Agecroft Hall stands on 4305 Sulgrave Road, Richmond, Virginia. That was of course not always the case. The Hall (the second one) was built in the reign of Elizabeth I, overlooking the banks of the Irwell in Salford. It was a quadrangular building, originally posessing a moat. In the middle of the complex there was a courtyard accessed through a covered archway.
The house was the medieval manor house of Pendlebury, originally owned by the Prestwich Family around 1291 when Adam De Prestwich married Cecily. Adam died of the plague in 1349, and passed the house to his daughter Margaret. She fell victim to the same disease soon after. It was originally called Pendlebury Hall, after the locality, but the name was changed to Agecroft was adopted around 1376 (from the olde English ache croft, meaning field of wild celery).
The last Prestwich to inhabit the house was Alice De Prestwich (b ca 1270), who married Jordan de Tetlow and their daughter, Joan married Sir Richard De Langley of Middleton.
Their son, Sir Roger Langley (1360-1393) married Margaret Booth of Barton, in 1369, aged only eight. These marriages were common in order to own land or provide heirs. Roger came under the guardianship of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and soon after Robert De Holland claimed that as he was married to Margaret De Prestwich, that the Prestwich estate was his. Margaret had not inherited the estate, because she was a nun and prohibited from owning property. Roger’s mother was still alive at the time, and the sheriff of Lancashire took control of the estates during his minority.
In 1374 Robert De Hollande took control of the Lordship and Roger and his young bride escaped into the woods surrounding the Irwell and hid there looked after by loyal retainers until the Duke of Lancaster rescued them¹.
However, Robert De Hollande and his wife Margaret claimed all rights of the villages of Pendlebury, Achecroft and Prestwich, but eventually Roger and Margaret were able to return to their home and commenced the building of Agecroft Hall around 1390.
When Roger died on 26 October 1393, his widow was granted dower in lands in Prestwich, Alkrington and Achecroft, this confirms that they were once more in control of the estate. His son, Sir Robert Langley (1378-1446) inherited Agecroft after him, and in turn he passed the estate to Sir Thomas Langley (1407-1472) followed by John Langley (1429-1496) and Robert Langley (1462-1528), Thomas Langley (1467-1519) and down to Sir Robert Langley (1529-1561).
This Sir Robert Langley married Cecily De Trafford, but the couple produced no male heir, and the estate was divided amongst their four daughters². Dorothy married James Assheton of Chadderton, Margaret, John Reddish of Reddish Hall Catherine, Piers Legh of Lyme, and finally Anne, the eldest, married William Dauntsey (1542-1622), inheriting Agecroft.
William was the son of Richard Dauntsey and Millicent Burleigh of Wiltshire. Agecroft was by far the biggest house in the area, in 1662 it had 11 hearths out of a total of 35 in the whole of Pendlebury. The Dauntsey family were wealthy merchants, William Dauntesey (d 1542) founded Dauntsey’s School in Wiltshire.
The family retained ownership of the Hall until the line died out and the house was inherited by the Reverend Richard Buck (1761-1845). Richard had been Rector of Fletton and Yaxley in Huntingdonshire. He married his cousin Margaret Hull (1770-1830) of Chorley. Richard died in Blackpool in 1845.
Over the next few years the house was occupied by the Buck and Hull families and even the occasional Dauntesey. In 1813 John Dauntsey died and passed the house to his brother in law John Hull MD (1761-1843). John was a prominent Manchester physician and obstetrician. He studied for some time at St Thomas in London before returning to Blackburn. He moved to Manchester when he became frustrated at the lack of a lying in hospital in the town. In Manchester over time he had a practice on Moseley Street, St James Square and King Street and joined the staff of the Manchester Lying in Hospital where he saw that caeserean sections were sometimes necessary. He became senior physician in 1805 and held the post until he retired in 1837. He died on 17 March 1843 in the house of his son, William Winstanley Hull (1794-1873) in Tavistock Square, London. His son, The Reverend John Hull was Chaplain to Bishop Lee of Manchester and Vicar of Poulton Le Fylde for 30 years until his patron the Bishop secured him the Rectorship of Eaglescliffe in Durham, for a comfortable retirement.
In 1841 the Hall was occupied by Elizabeth Hull (1780-1862) who was living on independent means, and her two nephews , John Buck, a Barrister at Lincoln Fields and Robert Buck (1805-1862) the son of the Reverend Richard Buck who was also living on independent means. These lived here until 1862 when Elizabeth and Richard at which point Catherine Dauntsey Buck (1808-1878) and her husband Frederick G Foxton were living at the house in 1871 ³.
Catherine Dauntsey Buck sponsored the Agecroft Cup, which was presented at the annual Agecroft Regatta to champion rowing teams. This sporting event was founded in 1861 and to this day the Agecroft Rowing club is based on Salford Quays.
After that the house was largely abandoned, although it did retain a retinue of servants there until the 1901 census, suggesting that the family did return from time to time. Indeed Hulls were still inheriting the estate, in 1878 Robert Hull was granted use of the name and arms of Dauntsey. He married Mary Schomberg at St Margaret in Westminster in 1878. He shows up on the electoral rolls for the period, but they preferred to live in Poole, Dorset.
By 1911, a caretaker Daniel Morecroft is living at the house. He stayed until the Hall was dismantled and packed off to the United States.
The reason for the abandon is fairly easy to see. As early as 1833 a railway line was proposed to cross the estate, and over time Agecroft Colliery started up (there was a rich seam under the house itself) and generally the area became heavily industrialised. This can be seen by looking at contemporary maps over time. This was exacerbated by a fire which broke out at the Hall on 22 October 1893, an oak beam in the kitchen adjacent to the kitchen flue smouldered for several hours, before bursting into flames, destroying a great part of the roof by the time the fire brigade had arrived. The fire was extinguished after about an hour, and water damage was minimised by the evacuation of valuable pictures and other articles. However the walls and oak panels were badly burned.
Although the Manchester Evening News did try to put a positive spin on the state of the Hall in 1915
However, the writing was on the wall. Bramall Hall narrowly escaped being exported in the 1920s and despite great debate and the matter even being raised in the Houses of Parliament. The Manchester Guardian reported on the final days, where rooks were busy making their uncomfortable looking nests, a few workmen standing around the packing cases, stencilling glass with care and other notes. The correspondent summed up the problem perfectly, it is too reproachful a jewel to leave in that ruined landscape, he said.
Hereabouts must once have been an agreeable tumble of country. It has been treated with contempt, subjected to every agreeable indignity. Its trees and herbages are mostly gone, the bleak bones of the place show like an overworked horse’s. The wheels of the pit head machinery revolve against one another, the colliers come clattering up the cobbled road, all wearing the conventional clogs, cap and muffler, and carrying the conventional tea can. Under the edge of the estate is a big ugly lake, caused by colliery subsidence. An outjutting pipe slowly spits dirty water into it….. all that is sound and good must go: windows wood slates and stones. There is not much now that is not sound and whole. That tie beam now – who shall put a term to its survival. One’s fancy goes the length of seeing it, in, say, another five hundred years, crossing the Pacific to satisfy the whim of some Japanese connoisseur, and taking the rest of the building with it. And perhaps five hundred years from then, our national conscience will prompt us to buy it back. One thing is certain: that tie beam will be there to complete its circumnavigation of the globe.
The hall had been bought by Thomas C Williams Junior (1864-1929), the son of a wealthy tobacco plantation owner. He became Vice President of his father’s company and developed the Windsor Farms suburb of Richmond. Windsor farms was modelled on an idealised English Village. He bought Agecroft at auction for $19,000 in 1925.
His intentions were not to replicate the Hall, but create a house, reminiscent of its predecessor, and the original floor plan was abandoned as well as necessary modern conveniences installed. His architect, Henry G Morse dismantled the house, packed and shipped it to the United States via the Manchester Ship Canal and reconstructed it in its new environment. It was a job done well, every piece arrived intact in Richmond.
In December 1927 he moved into the house with his wife Bessie and they celebrated with two nights of housewarming parties, culminating with a performance of Ben Jonson’s Christmas Masque, originally performed in 1616 to King James I.
On his death he donated the estate on his death to the city of Richmond for use as an arts centre. Today the house is a popular tourist attraction and holds an annual Shakespeare Festival. I think that Agecroft has survived better in the colonies, than it would have should it have remained in England. Perhaps Hough Hall and Woodbank Hall would benefit from a similar transfer to a more caring environment.
Let’s see some pictures:
As a postscript, Agecroft was not the last ancient Hall remaining in Salford. That honour is held by the oldest in Greater Manchester, Ordsall Hall. In case you believe that it is cared for by the council, it took a fierce debate to get the councillors to part with the £7,000 needed to buy the property from Lord Egerton in 1955. Councillor S C Homburger was quoted as saying that the preservation of the Hall would be a major obstacle to replanning of the area and that he thought little of its historic and intrinsic value, whereas the potential financial risk of buying it was incalculable.
¹ It is said that the pantomime Babes In the Wood is based on this tale and that the rescue was engineered by one Robin Hood. The John of Gaunt window in Agecroft Hall, is said to commemorate this. Cardinal Thomas Langley was not of this branch of the family.
² Robert died at Bramall Hall.
³ I cannot find a definitive connection with the Dauntsey family, but a daughter was named Catherine Dauntsey Buck (1808-1878). That may reflect a family connection, or just a grateful heir. It may be that the Daunteseys, Bucks and Hulls intermarried. There is a link with them all and the Billinge family of Poulton Le Fylde.
The History of The County Palatine of Lancaster, Edward Baines : Routledge 1868.
© Allan Russell 2021.