George Hamilton, 1st Earl of Orkney lived here at Cliveden from 1696-1737. He was a celebrated soldier and a major player in the famed battle of Blenheim in 1704. Despite his renown, he was a shy, modest gentleman and Cliveden became his country retreat. He set about making his mark on the estate, hiring Venetian architect Giacomo Leoni to design two beautiful structures here: the Octagon Temple (now the chapel) and Blenheim Pavilion in 1727, proposed as a nod to his military success. Leoni’s original drawings suggest the Pavilion was designed for dining, relaxing and bathing, believe it or not. Yes, some evidence actually points to the fact that a hot plunge bath was once intended here. If it was actually built as planned, this would’ve been the perfect spot for Orkney to relax and unwind with friends. An 18th Century man cave, if you will.
What needed work?
In the past, dry rot has been a real problem in Blenheim. Much work has been done on dealing with that issue and as a result, quite a lot of the original, historic surface has been lost. Our aim was to remove all the inappropriate plaster and return to the original scheme as intended. Thankfully because of Leoni’s original drawings and photographs from the early 20th Century, we had strong evidence of what it once looked like. Interestingly, it seems that all of the original plasterwork was painted in an imitation of stone, a fashionable practice often used in the Palladian style that Leoni favoured.
Why was it important?
Although vestiges of Orkney’s influence can be seen around the estate there are very few signs left of this time in Cliveden’s history. Here we have a spectacular symbol of the Georgian era, a link to Blenheim Palace and the War of the Spanish Succession. It is the duty and the honour of the National Trust to look after these special places for ever, for everyone.