Marjorie Mockler moved back into the house after the Second World War. It had stood empty for many years between the two wars. Between 1939 and 1945 the house had been occupied by the RAF and as a result was in a state of considerable dilapidation. Most of the original furniture had been sold in the 1911 sale including, alas, the beds that William of Orange and Peter the Great had once slept in. Marjorie restored Milton as a family home, which it still is. She opened it to the public; and on the first day only two people turned up.
She enjoyed doing the guiding herself, right up to her death; was absolutely excellent at it; and knew everything about the furniture and china which she seemed to us, her children, to spent most of her life dusting, polishing, spring-cleaning and, when necessary, gluing back together again.
One of the high points of her life came when Milton Manor was listed Grade One. She was immensely proud of her home.
And she had every right to be proud of it. It is a beautiful house, built when exactly? No one knows for sure: between 1630 and 1680 certainly, probably by 1663, three years after Charles II's restoration. According to my mother, a lifetime Stuart fan, it was designed by the great Inigo Jones. But there the wish may have been father to the thought…
What went up in the 1660s was not, however, the House as you see it now, but only the heart of the present House: a formal, symmetrical gentleman's residence (fronted by a French style parterre), standing foursquare, with its great oak staircase running from top to bottom, from the attics down to the kitchens, still rooms and servants' quarters in what are now very unsalubrious and lugubrious cellars 90 feet below.
It belonged for 218 years to one of what was then Berkshire's great landowning families, the Caltons. The Caltons had built up their estates, like so many others, from monastic lands. In the Middle Ages the estate of ‘Middletune’- Milton - had belonged to the Benedictines of the Abbey of Abingdon. Was there a house on the site for the use of the Abbot’s bailiff? If so, all trace and record of it have disappeared. Henry VIII dispossessed and dissolved the abbey in 1536, and of the great abbey that made Abingdon so famous, only the ruins now remain.
But, again like so many other landed families, the fortune of the Caltons was gradually eroded by lawsuits and internal disputes. In 1764 the three Misses Calton sold the estate to my ancestor Bryant Barrett for £10,600 - they had asked £13,000; but he was a shrewd bargainer. It has been in our family ever since; passing from Bryant Barrett to John Richard Barrett who buried four wives; to John Basil Barrett known as "The Guvnor", who lost his money in the Railway boom of the 1860s; to Louis Arthur Barrett, the last Squire of Milton, whom I remember shyly playing chess with at Manor farm as a young boy; then to my mother Marjorie Barrett, an only child and the last of the Barrett name, who married in Malta a naval officer of the Mediterranean Fleet, my father.
Louis Arthur asked in his Will that I should add the name of Barrett to my own if I inherited; and that, I suppose, is how many double barrelled names begin. So I am Bryant Barrett's great- great-great grandson; and the house has now been in our family for six generations and 233 years - just outdoing the Caltons!
Bryant Barrett was a very wealthy London merchant, with offices in the Strand - by appointment Royal Lace Maker to George III, but apparently with connections to the exiled Stuarts too. (By tradition, he lent them money-never yet repaid!) And like so many successful businessmen, then as now, he was determined to embellish his newly acquired country seat.
He poured money - and bricks, 700,000 of them into Milton. He ‘Georgianised’ the original house, notably with sash windows, new-fangled doors, elaborate archways and panelling. He added the two wings, a walled garden, the whole complex water system of lakes and ponds back and front, which are ingeniously linked together by a network of underground brick channels. The landscaping, of course, was completely redone; and he christened the front lake, rather overdoing things, his "Serpentine". He planted trees, vines, hops; added a brewery-now, alas, converted into living quarters at one end of the house- a dairy, a midden; and stables which, thankfully, survived unconverted to my day and are once again full of horses and ponies as they ought to be.
The kitchens he moved from the cellars - his notebooks show him to be a considerate master - to what are now the tearooms, the Old Kitchen, where my mother's well-known collection of teapots is usually displayed. She loved collecting them -and indeed visitors would often give her more...
Bryant Barrett added, in particular, the two most spectacular rooms in the House. The Strawberry Hill Gothic Library is one, delicate and airy, in the style of Horace Walpole's house at Strawberry Hill in Twickenham, all the rage at the time. There, above the fireplace, is his portrait, a conversation piece by Highmore, one of the best paintings in the house. (Incidentally, you can see Marjorie Mockler, and her family, including myself - the very respectable looking young man on the right-in another conversation piece in the dining room; not exactly up to the same standard, I'm afraid.)