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Milton Ernest Hall

Milton Hall about 1850 [Z879/9]
Milton Hall about 1850 [Z879/9]

Milton Ernest Hall was built between 1854 and 1858 for Benjamin Helps Starey. It was designed by the architect William Butterfield (1814-1900), an architect famous for his Gothic Revival churches, and replaced an older property which was rather handsome if the picture above is any guide. Sir Nikolaus Pevsner in the Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire volume of his Buildings of England series rather dismisses the current house: “No one would call the house engaging, but it is done with grim a determination and an unfaltering conviction”. It was listed by the former Department of Environment in June 1971 as Grade I, of exceptional interest, because it is Butterfield’s only complete country house. The stable block, dovecote and wall to the grounds were listed in August 1987 as Grade II, of special interest.

The previous house had been the mansion of the Manor of Bassets and was sold in 1786 by Thomas Wilkinson to the splendidly named Jervoise Clarke Jervoise of Middlesex [CC40-41]. Jervoise immediately conveyed the mansion to Samuel Boyden [CC42-44]. Mary Boyden, Samuel's sister, in her will of 1816 devised the manor to Edward Knight and Richard Richards as trustees [CC45] and in 1818 Knight devised it to John Evans, Rowland Evans, Richard Richards [Z951/6/1], the house was then unoccupied. In a codicil to his will Knight devised the house to Mary Evans then to Rowland Evans then to Dinah and Mary Donne. The will was proved in 1819.

In 1845 the house was conveyed to Philip Booth [Z951/6/1]. Unfortunately he ran up large and numerous debts and was forced to sell up. In 1853 he sold the mansion and the estate that accompanied it to a man from Highgate [Middlesex] called Benjamin Helps Starey [Z951/6/1]. Starey evidently did not fancy the old house, perhaps, it was in a state of decay, and so commissioned Butterfield to design him a new one. It is interesting to note that the 1971 listing states that the property is built of local stone, because a letter written by Starey on 18th September 1854 partially contradicts this [SY33/3]: “The buildings are going slowly, they are almost standing still for stone, which I shall now immediately provide, it will be principally from Bath, thanks to our railroads we get it at a very moderate price. I also crossed the river to see a quarry about a mile distant which we intend to work for inferior purposes”.

In 1856 Starey mortgaged the house and estate to William Sargent for £10,000 [Z951/6/2-3]. He mortgaged them to a Russia broker named James Charles in 1870 for £30,000 [Z951/6/4]. In 1872 Starey put the house and the estate up for sale. The particulars [X213/30] described the house as follows

A VERY DESIRABLE
RESIDENTIAL ESTATE,
Situate between Four and Five Miles from the County Town of BEDFORD, and Two from the OAKLEY STATION of the Midland Railway;

COMPRISING
A CAPITAL MANSION,
OF HANDSOME ELEVATION,
Designed by an eminent London Architect, built in 1858, of white Stone and Bricks,

CONTAINING
On the Upper Story [sic]
LARGE DORMITORY FOR FEMALE SERVANTS.
SEVEN BED ROOMS: Bath Room; Sink with Hot and Cold Water supply; Housemaid's Closet, &c.

On the First Floor,
FIVE PRINCIPAL BED ROOMS,
varying from 18 feet by 21 feet to 18 feet by 14 feet
THREE DRESSING ROOMS, NURSERY, LADIES' MORNING ROOM or BOUDOIR,
Closets, Line Stores, &c.

On the Ground Floor,
ENTRANCE AMD INNER HALLS;
GRAND MARBLE STAIRCASE,
With Ornamental Balustrades, well lighted, walls finished with great taste;
THE GALLERY leading to the First Floor Apartments is supported by Brackets, designed in keeping with the general style of the Architecture throughout

ENSUITE ARE THE FOLLOWING RECEPTION ROOMS, VIZ -

ELEGANT DRAWING ROOM, 25 FEET BY 18 FEET,
WITH BOW WINDOW;

LIBRARY 21 FEETBY 17 FEET 6

DINING ROOM 25 FEET by 18 FEET
The whole Ornamented by Inlaid Chimney Pieces of Portland Marble, the Cornices finished with singular taste, the DINING ROOM BEING PANELLED IN SOLID OAK and the Windows of the Suite, which forms the entire Garden front, open on to the TERRACE, with steps leading to the LADIES' FLOWER GARDEN, beyond which is

A CHARMING VISTA

Through a splendid Avenue of Lime Trees of some Three Hundred Years' Growth, not only of the RIVER OUSE, but of the Wooded Hills and Home Landscape of the District;

PRIVATE SITTING ROOM 18 FEET BY 16 FEET

MAGISTRATE'S ROOM with PRIVATE ENTRANCE

THE DOMESTIC OFFICES
Comprise SERVANTS' HALL, spacious KITCHEN, Scullery, Cook's Pantry, Store Closet, Butler's Pantry, Still Room, Closets and Lobby.

