Tour the impressive interiors of Milton Manor
We take a tour of Milton Manor, a resplendent 17th-century house that has been owned by the same family for 250 years. Photographs Andreas Von Einsiedel
The first glimpse of Milton Manor is unexpected and alluring. On the fringes of the pretty redbrick village from which the house takes its name, you turn past the pub and church, and suddenly, there across a tree-fringed serpentine lake, stands an elegant surprise: the mellow, perfectly symmetrical brick and stone-pillastered classical facade of Milton Manor.
Inside, you feel as if you are on a journey to a different, more harmonious world. Little has changed here since the late 18th century. ‘Show me another small manor house with a Strawberry Hill Gothic library, a chapel, hand-painted Chinese wallpaper and a brewery,’ says Suzanne von Pflügl, sister of the present incumbent, Anthony Mockler Barrett, proudly.
The family home in which Suzanne grew up is classified by Historic England as one of the most important houses in Oxfordshire. But, more emphatically, it is also a much loved family home, one that invariably charms all who enter.
Lucy Worsley, the TV presenter, historian and chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces, worked here after leaving Oxford. She helped with guided tours, washing up and looking for various lost papers, and still talks fondly of Milton. ‘Just the sort of offbeat, eccentric and magical place I love,’ she later wrote. ‘She enjoyed dressing up for re-enactments, and the gin,’ quips Anthony.
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The central block, built in the 1660s, is thought to have been designed by Inigo Jones for the Caltons, one of Berkshire’s wealthiest families. During the Caltons’ tenure, William of Orange and Peter the Great of Russia stayed here. Suzanne and Anthony’s ancestor, Bryant Barrett, bought the house a century later. As Laceman to George III, Barrett was self-made and had grown rich supplying the royal household with gold and silver regalia from a shop on the Strand.
A Catholic convert, he had married well, and needed a house that endorsed his elevated status. Milton caught his eye, although by then the house was in a serious state of disrepair. ‘The condition was so terrible he thought about demolishing it, although instead he Georgianised the building, replacing casement windows with new sashes, adding on two flanking wings and also completely remodelling the interior,’ Suzanne explains.
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The entrance to Bryant Barrett’s renovated house is a large hall opening from a central corridor with elegant arches. The chimney piece, a staggeringly extravagant baroque confection, featuring a pair of bare-breasted muses, supporting the arms of the Calton family, is one of the few remnants of the earlier building. ‘When my parents lived here after the war, they found it in one of the bedrooms covered in thick layers of paint. I remember a man from the village starting to clean it and becoming so involved, he worked late into the night,’ Suzanne recalls vividly.
Other treasures have emerged from Milton’s past. Three years ago, when the Antiques Roadshow was filming at Caversham nearby, a guide took a 17th-century stumpwork box that had been found in an attic. ‘We found it in my mother’s day, all wrapped in tissue paper and a blanket. We don’t know where it came from, but expert John Foster was amazed by its pristine condition and said it was of museum quality. He valued it at £50,000 to £70,000.’
Bryant Barrett’s eye for the latest in fashionable interiors is underlined in the spectacular library. ‘It’s the best example of Strawberry Hill Gothic outside Strawberry Hill,’ says Suzanne. Ogee-shaped bookcases and window frames are echoed in the frieze and chimney piece. The library once contained more than 2,000 books, most of which were sold off in the early 20th century.
A rare Pinxton porcelain tea service, made by a short-lived Derbyshire factory and decorated with views of Milton Manor from the late 18th century is among the treasures now displayed on the shelves. ‘Three pieces from the service were exhibited in the Washington National Gallery of Art ‘Treasure Houses of Britain’ exhibition (1985),’ recalls Suzanne. ‘My mother had never flown (this was the only time) but couldn’t miss seeing it on display, or having tea at the White House with President Reagan.’
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Barrett’s royal connections have left an indelible mark on Milton. ‘He was a close friend of Princess Amelia, George II’s favourite daughter, and the overmantel in the drawing room came from the princess’s country residence, Gunnersbury House,’ says Suzanne. In its centre is a painting by Thomas de Keyser showing children in a chariot drawn by a goat. The children’s identities are unknown but they may be members of the royal family. ‘Barrett must have treasured it because he had the John Webb ceiling adjusted to fit it in.’
Oriental works of art are another of Barrett’s passions and reflect the taste of the time. Milton’s corridors and rooms contain Chinese export tea bowls, Imari vases, japanned longcase clocks and lacquer cabinets galore. Upstairs, a bedroom and dressing room are hung with exquisite hand-coloured Chinese wallpaper. ‘This was my mother’s room. She was the first to open the house to the public in the 1950s and was amazingly tidy, so she didn’t mind people seeing her bedroom.’
Suzanne no longer lives here, but has striking recollections of her childhood at Milton. In some senses it was a privileged existence, with a butler, nanny, cook and maid in attendance. In other ways it was far from luxurious. ‘My mother thought too much heat would spoil the panelling. There was no central heating, only a two-bar heater in our bedroom,’ says Suzanne.
She helped to guide visitors from a young age. ‘At first I was embarrassed. I couldn’t understand why people wanted to see our house. But we met all sorts of interesting people, including Roy Strong. And I still love taking people round – it’s such a special place.’
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