Thursday, 6 August 2009

Agecroft Hall

Along the banks of the James River in Richmond, Virginia, stands a Tudor estate named Agecroft Hall. The house is not a copy, but a manor house actually built in Lancashire, England in the 15th century. Presently, it's recreated to 16th- and- 17th-century décor, making a research trip to Richmond much easier on my budget than a flight across the Atlantic. How did a historic treasure wind up in the heart of Virginia?

During the 19th century, the house fell into disrepair, and in the 1920s, it was sold at auction. Thomas C. Williams, Jr., who became wealthy from tobacco and banking, purchased the house, had it dismantled, crated, shipped across the ocean, and painstakingly rebuilt on the site where it stands today. If he had not transported the house from Manchester, it would have been demolished and lost to history forever. Unfortunately, Mr. Williams only enjoyed his home for a year before his death. His widow, however, lived there for nearly forty years before the upkeep of the house and grounds became too much for her.

Now a museum, Agecroft Hall is open to the public, where writers, like me, can find all sorts of fun details to incorporate into my upcoming novels. After a short film introduction of the manor home's history, I was swept into the 17th century. My first sight was a dead cat (not real!) in the wall to ward off witches. You can bet the cunning woman in my story is less than amused!

Tourists then proceed to the Great Hall with oak-paneled walls, military armor, tapestries, and a hand-carved table with benches. Rushes are off to the side to give a sampling of what life would have been like. The room has a huge leaded-glass window that made the journey from England without a single pane breaking.

In the Great Parlour a lantern clock only shows the hour, and a draught chair has a copy of John Gerard's The Herbal at hand for easy consultation. The dining parlour is where more intimate meals would have been served than the Great Hall. It has cupboards for silver, and samplings of period food, such as dove.

An intricately carved staircase winds the way upstairs. On the second floor are the bed chambers with massive poster beds, again with complex carvings, one that includes gargoyles and angels. Outside the house is the kitchen, complete with cooking pots and period correct bowls and pitchers. There's even a rat in the drain!

After a tour of the house, we strolled the gardens. The sunken garden has an array of flowers with a pond at the center. The herb garden is planted with medicinals known to those living during the 16th and 17th centuries. Nearby stands the still house where the lady of the manor would distill the herbs and make perfume.

Other gardens include the Knot Garden and Tradescant Garden. The latter was named after John Tradescant, a botanist and gardener, who traveled to Virginia in 1637 for the purpose of gathering plants with the intent of introducing them to English gardens. Before leaving the estate, I took a quick walk through the turf maze. Though it wasn't difficult, it was fun nonetheless. All in all, it was an enjoyable and successful research trip.

Kim Murphy


AliB said...

What a terrific research resource for you.
We have the 18th century "Captain Cook's Cottage" (the house he grew up in Yorkshire) sitting in our botanical gardens - officially the oldest building in Australia! Same thing - crated up and shipped out in the 1920s. It is a wee bit smaller than a whole hall though!

Alison Stuart

Kim Murphy said...

We have another English manor next door to Agecroft Hall. It too was brought over in the '20s. Unfortunately, it's currently closed for renovation. I'm looking forward to seeing that one again as well.

Anonymous said...

Wonderfully written, Kim!
It seems funny that I'm only 'down the road' from where Agecroft originated!

Kim Murphy said...

That's funny you're down the road from where the house originally came from. Thanks for stopping by, Louise!