In the Basement

ROOMS FOR MEN SERVANTS, Wine, Beer and Coal Cellars, Larder, Dairy, Knife Room, large Stone Tank for rain water, and Force Pump to supply the Cistern in Roof &c.

THE OFFICES,
Which are substantially built, comprise STALLS AND LOOSE BOXES FOR SEVEN HORSES, Harness Room, COACH-HOUSE, Corn Bins, Hay and Straw Lofts, Barn, Cow Houses, Piggeries, Hen Houses, Sheep Yard, Sheds, Cart Shed, Dovecote, Root House and Apple Room.

A NEW AND CAPITAL BRICK-BUILT COTTAGE,
containing SITTING ROOM, Kitchen, and THREE BEDROOMS, Wash-house and Larder, standing in a neat GARDEN, occupied by the Gardener.

And in the Village is an equally Substantial BRICK AND TILED COTTAGE,
Containing Sitting Room, Kitchen, &c., and Two Bed Rooms, with FORECOURT and GARDEN, in the occupation of the Coachman.

CAPITAL WALLED KITCHEN GARDEN
Well stocked with Fruit Trees in full bearing

ORCHARD, PADDOCK and PARK,
THE LATTER MOST BEAUTIFULLY TIMBERED

The Mansion has its Principal Entrance opposite the Parish Church (which is unique in itself) by an

AVENUE OF STATELY ELM AND WALNUT TREES,

Of rare beauty, terminating at the Western Entrance of the Mansion, having the Court Yard enclosed by Handsome Iron Gates.

THE ORNAMENTAL GROUNDS ARE LAID OUT IN LAWN & FLOWER BEDS

EXTENSIVE FISHING,
In the RIVER OUSE, which bounds the Estate for a distance of nearly Two Miles.

BOAT HOUSE

The property was sold to Thomas Bagnall the younger [Z951/8/1]. In 1884 he moved to Whitby [Yorkshire] and conveyed the Hall to Madeline Emily, wife of Alfred Daniel Chapman of Ware [Hertfordshire] [Z951/8/4]. In 1901 Chapman sold the Hall to Isabella Robinson of Herefordshire [Z951/8/7] and she, in 1906, sold it to Lord Ampthill [Z951/8/10]. Between 1900 and 1905 Benjamin Helps Starey's son John and his wife Grace, were living at 73 Waldeck Avenue [now Warwick Avenue] in Bedford. They then moved to Leominster [Herefordshire] but at the end of the First World War they returned to Bedfordshire and bought Milton Ernest Hall from Lord Ampthill, returning to the former family home after some forty five years.

The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 stated that every building and piece of land in the country had to be assessed to determine its rateable value. Milton Ernest, like much of the county, was assessed in 1927 and the valuer visiting Milton Ernest Hall [DV1/R49/3] found it still owned and occupied by John Helps Starey. He noted: "Water from river by windmill or motor. Drink water from well in basement. Electric light. South elevation ugly. Bad approach. No tradesmen’s entrance. Lord Ampthill did live here. Mr. Starey came in 1919. Built 1854-58. River at side of house. Very poor entrance, only one for house, farm and tradesmen! House well planned and built”.

The ground floor comprised: an entrance hall (“really narrow passage”); a front hall (“not big fire”); a lavatory; a W. C. pan; a smoke room measuring 17 feet 9 inches by 15 feet 9 inches; a south and east facing drawing room measuring 37 feet 6 inches by 17 feet with a 7 feet 6 inches by 8 feet bay; a conservatory measuring 18 feet by 15 feet and 6 feet by 7 feet; a south facing library measuring 16 feet by 20 feet 6 inches with a 7 feet 6 inches by 8 feet bay; a dining room measuring 17 feet 9 inches by 23 feet 6 inches; a servants’ hall measuring 15 feet by 20 feet 9 inches; a kitchen measuring 20 feet by 14 feet; a scullery (“good”); a larder; a servants’ bathroom; a school room measuring 19 feet 9 inches by 15 feet; a store room with a small sink; two servants’ bedrooms; a servants' W. C.; a butler’s pantry with a built-in safe and, of course, the back stairs. One went down to a half basement with a box room, a knife room, a laboratory, a coal shed, a dark room, two dairies, a beer cellar, a wine cellar, a boiler (“for hot water and radiators to drawing room and gun room, hall and one bedroom, pump for water from well to tank”).

