams and brooks that almost the whole of the shire is covered with a network of water-courses, with the exception of the two plateaus at the extreme north and south of the county. What Dr Plot said with hesitation concerning our Oxfordshire streams we may assert with confidence. No county surpasses Oxfordshire in regard ‘ to the number and abundance of its rivers.

The great river Thames flows along its whole southern boundary, and it has besides the Cherwell, Evenlode, Windrush, and Thame. All these flow into the Thames and have also their own tributaries. Thus, among many others, the Glyme and the Dome add to the waters of the Evenlode, and the Ray to the Cherwell.

Main Photo: © Copyright Mat Fascione and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Dr Plot tells us that these rivers are ” of so quick a stream, free from stagnation, and so clear… that few (if any) vappid and stinking exhalations can ascend from them to corrupt the air. And so for standing Pools, Marish or Boggy grounds, the parents of Ague, Cough, Catarrh, they are fewest here of any place to be found.” Perhaps in this the learned doctor erred, or perhaps rivers like human beings sometimes change their nature. The Thames is swift enough, especially in times of flood, and was far more swift in Dr Plot’s day, before it was bridled with locks ; but the Thame, Evenlode, and Cherwell are somewhat sluggish streams and have many weeds, which are not seen in swift currents.

The conditions have changed since very early times. The bed of the Thames was once far less deep than it is at present, and the river extended itself on each side. Moreover the hills and vales were covered with dense forests, and these would tend to increase the rainfall and to make the atmosphere humid. The Thames is navigable for large barges and small steamers as far as Oxford, but it does not, of course, become a tidal river until long after it has passed the boundaries of the shire. It is also navigable from Oxford to Lechlade for boats and barges.

Photo: © Copyright Peter Trimming and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The Thames rises near Cirencester and runs southward into Wiltshire, and after receiving the Churn from the north of Cirencester and proceeding easterly by Cricklade, it unites near Lechlade with the Coin from the north and the Cole from the south, and becomes navigable. The Leach, from which Lechlade takes its name, also adds its waters to the river, and forms for some distance the boundary of the county. From this point the Thames forms the southern limit of Oxfordshire, and thence flows eastward, inclining to the north through an uninteresting country. It passes under Radcot Bridge, where a battle was fought in 1387 between Robert ue Vere, Earl of Oxford, and the insurgent Barons, when the Earl only saved his life by plunging into the river ; under Tadpole Bridge and New Bridge, where in the Civil War a fight took place. Here the Windrush joins the Thames. At Bablock Hythe there is a ferry, and there are many locks during this course of the river.

Rounding the woods of Wytham it receives the waters of the Evenlode, but before reaching Oxford it divides itself into various small channels as it traverses the meadows of Wytham, leaving Oxford on the left. These streams, however, soon unite, and the river turns round the city and glides beautifully through the meads of Christ Church. The Cherwell joins the Thames where the College barges are moored. Proceeding still south-eastward past the old mill at Sandford, the Norman church of Iffley, Radley, and the lovely woods of Nuneham, it flows in a westerly bend to Abingdon  where it receives the Ock.

Photo: © Copyright nick macneill and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Turning South and then east, past Culham and Clifton Hampden, it reaches Dorchester by a semicircular course, where it is joined by the Thame, and then runs south-eastward to Wallingford. Past North Stoke and South Stoke it glides, and then reaches its most lovely scenery. All the way from Goring to Henley, save for a small uninteresting reach at Reading, it is girt by beautiful woods on one side and not less beautiful meadows on the other. Whitchurch, Mapledurham, and Purley are all beautiful. Eyots or Eyes (e.g. Sonning Eye) clad with willows, add diversity and beauty to the scene, and by their name preserve the old Saxon word for island. Near Reading the Thames receives the waters of the Kennet and turns in a north-easterly direction towards Sonning and Shiplake, welcoming on its way the Loddon river, both these streams coming in from the south. Soon it reaches Henley,  proceeding towards Windsor, London, and tne sea. The length of the course of the river from the point where it first touches Oxford shire to Henley, where it quits the county, is about 70 miles. With its tributaries it drains about 5000 square miles of country.

