Blenheim Palace LVIA

Posted by in Latest News from rbmp on 27th April 2020

Built between 1705 and 1722, Blenheim Palace stands as a key moment in British architectural history. Presented to John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, as a reward for his victory over the French and Bavarian forces, the building and park surrounding it are largely the same now as they were in the 18th century.

Located near Oxford, the original construction was designed by John Vanbrugh but later designs were overlaid onto the property by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. This combination of designers marks a key element to what characterises Blenheim and makes it unique to the period. The eclectic combination of influences can be seen across the building itself, all of which call back to classic British architecture.

In 2019 rbmp was asked to carry out an LVIA to support the vital proposals ensuring the longevity of the lake and Grand Bridge. Working alongside Historic Landscape Management Ltd, rbmp prepared a report detailing the proposed works, landscape proposals and visual impact of the scheme. This included Verified Views, ZTV Assessments and an Illustrative Masterplan.

Blenheim Palace Aerial View
Aerial view of Blenheim Palace and surrounding park.

What makes Blenheim so special, however, goes beyond the buildings themselves. The grounds surrounding the house are totally unique, capturing a carefully orchestrated feeling of both natural countryside and maintained garden. The lake to the west of the Grand Bridge is manmade, one of the key changes that ‘Capability’ Brown made to the property but fits beautifully in the landscape.

The Grand Bridge, Blenheim Palace
The Grand Bridge, Blenheim Palace

Therefore, such a carefully planned and laid out area requires great care when developing on. It is in cases like these where Landscape & Visual Impact Assessments (LVIAs) are most important. LVIAs are there to help you, and all interested parties, assess the kind of visual impact a proposed development will have.

The aim of an LVIA is to minimise the negative visual impact that the development will have. The park surrounding Blenheim Palace is Grade 1 registered and much of the rest of the site falls under various protection laws as a World Heritage site. When designing the grounds, Brown paid careful attention to tree placement and type. He planted a whole range of trees around the Grand Bridge in strategic places to encourage exploration and have different colours on show year-round.

Much of the house itself and the surrounding areas have been maintained to these original designs and materials, but certain areas have undergone historical adjustment. One such example is the North Park which has seen a lot of change from its original designs to now. In the designs from 1709, the park area had a strong baroque style with a very open landscape broken up through the middle by the Grand Avenue.

Colen Campbell's Blenheim Plan 1715
Colen Campbell’s engraving of Woodstock Park, Vitruvius Britannicus
Garden Plans 1715

Over time these open spaces were broken apart by clumps of trees, primarily planted by ‘Capability’ Brown. Maps from 1772 show an area that has been populated by a series of beeches running around the edge of the park and being drawn together in small circles to give a greater sense of depth to the area.

This all changed however by 1811, where a newer map of the park shows us a very different view of what the park was being used for. The Grand Avenue, that had once been the dominant feature of the North Park was largely broken up. There remained a sense of what it had been but the lines marking it out were softened. Another interesting change came as parts of the park were designated for practical use.

Blenheim Palace Engraved by W. Radclyffe
Engraving of Blenheim Palace & Park by W. Radclyffe based on painting by J. M. W. Turner

The paddocks along the west side of the North Park had been screened from the rest of the park by a line of trees that meant they were now in the same patch as the stables. Land was reallocated at the top of the park for arable use. It is clear that not only the look of the park changed drastically in this period but also its purpose. The rest of the 19th century saw minor adjustments to this as the arable land was extended and different patches of trees were cut down to alter the views from certain areas of the park.

This all changed again as the park returned to its former use in the 20th century. Under the 9th Duke of Marlborough, the Grand Avenue was reinstated. This marked a shift in the purpose of the land as it returned to its roots. That said, the Grand Avenue was different this time around with sharper angles and straight lines taking over the smooth circle from before. The arable land to the north of the park was also extended to its maximum size.By looking at the history of a site, you can see just how much time affects the world. A site like Blenheim Palace, which seems today to have been frozen in time, actually stands as a testament to the importance of subtle alterations over time and the value of honouring tradition while carefully adapting a site to fit with the times and the needs of those using it.

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