Milgate House is known to be one of Kent's most important county houses and has a long list of colourful characters that help fill its history.
Savills and Strutt & Parker are joint agents in the sale, at a guide price of £5 million, of Grade I-listed Milgate House near Bearsted, Kent, described in Hasted’s History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent (1798) as ‘an eminent seat, pleasantly situated and wellcloathed with trees, which was formerly esteemed a manor, though it has long since lost the reputation of ever having been one’.
The documented history of Milgate can be traced back to its ownership by Robert de Coloigne in 1361, although the watermills on the River Len, from which the house takes its name, are known to be much older.
Traces of a medieval building have been found beneath the present dining room and a stone tunnel, also identified as medieval, passes underneath the house at that point. The will of Robert’s descendant Thomas Coluney, dated 1473, confirms the existence of a substantial building in that area of the house.
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Following Thomas Coluney’s death, Milgate was acquired by the Stonehouse family, one of whom, George Stonehouse, was Clerk of the Green Cloth to Elizabeth I, responsible for royal journeys and assisting in the administration of the Royal Household.
In about 1560, he sold Milgate to Thomas Fludd who was Elizabeth I’s Receiver of Revenue for Kent, Surrey and Sussex, and later her Treasurer of War, for which he was knighted in 1589.
According to Hasted, Sir Thomas ‘resided at Milgate, where he died in 1607, and was buried in this church, having considerably improved and augmented this seat’. Fludd’s late-16th-century additions are visible in the south-west or kitchen wing of the house.
In 1624, his son, also Thomas, sold Milgate to William Cage, a successful lawyer from Hampshire, who was knighted in 1660 for his help in securing the restoration of the Stuart monarchy. In about 1713, his son, another William Cage, built the splendid Baroque front block of Milgate and commissioned the murals on the walls and ceiling of the staircase.
As one of Kent’s leading families, the Cages intermarried with the family of Jane Austen’s brother, Edward, and there are references to Milgate and its owners in the few letters that she left behind.
In the 19th century, notable tenants of Milgate were Sir John Croft of the port dynasty, who spied for Wellington in the Peninsula War, and Julius Lucius Brenchley, a gentleman explorer who donated hundreds of South Pacific tribal artefacts to the British Museum and the Maidstone Museum.
In 1902, Walter Fremlin, whose brothers ran the eponymous Kent-based brewery, bought Milgate and made changes to its historic fabric that have now been reversed, except for his bay windows on the western corner, which today houses the drawing room and the principal bedroom suite.
The house apparently ‘staggered’ through the country-house recession of the 1950s and 1960s, until Guinness money in the shape of Lady Caroline Blackwood bought Milgate in the 1970s with her American third husband, the brilliant, but unstable Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Robert Lowell.
The wayward daughter of Maureen Guinness, one of the four ‘Glorious Guinness Girls’ who set London society alight in the 1920s, Lady Caroline and her husband led a Bohemian existence at Milgate, of which Howell wrote in Fall Weekend at Milgate:
‘Milgate kept standing for four centuries.
Good landlord alternating with derelict.
Most fell between. We’re landlords for the weekend, and watch October go balmy.
Midday heat draws poison from the Jacobean brick, and invites the wilderness to our doorstep…’
Howell died in 1977, Lady Caroline in 1996. Some five years later, Milgate’s current owners bought the property and embarked on a comprehensive five-year restoration of this remarkable house, which has been reimagined for contemporary living with advice from a distinguished interior designer and now stands ready to welcome its latest custodians.
The house sits in a little under 5½ acres of beautifully landscaped gardens and grounds, a mile from pretty Bearsted village and three miles from the county town of Maidstone. It offers more than 9,500sq ft of living space, including a grand reception hall, three main reception rooms, a study, family room, kitchen/breakfast room, nine bedrooms and seven bathrooms, with further accommodation in the four-bedroom gate lodge.
Bearsted: What you need to know
Location: A village in the centre of Kent, approximately two miles from Maidstone. There is a train station within the village which runs on a SouthWestern service with links into London Victoria.
Atmosphere: The village is well-equipped with a bakers, butchers, delicatessen plus several restaurants and pubs.
Things to do: There is a golf club within the village and further amenities and shopping can be found in neighbouring Maidstone and Ashford (approximately 17 miles). Maidstone is home to a number of museums and several beautiful parks, including the award-winning Mote Park which amounts to 450 acres and has a 30 acre lake. A range of water sports are available here, including sailing, swimming and diving. The town is also host to numerous festivals throughout the year.
Schools: Schooling in the area is excellent, with Thurnham Church of England Primary School and Roseacre Junior School both rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted. Maidstone Grammar School for Girls, Invicta Grammar School and Bower Grove School are all also rated ‘outstanding.’
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