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In William Blake’s London

November 27, 2019
by the gentle author

On the eve of the great poet’s birthday, let me take you on a journey to William Blake’s London

Glad Day in Lambeth

If you wish to visit William Blake’s London, 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 in Lambeth 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 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

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10 Responses leave one →
  1. November 27, 2019

    Many thanks for the fine photographs of the mosaics. Nearby, by the way, and miraculously intact amidst all vast commercial development is ‘iklektic’ (& other studios/venues/allotments of counter culture) that frequently hosts music & poetry in the wide spirit of Blake. I think also that tomorrow there will the traditional gathering of poets (at Tate Britain) from 1pm to celebrate William Blake. Many thanks again for bringing these images (including the rough sleepers tents) home to us

  2. Richard Smith permalink
    November 27, 2019

    It would be interesting to reflect on what William Blake would think of the present day London and it’s people.

  3. Bernie permalink
    November 27, 2019

    Astonishing imagination and enterprise!

    This urban art gallery should be better-known.

  4. Noelle permalink
    November 27, 2019

    Wonderful collection of mosaics which I wasn’t familiar with at all. I live right by St Mary’s church in Battersea (not far from Battersea Bridge) where the Blakes married; it is a lovely thing to learn more of the different areas of London wherein they made their homes. Happy Birthday dear Mr Blake!

  5. Colin permalink
    November 27, 2019

    Fabulous mosaics and what a good piece of informative writing too. Blake was quite a man of London – I am formerly from Peckham, site of his ‘vision’ on The Rye so feel a ‘borough’ connection too.
    Mosaic work is such a good use of these dark, sometimes forbidding spaces, there are more mosaics of a royalty theme decorating the arch on Black Prince Rd, off Albert Embankment – just beyond the very ornate Doulton building. I happened upon them a couple of years ago to pleasant surprise and spent far longer walking through that rail arch than any ever before!

  6. Dean Armond permalink
    November 28, 2019

    A wonderful and inspirational article, thank you Gentle Author!

    William Blake was a fascinating person and so much of what he had to say remains relevant to life today.

    Well done indeed for highlighting this incredible individual!

  7. Margaret McDermott permalink
    November 28, 2019

    “Every night and every morn/Some to misery are born/Every morn and every night/Some are born to sweet delight”. Where is our Blake now.

  8. Venetia Horton permalink
    November 29, 2019

    Thank you. These are wonderful.

  9. Colin Lennon permalink
    November 29, 2019

    These are lovely mosaics and I get to enjoy them frequently as the archway is part of my favourite walk from Tate Britain to Tate Modern – the Bishop’s park and the Garden Museum by Lambeth Palace are also close by.

  10. Carolyn Hooper permalink
    November 30, 2019

    Simply delightful, gentle author. Here’s to the Blakes and also the mosaic makers of current times.

    From the Land Down Under

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