It is one of the grandest buildings of its kind in the country. Now Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire is embarking on a £2m conservation project in an effort to combat the effects of climate change.
The Grade I listed UNESCO World Heritage Site will be removing the glass ceiling of its 18th-century Orangery and replacing it with a more sustainable timber and slate structure.
It is believed to be the first time this kind of reinstatement work will be carried out on a Grade I listed building.
The castle, near the village of Woodstock, was opened in 1722 as a reward for John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough, for his triumph against France and Bavaria at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704, during the War of the Spanish Succession.
The Duke’s ancestor, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, often spent time there, and is buried in St Martin’s Churchyard in nearby Bladon.
The glass roof of the Orangery was installed in 1861, following a fire in an adjacent bakery which damaged the original structure.
Originally a greenhouse with large windows, the Orangery served as a perfect climate to grow oranges and lemons in winter months. Such buildings are to be found in many stately homes across Europe and for the aristocracy in the 1700s were seen as a major status symbol.
Kelly Whitton, Head of Built Heritage at the palace, explained why the work is taking place.
‘We are restoring the Orangery to what we understand to be its original form, based on research and pre-fire evidence remaining on site.’
‘The 19th-century glass roof has come to the end of its life, and it is time to make a serious change,’ Whitton said.
‘Due to the pressures of climate change and noticeable temperature swings, we are proposing to return the roof back to slate.’
Whitton admitted that due to limited archival information, there is little knowledge of what the Orangery looked like before the fire, but that it would be restored ‘to what we understand to be its original form’.
In the past 300 years, the Orangery has been used as a greenhouse, theatre, office, and events space, and today sees thousands of visitors each year to enjoy lunch and afternoon tea within its walls.
Morwenna Slade, Head of Historic Building Climate Change Adaptation at Historic England, said: ‘Thoughtful projects such as this demonstrate how conservation can be used to respond to the impacts of climate change, forming positive and proactive solutions.’
The conservation project is being fully funded by visits to Blenheim Palace and is due to be completed by autumn 2023.