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Five Hundred Years of Fascinating

While oceans may separate England and Virginia, Agecroft Hall traveled on ships, trains, and a little luck from Lancashire to be reconstructed overlooking the banks of the James River in the 1920s. Agecroft now exhibits centuries of English daily life as a manor home that grew and evolved from the 16th century on -- a history that continually intersects with significant events in both Virginia and the United States.

Our stories include everything from distinguished families interacting with monarchs like Queen Elizabeth I (b. 1533 - d. 1603) to celebrations during World War II held by Agecroft's dedicated 20th-century owner, Elizabeth (Bessie) Williams Morton. A visit here is to travel with us through time learning about the eccentrically famous and the relatively unknown in English history.

Agecroft’s English Origins

A deed dated February 14, 1376 may be the earliest-known mention of Agecroft in Lancashire. However, portions of today’s building are more typical of structures begun in the late 15th and early 16th centuries with significant modifications in the 1800s and reconfigurations upon arriving in Richmond in the 1920s.

The name may be derived from Middle English words for field and wild celery or may simply indicate the original location on a field's edge. Now surrounded by gardens and open outdoor spaces, a landscape-inspired name is just as appropriate today as it was in the 1300s!

The Manor Era

For the years that spanned much of the Tudor and Stuart eras (1485-1714) in England, Agecroft was the Lancashire home of the well-regarded Langley and Dauntesey families. The building grew throughout the 1500s to form a quadrangle (square) shape with a central courtyard, a characteristic layout of the period. These changes coincided with England’s rise as a major European power through global trade routes and colonies, including settlements in Powhatan-controlled lands within today's Virginia. Agecroft and its inhabitants witnessed the reigns of legendary monarchs including Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and James I, all of whom shaped England's future as a global political presence.

From Fields to Fuel

The England’s industrialization in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries brought dramatic changes to Agecroft’s doors. The property’s agricultural fields became coal mines and a train rumbled only a half a mile beyond the historic manor. The residence underwent renovations in the late 1800s followed by a damaging fire in 1894 that set off another wave of repairs. Amid pollution from mining and destruction of the bucolic setting, owners and renters never stayed long despite ongoing maintenance projects. By the turn of the 20th century, no one was living in the house that had been occupied for at least 400 years.

Crossing the Ocean

Standing unoccupied and deteriorating, Agecroft Hall’s owners auctioned the structure and interiors in 1925. Successful Richmond businessman T.C. Williams Jr., with his wife Elizabeth (Bessie), purchased the building to create their new residence on former farmland. A team of workers, guided by architect Henry G. Morse, carefully dismantled the most intact portions of the manor and shipped the pieces across the Atlantic to Richmond.


Settling in Richmond

Elizabeth ceremonially broke ground overlooking the James River on April 16th, 1926. The boxes held a house-sized jigsaw puzzle including a stone foundation, stone roof, and architectural features that Morse’s team reassembled over a new steel frame to only a third of the original size. They abandoned the well-known quadrangle shape to accommodate life in the 20th century with automobile garages and other amenities. The stained-glass windows, interior paneling, and many other details survived the journey to Virginia, providing additional historical elements that blended an updated floor plan with historic artifacts.

T. C. and Elizabeth moved in during December 1927 and celebrated with two nights of Christmas parties, the first of many in the reimagined English manor home. The building was formally completed in March 1928 and the couple lived here together until T. C.’s untimely death at the age of 64 on February 14th, 1929 – 553 years after the first known mention of Agecroft in written records.

Elizabeth’s Legacy

Elizabeth lived in the house for 40 years, marrying Dr. David Morton in 1930, and carefully planned the landscape surrounding the manor in partnership with Charles Gillette, the highly regarded landscape architect. Their collaboration resulted in the terraces and sunken garden, inspired by designs at Hampton Court Place. The trails that wind along the river’s edge are a testament to her continued love of outdoor spaces. The museum reopened her trails in 2022, thanks to the dedication of our garden staff and volunteer hours from a local Boy Scout troop.

Becoming a Museum

Agecroft was always intended to be a museum following its life as a private residence in Richmond, as outlined in T.C.’s will. Elizabeth left in 1967 and the manor home opened to the public on July 5th, 1969. T.C. and Elizabeth originally planned for the rooms to become the galleries of an art museum, but Elizabeth switched course after the founding of the Virginia Museum of Fine Art in 1934. Instead, her home has become a site to tell stories of its English past – with her 20th century library preserved as she wanted – and over 500 years of history from England to Virginia within these walls.

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