The tributaries of the Thames in Oxfordshire

The tributaries of the Thames that run through the county have cut their way through the limestone hills and made narrow valleys. The Windrush rises in Gloucestershire, and entering Oxfordshire not far from the ancient town of Burford, in the delightful region of the Cotswolds, flows through the county a distance of about 16 miles. It is a land of breezy downs and bare hill slopes with old grey farm buildings dotted here and there over the fields. The Windrush runs clear and swift between pleasant meadows that go sharply up to the north, where stand the last trees of the old forest of Wychwood. It is unlike the rest of the Oxfordshire rivers with their muddy banks and sluggish currents.

Burford and the Cotswolds

Before reaching Burford we see on the right the picturesque garden and farmhouse at Upton. Upton mills, once turned by the river, belonged to the Earl of Warwick, the King-maker. On the left is Taynton with its interesting Decorated church, which has a good Early English chancel. Taynton was the home of the Harmans, who afterwards removed to Burford Priory when it was dissolved. Burford town (the Boroughford), with all its charms of history and romance, we shall visit again, and the Windrush pursues its course till it comes to another ford, called Widford (doubtless Wide-ford), a desolate place, an extinct parish with a deserted church dedicated to St Oswald, surrounded by an overgrown melancholy churchyard on the green banks of the stream. In vain its sweet bell in the bell-niche bears the inscription : ” Come ye all At my call Serve God all.” Half a century has passed since a few village folk obeyed that call, and the deserted shrine is fast falling into ruin. On its site once stood a Roman villa.

The Windrush in Oxfordshire

A little farther down the stream we come to a river-side inn, near a bridge that spans the Windrush at Swinbrook, where formerly stood the splendid mansion of the powerful Fettiplace family, but both house and race have vanished. Of this family the old rhyme says : ” The Tracys, the Lacys, and the Fettiplaces Own all the manors, the parks, and the chases.” But now nothing remains but their monuments and brasses in the church. A little farther down the stream on the right bank is Asthall, where there is another bridge. Close by, the Akeman Street crossed the river by a ford. About a mile south is Asthall barrow, a relic of prehistoric times. The Windrush proceeds eastward, and passing the lonely Minster Lovell, which we shall visit again, soon reaches Witney.

The waters of the Windrush have certain peculiar properties which favour clothmaking. Dr Plot describes them as ” abstersive,” whatever that may mean. They are found, however, to be useful in blanket-making, and have brought prosperity to the little town of Witney. Fish, too, thrive on the “abstersive ” quality of the Windrush waters and are vastly superior, we are told, to those in most other streams. From Witney the river turns south, passing through a tract of flat narrow land intersected by water-courses, known as ” Ducklington Ditches,” one of which is called Emm’s Ditch, marking  the boundary of Queen Emma’s manor, the queen of King Ethelred and Canute. The village of Ducklington stands close to the river, with its fine church showing mainly Early English work, with examples of Norman, Decorated, and Perpendicular styles.

Photo: © Copyright Philip Halling and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Past the woods of Cokethorpe Park the Windrush flows, and then wends its zigzag course to Standlake and its British village, soon finding its way to the ” stripling Thames ” at Newbridge, which is nowadays not new at all, but has stood for centuries grim and grey with its curious triangular buttresses. On it a skirmish was fought on May 27, 1644, the day after Essex had occupied Abingdon. Between Witney and Standlake the Windrush flows as a double stream, the branches being from a quarter to half a mile apart.

The Evenlode rises in Gloucestershire and runs during part of its course almost parallel with the Windrush, entering the county at Bledington. Several tributaries unite their waters with the river, which flows past Chipping Norton junction now called Kingham in a south-easterly direction to Shipton-under-Wychwood with its graceful spire, and then turns north-east to Ascott- under-Wychwood past the old gabled Elizabethan manor house of the Lacys, called Pudlicote, curving round to Charlbury, a quiet little village on its banks. It bounds the old park of Cornbury, which has been a park since the year 1312-3, and the slopes of the valley are beautifully wooded. Hitherto the valley through which the river runs has been wide and open but it now becomes narrower, and the river continues in a south-easterly  direction till the woods of Wilcote run down to its edge.

More rivers in Oxfordshire

Its course becomes tortuous and soon the Blenheim woods appear on the left, with the tributary stream the Glyme, which rises near Chipping Norton and flows past Kid- dington and Glympton and through the ornamental waters of Blenheim Park. The Evenlode then flows almost due south, joining the Thames opposite the woods of Wytham. The Cherwell is the most important of the Oxford- shire rivers after the Thames, and has a course of thirty miles in the county. It rises in Northamptonshire, and on entering Oxfordshire near Wardington in the north of the county receives many tributary brooks and streams, flowing almost due south save for a slight curve after passing Hampton Gay. Its vale is wide and open during the upper part of its course, until it reaches Banbury, where it scoops out for itself a narrow valley similar to many other Oxfordshire rivers, forming very pleasant and attractive features of the scenery of the shire. For some distance it forms the boundary of the county until it passes near Clifton, having received the waters of the Sorbrook and Swere tributaries.

