• Deborah Yaffe

Another mansion for sale

Once again, it’s time for every Janeite’s favorite sport: eying up palatial real estate with tangential Jane Austen associations.


Today’s entry concerns Milgate Park, a nearly seven-hundred-year-old red-brick mansion in southeastern England, with nine bedrooms, nearly ten thousand square feet of interior space, several roomy outbuildings, and more than five acres of grounds featuring a pond, a reflecting pool, and a tennis court.


Even among the rarefied company of fancy old houses, Milgate looks pretty breathtaking: scroll through the real estate agent’s gallery for swoon-worthy glimpses of wood paneling, marble fireplaces, trompe l’oeil staircase murals, and an interestingly designed kitchen and bathroom.


And all of this in the middle of Kent, which, as one story about the listing notes, is “a county nicknamed The Garden of England.” (This news would, of course, shock Mrs. Elton, who, in chapter 32 of Emma, memorably insists that only Surrey is ever so distinguished.)


Unlike some houses claiming Austen links, this one’s pedigree is for real: For close to three centuries, Milgate was owned by the Cage family, one of whose members, Lewis Cage, married a sister of Elizabeth Bridges, the wife of Jane Austen’s older brother Edward Knight. Jane Austen doesn’t seem to have visited, but she does make passing mention of Milgate in three of her letters (#23, #37, and #95, in Deirdre Le Faye’s standard edition of Austen’s correspondence), as the current sellers take care to note in their sales pitch.


In the next generation, the link between the families got even closer, as one of the Cages’ daughters married one of Edward and Elizabeth’s sons – a first-cousin marriage straight out of Mansfield Park, except with money on both sides. After the Cages, Milgate’s later owners included a local beer tycoon and the Guinness heiress Lady Caroline Blackwood, along with her husband, the American poet Robert Lowell, who immortalized the house in a poem.


Needless to say, the illustrious pedigree, gorgeous surroundings, and garden-of-England location don’t come cheap: Milgate is on the market for £5 million (about $6.7 million).


Elizabeth Bridges Austen is reputed to have disliked her novel-writing sister-in-law, so it’s kind of delicious that those now marketing the former home of Elizabeth’s well-married sister are highlighting that very connection. Historical irony, baby.

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