diamond geezer

 Friday, September 30, 2016



There was a time, when Sundays were special, that most English families owned only three books. The Bible was one, Pilgrim's Progress another, and the third was Paradise Lost. Its author was John Milton, a 17th century poet and politician, and "one of the preeminent writers in the English language". Paradise Lost is an epic tale in blank verse, more than ten thousand lines of the stuff, with leading roles for Satan, Adam and Eve and a cast of supporting angels. Impressively the author wrote none of it, every word was dictated, because Milton went blind fifteen years before Paradise Lost was published. And the twelve volumes were finished off in the only one of his homes that still stands, a rented cottage in the village of Chalfont St Giles, a few miles to the west of London.
Now came still evening on, and twilight gray
Had in her sober livery all things clad;
Silence accompany'd; for beast and bird,
They to their grassy couch, these to their nests,
Were slunk, all but the wakeful nightingale;
She all night long her amorous descant sung.
John Milton didn't stay here long, just long enough to escape the Plague in the City, and for the Great Fire to wipe out his London property. But Milton's Cottage remains of national importance, and has been in the hands of a group of volunteers since 1887 when Queen Victoria was first to chip in with some money to save it. It is a gorgeously higgledy building, with irregular brick chimneys and gables askew, and is in fact three old cottages knocked together - John lived in the end one.



In the room where the great author would have sat and pondered, at a wooden desk in front of a roaring hearth, the museum has a unique collection of first editions. You can also sit down and read an illustrated version of his epic, should you have the time, and be wilfully impressed by Milton's command of English. He introduced hundreds of words to the language, far more than Shakespeare, including 'echoing', 'lovelorn', 'padlock', 'fragrance', 'terrific' and 'gloom'. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein kicks off with a direct quote from Paradise Lost, as is the title of Philip Pullman's trilogy 'His Dark Materials'.
Which thus must ever fight,
Unless th' Almighty Maker them ordain
His dark materials to create more Worlds,
Into this wilde Abyss the warie fiend
Stood on the brink of Hell and look'd a while,
Pondering his Voyage.
Don't worry, the museum's not all books, there are for example portraits and busts and pottery sculptures, plus a lock of hair from a disinterred corpse that might or might not be John's. None of the furniture from the rented home survives, obviously, but the floorboards are "as trodden", and a high-backed chair in the adjacent room is thought to be an original from a home elsewhere. It's also illuminating to read about Milton's separate life as a politician, rising swiftly to Cromwell's favour in the month after Charles I was executed and becoming the Commonwealth's equivalent of Foreign Secretary. He spoke more than ten languages and was well travelled in Europe, even meeting up with Galileo on his travels for a chat. But the mid 17th century was a turbulent time, so Milton's beliefs fell in and out of favour, resulting in a prison sentence at the Restoration, then huge public acclaim when Paradise Lost went viral.



Having toured the ground floor there's then the garden to explore, which is larger than it first appears, well-tended and informally laid out. Every plant is labelled on a laminated map, if that's your thing, or you can simply wander up and back and round. A nice touch is the miniature Milton's Cottage in a rear flowerbed, like an escapee from a model village, and another is the selection of nature-focused quotations from Paradise Lost scrawled on mirrored tiles and scattered appropriately. The wishing well beside the front lawn is original, and the magnolia nearby was planted by the Queen Mother when she visited in 1977. Indeed she's been, the Queen's been, the next King's been, this is very much a favoured royal dropping-in point.
Nor love thy life, nor hate; but what thou liv'st
Live well; how long or short permit to Heaven.
On previous visits to Chalfont St Giles I'd always found Milton's Cottage closed, because it was only open on Tuesdays. Now Tuesday is the only day it never opens, but make sure you turn up between Easter and the end of October, and not before 2pm, and not on a Sunday or a Monday unless it's a bank holiday weekend. This Saturday would be fine. Bring £7 in cash (not plastic), a price you might think a bit steep for three rooms and a garden, but the volunteers receive no additional funding so deserve all they get, plus they'd be delighted if you bought a souvenir or two. I must praise the two ladies who showed me round, who were excellently informed and brought the place to life, as well as knowing when to step back and leave me to it.

Oh, and Chalfont St Giles is lovely too. It has the kind of ye olde village green and independent cottagey shopping parade most estate agents would kill for, and it's Buckinghamshire's Best Kept Village again this year, the lucky residents.

How to get to Chalfont St Giles
» Drive (satnav HP8 4JH) and use the free car park alongside
» Get the 730 bus from Beaconsfield, Gerrards Cross or Uxbridge (hourly)
» Get the 353 bus from Amersham, Gerrards Cross or Slough (two-hourly)
» Walk from the train: Seer Green & Jordans (2 miles) or Gerrards Cross (3 miles)
» Walk cross-country from the tube: Amersham (4 miles), Chalfont & Latimer (3 miles) or Chorleywood (3 miles)


Also nearby
» Chiltern Open Air Museum (1 mile)
» Bekonscot model village (3 miles)


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream