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Virginia House

Virginia House

Virginia House
City of Richmond
Department of Community Development

 

Built for Alexander and Virginia Weddell and completed in 1928 just months before the onset of the Great Depression, Virginia House is a fine Tudor-style mansion that incorporates reconstructed components of three separate English houses. The grand estate is on a hillside overlooking the James River in the Windsor Farms area of western Richmond. The eclectic house blends three English Tudor designs in what was for its time a thoroughly modern home complete with seven full baths, central heat, modern kitchen, and commodious closets. Expansive and asymmetrical, the two-story stone and stucco building is truly a composite of several centuries of predominantly English architectural heritage: 12th century Anglo-Norman, 15th century Tudor, 17th century Dutch, and 1940s Classical Revival.

Much of the history of Virginia House goes back more than 400 years and across the Atlantic Ocean. In the late 16th century, a man named Thomas Hawkins bought the property known as the Priory at Warwick and built a Tudor manor house set in a landscaped park. The house enjoyed such esteemed visitors as the newly crowned Elizabeth I. Subsequent owners of the property included Henry Wise, Royal Gardener to Queen Anne, who acquired the house in 1709. In the mid-19th century, the Lloyd banking family purchased the property but sold it in the early 20th century.

Determined to rescue Warwick Priory from destruction, Americans Alexander and Virginia Weddell bought the house at a demolition sale in 1925 after it suffered years of decline and neglect. The Weddell’s plan to dismantle the house and ship its parts to Richmond for reassembly was controversial. The English press reported their purchase sparking a public outcry that the Weddells were pulling down an ancient landmark to reerect it in America. A member of the House of Commons even proposed a bill to invalidate the sale as an act of vandalism, but the bill did not pass. Others appreciated the Weddell’s rescue of the building’s components.

Virginia House historic

Virginia House Garden Side c. 1930
Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries

Documentation shows that the company originally hired to demolish the priory thought that most of the building’s stonework would be too fragile to ship to America. Their dubious approach was to set off an explosion in the center of the building and salvage only the masonry that remained intact. Surprisingly, a majority of the stones survived. The Weddells had the stones and more fragile building components packed in boxes with sand to cushion them and shipped them to Richmond.

New York architect Henry Grant Morse designed Virginia House to reflect three English houses. The central bays incorporated two Flemish gables salvaged from the demolition of the Thomas Hawkins’ priory in Warwickshire. The eastern bay is a reconstruction of the gate tower of Wormleighton Manor, ancestral home of the Spencers. The exterior of the west wing of the house is a replica of Sulgrave Manor in Northamptonshire, England, which once belonged to Lawrence Washington, an ancestor George Washington. The Weddells planned for the west wing to serve as a museum for the Virginia Historical Society, keeping in mind that the remainder of the house would one day serve as the Society's headquarters. In 1929, they deeded the house to the Virginia Historical Society, although they were tenants for the rest of their lives. The house remains much as it was when the Weddells lived there.

Noted landscape architect Charles F. Gillette designed the plan for the elaborate landscape garden that cascades behind the house down toward the James River. Conceived by Gillette as a Tudor-style garden, the landscaping scheme complements the romantic, early Anglican character of the manor house.

Plan your visit
Virginia House is located at 4301 Sulgrave Rd.  It is owned by the Virginia Historical Society and both the house and gardens are open to the public. For information on hours and admission, visit the Virginia Historical Society website.
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