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In William Blake’s Lambeth

September 2, 2018
by the gentle author

Celebrating the ninth birthday of Spitalfields Life with a week of favourite posts from the past year

Glad Day in Lambeth

If you wish to visit William Blake’s Lambeth, just turn left outside Waterloo Station, walk through the market in Lower Marsh, cross Westminster Bridge Rd and follow Carlisle Lane under the railway arches. Here beneath the main line into London was once the house and garden, where William & Catherine Blake were pleased to sit naked in their apple tree.

Yet in recent years, William Blake has returned to Lambeth. Within the railway arches leading off Carlisle Lane, a large gallery of mosaics based upon his designs has been installed, evoking his fiery visions in the place where he conjured them. Ten years work by hundreds of local people have resulted in dozens of finely-wrought mosaics bringing Blake’s images into the public realm, among the warehouses and factories where they may be discovered by the passerby, just as he might have wished. Trains rumble overhead with a thunderous clamour that shakes the ancient brickwork and cars roar through these dripping arches, creating a dramatic and atmospheric environment in which to contemplate his extraordinary imagination.

On the south side of the arches is Hercules Rd, site of the William Blake Estate today, where he lived between 1790 and 1800 at 13 Hercules Buildings, a three-storey terrace house demolished in 1917. Blake passed ten productive and formative years on the south bank, that he recalled as ‘Lambeth’s vale where Jerusalem’s foundations began.’ By contrast with Westminster where he grew up, Lambeth was almost rural two hundred years ago and he enjoyed a garden with a fig tree that overlooked the grounds of the bishop’s palace. This natural element persists in the attractively secluded Archbishop’s Park on the north side of the arches, where I found celandines and fritillaria in flower this week in the former palace grounds.

To enter these sonorous old arches that span the urban and pastoral is to discover the resonant echo chamber of one of the greatest English poetic imaginations. When I visited I found myself alone at the heart of Lambeth yet in the presence of William Blake, and it is an experience I recommend to my readers.

‘There is a grain of sand in Lambeth that Satan cannot find”

These mosaics were created by South Bank Mosaics which is now The London School of Mosaic

You may also like to take a look

The Songs of Innocence

The Songs of Experience

5 Responses leave one →
  1. September 2, 2018

    Thank you again for this. I am restricted to ‘virtual’ tours these days, but the feel of the underpass, the echoes are real, while Blake’s verse carries me back seventy years. I salute the mosaic makers.

  2. Richard Smith permalink
    September 2, 2018

    I hope William approves of the work on display. I think he would. Well done to all those involved in the mosaics.

  3. September 3, 2018

    Thank you for all this. I will revisit it often.

  4. September 4, 2018

    A little magic in South London. Blake is such an important British, nar I say English, poet. Imagination and spiritual vision is in short supply these days, so exciting to see light in the underpass.

  5. Margaret McDermott permalink
    September 5, 2018

    We need Blake’s vision and compassion more than ever in these sad and troubled times.

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