A MAJOR festival celebrating the poetry of former Bemerton rector George Herbert is to be held in Salisbury in July.

Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, and Andrew Motion, a former poet laureate, will be the headline speakers at the event, which will be runover three days from July 10 to 12.

Talks, discussions and music have been scheduled for venues including Salisbury Playhouse, St John’s and St Andrew’s churches in Bemerton, Sarum College and Wilton House.

Canon Judy Rees, chairman of the organising group of local Herbert admirers, said it was time to mark the 17th century poet’s work and life as there had not been any large-scale commemoration in Salisbury since 1933, the 300th anniversary of his death.

Canon Rees said: “People come from all over the world to Bemerton because of Herbert. We have held a few events, so our confidence has grown and we felt we could organise a festival.

“Rowan Williams is a huge lover of Herbert and a poet. The minute he retired as Archbishop, I wrote and invited him. He immediately wrote back to say he would do it.”

Herbert, who wrote devotional poetry that also appeals to people who are not religious, was Rector of Fugglestone-cum-Bemerton for about three years before he died of consumption aged 39.

At the time the parish had about 300 inhabitants, compared with 16,000 now.

As well as giving a talk about why Herbert matters, Dr Williams, who is now the Master of Madgelene College, Cambridge, will take part in a symposium with Sir Andrew and Gillian Clarke, the National Poet of Wales. He will also participate in a words and music session and convene another session for teenagers.

Academics, performers and composer Barry Ferguson will also be taking part in the festival, which is a mixture of free and charged-for events.

The festival will close with a service at Salisbury Cathedral on the morning of July 13. The festival brochure should be available from April 1 and booking, through Salisbury Playhouse, will be possible from April 22.