On-Going Initiatives at Milton’s Cottage
Chalfont St Giles is proud to have in its midst a grade one listed cottage of such importance that visitors come from all over the world to see it and to experience the atmosphere of the life and times of John Milton. The cottage is the only extant home of the great poet and parliamentarian, and the Trust which manages the Cottage takes its role of telling the story of John Milton very seriously. It recognises its place as the foremost centre of matters Miltonic.
The Trust, with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund, were able to acquire in 2006 two important volumes of various tracts including four of Milton’s pamphlets supporting his views on religion and attacking the misused power of the Bishops. These are displayed at the Cottage in a new cabinet for the visitor and student.
Many other projects have happened at the cottage over the past few years with an objective of enhancing the museum, the garden and the exhibits to better promote the John Milton story, and to attract more visitors.
A New Entrance
Thanks to a lottery grant, the Trust has been able to create a new entrance off the street, a small shop area, and ample space for the large library of reference books.
Two seventeenth century book acquisitions have been a fine copy of the Areopagitica, Milton’s speech to Parliament on the freedom of speech and non censorship of the press, which is to Milton’s prose what Paradise Lost is to his poetry, and Eikonoklastes, Milton’s answer to the King’s defence of the Divine Right of Kings.
Rare 17th century books are on display, having been purchased with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, enhancing the story of Milton’s political career and showing its importance today. Amongst these is a copy of the Articles of Peace, which includes John Milton’s “observations”. This book deals with the problems in Ireland during the 1640’s.
At auction, we acquired a remarkable portrait of John Milton, aged about 45, painted posthumously by the great artist Sir Godfrey Kneller around 1690. We also have on loan a superb scene from the Masque, Comus, entitled “Comus and the Benighted Lady”
The Trust has been busy with conservation, restoring many of the best pictures. We have also carried out a programme of repair to the most important volumes.
The garden is now a pretty cottage garden, containing many of the plants mentioned in Milton’s writings. In what was a derelict corner, a water feature has been built, and overlooking “his” garden is a fine bust of Milton.
Royal visit in 2008
All of this costs money. The Trust relies on its very existence on visitors, the modest profits from the sale of souvenirs, and donations. Major projects are usually funded by grants and by the efforts of the Society of Friends of Milton’s Cottage, and their counterparts in the USA and Japan. It is necessary, however, for the Trust to find a substantial proportion of each expenditure itself…..this is called partnership funding.
Visitors are the bread and butter of our museum without whom this valuable heritage site would have difficulty in surviving.
Queen Victoria opened the subscription list for the purchase of the Cottage in 1887. The Cottage and garden have been honoured by visits from Her Majesty the Queen, Her Late Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother; Her Late Royal Highness, the Princess Margaret Countess of Snowdon; and His Royal Highness, the Duke of Gloucester on separate occasions.
To celebrate the quater centenary of Milton’s birth in 2008, Their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall also visited.