Agecroft Hall: Discover 17th Century England in Richmond
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   For February, we have chosen to do something a bit different for the object of the month. Instead of an object, we chose a room in the house to discuss in three different time periods: the Victorian Era, the early to mid-twentieth century in Virginia, and the room in the early twentieth-first century. Obviously, the room has changed a fair bit in its over four hundred year history. 

   The Victorian Era in England coincided with the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) and was epitomized in home decor by excessive ornamentation of rooms, as well as a strict hierarchy of public and private spaces in the house. Agecroft Hall was not immune to these trends. While family-only spaces, like a bedroom, were not as lavishly decorated as public spaces, such as a drawing room, the dining room was a sort of hybrid space as it was used as a public space at times and a private space at other times. As with many home decorating choices, both then and now, a dining room, seen as an extra space with a singular function, was a status symbol for the wealthy, as lower class families would take their meals in the kitchen, unable to devote the space in their homes to a room just for eating.

   Not only were Victorian homes divided between public and private spaces, there were also gendered spaces--for example, the dining room was seen as masculine and the bedrooms were seen as feminine spaces. The decoration of a Victorian dining room reflected the masculinity of the space, achieved through dark woods and stains, heavy carpeting, and wall paper--all to create a dark, manly space. Popular choices in accents were dark green and red upholstery and heavily patterned wall papers. Also common with Victorian design ideals, dining rooms were filled with heavy furniture and many decorative objects. A large sideboard was essential as was a heavy table in the center of the room.

   In our collection we are lucky to have late nineteenth century photographs of both the interior and exterior of Agecroft Hall. In the photographs of the dining room, it is plainly obvious that the Daunteseys of the late Victorian Era kept their home in an up-to-date fashion. There is an elaborate side board centered on one wall, covered in decorative objects, a hefty centered table flanked by ornately covered chairs, dark paneled walls covered in framed art, and heavy carpets covering the floor.

 

 

    Once the home was transported and rebuilt across the Atlantic Ocean, Bessie Williams Morton chose to decorate the room with sixteenth and seventeenth century furniture, as well as a more seventeenth century feel--dark paneling, heavy furniture, little to no decorative objects. Agecroft was most definitely not a characteristically early to mid-twentieth century house and the dining room does not mirror the typical stylistic choices of the period, instead reflecting Bessie's interest in the late Tudor period.

 

   Today, the museum dining room depicts a late sixteenth century, early seventeenth century landed gentry dining parlor. Even with all the documentation of Agecroft Hall, we can not be sure there was a dining parlor, a room specifically designated as a space for eating, until the late 1600s. We have chosen to display one because, while Agecroft may not have had one yet (being so far from London, home decorating trends took years to reach Agecroft and the surrounding areas), dining parlors became popular in England towards the end of the sixteenth century. Families were slowly creating the private and public spaces in their homes that would become the norm by the Victorian Era and that have continued to our own times. To learn more about the gentry experience during the early modern period in England, please stop by for a visit to Agecroft Hall.

 

 

  •  Flanders, Julian. Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England. WW Norton & Company, 2003.

Prepared by Josh Kline, Assistant Curator and Libby Howlett, Manager of Collections.