Forty-five years ago, FDU became the first American university to own and operate a campus in the United Kingdom. “In today’s interdependent, global environment, the decision to purchase such a campus may not seem all that unusual,” says Wroxton College Dean Nicholas Baldwin, “but back in 1965 it was a unique, farsighted initiative; one that set the focus — and vision — of the University beyond New Jersey and the United States.” In this account, Baldwin reflects on his 25-year tenure at Wroxton.
How does one even begin to attempt to sum up a place like Wroxton? It is a difficult task, particularly when it has played such an important part in one’s life — and has done so for a substantial part of one’s life. There is always so much one could write — so self-discipline will have to be vital! Let’s break it down and look at things under three distinct headings, namely, the place, the programs and the people.
The Wroxton Abbey estate is historic, beautiful and quite simply unique. The college is housed in a remarkably beautiful, fully modernized, 17th-century country mansion set on 56 acres of lawns, lakes and woodlands in the heart of England. In the past, the college — then a private house — was home to the North family, including such prominent historical figures as Francis North, the first Baron Guilford and the Lord Chancellor to King Charles II, and Lord North, between 1770 and 1782 prime minister to King George III and the man more commonly known in England as ‘the man who lost the colonies.’ The Abbey has also played host to royalty — King James I, King Charles I, King George IV and King William IV — and statesmen — including President Theodore Roosevelt, Prime Minister Harold Wilson, Taoiseach Dr. Garrett Fitzgerald and Deputy Prime Ministers Michael Heseltine and Geoffrey Howe. Other distinguished visitors have included Horace Walpole, Celia Fiennes, Henry James and Dame Judi Dench. To Henry James, Wroxton was part of the essence of England:
“Everything that in the material line can render life noble and charming has been gathered into it with a profusion which makes the whole place a monument of past opportunity.”
It still is. At Wroxton, the past permeates the atmosphere and reaches out across the ages and generations through to those at the college today. Indeed, I clearly remember how I felt when I first saw the Abbey. I was in awe of the building; it is strikingly beautiful — I had to pinch myself to make sure I was awake and had not walked into a dream!
When I arrived in 1984, the Abbey consisted of 40 bedrooms and eight bathrooms; it was always interesting when everyone was all seeking to get ready at the same time — for an evening out at the theatre for example! During the latter part of the 1980s, we restructured the arrangements and upgraded the facilities so that, since that time, the Abbey has contained 45 bedrooms, each with its own bathroom facilities.
Bringing new educational tools and technologies to the Abbey has been an interesting experience, not least of all because of the fact that the Abbey is a Grade I listed building — the highest grade historical monument you can get — so that permission needed to be sought (and obtained) in order to be allowed to do anything. I am glad to have had the experience of having done all of this — but would be quite happy never to have to do such a major project again! On the other hand, having responsibility for a building of which the oldest part dates back to 1217 — and the surrounding estate — means that there is never a dull moment (nor ever a time when something doesn’t have to be done!).
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