Obituary: Michael Milburn

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The Independent Online
Michael Frederick Hewlins Milburn, agriculturalist and festival organiser: born 17 February 1923; Lt-Cdr Royal Navy, retired 1952; land agent 1956-62; married 1949 Elspeth Spottiswood (four sons, one daughter); died Plymouth 24 May 1993.

MICHAEL MILBURN was a highly proficient naval officer, whose distinguished record included service in HMS Ajax, and in action at Crete and the Normandy Landings. But in the early Fifties he resigned to retrain as an agriculturist, and founded the Bocaddon Poetry Festival in Cornwall.

Milburn had a deep love of the land, particularly of Cornwall and its landscape, which stemmed from childhood in the West Country, where his father was a Somerset landowner. After studying estate agency and forestry, he became the Earl of Plymouth's land agent, which gave him the practical experience needed to acquire Bocaddon, near Lanreath, in Cornwall and develop it into a thriving modern farm.

Milburn involved himself in many local activities - serving on the parish council, and with the Samaritans; and was connected with poetry and arts festivals, organising several himself at Bocaddon. Being something of a natural poet himself, he numbered many literary figures and painters among his friends, both in Cornwall and London, where he was equally at home in the Chelsea Arts Club.

The Bocaddon Poetry Festival, founded by him with the aid of a grant from South West Arts, took place on three or four occasions during the late Seventies and early Eighties, and proved a potent draw to poets both well-known or aspiring, and especially those who made their homes in Cornwall, including Charles Causley and Peter Redgrove. Not only poets - but writers in all genres, painters and musicians, their families and friends, who foregathered to hear the readings and listen to the music, enjoy eating and drinking in the relaxed atmosphere and creative spirit for which the festival became justly known.

In 1949 he had married Elspeth Spottiswood, daughter of an Aberdeenshire landowner. At Bocaddon the Milburns, together with their growing family of five children, kept open house and fed and watered a stream of visitors who looked on it as a dear and second home. Both were the kind of hosts who gave their guests freedom to enjoy themselves, to read, walk, fish, or simply sit about chatting in some Cornish pub such as the Ship at Lerryn on the river Fowey.

Milburn loved travel, camped all over southern Europe with his wife and children before it became commonplace, and visited Russia, before the Iron Curtain rose, to see the icons. In his later years he developed an interest in Jung and the Persian mystics, being that very English mix of practical man drawn to things of the spirit.

He was interested in the teaching of Meher Baba, the silent Indian 'God-Man', who had declared, 'I've come not to teach, but to awaken, to bring together all relgions and cults like beads on one string and revitalise them'; yet Milburn found his natural expression in the mystical Sufi tradition, as exemplified by Faz'al Inayat Khan, teacher and psychotherapist, whose grandfather brought Sufi teaching to the west in 1910.

In the Eighties Milburn sold Bocaddon and rebuilt nearby Trevawden, ably supported by Chitrani Hammond, whose own work as a painter he had helped foster. There he continued to entertain people of all ages, nature-watch, plant trees and shrubs, and play with his beloved grandchildren.

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