POET John Milton, one of Chalfont St Giles’ most famous residents, will be celebrated in church services, lectures and exhibitions this week to mark 400 years since his birth.

Kicking off events is a special commemorative evening with poet laureate Andrew Motion at Chalfont St Giles Parish Church this Sunday.

The celebration also features a string ensemble and St Paul’s School choir. Among the guests expected to attend are Lord Richard Harries, former Bishop of Oxford, and Earl Howe, chairman of the Milton Cottage Trust.

Speaking to Freetime earlier this year, Andrew Motion said that Milton rates “alongside Shakespeare and Wordsworth” but warned that he is becoming “increasingly unread” by the public.

The poet laureate, who appeared at the Chalfont St Giles and Jordans Literary Festival in May, said: “Milton’s work really is quite hard to match. Just reading his poetry aloud is enough to grind people to a halt.

“But there’s no doubt he is quite hard to access.”

He added: “I think what’s important to recognise is that not all poetry is immediately accessible, you might just have to work at the poems a bit. But once you do, you can see just how rich they truly are.”

Milton’s links to Buckinghamshire are well-documented. Born in London on December 9, 1608, the English poet, civil servant and staunch Republican later moved to a cottage in Chalfont St Giles to escape the plague. It was during his brief stay there in 1665 that Milton completed his most famous work, Paradise Lost, as well as developing Paradise Regained.

Milton’s cottage in Deanway still stands and has been developed into a museum dedicated to his life and works.

Across the region, the village of Horton, near Datchet, will also celebrate the life of Milton, who lived there from 1632 to 1638.

On Tuesday, December 9, the Mayor, Cllr Dorothy Kemp, will unveil a blue plaque at the entrance to Milton’s former home at Berkyn Manor Farm in Stanwell Road.

There will also be a civic service held at St Michael’s Church at 7.30pm, attended by the High Sheriff of Berkshire Dr Carolyn Boulter and Deputy Lord Lieutenant Gordon Story. Wreaths will also be laid in the church at the tomb of Milton’s mother.

Commemorative Evensong for John Milton takes place on Sunday, December 7, 6.30pm, at The Parish Church, Chalfont St Giles. Details: www.chalfontstgileschurch.org.uk
Civic service on Tuesday, December 9, 7.30pm, in St Michael’s Church, Stanwell Road, Horton. Details: 01784 481258
For more anniversary events go to http://milton-2008.lib.cam.ac.uk/