St Martin's Church
In July 1895 Winston wrote to his mother: 'I went this morning to Bladon to look at Papa's grave . . . . I was so struck by the sense of quietness and peace, as well as by the old-world air of the place that my sadness was not unmixed with solace . . . ' He often visited his parents' graves when he stayed at Blenheim, and expressed the wish to be buried there himself.
He died on 24th January 1965, exactly seventy years to the day after his father, and the funeral service took place at St Paul's Cathedral. It was a very moving occasion, marked with all the splendid panoply of Church and State; it was attended by the Queen together with rulers from all over the world and shared by the whole nation. In contrast, the burial at Bladon was private as Lady Churchill wished, with only close friends and family being present.
The work restoring the Churchill family graves in the Bladon Village Churchyard is due to be finished by around the 24th April 1998.
The cost is reported by the Daily Telegraph (19th September 1997) to be £500,000 (Five Hundred Thousand Pounds).
Normally in a matter so private as a family's burial plot it would be in the worst possible taste for us to comment; but in this case there are factors which override our reticence.
The first is the fact that the money for this work came from the public via The National Lottery payment to the Churchill family.
Bladon village is on a heavily used main road (the A4095). The villagers have pleaded for years for a Pedestrian Crossing but have been ignored.
Many villagers loathe the presence of Churchill's grave in the village and complain how the sheer volume of visitors has blighted their lives and their properties. They complain they have never at anytime been consulted about these problems and are ignored when they complain.
Other people have bought their cottages since Sir Winston was buried there knowing of the problems.
The villagers state that no thought appears to have been given to the urgent need for proper parking facilities for the tourists, and say that for the huge amount of money involved, proper parking facilities should have been included in the scheme. The Duke, it is said, owns properties in the village and much adjoining land.
The villagers relate how visitors come all the year round and how in the height of the season 30 to 40 coaches per day arrive in the village and the distressing effects that such an influx of people creates. They point out the hopeless inadequacy of the single lay-by (on the main road) reserved for the parking for only two coaches, and how all the rest cause huge congestion, noise and diesel fumes - to say nothing of the effects of large numbers of passengers tramping through the village. On top of this is how they also suffer ceaseless private motor car movement, blocked entrances and congestion in the narrow residential lanes leading to the Church.
I have always considered that the substitution of the internal combustion engine for the horse
marked a very gloomy milestone in the progress of mankind.
The villagers relate how tourist's children scramble over the grave and how it is quite common to see people standing on it to be photographed.
When the scheme was announced we assumed that in view of the sum of money involved, Churchill's grave would be the only one in the centre of a small sunken traditionally designed terraced garden with three seats on three sides and with the rest of the family (and their in-laws) reinterred in graves placed around the outside.
What in fact has been done is deeply disappointing.
A new path from the Wicket Gate to the Church Vestibule and to the new cemetery, has been attractively laid in York stone. The total length is no more than a hundred and fifty yards. The path has had new foundations and the work has been done sensitively and in keeping with the local building traditions. The totality of the rest of the work can be seen in the above photograph.
The graves are on a slope, causing a slight drainage problem, which, combined with too much foot traffic caused the tomb stones to slip because no drainage and proper footings were originally laid.
In the photograph most of the tomb stones have been removed to enable proper drainage and footings to be installed. They are to be re-laid in exactly the same positions as formerly, but on different levels.
The only restoration/modification work being undertaken is the repositioning of the lettering on Sir Winston's and Lady Churchill's tablet and new lettering on the end of it.
The Churchill family say that another £150,000 (One hundred and Fifty Thousand Pounds) is being sought for an endowment for the graves upkeep. From whom, they do not say. As the graves include their recent in-laws as well as members of the family, and there are no gardens, the cost of maintaining it is the family's responsibility.
The drawings on display do not indicate that any chains or wrought iron work or traditional box hedging is to be installed to prevent people standing on the flat tombstone.
Let us hope there are second thoughts in this respect.
We think that the the Duke of Marlborough and the Churchill family should pay more heed to the villager's discontents, and that the Duke should provide land for a screened car park with direct access by foot to the Churchyard; and that local residents have their roads marked "Residents only"; and that all coaches be made to park at Blenheim Palace and passengers wishing to visit the grave should go by an Estate plain dark green Mini Shuttle Coach, and all coaches be banned from parking in Bladon village.
The time may have already arrived when (in certain months) the Blenheim Estate Office should control access to the grave by the issue of tickets.
To The Editor
The Daily Telegraph
May 7th 1998.
From The Rev John Fearn.
I am sorry that I shall not be present at the dedication of the refurbished memorial of Sir Winston and the Churchill family (report May 5th), since I was Priest in charge of St Martin's, Bladon, at the time of the funeral and officiated at the interment. I still remember well the preparation for the laying of the original stone.
But I feel that the cost of £350,000 spent by the trustees on refurbishing all the family gravestones at Bladon could have been better spent on a more humanitarian cause or on a scholarship.
In my humble opinion, the original memorial was perfectly adequate as a marker for the final resting place of such an eminent statesman.
Rev John Fearn
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