'Sun King' keeps a watching eye on Blenheim Palace renovation

Rope access technician Tom Brennan came face to face with the 30-tonne marble bust of King Louis XIV, looted by the Duke of Marlborough in 1709, during an exterior inspection of Blenheim Palace.
Rope access technician Tom Brennan came face to face with the 30-tonne marble bust of King Louis XIV, looted by the Duke of Marlborough in 1709, during an exterior inspection of Blenheim Palace.

Workers with a head for heights who have been helping with the £40m renovation of the historic Blenheim Palace came face to face with France's 'Sun King' during a recent inspection.

The 30-tonne marble bust of King Louis XIV was looted by the Duke of Marlborough in 1709 from the city gates of Tournai during the War of Spanish Succession against the French.

Rope access technician Tom Brennan came face to face with the 30-tonne marble bust of King Louis XIV, looted by the Duke of Marlborough in 1709, during an exterior inspection of Blenheim Palace.

Rope access technician Tom Brennan came face to face with the 30-tonne marble bust of King Louis XIV, looted by the Duke of Marlborough in 1709, during an exterior inspection of Blenheim Palace.

The duke has it shipped back to England and mounted onto the south-facing part of the palace so whenever he was sitting at the dining table in the Saloon, his back would be facing his vanquished foe.

Now more than 300 years on, a team of highly-skilled workmen, including rope access technician Tom Brennan and assistant, Mark Fresch, have been inspecting the palace for any loose or damaged stonework.

The inspection is undertaken annually and any areas needing to be repaired are marked on a plan by the team.

Scaffolding is then put up and stonemasons remove the damaged sections, which are carefully measured to enable exact copies to be carved and then re-installed.

Rope access technician Tom Brennan came face to face with the 30-tonne marble bust of King Louis XIV, looted by the Duke of Marlborough in 1709, during an exterior inspection of Blenheim Palace.

Rope access technician Tom Brennan came face to face with the 30-tonne marble bust of King Louis XIV, looted by the Duke of Marlborough in 1709, during an exterior inspection of Blenheim Palace.

The work is being carried out by Bristol-based WallWalkers, one of the UK’s most renowned rope access companies who specialise in historic and listed-building restoration.

Home to the Dukes of Marlborough, Blenheim Palace was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. It is set in over 2,000 acres of ‘Capability’ Brown landscaped parkland and is the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill.

Rope access technician Tom Brennan came face to face with the 30-tonne marble bust of King Louis XIV, looted by the Duke of Marlborough in 1709, during an exterior inspection of Blenheim Palace.

Rope access technician Tom Brennan came face to face with the 30-tonne marble bust of King Louis XIV, looted by the Duke of Marlborough in 1709, during an exterior inspection of Blenheim Palace.