Blenheim Palace bridge is fully revealed for first time in 250 years

Historic Blenheim Palace bridge dubbed ‘the finest view in England’ by Winston Churchill’s father is fully revealed as lakes are drained for first time in 250 years as £12m effort to save it begins

  • The famous Vanburgh Bridge is at risk of drying out and becoming unstable due to alarmingly low water level
  • Grade I-listed structure spans two lakes at Oxfordshire’s Blenheim Palace, Winston Churchill’s ancestral home
  • The 160-acre lakes have been drained for the first time since architect Capability Brown had them built in 1768
  • Diggers begin dredging 400,000 tonnes of silt, enough to fill Wembley Stadium to its roof, to save the bridge
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An historic bridge that forms part of ‘England’s finest view’ can be seen in all its glory for the first time in 250 years as engineers began a mammoth £12million project to save it.

Vanburgh Bridge, which spans the two lakes at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, is at risk of drying out and becoming unstable due to the alarmingly low water level.

Huge amounts of silt has built up in the lakes surrounding the palace, which is the the birthplace and ancestral home of former prime minister and British war hero Sir Winston Churchill. 

Now the 160-acre lakes have been drained for the first time since celebrated landscape gardener Capability Brown had them built in 1768, as part of a £12million scheme to safeguard the Grade I-listed bridge.

The Blenheim Estate told MailOnline the project would be funded by a number of sources including visitor admissions, ‘the proceeds of development on Estate land’ and some public and corporate donations. 


The 160-acre lakes have been drained for the first time since celebrated landscape gardener Capability Brown had them built in 1768, as part of a £12million scheme to safeguard the Grade I-listed Vanburgh Bridge (pictured)


In 1874, when Sir Winston’s father Lord Randolph Churchill saw the stunning landscape for the first time, he declared it to be ‘the finest view in England’ (Blenheim Palace is shown far left)


Huge amounts of silt has built up in the lakes surrounding the palace, which is the the birthplace and ancestral home of former prime minister and British war hero Sir Winston Churchill

It added that the lake dredge would cost in the region of £6million, bridge repairs about £3.5million, visitor aspects around £2million and the river catchment work almost £500,000.

In 1874, when Sir Winston’s father Lord Randolph Churchill saw the stunning landscape for the first time, he declared it to be ‘the finest view in England’.

Diggers will dredge 400,000 tonnes of silt – enough to fill Wembley Stadium to its roof – in a bid to return the water levels to their original depth of 6ft 7ins.

The work has revealed parts of the Grand Bridge, built by John Vanbrugh between 1708 and 1710, that have been submerged for a quarter of a millennium.

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Silt has been building at a rate of between 1cm and 2cm in an average year, however extreme weather episodes such as the storms in 2007 saw it rise by 20cm in that year alone.

The estate estimates that without intervention, the lakes will eventually vanish in the next 10 years, causing the ‘finest view’ in England to be lost.

Flooded rooms within the structure have become accessible again along with archaeological features that include the original layout of an ancient canal system.

It also means members of the public can see the sandstone structure as Capability Brown would have when he landscaped the extensive grounds.  


An artist impression of the work to create the lake being done in the 1760s. Work being carried out today will allow the public to see the sandstone structure as Capability Brown would have when he landscaped the extensive grounds


Rachel Brodie, rural manager for Blenheim, inspects the newly revealed base of the bridge, which has been revealed for the first time since it was first submerged in the lakes


The work has revealed parts of the Grand Bridge, built by John Vanbrugh between 1708 and 1710, that have been submerged for a quarter of a millennium

Capability Brown: England’s great gardener


Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, who gained his nickname because he would tell clients their estates had great ‘capability’ for improvements to the landscape, is considered one of Britain’s greatest ever gardeners.

He transformed the look of 18th century country house gardens, and liked to remove formal planting in favour of an idealised ‘natural’ landscape – moving hills, making flowing lakes and serpentine rivers, draining marshland to create lakes and even moving an entire village out of sight to improve the view.

Brown worked incredibly fast, taking only an hour to survey an estate and rough out a design. He travelled incessantly, for he could have as many as 30 projects on the go at any one time.

His CV reads like a roll call of the stately homes of England: Warwick Castle, Petworth House, Burghley, Chatsworth, Blenheim, Longleat, Stourhead and Highclere Castle – the real Downton Abbey.

He was born some day between 1715 and 1716, and died on 6 February, 1783 after falling ill suddenly in London.

Initial work will involve siphons and wells being installed and dams constructed across part of the emptied lake.

Engineers will also inspect the foundations of the bridge for the first time and and assess how they will react to being unsupported by water.

Roy Cox, Blenheim’s head of estates, said: ‘The dredging of Queen’s Pool and the repairs to the Grand Bridge are not only our greatest challenge to date but also marks some of the most ambitious stonework and dredging projects ever attempted in the UK.

‘After four years of planning it is great to see the first phase of the project begin.

‘If all goes according to schedule this initial investigation will enable us to draw up detailed plans for the main work which is likely to begin towards the end of next year.

‘There is an absolute certainty that, if this work was not done, the view will be lost forever.

‘We have to act to safeguard this iconic landscape for future generations to discover and enjoy.’

Blenheim Palace was built in the early 18th century to celebrate Britain’s victory over the French in the War of the Spanish Succession.

The garden at Blenheim is one of the most historically significant Capability Brown landscapes, created at what is widely regarded as the pinnacle of his career.

The palace is the ancestral home of the Dukes of Marlborough and was the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill.


Capability Brown’s grand plan for the creation of the lakes at Blenheim. The palace is shown right of centre, while the bridge can be seen to its right


Nick Baimbridge, from Blenheim, is pictured in the Queen’s Pool in September 2017, a year before the lakes were drained ahead of the £12million project

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