The Restoration of 
Woodchester Villa

A Pictorial Tour of 
Woodchester Villa

Bird Family History

Bird Woollen Mills History

Location, Hours & Admission

 


Southfield House in the village of Woodchester, Glouceshire, England. 
The birthplace and boyhood home of Henry J. Bird.

 


The Bird family outside  Woodchester.

 


Woodchester Villa 
as seen from the Muskoka River in 1882. 

Situated high above a bend in the Muskoka River, the octagonal house, Woodchester Villa is approached by a steep winding drive. Henry J. Bird gave his new home the name Woodchester Villa, after the fondly-remembered village in England which was the place of his birth. If the design of the residence seemed unusual to his fellow-townsmen, Mr. Bird was ready to explain that he wanted to build "a bird cage to keep my Birds in." 

Undoubtedly influenced in its design by the home building theories of the American phrenologist and architectural philosopher Orson Squire Fowler and his book, A Home for All: or, Gravel Wall, and Octagonal Mode of Building (1849), this three storey octagonal house is one of the largest of its kind in Ontario and a classic example of the octagonal form in Ontario. 

The octagonal form is evident in many details such as the chimneys, observation platform, flagpole, verandah posts, newel posts and interior door mouldings. Woodchester Villa was the first house in the area to have electric lighting. It also had a forced air heating and ventilation shafts to remove stale air as well as indoor plumbing with a water pressure system fed by rainwater storage tanks on the second floor. A substantial dumb-waiter runs from the basement kitchen to the attic with access at each floor. 

The sixteen inch thick, poured concrete walls have squared random-width fieldstone on the foundation as were the original walls above, however, some settling necessitated repair and they were subsequently stuccoed. The house may be one of the earliest examples of a poured concrete house found in Ontario. 

The three foot wide observation gallery forms a walk around the central chimney. It has two seats built against the opposite sides of the chimney and a low railing around the edge. A two storey verandah encircles the house. French doors open onto the second floor balcony at the front.

The property on which Woodchester Villa was built comprised one hundred acres alongside the Muskoka River on the north. Not all the land was needed for Mr. Bird's home and thus lots were sold by him along what became Woodchester Avenue. To the west, the land on which the Bird home was built fronted on Muskoka Road.  This was part of the important colonization road built through a great part of the District Municipality of Muskoka, starting at Washago in 1858 and reaching Bracebridge by 1861.  Muskoka Road near Woodchester was the principal street of the community in its earliest years, though now not open to motor traffic up the hill from Woodchester's drive due to its steepness.

The octagonal house stands on a sloping lot, with the west or main entrance close to the grade at the front and the basement kitchen entrance level with the grade at the rear.  Four of its sides are 16 feet wide and the other intermediate four walls being 14 feet wide, probably to cut down the size of the inevitable triangular rooms.  

It was the Bird family which had occupied this unusual residence after it was built in 1882. Four sons had come to the new Bird house as children, having been born in the family apartment in the woollen mills just across the river at the falls.  By 1914, all were married, two of the brothers were working elsewhere in Canada and two were working with their father in the management of the Bird Woollen Mills.

Three sisters were born at Woodchester Villa. To the brothers and sisters, Woodchester Villa was always the old home, loved by them all and by grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Woodchester Villas has been designated under the Ontario Heritage Act and commemorated with an Ontario Provincial plaque and is now a community historic house museum.

 

This web site is designed, maintained and copyrighted by Woodchester Villa.
Woodchester Villa is located in Bracebridge, Ontario, Canada.