Agecroft Hall was rebuilt in Richmond in the late 1920s. In December of 1927, T.C. Williams, Jr. and his wife Bessie moved into the house and celebrated with two nights of glittering housewarming holiday parties. The highlight of the evening was a production by the Little Theatre League of Richmond who staged Ben Jonson’s Christmas Masque at Agecroft Hall in the Williams Library. The masque, originally titled “Christmas, His Masque,” was first performed during the Christmas celebrations at King James I’s court in 1616. In our collection, we have both a transcript of the play and the souvenir booklet given to attendees.
Hosted during Christmas week, 1927, the Masque performed was basically the same as that written by Jonson although, a few grammatical changes are noted on the transcript. During the Jacobean period, Christmas was celebrated from Christmas day to Epiphany on January 6th. During those twelve days of Christmas, various entertainments were presented with plays being a fairly common offering. Jonson’s play contained a political message amid the early modern Christmas traditions highlighted in his work. At that time, the Puritans were actively discouraging the celebration of Christmas, and as their opposition to the monarchy and its official state religion grew, Britain became divided by a 17th century culture war. Jonson used his masque and its Christmas imagery as a way of showing his support for the King who wholly endorsed a traditional Christmas.
To make this play more modern for the Williamses and their friends, the theatre company added a prologue to bring the viewer back in time and an epilogue to end the production. These new bookends for the masque situated the play in 1927 Richmond and tied the newly rebuilt house back to its English roots. Richmond author, Margaret Prescott Montague concluded the production with a compliment to Mr. Williams, “A man who moves a house, moves more than all / It’s (sic) posts and plaster walls; he moves a soul…”
The production made dramatic use of the space at Agecroft with sets designed by the Williams’ architect, Henry Morse. The Williams Library was darkened and the actors stood in the loft space above the library, making them seem “like detached spirits in the air.” A final flourish was provided for the masque by live fife and drum music.
Today, while we do not host plays inside the house, we are the home for the Richmond Shakespeare Festival which will makes its triumphant return in the summer of 2021. Plan a visit with us this summer and stay to enjoy a Shakespeare play!