Visit Milton today, and you will find the abbey church still there. The main house to the north of it has changed ownership several times and been restored and extended by Damer and others after him. It is now part of Milton Abbey School. A public footpath follows the line of the former Back Street from south to north through most of the estate, and members of the public are permitted to use the path that goes up to the entrance of the church.
As you enter the church your attention will soon be drawn to the memorial to Caroline Damer, who died in 1775. It is a large marble sculpture by Carlini. Caroline lies passively on her back, one arm beside her and the other resting below her left breast, and her head facing upwards. You wonder whether she is meant to be alive or dead. Joseph Damer could not resist the temptation to have his own likeness carved lying beside her, but propped up on one elbow in a position that conveys an attitude of possession and domination.
While still in the church you may be fortunate enough to be offered the services of a volunteer guide. When I was there the volunteer guide, Chuck Compton, had just been told that the coach load of visitors he was expecting would not be coming after all as their coach was unable to get under a low bridge half a mile away. I was invited to be a substitute one person audience. Among the information received from Chuck were the following items:
- Two of the houses in the town of Milton were allowed by Damer to remain intact. One of them, now called Greenwalk Cottage, was occupied by a woman thought to be Damer's mistress. - Below the memorial to Caroline Damer lies the crypt where several members of the Damer family were buried. One of the coffins was alleged to contain the remains of Damer's oldest son, John, who was reported to have shot himself at an inn in Covent Garden. However, more than one resident of Milton claimed to have seen John Damer alive some time later, and a rumour went around that the coffin must have been filled with stones. Evidence in favour of the rumour was obtained much later, when in the course of repair work in the crypt it was noticed that one coffin was a lot heavier than the others. - Soon after William Harrison had won his court case against Joseph Damer, the bells in the church were heard ringing. Damer assumed that people from Milton had set the bells ringing to celebrate Harrison's victory, and ordered the bells to be taken down. In fact the bells were being rung to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day.
Having seen the site of the old town of Milton and visited the church you will undoubtedly want to go back down the hill and take a gentle stroll up the main street of Milton Abbas. In a short story entitled The Doctor's Legend Thomas Hardy told the tale of a wealthy squire who moved a village so that it would be out of sight of his house. Joseph Damer is not named, but the story is clearly based upon him and his reputation. You can read the story at the DarlynThomas website.