Raising the Roof

A thatched roof of rusted gold

A fundraising campaign is launched today to repair the roof of Blake’s Cottage in West Sussex where William Blake wrote the hymn Jerusalem beneath his ‘thatched roof of rusted gold’.

The cottage was rescued by The Blake Cottage Trust in 2015 who purchased it for the nation, and all lovers of Blake across the world. The Trust is now launching a fundraising appeal to restore the thatch and then renovate the building in time for the two hundredth anniversary of Blake’s death in 2027. The Cottage is one of the only two surviving homes of the poet, artist and visionary William Blake (1757-1827).

The Cottage is in Felpham on the Sussex coast, an old village named in the Domesday Book and is a 17th century, grade II* listed thatched brick & flint cottage. Blake’s own etching of the Cottage is pictured above.

William and his wife Catherine (1762-1831) lived in the Cottage for 3 years from 1800-1803 – a critical turning point in Blake’s life. It was during this period that Blake wrote the hymn Jerusalem with the famous opening lines to And did those feet in ancient times / Walk upon England’s Mountains green?  It was also while living at the Cottage that Blake was accused and put on trial for Treason.

Earlier this year the Blake Cottage Trust applied to Historic England to put the Cottage on the Heritage At Risk Register due to the decay and failure of part of the thatch, roof structure and supporting masonry. The Trust has appointed the architects MICA, who won the architect of the year award in 2020, to oversee the work.

The Secretary of the Trust, Jonathan Mullard, observed ‘We are grateful for the support of Historic England. Fundraising and renovation takes time, but, as Blake wrote: ‘Eternity is in love with the productions of time.”

To support the roof please go to the Donate page

A Year in Review

The year of 2020 saw some wonderful groundwork to the Blake Cottage project.

January began with Tate Britain’s Blake show, a once-in-a-generation exhibition that brought together artworks and visitors from around the world. And at the end of the year there was the first ever Conference on William Hayley, Blake’s patron who invited William and Catherine down to the Cottage in Felpham.

Funding for the Cottage proved elusive in this year of Covid when many of the grant making organisations were retrenching and diverting their funds to existing projects in order to keep them alive during this, the most difficult of all years for organisations in the arts and culture.

Happily just before lockdown there was a magnificent funding campaign that offers the Cottage a fine prospect. In just ten weeks a sum of £3.5m was secured for the purchase, renovation and endowment of Derek Jarman’s cottage in Dungeness. A model for Blake’s Cottage itself.

Pace and Purpose are different beasts and during this year we have kept our focus firmly on the grand purpose. To create a home for Blake that celebrates his genius in all its diversity.

To this end we have encouraged visits from individuals involved in fine art, theatre, poetry, ceramics, music, antinomianism and the green movement.

People often treasure the Cottage because it was where Blake wrote the words that became the anthem Jerusalem, while others locate its importance in its challenge to authority, the place where Blake was accused of treason.

But there are a myriad of reasons why the Cottage should open its doors and welcome visitors beneath its roof of rusted gold. One of these minute particulars is the picture known as Newton. There were two executions of this monoprint, the first in 1795 where it formed part of the collection known as the 12 large colour prints. But the version we are most familiar with, and the one shown above, was made after the turn of the century, and perhaps in the very Cottage in Felpham itself, where Blake had the opportunity to explore the ocean pools at low tide.

Of course, with Blake you can never tell the provenance of his imagination. Is the picture that of Newton or an illustration from the Bible?

When he prepared the heavens I was there:

when he set a compass upon the face of the depth

Proverbs 8.27 of the King James Bible