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The ancestors of the Barker-Mill family who can be traced back to the 14th century have played a vital part in the history of Southampton. The heraldic shield of the Mills can be seen alongside those of other great families on the Bargate, the fortified Norman tower guarding the entrance to what was once in the 16th century the third greatest port in the land.
The various Sir John Mills and Sir Charles Mills never chose to make an impact on the national stage but minded their own business in town and country life around Hampshire, where they have been influential local landowners for 500 years. Today the Mills are better known as the Barker-Mill family - still holding estates on the outskirts of Southampton.
The first John Mill left his mark as a merchant in Southampton's thriving and cosmopolitan trading centre, circa 1504. By 1613 his family was well enough established to afford an impressive memorial in Nursling Church, Southampton. Sir Richard Mill and his wife Mary, plump and colourful in painted alabaster, lie propped up on their elbows, serenely surveying their one-time domain. In the English Civil War 30 years later, the family was divided by the sword. Sir John Mill fought for the king, his father-in-law was for parliament. But in 1670, Baronet Sir John Mill played fast and loose with royal favour. Made a New Forest bailiff by Charles II, he later appeared in court for illegally cutting down a coppice at Bartley, near Lyndhurst.
In the 18th century the family made up for the turmoil of the previous 100 years. They inherited Mottisfont Abbey near Romsey, where trees they planted still grow today. Later Nursling and Millbrook became Mill land. 1836 saw the first Barker-Mill. The Rev Sir John Barker-Mill was a jolly Pickwickian figure, famous for his loud check trousers and cherry-coloured ties. His foxhunt, founded in 1836, stopped in 1839 because excessive numbers of foxes were being killed! His pack was re-launched a few years later and eventually became the Hursley Hunt.
Victorian matriarch Mrs Marianne Vaudrey Barker-Mill was the opposite of Pickwickian. In a bid to curtail drinking and gambling she revoked the lease for several local pubs, and a racecourse on her land at Stockbridge. But she was a good businesswoman. To pull Barker-Mill estate finances into shape, she sold land at Millbrook which grew into Southampton's massive docks.
Other dynamic Barker-Mill women followed. Brenda Barker-Mill set up a chauffeur service for tourists after the Great War, taking travellers as far as Edinburgh in a second-hand Rolls Royce. Brenda's son Peter was an artist, but creating vast sculptures and illustrating books with woodcuts didn't distract him from his local responsibilities. He gave land and cash for a new village hall in Nursling in 1969, and later donated a site for Foxhills School near Ashurst. Barker-Mill land also helped solve Southampton's post-war housing shortage, providing space for the huge Lordshill estate and more than 3,000 houses at Millbrook.
Peter's widow, Caroline died at Wookey House in September 2007 at the age of 98. He is survived by his daughter Amanda and son Adam, both of whom live locally near the New Forest and in London. Adam is a painter and film-maker and now concentrates on "light boxes", building pieces which, although often restrained and simple in form, demonstrate the intriguing complexity of light and colour relationships. He has exhibited widely in galleries around the world. Adam has a daughter and son by his first marriage and three sons by his second marriage to his wife Carolyn.
Amanda has dedicated herself to family and estate. She launched Britain's first Butterfly Farm in the New Forest in 1981, and developed Longdown Dairy Farm as a tourist attraction in 1985. She is a talented garden designer and worked closely with her architect on Coast House, her outstanding home in Lymington. Amanda has twin daughters by her first marriage.
The history of the family can be found in "The Barker-Mill Story - A Hampshire family since the 16th Century" by Tessa Lecomber and is available from the Longdown Estate Office.
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