Many times, when people find out what I do for a living, the first question they ask is, “What is your favorite object?” I am always stumped by this question. There are so many beautiful and interesting objects in our collection: objects with great backstories and objects that tell us so much about life in the past. My favorite object changes depending on my mood, the season, and the way the wind is blowing that day. Just like I could not pick a favorite child, I cannot pick my ‘most’ favorite object. Today, I would like to spend some time talking about the largest object in our collection—the house itself.
While the house does not have an official accession number (but if it did, it would be AH1967.0001, the very first number in our object numbering system!), it is the focus and sole reason for our museum. We base our collection, our research, and our public programming, in short, everything we do, off this house and its history.
Agecroft Hall is first mentioned in a document from 1292. While the house that currently stands in Richmond dates from the late 15th century, there has been some form of Agecroft Hall standing since the late 13th century. The current house has gone through three families—the Langleys, the Daunteseys, and the Williams/Mortons and became a museum in 1969. The collection itself spans the same time period—late 13th century to the twentieth century.
As the curator, I am tasked with looking out for the collection, helping care for the objects so they will last for another 400 or 500 years. In reality, I spend much of my time working, in collaboration with other staff here to keep the house in top shape. Our main concerns are preventing water ingress, taking care of any pest issues, and working to maintain an optimal internal environment of 70*F and 50% humidity. While these are normal tasks in all museums, caring for a home that acclimated for 400 years to the conditions of northwestern England before it was moved to the warmer and more humid environment of central Virginia has unique challenges. That humidity has inevitably caused issues for the materials that make up Agecroft Hall. The easiest example is the wood panels on the walls—Virginia has such rapid changes in humidity that some of our panels show the wear and tear caused by those ups and downs—some of them have shrunk, leaving noticeable gaps and others have small cracks in them from the expanding and contracting the changes in humidity, and also temperature, cause.
Agecroft Hall was rebuilt in Virginia in the late 1920s and we are almost at our centennial here in Richmond. But that means some of our “new” features are now almost 100 years old. Take the plaster ceilings. One hundred-year-old plaster needs its own care and maintenance just like 400-year-old furniture and paintings need special conservation care. We’d like to keep these beautiful plaster ceilings looking good and safe for visitors for the next 100 years!
As a collections professional, I work hard to make sure the objects in my care last for generations. As Agecroft Hall is an object, every day, we, as a team, work together to ensure the house will still be standing and welcoming guests for many years to come. Please come visit and take a tour of our largest object!