Experience period drama on the farm

Dating to the early 19th century, Milton House in Bandon is on the market for the first time in 75 years, finds Tommy Barker

 

Bandon, West Cork - €1.1m

Size: 405 sq m (4,359 sq ft) on 16 acres
Bedrooms: 4+2+2
Bathrooms: 4+1+1
BER: Exempt

THERE’S a poetic soul and sensibility to Milton House, but it owes nothing to the 17th-century English poet John Milton.

This aesthetically appealing Georgian-period West Cork home owes its charm and rhythmic pace of quality country life to its origins and to its current owners.

Dating to 1810, Milton House — and, in earliest times spelled as Miltown House — is reckoned to have been built by the Allman family of cotton millers, who were a successful business family in Bandon in the 1700 and into the 1800s.

The Allmans had built a five-storey cotton mill nearby at Overton in 1805 (which became a workhouse in the Famine years), and as the cotton industry declined in ensuing decades, they moved into distilling, with significant success.

Over the passage of time, and owners, Milton House changed hands a few times.

Other occupiers were the Swete family, and in the war years, in 1944, it was bought by a couple, Bertie and Eleanor Stone, as a farm, and later became an early and successful example of a farm bed and breakfast enterprise to bolster family income from the mixed farm of some 90 acres.

Families came on repeat holidays, most commonly from Dublin, year in, year out, and the current owner, John Stone — an only child of the couple who’d bought in 1944 — recalls the excitement when families arrived with children in tow who kicked balls around and roamed free on the farm.

This was a real farm, with pigs, sheep, cattle, hens and working horses at one stage.

John recalls sickly bonhams and lambs cradled under warming red lights in Milton House’s basement, if and when they needed extra care, while livestock were kept, almost right up to the back door and yard, with yards, old stone stables, barns, and outbuilding right to hand and in daily use.

That was then.

Now, a generation later, the wheel turns once more.

John Stone had trained as a vet in Trinity College Dublin, and met and married a Brinny woman, Sandra, who’d studied in nearby University College Dublin; they now have grown adult children, and grandchildren, and the decision to sell on Milton House after two Stone generations has been made, as the next generation are living and working outside of Cork.

The place, as they prepare to wind down, is a credit to their care, work, sense of place, and love of home.

Lucky will be the next family who get to have free-range childhoods here.

It’s just been listed, as an autumn harvest home, by estate agent Ron Krueger of Engel and Volkers, based in Kinsale.

He guides the 4,300 sq ft four-bed, over-basement house a five-minute spin from Bandon and close to Crossmahon, at €1.1m.

It’s a very full package, just a half hour from Cork City and airport.

A buyer could be local, who’s known about the house and who knows it’s the first time in nearly 75 years it has come up for sale.

They could be city based, or from overseas: Mr Krueger is keeping all options open, and had his first viewings in recent days.

It’s offered on 16 acres at that €1.1m price, but there’s an option to get more land, up to 40 acres if so desired, and already included are two adjacent, fullly restored/converted and utterly charming two-storey guest cottages, currently let out, but available with vacant
possession if desired.

There’s also a long row of stone outbuildings/former stables, bone dry under galvanised roofs, whose walls are as old as the main, lovingly tended and gently upgraded house itself, along with a small steel barn, and a bigger, three-column steel barn with lean-tos.

There’s also mature and specimen trees, including monkey puzzle, chestnut, weeping ash, and many beech trees; flower and shrub beds for year-round colour and interest; geese and hens in well-fenced compounds (the ducks are no longer all in a row); abundant veg and herb and flower beds fed a diet of organic manure, a polytunnel, and feature gardens, naturalistically done, and mostly down to the creative talents of John Stone himself.

One senses he gets restless without a project: while out of work with a back injury, he crafted a garden pergola out of dozens of railway sleepers.

He admits he had a bit of help with the heavy lifting in that case....

It’s now bedecked with roses and fragrant climbers, enjoyed from a traditional cast iron and timber garden bench, and the outline of tonne-weight sleepers can still be discerned as supporting columns: “The children call it my Coliseum,” he admits.

With 16 acres and a lovely sense of enclosure and privacy, Milton House could be bought and run as a hobby farm, graced with large fields of pasture.

