Fascinating Social History of Britain’s Greatest Palace to be Revealed Online

Blenheim Palace has teamed up with The Internship Office at the University of Oxford to create a public database chronicling the stories of the people who have lived and worked on the Oxfordshire Estate.

Over 300 years’ worth of archival documents, encompassing servants from as far back as the 1st Duchess of Marlborough, Sarah Churchill, will be made available online with public access.

Metal detailed photo album presented to the Duke of Marlborough

Leading the project is Blenheim Palace Archivist, Dr Alexa Frost, the first qualified person in the role in the Palace’s history.

“By using letters from people living on the estate, staff wage books and receipts found in and around the Palace, we can build a database chronicling the estate’s changing social history over the centuries,” said Dr Frost.

Blenheim Estates Land Stewards Office cash ledger is being used to build a social history scaled

“Some of the letters written by residents on the Estate to their respective Dukes and Duchesses are fascinating and highlight the often-hidden history of the Palace over the years,” she added.

Dr Alexa Frost examines an archived record book

The digitisation of objects, including wage books, is being undertaken in-house at Blenheim Palace, and interns from Oxford University are transcribing them remotely. 

This style of working began initially as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, however the team has found it the most effective and inclusive way to catalogue the information and allow students to take part whilst travelling.

Dr Fiona Whitehouse, Head of the Internship Office, at The University of Oxford said: “Blenheim Palace Archives have been offering internships to our students since 2018 and we are really pleased with the partnership. The interns work with key material related to the social fabric of the Palace so for students looking to forge a career in the Arts and Heritage sector, the experience is invaluable.  Several students have already obtained work on the back of the internships which is wonderful to hear.”  

2022 University of Oxford MSt graduate Niamh Twyford worked on the project and is now the current graduate collections intern at Waddesdon Manor. She enjoyed working with Blenheim Palace and said: “Unveiling the stories of those working in the palace throughout the 19th century was a historic venture that humanises the collection and is of great public interest; from spaniel-walking to stolen-plate scandals, it was a privilege to document this everyday history.”

Names, job titles and wages help to highlight aspects of societal history which haven’t been accessible to the public online before. The documents will be incorporated into the digital archive providing a treasure-trove of information both for future historians and the public to access.

Due to the number of staff and the sheer volume of material involved, it’s anticipated the database will take several years to complete. 

Initially, and to comply with GDPR regulations, the database will show records of staff members up until the 1930s which was the end of the 9th Duke’s era. The team will be recording staff members after this point to assist in ancestorial inquiries and in preparation for their release in the future once they have passed the date of GDPR restrictions. 

Blenheim’s Key Goals

Blenheim has three focuses for its core business in the years leading to 2027 that include; to share and protect the historic place for future generations, to enhance the lives of the people of Oxfordshire and to be the lifeblood of the local economy.

There are three core business areas that deliver to achieve these aims; property development, a visitor business and the land management of the 12,000 acres of estate.

Editor’s Notes

Dr Alexa Frost will be featuring in an upcoming episode of the ‘Outside the Box’ podcast by the Archives and Records Association to discuss this project in more detail as well as talking about her role at Blenheim Palace. The episode airs on February 13th and is available here

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