It has been a tremendous honor to speak with Dr. Michael Ridgdill and Julius Beltrame about their book “Raynham Hall: An English Country House Revealed”. It is available now at Amazon. For my review, see this previous post.
Part 1 of 2: Michael Ridgdill discusses his background and how the book came about.
Mandy: What spurred your love of antiques and architecture?
Michael Ridgdill: My love of antiques was fostered by my late mother, who was a collector and would teach me how to identify “good pieces”! At a young age, I developed a good eye for antiques and an appreciation for their enduring quality and craftsmanship. Architecture has been a passion of mine since childhood as well. I have never taken any formal architecture courses, but traveled to Europe many summers growing up and was exposed to the museums and great architecture of Europe at a young age.
M: When was the defining moment that inspired you to create American Friends of British Art?
MR: When I started AFBA in 2003, the US were already raising funds for conservation in France, Italy and even Russia, but no one was focusing their efforts on the UK. I knew that the tax system in the UK was unfavorable to the heritage sector, and so I started AFBA to try and raise awareness for this cause and to help fund projects. It immediately took off and we gained support right from the start.
M: The photographer for the book, Julius Beltrame, has a beautiful eye for light and setting. What was it like to work with him?
MR: Julius Beltrame is an old friend of mine who lives outside London, and this was his first photography session in a country house. We saw eye-to-eye throughout the process and he immediately fell in love with Raynham when I first brought him there. He understood the importance of capturing the natural look of the house, rather than presenting it as a museum, which it is certainly not. His photography really captures the soul of the house.
M: Historian John Julius Norwich wrote the foreword to the book. Does he have a connection to Raynham?
MR: John Julius Norwich has visited Raynham over the years and was thus aware of this treasure house sitting quietly in rural Norfolk. As a celebrated historian, Viscount Norwich was delighted to write the foreword for the book, and it really was an honor to have his collaboration.
M: How often do you go to Britain?
MR: I will ordinarily visit the UK about twice per year, sometimes staying for several weeks during the summer. My favorite time to visit England is in the Fall, around October.
M: Why Raynham Hall?
MR: I’ve stayed with the Townshend family in Norfolk for many years, even before the present Marquess Townshend inherited Raynham Hall from his father. So Raynham had always been on my radar and I knew how special it was. Because the previous marquess had kept Raynham so private during his lifetime, I knew that it was time for this treasure house to be brought into the public awareness. I had encouraged Lady Townshend to write the book, but with her time constraints, she gave her blessing for me to embark on the project of researching and writing the book, and having it photographed. It was all a labor of love and it brings me great joy to be able to share this special house with people.
M: American Friends of British Art is based in Florida. Do you plan to create any branches in other states?
MR: Though we have followers across the country, many of whom will gather in Palm Beach during our annual Lecture & Luncheon series, we don’t formally have any other branches outside of Florida. Perhaps one day we will!
Visit the American Friends of British Art website to learn about their preservation work!