Up the main staircase were: an east facing bedroom over the smoke room measuring 17 feet 9 inches by 16 feet; a bedroom over part of the drawing room measuring 17 feet 9 inches by 13 feet; a bathroom and W. C.; a bedroom over part of the drawing room used as a sitting room and measuring 18 feet by 17 feet 6 inches with a 7 feet 6 inches by 8 feet bay; a bedroom over the library measuring 16 feet by 20 feet 6 inches with a 7 feet 6 inches by 8 feet bay; a dressing room; a bedroom over the dining room measuring 17 feet 6 inches by 15 feet 6 inches and a bedroom over the servants’ hall measuring 21 feet by 16 feet. At the top of the back stairs was a housemaid’s pantry and a W. C. Also on the first floor was a west facing bedroom measuring 19 feet by 16 feet and a north facing bathroom and W. C. (“big”). Up stone stairs was the second floor with a north facing double bedroom, an east facing double bedroom, an east and south facing sitting room measuring 18 feet by 24 feet 6 inches (“was billiard room”), a south facing bedroom, three maids’ bedrooms, a maids’ bedroom for three people (“big”), a water tank room, a box room, a bathroom (“good”), a W. C. and a housemaids’ sink.

Outside were: a wood and corrugated iron wood shed; a stone and tiled store with an apple room over; a two bay open cart shed and a garage. There was a block containing a garage and pit, a trap house, a garage for two cars, a glass washing place, five loose boxes, a hay place (“very nice”), a harness room with a loft over part and two mens’ rooms. In the garden was a stone and tiled potting shed, a heated vinery and greenhouse measuring 16 feet by 40 feet with a lean-to glasshouse measuring 15 feet by 8 feet 6 inches, a boiler house, a heated greenhouse measuring 30 feet by 12 feet, an asphalt tennis court (“no good, cracked and bad”) and a “good” grass tennis court. The valuer noted: “Very fine avenue of limes opposite south front of house. Garden and grounds small and poorish for size of house, river runs at side”. He also commented: “A well built and well planned House, spoilt by being in poor grounds. I think it must be worth £270 [per annum]”

During World War Two US Army Air Force personnel, including musician Glenn Miller, were billeted at the hall and played a concert there on 16th July 1944. He disappeared on 15th December 1944 having taken off from nearby Twinwoods air field for France. 1950 Grace Starey’s children were not living at the hall and, in fact, undertook not to do so, as that would impoverish the trust fund she had set up by denying it the rent from the hall’s tenants [Z951/7/16].

In 1973 a garden centre opened in the grounds of the hall, moving to Radwell Road twenty years later. In 1976 then owner, F. M. S. Harmer-Brown, sold the stable block [PY/E10/2] and planning permission was given to convert it into dwellings [BorBTP/76/1034].

In the 1980s the hall itself was sold. The particulars [Z449/1/3] described the following layout:

  • basement: nine storage rooms; boiler room;
  • ground floor: main entrance; arched entrance porch; main entrance hall (26 feet 9 inches by 7 feet 8 inches); cloakroom lobby; ladies' cloakroom; gentleman's cloakroom; reception hall (26 feet by 16 feet); drawing room (39 feet 6 inches by 18 feet) leading to schoolroom; library (20 feet 9 inches by 17 feet 10 inches); dining room (25 feet 6 inches by 17 feet 9 inches); business room/bar (17 feet 10 inches by 15 feet 10 inches); business entrance; cloakroom; kitchens and servery (21 feet by 15 feet 6 inches and 35 feet 8 inches by 19 feet 19 inches); L-shaped interior lobby; staff cloakroom;
  • first floor: galleried landing; inner landing; six bedrooms; six bathrooms (five en-suite to bedrooms); dressing room; staircase lobby;
  • second floor: landing; kitchenette; small lobby; separate W. C.; 2 bathrooms; 7 bedrooms;
  • cottage/annexe with entrance vestibule; lounge/dining room (20 feet by 15 feet); kitchen/breakfast room (19 feet 9 inches by 9 feet 8 inches); bedroom (22 feet 5 inches by 17 feet); separate W. C.; bathroom (13 feet by 11 feet);
  • outside: mower and garden store; tool store; dovecote; conservatory (26 feet by 16 feet); gardens.

The hall was converted into a nursing home by its new owners. At the time of writing [2014] Milton Ernest Hall is still care home, owned by Majesticare.

Milton Ernest Hall 1962 [Z53/82/1]
Milton Ernest Hall 1962 [Z53/82/1]