Between 1875 and 1975 over 2,000 historic castles, manors and other structures were destroyed in Great Britain. Some were destroyed accidentally or during the War years, but many were intentionally destroyed due to the burden of their maintenance. Since intentional destruction is no longer allowed, these extraordinary examples of artistic genius continue to live on, but many are in a state of peril due to the high costs of their upkeep and preservation.
In 1975 the Victoria and Albert Museum in London featured an exhibit called “The Destruction of the English House.” The exhibit featured emotionally charged photos obtained over the course of many years by Country Life magazine of important country houses, manors, castles and palaces, across England, which had been destroyed during the previous 100 years. Some of these were destroyed intentionally with the use of dynamite or bulldozers, or burned and leveled. Some others were also destroyed unintentionally by World War II bombs, accidental burning, or deterioration and lack of maintenance. Photos in the exhibit would show a massive and very ornate structure on fire, or in the midst of being blown up to make way for a parking lot or row houses. Descriptions would highlight the fact that many of these houses were built so solidly (sometimes with walls in excess of 5 feet thick with stone) that it took incredible amounts of explosives in order to finally bring them down.
Understandably, the exhibit raised enormous public attention to the loss of these historic treasures and the resulting emotion led to the founding of many preservation-themed organizations, including The National Trust and English Heritage. The V&A exhibit also spawned a companion book compiled by Giles Worsley titled, “England’s Lost Houses,” which detailed and listed all of the important houses lost during the period of 1875 to 1975. Altogether, laws and policies began to also change to protect historic houses and structures from being destroyed, which evolved to change policy significantly regarding artwork of any sort that would be considered “of national importance”, even if it were privately owned.
Great Britain continues to have a vast number of important houses and religious structures in need of repair and restoration work, not to mention the paintings and artifacts housed within them. Important paintings and their frames need cleaning and repair work over the centuries. Brilliant plasterwork ceilings need to be maintained in order to avoid crumbling. The list goes on and on. The need far exceeds the amount of funds being distributed to worthy projects.
Discovering that this need continues to exist, American Friends of British Art was founded in 2003 by Dr. Michael Ridgdill to provide relief to the art-in-peril across Great Britain. American Friends of British Art holds the belief that the historic treasures of Great Britain are inspiring to peoples across the world, of many ethnic and religious groups, and people of all ages, that art unites people of different backgrounds and provides a sense of peace in times of distress, and inspires people to appreciate the arts on a deeper level. For those unable to travel to Great Britain, photos in books and online may also provide a sense of inspiration and appreciation for their beauty and historical importance. It is also the philosophy of American Friends of British Art that the American community should share in the responsibility of helping the British to maintain these treasures due to the shared history between Great Britain and the United States, and the important political and historical ties binding these two countries.