Agecroft Hall - A Richmond, Virginia 'Must See'
Step back into the English Tudor Era at Agecroft Hall.
Visiting Agecroft Hall and formal gardens will allow you to sample English history and culture without entailing the cost of the fare to travel to England, either by plane or by cruise ship.
What is Agecroft Hall?
Agecroft Hall was constructed, renovated, and enlarged in the popular architectural fashion of her time, the Tudor style, whose namesake reflected the reign of the Tudor Period (1485-1603), an era famous for the rule of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603).
New additions were simply added onto the existing exterior walls. After these numerous additions to the original estate house, Agecroft Hall was roughly 60,000 square feet, (20 rooms), built in a square, which provided an interior courtyard.
For a little over two hundred years, Agecroft Hall was handed down through the male line of descent. However, when Sir Robert de Langley died, in 1561, Agecroft Hall was bequeathed to his daughter, Anne, who married William Dauntesey.
“This transfer occurred three years before Shakespeare was born and three years after Elizabeth had become Queen of England. The date is of some interest as it was approximately at this time that Agecroft took its final architectural form.” (Source of the quote: http://www.bleasdales.eclipse.co.uk/prestwichguide/where/history/agecroft.htm)
And from this point forward, every family member who lived in Agecroft Hall, took up the name ‘Dauntesey.’
How did Agecroft Hall find a new home and a new life in Richmond, Virginia?
The Industrial Revolution (1700 and 1800 hundreds) brought coal mining to Lancashire, all around the area of Agecroft Hall. With the coal mines, came transportation necessities like railroads and the Manchester Bolton & Bury Canal.
By 1910, Agecroft Hall had been abandoned. And due to years of coal mining in the area, the grand old manor house was about ready to fall in on herself.
But a Richmond, Virginian, by the name of T. C. Williams, Jr., would save this historical jewel, with the help of his architect, Henry G. Morse. Williams and his wife, lovers of England and English architecture, in particular the Tudor style, bought Agecroft Hall at auction in 1925.
An American buying what was, basically, a piece of English history raised quite the uproar in England, all the way to Parliament. However, in the end, everyone came to realize the gift Williams was giving this roughly five hundred year old manor.
After purchasing Agecroft Hall, Williams instructed his workers to recover any, and every, salvageable piece of Agecroft Hall. As the manor was carefully disassembled, pieces of her history were examined. Items that were restorable were carefully packed for shipment across the Atlantic to their new domicile in Richmond, Virginia.
Williams, who had earned his fortune in tobacco and as an investment banker, owned multiple acres of land in Richmond, on which his dream was to create an English village, called Windsor Farms, reminiscent of those he’d seen in England. Agecroft Hall was to be his centerpiece, placed on 23 acres on the banks of the James River, much the way she’d ‘once upon a time’ been placed on the banks of the Irwell River.
It cost him $250,000 thousand dollars total to recreate and rebuild Agecroft Hall in Richmond, giving her a new home. Sadly, he died a year later, in 1929, never seeing his vision of an English village completed.
Williams’s wife was much younger than he was. Marion Elizabeth Booker (a.k.a. Bessie) (1893-1984) remarried, marrying Dr. David Morton. With David, she continued to reside at Agecroft Hall. All total, Agecroft Hall was Bessie’s home from 1928-1967.
T. C. Williams, Jr. planned that, once the family no longer resided at Agecroft Hall, this fine Lady of a manor would be transformed into a museum for all the public to enjoy, and from which they could learn about Tudor and Elizabethan England. Accordingly, Agecroft Hall became an official Richmond museum in 1969.
Visiting Agecroft Hall.
Agecroft Hall is located in the old historical, residential Richmond neighborhood of Windsor Farms. The address is: ‘4305 Sulgrave Road, Richmond, Virginia 23221,’ and their phone number is: ‘804-353-4241.’
Before visiting, explore their website (http://www.agecrofthall.com/), which contains a bevy of historical and current information regarding Agecroft Hall. Also on their site, is a newsletter called, ‘The Scribe,’ containing even more information, as well as a link to the ‘Curator’s Closet,’ a blog written by the Manager of Collections at Agecroft Hall.
Agecroft Hall is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. On Sunday, they are open from 12:30 to 5:00 p.m.
Currently, according to the Agecroft Hall website, the prices for admission are as follows:
Senior Adults (65 and older) $7
Children under 6 y/o Free
When I visited, I received a ‘Triple A’ discount, since I’m a member of ‘Triple A.’
Agecroft Hall, as she sits now, is much smaller than the original. Not all of her was salvageable and able to be rebuilt in Richmond. However, her foundation, oak wood and paneling, chimneys, windows, roof, and courtyard gates are all authentic from England. The best of the former manor has been preserved in this Richmond home, turned museum. And it was designed and constructed around an interior courtyard, to mimic the former inner courtyard of old England.
At the time of Williams’s purchase, Agecroft Hall was not only abandoned, but she was devoid of any furniture. Thus, the magnificent furniture you will see, aren’t pieces original to Agecroft Hall, but are real and rare antiques from the 1400, 1500, and 1600 hundreds.
How does your garden grow?
Williams commissioned, Charles Gillette, a local landscape architect, to design the formal gardens at Agecroft Hall to evoke traditional, period English gardens. The rose garden is one of several stunning gardens gracing the property.
The sunken garden, containing a profusion of blooming annuals, was modeled after one of the gardens at 'Hampton Court Palace' in London. Agecroft Hall also boasts excellent examples of a knot garden and a fragrance garden.
“But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.”
---William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 1
During the summer, Agecroft Hall is home to ‘The Richmond Shakespeare Festival,’ performed by 'Richmond Shakespeare.' This season, King Lear and Two Gentlemen of Verona are the featured plays.
For a schedule and ticket prices, see the following Agecroft Hall webpage:
Arriving at Agecroft Hall…
Meandering through Windsor Farms, and noticing road names like ‘Canterbury,’ ‘Cambridge,’ ‘Oxford,’ and ‘Dover,’ you get a sense of T. C. Williams’s idea for his idyllic English village.
Driving down Sulgrave Road, you will see, first, Virginia House, another piece of English history reconstructed in Richmond, Virginia, in the early portion of the nineteen hundreds. Agecroft Hall sits next to—to the right of—Virginia House.
Turning into the parking lot of Agecroft Hall, you will observe, first, the American Flag flying proudly to your left and the Union Jack, the flag of the United Kingdom, flying proudly to your right. This represents your first taste of the marriage between England and the United States. This is an English antiquity sitting upon modern American soil. It further represents the still strong bond of our ‘New Nation’ to its older ‘Mother Country.’
After watching an informative film about Agecroft Hall, T. C. Williams, Jr., and how this grand old Lady came to nest in Richmond, Virginia, you’ll be taken on an enlightening, educational, and often humorous guided tour of Agecroft Hall. (The tour of the gardens is self-guided.)
Photographs aren’t permitted inside Agecroft Hall, but you’re welcome to take as many as you like outside and in the beautiful gardens. So, don’t forget your camera!
The year is 1562, and Queen Elizabeth I reigns supreme. Turnoff your BlackBerrys; put them away. It’s now time to step back into the annuals of time and history. You’re a member of the elite Dauntesey family, which means you’ve been born into England’s landed gentry. Hurry now; it’s time to enter Agecroft Hall.