[1. Many thanks to UNUMProvident Life Assurance for their assistance. 2. Click on thumbnails to obtain larger images.]
The Milton Court estate near Dorking in Surrey has a long history. Mentioned in the Domesday Book as Mildeton, it was owned by private individuals until it became a priory in the fourteenth century. After the Reformation, the estate was granted to George Evelyn, father of the diarist, who built the basic E-shaped house still standing on the estate, its shape possibly chosen either to refer to the family name, or as a tribute to the late Queen Elizabeth I. The Evelyn family (still in possession of nearby Wotton House) sold the estate in about 1830. It then passed through several hands, until in 1863 it was bought by the wealthy banker and lawyer Lachlan Mackintosh Rate. Although Rate himself died in 1907, the house stayed in the family until 1936.
Under Rate's ownership, the house was transformed, both inside and out. The architect engaged for this work was William Burges, who added "a 50 foot double bay dining room, an arcaded bay to the east garden front and an oriel window to the Jacobean stairwell" ("Milton Court — A Brief History," 2). In all, Burges added almost twenty new rooms, designing the ceilings and other details with his usual "insatiable relish for ornament" (ODNB). The large downstairs dining room at the back has a wooden ceiling with a stencilled design, and wood-panelled walls. The projecting oriel window halfway up the heavy Jacobean stairwell brings in much-needed light. The long upstairs room, once a drawing room, predates the Victorian period, but its painted, gold-leafed and stencilled ceiling, which was only discovered in the 1990s, (having been hidden, and luckily protected, by a covering of hessian) has also been confirmed as a Burges design. The Victorian fireplace in this room is presumed to be to Burges's design as well. Leading off this room through an ornate door is the unusual 'Flower Room,' once a boudoir — another 1870s Burges addition. This is a small room with sky-paintings in the panelled ceiling and individually-painted flower panels along the walls. It looks out onto the gardens at the back.
Here at Milton Court, the highly cultivated and sociable Rates were visited by both Matthew Arnold and George Meredith, as well as by various artists of the time, some of whom may have had a hand in the painted panels of the Flower Room. One of Mrs Rates's daughters, however, is thought to have been responsible for most of the work, which features flowers from their widely-admired gardens. Milton Court is now owned by a Life Assurance Company, UNUMProvident, which has taken a keen interest in restoring both the Jacobean and Victorian features of the house, opens it to the public on special occasions, and has been very helpful in the preparation of this short account. According to the company's own notes for visitors, "the appearance of the house today, internally and externally, owes much to Burges."
Notes: One interesting point about the main (and very rare) Jacobean staircase here is that "the bellied parts of some of the newels are reinforced with iron rings and pins, a rare early example of wrought iron reinforcement" (notes added to the "Brief History"). Many thanks to Timothy J. Barron for pointing out an earlier inaccuracy in the dates here.
William Burges's Contributions to Milton Court
- Milton Court, Dorking, enlarged and altered by William Burges, 1875
- Dining Room Ceiling (Detail)
- Burges's Oriel window
- Drawing Room Ceiling
- Drawing Room Ceiling (another angle)
- Drawing Room Fireplace
- Door from the drawing room into Mrs Rates's Flower Room
- The Flower Room (Mrs Rate's room)
- The Flower Room Mirror (1)
- The Flower Room Mirror (2)
Crook, J. Mordaunt. William Burges and the High Victorian Dream. Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 1981.
The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
"Milton Court — A Brief History" (notes supplied by UNUMProvident)
Last modified 20 January 2016