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Milton Manor House

Local History Visit

14 July 2009


34 members of the Wargrave Local History Society were given a personally guided tour by the wife of the owner of Milton Manor House. The house stands in parkland close to the church in Milton village - just west of Didcot. In 450 years, the land has belonged to just two families - and (unlike many 'stately homes') is still very much a family home. We were even allowed - encouraged even - to sit on the chairs! For more photographs see the Milton Manor Website. The date when the house was first built is uncertain - the main central part of the present house was completed by 1680, and most probably in 1662-3. It is 'after a design' by Inigo Jones, a symmetrical 3 storied mansion, with cellars below. The original owners were the Calton family, Berkshire landowners who acquired extensive lands around Milton following the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536. As often happened, however, the value of the estate was lost as a result of lawsuits, disputes and gambling. At one stage, the son of the family had lost so much that his father challenged him to a duel - but they had to use the rusty old swords, as the son had already sold the good ones! The estate then passed to the 3 Misses Calton, but in due course they sold the property in 1764 for 10,600. The new owner was Bryant Barrett, a wealthy London merchant who had been appointed Royal Lacemaker to George III, and the present owner is his great-great-great-grandson. Milton was his 'country mansion', and he decided to enlarge and modernise the house. Two wings were added to the house - retaining a symmetrical aspect to the front - and Georgian style doorways, sash windows (one pane of hand blown Georgian glass remains in the drawing room) and a system of lakes in the grounds, which were landscaped in a contemporary style, planting trees vines and hops. Other buildings were added in the form of a brewery, dairy and stables. The drawing room includes a longcase clock made in Folkestone in 1772 - but the case had been sent to Japan for the decoration to be applied - taking 2 years to travel there and back. Also in the room was a piano that had belonged to Princes Beatrice - Queen Victoria's youngest daughter - and some fine figurines. The dining room furniture was mainly Sheraton, and the architect had cleverly created classical Greek alcoves where the windows had been before the house was extended. The additions that Bryant Barrett made in the south wing included two notable rooms. On the ground floor is his ornate library. He had taken a liking to Horace Walpole's house at Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, and the library is in the Strawberry Hill Gothick style. On display are many pieces of fine china - one dating from 1795 being decorated with pictures of Milton Manor itself, whilst there is also a 100 piece dinner service there. Bryant Barrett had kept very detailed notes about the house - such as to make a square rod of walling took 4500 bricks, costing 5-3-6d, with a further 2-10-0 for 'mortar and work'. We then ascended a 'free floater staircase' to the upper floor. To the sounds of a period music box, we entered the bedroom, decorated with Chinese wall-paper - a very expensive luxury in the 18th century. It was hand painted onto rice paper, which had to be backed with canvas to give it some strength. The pigments do not like the sunlight, and have faded somewhat over the centuries - unlike the Huguenot marquetry inlaid to some of the furniture in the room, where the colours are still vibrant. Alongside is a small room - also with Chinese wallpaper, that had been Bryant Barrett's dressing room. This has an unusually low ceiling - and contained a small 'boat bed' - looking 'child sized', it was for use by an adult. From this room we reached the other notable room added by Bryant Barrett. Also in the Strawberry Hill Gothick style, this is a private Roman Catholic chapel. When it was built in 1764, the building of Catholic churches was not allowed, and private chapels could only be built by special permission from the King. This was granted, so long as it was called a room, and not a chapel, so long as it was not at the front of the house or on the ground floor (ie out of view) and so long as it was only used for the family. As a result, a gallery was built over the dressing room (hence its low ceiling) for visitors to be able to join in the Mass. It had been consecrated in 1771 by the Roman Catholic Bishop Challoner, a friend of Bryant's. There are several period stained glass windows, notably those of 13th century glass behind the altar bought from Steventon church in 1764. Bishop Challoner's vestments, missal and chalice are on display in the chapel, and were used by the late Basil Hume when he visited some years ago. The chapel is still used regularly to celebrate Mass. The military commandeered much of the estate for a supplies depot (and never returned it to the family), and the house fell to a dilapidated state during its occupation by the RAF in WW2. The present owner, however, is determined to keep, and use, the house, and not let it become a 'museum piece' . After this entertaining and informative tour, the Society members enjoyed a welcome cup of tea and piece of cake surrounded by the previous owner's collection of teapots!

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