During the eighteenth century a popular trend among wealthy landowners was to turn their property into a very large park. Areas containing gently sloping hillsides and flowing streams were much favoured for such transformation. Fields, hedges and the less attractive trees would be removed, and in their place would be installed acres of grass, lakes, occasional ornamental temples, and exceptionally long driveways. Landscape designers such as Lancelot "Capability" Brown became famous. The main house would be enlarged or replaced by a much grander residence. The only feature likely to be left intact would be any place of worship that might exist somewhere within the estate.
Many such estates contained a town or village that might have been in existence for several centuries. The general view taken by emparking landlords was that such a community was unsightly and would diminish the splendour of their proposed developments. Measures were devised to persuade the residents of the town or village to move to alternative accommodation.
Chapter 9 in Richard Muir, The Lost Villages of Britain, contains an excellent description of the fashion for emparking, with details of several communities that were its victims. Do not read this chapter, however, unless you are prepared to suffer feelings of indignation and a determination never again to visit a National Trust property.
The town of Milton disappeared in the years following 1769. Originally called Middleton, apparently because it was in the middle of Dorset or halfway between Dorchester and Blandford, it had a history going back as least as far as the tenth century.
A church was built there during the reign of Athelstan, who following sundry conquests had become the first king of all England. The charter of the church was granted by Athelstan himself, and may have been intended to atone for the death of Athelstan's brother, Edwin, who died off the coast of Dover in 933. There are various accounts of the death of Edwin, one of which asserts that Athelstan received reports that Edwin was plotting against him and then arranged for him to be put to sea in an unsafe vessel and just one squire for company. According to this account Edwin threw himself overboard and was drowned. Athelstan soon came to regret his decision and ordered the construction of the church. Relics deposited by Athelstan within the church are said to have included a fragment of the cross on which Christ was crucified, a great cross of gold, silver, and precious stones, and the arm and other bones of Saint Sampson, to whom the church was dedicated.
For more information on the various versions of the death of Edwin and Athelstan's part in it see the early pages of J P Traskey, Milton Abbey: A Dorset Monastery in the Middle Ages, Compton Press, 1978.
The first clergymen based at the church of Middleton were secular priests. In 964, however, the priests were expelled on the orders of King Edgar and Benedictine monks were installed in their place. The abbey and monastery, whose history is fully chronicled in Traskey's book, survived until 1539, when as part of the general Dissolution of the Monasteries the abbot was invited to surrender all property, powers, and rights associated with the monastery.
The Deed of Surrender, dated 11 March 1539, is reproduced as Appendix IX in J P Traskey's book.
The Milton estate was sold by Henry VIII to John Tregonwell on 23 February 1540 -
See Appendix X
- and over the next two hundred years passed through the hands of various owners.