Photo: © Copyright P L Chadwick and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The Swale, another river in Oxfordshire

The Swale, a small river from which Swalcliffe takes its name, is a tributary of the Sorbrook. Passing the well-wooded park of North Aston, the Cherwell creates for itself one of its fairest reaches until Heyford bridge appears. The old name of the village was Heyford-ad-Pontem, a very early bridge having been built here by Robert D’Oilly, lord of Wallingford in the Conqueror’s time. Its name signifies the presence of a ford that preceded the bridge.  Other bridges span the stream at Northbrook and Enslow, and the Akeman Street crosses the river between them where there was once a ford. The river now passes; by a scene of desolation, the decayed hamlet of Hampton Gay. The village has only three houses, and it is a melancholy sight to gaze upon the ruins of the manor house recently destroyed by fire, and on the burnt paper- mills. The banks are very steep here,, and opposite stands the picturesque church of Shipton-on-Cherwell.

When we have passed the lofty spire of Kidlington, we see the Ray river, which, after passing through Bicester and Otmoor, here comes in on the left bank. The Cherwell now flows on past the beautiful manor house of Water Eaton, past the magnificent pile of Magdalen College, and pours into the Thames just below the College barges. Its beautiful lower reach, bedecked with lilies and lovely water plants, is much frequented in summer by such undergraduates as prefer dreaming in a punt to the more strenuous work of the Eights.

The river Thame in Oxfordshire

The last Thames tributary that runs through the county is the Thame, which rises in Buckinghamshire and flows through the town that takes its name from the river. It is not a very interesting stream, pursuing its uneventful course for the most part through flat meadow- land. A bridge spans it at Chiselhampton, long and narrow, with bold projecting cut- waters, carrying the road over two branches of the stream and low-lying meadows. Here, on the morning of the battle of Chalgrove Field, a skirmish took place between the royal forces under Prince Rupert and the army of the Parliamentarians  led by John Hampden, who for some time kept the Prince at bay.

On the other side of the river is Stadhampton, where John Owen, Cromwell’s chaplain, was born. Past Newington and Drayton the Thame flows, and just below Dorchester reaches the place “Where beauteous Isis and her husband Thame With mingled waves for ever flow the same.” South of this there are no streams of any importance, the Chiltern district being badly supplied with water except near the Thames. The Stour rises in the county near Tadmarton heath and Hook Norton and flows westward through Swalcliffe common, soon leaving the county. On the east side of the county the river Ouse touches it, forming for some distance the boundary of the shire.

Posted on Leave a comment

Midland Grand Hotel in London

Midland Grand Hotel

Maybe you did not know that the huge hotel that is located above the St Pancras station is called the Midland Grand Hotel. Acually since 2011 it has been called St Pancras Renaissance London Hotel.

The hotel was opened in 1873 and was built by Sir George Gilbert Scott, the same architect who built the Albert Memorial, obviously a lover of the neo-Gothic style. His nephew Sir Giles Gilbert Scott was the architect of Battersea Power Station and the designer of the red telephone booths.

In any case, the Midland Railway Company wanted a hotel for its new St Pancras station and Gilbert Scott won the competition. The architect used the same plan he had used for a government office building in Whitehall that had not been accepted and was never built.

Gilbert Scott was happy that he was finally able to build his great Gothic idea at least once in London. The palace, in fact, among towers, towers and spiers is really an example of Gothic revival architecture. The hotel had 250 rooms and was a luxury hotel with a massive central staircase.

Although considered a luxurious hotel, it did not last long, in fact in 1935 it was already closed, probably due to the fact that the type of customer who loved decadent luxury was on the decrease. The building was kept empty for decades.

Foto: © Copyright Richard Croft and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Since 1967, the Midland Grand Hotel has been a protected building and for several years was home to British Rail offices, at the time the state railways. With the privatization of the railways in the early 90s, the building stayed again empty for a while until it was renovated to become today’s hotel.

View Larger Map