The Repton gate is an important part of the history of Milton. It was designed by Humphry Repton (21 April 1752 – 24 March 1818) who is regarded was the last great English landscape designer of the eighteenth century and often regarded as the successor to Capability Brown. The gate, which is now 230 years old, was installed by Repton during his work at Milton Hall.
The building of Milton Hall was started in 1772 by Samuel Knight, son of the Rev Samuel Knight, lord of the manor and Rector at All Saints’ Church. It was built on the site of a house which had previously been built by his father north of the church. The Hall was completed in 1794 after the death of the Rev Knight in 1790.
The grounds were landscaped in 1789 by Humphry Repton promoting informal ‘natural’ landscapes. Milton Hall had its pastureland, with scattered oak trees and a lake, all visible eastwards from the rear of the Hall. Samuel Knight had met Repton while at Trinity College, Cambridge, and they had become friends. Repton was therefore the obvious choice to ask when it came to landscaping the grounds of the Hall. The proof that Repton undertook the task can be found in his account books. In the books he noted the phrase ‘en ami’ which means that this job of landscaping the grounds was for free and for a friend. Repton only charged for his expenses and in return Samuel contributed an essay to Repton’s ‘Variety’. This probably explains why this work does not feature in Repton’s ‘Red Books’ which were given to his paying clients.
The gate, known in Milton today as the Repton Gate, was installed at the entrance to the Rectory in Church Lane. Since this was not listed in Repton’s ‘Red Books’ there was at some time uncertainty as to whether the gate really was the work of Repton. A letter in Country Life in the Dec 6th1962 edition asked the question ‘A Gate by Humphry Repton?’ However, since we know Repton did indeed landscape the grounds for Samuel Knight (which included the rectory entrance) he would have installed a gate. Furthermore, this gate is of classic Repton design, and it is highly unlikely it is by anyone else.
Other examples of this same design of gate have all been attributed to Repton. Indeed, Repton himself painted a picture of the exact design of gate which he installed at Welbeck Abbey in Nottinghamshire, and which is the same as the Milton gate. This can be viewed at: https://www.watercolourworld.org/collections/?s=tww4f015a7a557c797f
There is also an image of the gate in the book ‘The Landscape Gardening and Landscape Architecture of the late Humphry Repton’ by J C Loudon From the gallery of images, (fig 15), the gate shown is the same classic design. In the notes it does say that several of these gates can be found around the Welbeck estate so for Repton this was a common style. The book can be viewed at:https://www.splrarebooks.com/collection/view/the-landscape-gardening-and-landscape-architecture-of-the-late-humphry-rept
There are several historic pictures of the Repton Gate in Milton. One, which can be found on the Milton website (https://www.milton.org.uk/) shows two footballers standing in front of the gate.
Titled ‘Sam Conder and friend outside the Repton Gate’, you can clearly see the limewashed gate but note the very sturdy pillar. Unfortunately, the pillars are no longer around.
Another picture shows a full football team.
Here is the team photographed with the gate in the background. Teams would use the field close by the Rectory that is now North Lodge recreation ground. The story goes that the field had cows on it so before a football match they had to clear up the cow pats so they could play. It could be MJFC (Milton Junior Football Club?) The M is probably compressed into a seam as it would have been a stitched panel leather ball. The player in the middle of the front row looks like the player on the right on the previous picture. The date appears to be 1920-21.
It seems that the gate remained in place until 1988/89 when the drive was widened and raised (possibly by the Waterbeach Royal Engineers) and the old rectory became the Hospice. At that time the gate had therefore been in place for 200 years. It had survived well, although there is evidence that a beam and a few spindles were replaced during its time at the Rectory.
After the gate was removed in late 1980’s it was stored outside in the church grounds. Since the church owned the gate, they arranged for its dry storage at Sunclose Farm in Butt Lane sometime during the mid 1990’s. A picture in the Milton 2000 book shows a picture of the dusty gate stored in the roof of the barn.
In 2022, Milton Parish Council agreed that as part of a developer funded arts project the gate should be restored and put on display. In 2023 once costs were agreed and a future home for the gate had been secured the project began.
Jamie Cakebread of Cambridge Restoration took on the project in early 2023. Here he is seen examining the gate in the loft of Sunclose Farm prior to its removal.
The gate was finally removed from Sunclose Farm on 29th March 2023 and transported to Cambridge Restoration workshops in Ely nearly 30 years after it was first stored in the barn.
The restoration work took just over 2 months. The bottom beam was replaced (the damage can be seen in the above picture), and several of the spindles were also replaced. The aim was to return the gate to a state as it might have looked during its time at the Rectory. Hence, after all the decayed parts were replaced and the metal hinges re-attached, the gate was given a limewash appearance. Some light distressing was added to show an aging gate and what it would have looked like while in service.
The restorers recommend that the gate remains indoors and so the Pavilion at North Lodge Park was chosen as the new home of the gate. This is a very appropriate location being close to where the gate once stood at the entrance to the Rectory. While this does mean that at times the gate will be locked from view it does ensure that better care can be taken of this important 230-year-old Milton relic.
The installation of the gate began on the 14th June 2023.
This is not quite the end to the story. Milton Parish Council commissioned a metal bench which has the Repton design as its back rest. The bench could be seen on Pond Green so that people can view the Repton design at any time.