Chalfont St Giles: liberal paradise found?

The Property List programme on Channel 5 has apparently declared Chalfont St Giles in Bucks as a perfect village. I didn’t see the programme so I don’t know if they discussed Chalfont’s liberal heroes. For a plush commuter village, Chalfont St Giles has a proud liberal tradition.

John Milton wrote Paradise Lost there. Milton gets liberal hero status for the Areopagitica, a great argument against censorship: “… as good almost kill a Man as kill a good Book; who kills a Man kills a reasonable creature, Gods Image; but hee who destroyes a good Booke, kills reason it selfe, kills the Image of God, as it were in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the Earth; but a good Booke is the pretious life-blood of a master spirit, imbalm’d and treasur’d up on purpose to a life beyond life”.

In the old Liberal Party, a copy of the Areopagitica was handed to the incoming Party President. Milton argued that people should be able to print whatever they liked, as long as they identified the publisher; “… for regulating the Presse, let no man think to have the honour of advising ye better then your selves have done in that Order publisht next before this, that no book be Printed, unlesse the Printers and the Authors name, or at least the Printers be register’d”. So we also have him to thank for election imprints.

Liberal hero number 2 is William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, who is buried at the Quaker meeting house at Jordans, part of Chalfont St Giles’ parish. Ronald Reagan (in one of his better scripts) praised Penn’s liberal vision: “William Penn, as a British citizen, founded the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in order to carry out an experiment based upon representative government; public education without regard to race, creed, sex, or ability to pay; and the substitution of workhouses for prisons. He had a Quaker’s deep faith in divine guidance, and as the leader of the new colony, he worked to protect rights of personal conscience and freedom of religion. The principles of religious freedom he espoused helped to lay the groundwork for the First Amendment of our Constitution.”

And Chalfont St Giles’ third liberal hero? One Nicholas Peter William Clegg, born there in 1967.


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