There is a rear courtyard and safe playground for the grandkids, picture pretty and pristine, with boundary-high walls swathed in jasmine, clematis, passion flowers, honeysuckle, and ivies, all luxuriant thanks to copious feeds of farm manure.

The Stone family were noted breeders of award-winning Simmentals, with trophies and citations and rosettes and show photos adorning the walls, and that interest has passed on to the next Stone generation, now living up the country.

Of late, retired vet John has branched out into breeding Wagyu cattle, known for their strong, highly marbled, and prized meat.

The herd’s down to about a dozen now, and is likely to be sold — or could be included in the house sale as ‘unfixed’ fittings? Graze and favour?

The gardens and grounds are a delight from the moment you pass the gates, past the empty but painted-up ancient gate lodge, up along a beech tree-lined avenue, passing a flock of geese amid the colour and greenery.

It’s a little like walking into a Walter Osborne impressionist painting, while autumn has not yet dimmed or bowed the heads of giant sunflowers, some 9ft tall, with heads the size of serving trays.

Speaking of which, this is a property that would have had servants ‘back in the day’.

The iconoclastic bells used for summoning staff have gone the way of the staff, or at least they are missing, but many other reminders of early 1800s life are preserved, like the small bread oven inset into a stone wall in the basement, where a reordering of originally small store rooms has been sensitively done, with refashioned stone walls, making for a handy lower-ground home office, games room with full-size snooker table, sauna room, laundry and store, all in immaculate order.

During owners John and Sandra’s time, they dug back the lower, outer level below a damp course, and now air circulates freely, light can penetrate deep into the rooms, and they’re drier and more usable than they’ve ever been.

(When first bought, the family lived in the basement and rented the upper floor to a well known local vet.

It was only after John got bronchitis at age three that his parents decided to move up, literally and figuratively, to the grander upper floors.)

Over the decades, Sandra and John have sensitively upgraded, bit by bit.

The house is reroofed, with a proper membrane, and chimneys have been relined.

While there’s modern double glazing to the back of the house, the main facade has sash windows to the front (nine panes over six) and side have been remade true to the period, with slender glazing bars, funded in part by grants, and, in the main, by SSIAs.

Shutters all work, and several rooms have a double aspect.

Floor boards are original old pine, the staircase with curving and rising mahogany handrail is elegance personified, with curved, coved ceilings above, and principal reception rooms also have unostentatious plaster work.

There are three main reception rooms at ground, two to the front, with a cosier winter/evening room behind, with woodburning stove, and pride of place is given to the gleaming, walnut grand piano, not currently playing its best, but French-polished to perfection.

There’s an unusual, but effective kitchen/dining arrangement, with a kitchen to the rear featuring granite tops on a central island.

There’s an electric oven, and all the accoutrements, and units painted in funky shades of avocado and aubergine... but, good and all as it is, it’s not the oft-cliched ‘heart of the house’.

That ‘heart/hearth’ status goes naturally to the front dining room, with its sense of proportion, twin tall sash windows, and ornate plasterword arch now cradling an enormous, six-oven deep blue Aga.

“I wasn’t going to be in the kitchen behind, with the light streaming in and the views beyond,” Sandra rightly justifies.

She says she uses the Aga all the time, has rarely used the electric oven, and so this hospitable, elegant room is also home to a novel wash/sink area, and a dark wood dresser, plus central dining table and seats.

Milton House is symmetrical in its front facade, with limestone steps arching over the pushed-back basement ‘moat’ to the fan-lit front door, and welcoming hall.

From here, the original stairs and handrail curves up and around to a broad landing, with four bedrooms off, two with en suites, and one has a walk-in dressing room/wardrobe as well.

An attractive ornate oval window in a painted wood frame is in the divide wall between the landing and what’s now the master bed’s en suite, and looks original to the period: in fact, it was conceived of by John and Sandra, and made to feel right at home.

Creature comforts are provided for by oil-fired central heating, and open fireplaces, and there’s a wood-burning stove in the evening ‘withdrawing room’ study, and back in the house’s earlier incarnation, this room had linked into the upper floor of the adjacent stone cottages, with the main space used for hosting dances.

Now looking to hook Milton House up with new partners, agent Ron Krueger of Engel and Volkers says it’s a superb property “and a very handsome buy for a pertinent buyer, as it would make a wonderful family home or indeed a superb small farm or equestrian holding.”

VERDICT: Poetic, indeed.

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