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Flooded chambers inside an historic bridge have been opened for the first time in more than 250 years, revealing their eerie secrets.

Archaeologists have found secret tunnels, sunken boats and graffiti dating back to 1756 inside Vanbrugh Bridge at Blenheim Palace, the birthplace and ancestral home of Sir Winston Churchill.

They have also uncovered evidence that the windowless rooms may have once been lived in by people in the early 18th century, while one of the chambers has an original plastered ceiling and evidence of a cooking range.

The 33 rooms were built within the 400ft long bridge when it was constructed on the grounds of the estate in Oxfordshire by John Vanbrugh in 1708.

Secret tunnels, sunken boats and graffiti dating back to 1756 are discovered at Blenheim Palace after flooded chambers are opened for first time in more than 250 years


Archaeologists enter chambers of Vanbrugh Bridge at Blenheim Palace, Winston Churchill's ancestral home
They uncovered evidence the windowless rooms may have once been lived in by people in early 18th century
One of the chambers at Oxfordshire estate has an original plastered ceiling and evidence of a cooking range

The 160-acre lakes have been drained for the first time since architect Capability Brown had them built in 1768

By Keiligh Baker and Alexander Robertson For Mailonline
30 October 2018

Flooded chambers inside an historic bridge have been opened for the first time in more than 250 years, revealing their eerie secrets.

Archaeologists have found secret tunnels, sunken boats and graffiti dating back to 1756 inside Vanbrugh Bridge at Blenheim Palace, the birthplace and ancestral home of Sir Winston Churchill.

They have also uncovered evidence that the windowless rooms may have once been lived in by people in the early 18th century, while one of the chambers has an original plastered ceiling and evidence of a cooking range.

The 33 rooms were built within the 400ft long bridge when it was constructed on the grounds of the estate in Oxfordshire by John Vanbrugh in 1708.

It was not until 60 years later they became flooded after celebrated landscape gardener Capability Brown had a 40-acre lake dug around it and filled in.

Archaeologists have found secret tunnels, sunken boats and graffiti dating back to 1756 (pictured with the name W Baker) inside Vanbrugh Bridge at Blenheim Palace, the birthplace and ancestral home of Sir Winston Churchill

They have also uncovered evidence that the windowless rooms may have once been lived in by people in the early 18th century, while one of the chambers has an original plastered ceiling (shown here) and evidence of a cooking range

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)

Flooded chambers (pictured here) inside an historic bridge have been opened for the first time in more than 250 years, revealing their eerie secrets

The lake has recently been drained for the first time to allow 400,000 tonnes of silt and sludge to be dredged from it.

It means archaeologists and historians have been able to access many of the mysterious rooms for the first time.

A spokesman for Blenheim Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, said: 'Over the years people have been inside some parts of the bridge for maintenance and inspection purposes.

'There is a manhole cover that drops down to one part of the bridge and a small door at the foot of it that takes you up a spiral staircase.

'But many of the rooms, especially the lower rooms, haven't been accessed since they were flooded. That is until now. It is cavernous inside. When you see things like sunken boats inside it is like time has stood still.

'We don't know what the two tunnels we have found were built for and where they lead to as they are blocked off after about 30 metres.

'They are 1.5-metres high which would suggest they were not designed for people. We haven't yet been able to identify the names graffitied on the walls but the assumption is is that they were workmen here.'

The 33 rooms were built within the 400ft long bridge when it was constructed on the grounds of the estate in Oxfordshire by John Vanbrugh in 1708 (shown is graffiti inside the bridge dated 1839)

Archaeologists have also uncovered evidence that the windowless rooms may have once been lived in by people in the early 18th century, while one of the chambers has an original plastered ceiling (shown here) and evidence of a cooking range

The draining of the great lakes at the estate means archaeologists and historians have been able to access many of the mysterious rooms for the first time

The remains of a motorised punt from the 1930's have been discovered in one of the flooded rooms, that remained accessible to boats in the early 20th century




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, while right is more graffiti pictured inside the bridge's chambers


Roy Cox, head of estates at Blenheim, added: 'The Grand Bridge is one of the most intriguing and fascinating buildings at Blenheim.
'We're currently undertaking a full internal 3D survey as part of a major restoration project.

'It has already revealed a large number of rooms and passageways, some containing original plasterwork, stairways and potentially cooking ranges.'

The Great Bridge, of Vanbrugh Bridge, was unprecedented in terms of design and size when it was first built.

The sheer scale of the bridge caused Sarah, First Duchess of Marlborough, to fall out with Vanbrugh to such an extent he was later banned from the estate.

The empty interior spaces were created not for use but for saving costs of having to fill up the void areas with stone. Records show that one of the upper rooms was used as a boathouse in the 19th and 20th centuries.

There are no records to state that any of the rooms were lived in but the recent discoveries suggest some were inhabited.

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.

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

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

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

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

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