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Virginia House

( Originally Published 1932 )



This building is constructed of materials from the ancient Priory of the Holy Sepulchre at Warwick, England, popularly known through the centuries as The Priory. The original structure was built in 1125, by the first Earl of Warwick. Following the dissolution of the monasteries it was rebuilt as a residence by Thomas Hawkins, and completed about 1565. When undergoing demolition in 1925 it was purchased from the housewrecker and shipped to Virginia, to be assembled on its present site and in its present form. It was then given the name of Virginia House.

The present structure was built by Virginia workmen, and the design includes portions of three historic English houses: The main body of Virginia House is after the Tudor portion of The Priory; the wing west of the main entrance door is a copy of the principal part of the original structure of Sulgrave Manor, the English home of the ancestors of George Washington; the entrance tower is a reproduction of one at Wormleighton, another English home associated with the Washingtons through their intermarriage with the Spencers.

The material of the walls is sandstone mellowed by centuries of exposure. Many of the stones still bear the moss that came with them, and a number of them were found to have been marked by the ancient masons with their guild emblems, which are plainly distinguishable after the lapse of centuries. The roof is worthy of notice. It is formed of stones of irregular shape and size, each having been hewn out by hand. On many of these, as on some of the wall stones, a patina of moss, begun in English air, can be seen.

Queen Elizabeth was entertained in The Priory in 1572, and the stone set in the front wall just above the second-story window at the west end bears the arms of that great sovereign -in commemoration of this event.

In the great hall of the house is the magnificent, carved oaken stairway and balustrade formerly in The Priory. The wall panelling here and in the drawing-room is especially fine in design and execution. The troopers' helmets and breast-plates displayed once hung in the Tower of London. The beams over the fireplaces and exposed in some of the ceilings are of beautifully flaked white oak, as sound and hard as when first hewn centuries ago.

At the rear of the house is a noble terrace from which there is a magnificent view of the James and the hills beyond, and it is entirely fitting that a building which once gave shelter to Queen Elizabeth should be preserved to posterity on the bank of the river along whose shores, but a few miles distant, some of her and her successor's loyal subjects established the first permanent English settlement in America.

The garden of Virginia House is as yet more an ideal than a fact. Having in mind Bacon's familiar aphorism that "In the royal ordering of gardens, there ought to be gardens for all the months in the year," the maker of this garden at Virginia House dreams of one that shall present a pleasing prospect to the eye through the four seasons; therefore, it will be essentially a green garden, with flowers in their proper time against a constant background of verdure.

On May 31, 1929, Virginia House was conveyed to the Virginia Historical Society by Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Weddell who retained a life interest therein.

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