The Isle of Man’s latest historic site to open is Milntown, a country house and garden on the outskirts of Ramsey. (This is a reversal of history, for Ramsey was, until the late 1880s, on the outskirts of the Milntown estate.)
The house is a delightful early-nineteenth century Gothick confection, built around a seventeenth-century core on an estate that belonged to the McCrystyn, later Christian, family from the early fifteenth century at least.
This was the birthplace of the great Manx hero, William Christian, otherwise Illiam Dhone or Brown William (1608-1663) [See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illiam_Dhone]. Fletcher Christian, the instigator of the mutiny on the Bounty was of the same family.
After the Christian family left, Milntown was a school, a hotel and then a private house belonging to the owners of Yates’ Wine Lodges. The last owner, Sir Clive Edwards, left the estate in trust to the Manx people, and it’s now gradually opening up for public enjoyment.
In an interesting reversal of UK National Trust practice, visitors enter through the tea-shop to reach the proudly organic gardens, which provide produce for the kitchen and an array of the sort of flowers that the monochrome photographer Cecil Beaton sourly described as “retina irritants”.
Designed by Richard Lucas, the garden is a vivid, crowded, complex place to wander, with woodland walks, seats and a mill-pond. The waterwheel of the 1794 mill turns idly, and the mill will one day open to the public.
This will be a site to return to – not least for the serious catering. When you walk in to pay your admission, you see satisfied customers tucking into the full cake-stand for afternoon tea. It’s difficult to resist the temptation on the way out.
Details of Milntown’s opening arrangements are at www.milntown.org.
The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2014 Manx Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £10.00 including postage and packing. To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.