The more than seven years that I spent at the University of Oxford (2002-08) were marked by intense periods of research at various international archives and libraries … and interspersed by visits to local museums and historic sites throughout Oxfordshire. One place, in particular, held a magical affect on us – the scholars of arts and cultural heritage studies. A thoroughly British monument whose physical beauty and cultural history were riddled with mystery.
The Blenheim Palace – a mere 8 miles from Oxford city centre – was presented to John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, by the English nation in recognition of his victory over French and Bavarian troops at the Battle of Blenheim, during the War of the Spanish Succession, in 1704.
A year later, construction began on the Palace concluding after seventeen years, in 1722. Well over three and a half centuries had past when, in 1987, the Blenheim was designated a world heritage site by the UNESCO. As with other estately historic homes of its kind, Blenheim Palace is in perpetual state of repair and conservation. Today, the person who leads the monumental task of overseeing these continuous restoration projects is Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill, the eldest daughter of the 11th Duke of Marlborough.
For more than three decades, Lady Henrietta has also been managing her highly successful interior residential design company, Woodstock Designs, whose focus ranges from renovation of period as well as new properties. In addition, Woodstock takes pride in incorporating current trends and technologies in respect to individual designated sites’ historic character.
In 1986, Lady Henrietta also founded Spencer-Churchill Designs which produces a selection of furniture, fabrics and wallpapers; Spencer-Churchill Designs Inc, established in 2003, is the US division of her production firm.
Lady Henrietta who wrote her first book Classic English Interiors, in 1990, recently produced her eleventh publication entitled The Life of the House. The Evolution of Rooms (Rizzoli), in October 2012.
On February 9, 2013, Lady Henrietta will be a guest speaker of the American Friends of British Art, a Palm Beach-based charity that was founded by Floridian philanthropist, Dr. Michael Ridgdill, in 2003. The first event in AFBA’s 2013 Lecture & Luncheon series, Lady Henrietta’s arrival is but a recent example of America’s ongoing love affair with all things British – and, most especially, with all histories Churchillian. This history, of course, began more than a century ago when Lady Henrietta’s great grandfather, Charles Spencer-Churchill, 9th Duke of Marlborough, married the American railroad heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt, in 1895. Two years later, Lady Henrietta’s grandfather John Albert William Spencer-Churchill, 10th Duke of Marlborough was born. Lady Henrietta is also the grand niece of America’s favorite half-British half-American politician, Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965) – whose godmother was none other than Consuelo, Duchess of Marlborough.
Since its inception a decade ago, American Friends of British Art has been funding the restoration and preservation of historic art and architecture in Great Britain. The non-profit group’s mission is to “seeks to preserve all varieties of historic art including murals, paintings, sculptures, architecture and religious structures.”
In 2011, for example, AFBA hosted The 8th Marquess of Townshend lectured on his ancestral home, the 400 year-old Raynham Hall, in Norfolk, England.
The highlights of AFBA’s past conservation projects include: contribution toward the restoration of the Tower Bell at the 17th century St Mary’s Church in Norfolk; conservation of the portrait of the Scottish Clan member Ewan Macpherson of Cluny (1882); conservation of the portrait of the 15th Chief of Scottish Clan Macpherson, Andrew Macpherson of Cluny (18th c.); partial funding for restoration of the Jacobean Grange Park Opera (1665-73), in Northington; and, restoration of the stained glass windows of the Holy Trinity Church, in Stratford-upon-Avon.
For more information on the event celebrating Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill’s latest publication, and the 10th anniversary of the American Friends of British Art, please contact AFBA.
Also, whether you’re in Palm Beach – or, indeed, in Florida – or not, I highly recommend that you sign up to receive updates from AFBA’s forthcoming cultural heritage news, updates and programs.