The Evolving History of The Orangery

The Orangery has been many things; “greenhouse”, “conservatory”, “theatre”, art gallery, offices and now “restaurant”. When the Palace was first built, The Orangery was a greenhouse, a working space with large windows and heaters creating the perfect climate to grow oranges and lemons.

This was until the 4th Duke, who was the first to make Blenheim a true family home. The Orangery became a 200-seat theatre for his eight children who loved to perform. The first performance would take place in the orangery during Christmas of 1786.

The background scenery was painted by Michel Angelo Rooker, set painter for London’s Haymarket. Oxford’s ‘town and gown’ came to Blenheim to perform and watch the theatre in The Orangery. 

 

One such performance in 1789, was performed by one of The Duke’s daughters, Lady Charlotte. She performed ‘Cross Purposes’, alongside Edward Nares. Nares was an Oxford Don who she would go on to marry, against the wishes of her parents.

Blenheim’s early inhabitants, who were within living memory of the fire of London, lived in fear of a blaze. For this reason, the kitchen courtyard, containing laundry, a bakehouse, a greenhouse, a dairy and large, open, fires for cooking, were kept far away from the main part of the palace where the duke and his family lived.

It seems that fire was unavoidable as a blaze broke out in the bakehouse in 1861. The room above the bakehouse was destroyed, along with the collection of Titian paintings which it had housed, as they were deemed too risqué for the Victorian period. The fire also destroyed the roof of the greenhouse The solid slate roof, that the greenhouse likely had before, now had a glass ceiling, inspired by glass and iron rib-and-girder structures made famous by Paxton’s Crystal Palace. The space then returned to its original function, growing fruit until the 1980s.

The Future of The Orangery

Today the roof, which was last restored in the 1970s, needs replacing. Blenheim is investing £2 million to restore the roof to the original solid slate, just like the corresponding roof over The Oxfordshire Pantry. The slate combined with modern insulation will be a far more effective insulator than glass, saving energy and will help us at  Blenheim reach our Green Goals.

For these restorations to take place. The Orangery will be closed from January 2023 until late Autumn. In its place, we are excited to announce the opening of the Clementines on the Lawn in April 2023. The restaurant will be set on the South Lawn with beautiful views overlooking the Palace.