Chalfont St Giles

Chalfont St Giles lies about a quarter of a mile from the A413 about three miles south east of Amersham. This distance from the main road has helped to preserve its identity as a village with church, pond and village green surrounded by cottages. It has a recorded Roman road running through it, so has nearly 2,000 years of history. It is, in fact, a fine example of the development of an English village through the ages.
The church was built in Norman times and the dedication to St  Giles may possibly refer to the beechwoods that once covered the surrounding hills, St Giles being the patron saint of woodlands as well as the sick, poor, lepers and cripples. The east window of the church is said to have been damaged by Cromwell's cannon stationed in Stone Meadow while Cromwell himself was lodged at Stone House. The river Misbourne flows through Stone Meadow and local folklore has it that if it stops flowing it foretells disaster.

The principal great house of St Giles is The Vache, a very ancient manor house. The de la Vache's, the owners of the manor may well have brought the name with them from Normandy when they came to England with William the Conqueror and took possession of the estate. The property passed later to Thomas Fleetwood, Master of the Mint to Queen Elizabeth I, and was held by that family until George Fleetwood, one of the judges of Charles I, was evicted from the property after the Restoration in 1660. The Vache estate is now owned and occupied by the British Coal Board.

Between St Giles and St Peters on the north side of the Misbourne valley is another great house, Newlands Park. It was constructed by a Georgian banker, Abraham Newlands, who eventually became Chief Cashier of the Bank of England. At that time all bank notes were signed by hand and since Mr Newland's signature appeared on £5 notes they were popularly known as 'Newlands'.

Chalfont St Giles is principally known for Milton's cottage, although it was never owned by him. When the Plague came to London in 1665 John Milton asked his friend and former pupil, Thomas Ellwood to find him a refuge. Ellwood rented the cottage on Milton's behalf but could not be on hand to welcome Milton and his family to the cottage because he was in prison for being a Quaker. He was released from prison while Milton was still at the cottage and visited him there. Milton is said to have handed him the manuscript of Paradise Lost which he had just completed, asking for his opinion. On returning the manuscript Ellwood said 'Thou has said much here about Paradise lost, but what has thou to say of Paradise found?' Legend relates that after the Plague Milton returned to London and wrote Paradise Regained. The cottage is now the only existing building in which Milton is known to have lived. It was purchased by public subscription in 1887 in honour of Queen Victoria's Jubilee, the Queen heading the list with a donation of £20.
On the hillside above Chalfont St Giles is an obelisk some 60 feet high made of flintstones with the corners strengthened with brick. Although the obelisk itself gives no clue as to why it is there, local legend has it that at this spot King George III, being out hunting and separated from his attendants by a sudden fog, accosted a yokel and asked where he was. The yokel replied that 'Peters is down there and Giles over yonder but this 'ere ain't rightly a place at all'. To which the King replied 'we will make it a place then'. He had the obelisk erected to mark the spot.

Article written by members of the Buckinghamshire Federation of Women's Institutes for the publication "The Buckinghamshire Village Book" (1987) and reproduced here with their permission

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