Concerned Felpham locals gathered last Saturday to discuss the fate of William Blake’s cottage in a meeting led by author and Blake enthusiast Beryl Kingston.
The cottage has been purchased by the Blake Society on behalf of the nation. However, there are worries about funds for repairs and maintenance on the building, as well as its accessibility to the public.
William Blake was one of the most famous English poets of the Romantic era. His most well-known work was the lyrics for hymn Jerusalem. This was written while Blake lived in Felpham. Blake considered it a place of great inspiration, actually writing to a friend: “away to sweet Felpham for heaven is there”.
When the cottage went up for sale in 2013 residents of Felpham were keen that it be bought for the nation and opened for the public to enjoy. The Big Blake Project called for donations and held fundraisers to try to reach the £497,444 that was needed to buy the Grade II listed building.
Mrs Kingston was among those initially optimistic about the interest and support received by the campaign. Others at the meeting on Saturday agreed. However, they were disheartened by the plans for the cottage made by the Blake Society. Tim Heath of the society has stated that the next stage of the project is to appoint a director to run the cottage. This would require a large amount of money alongside the cost of several repairs on the building that have been estimated at £500,000. Those at the meeting concluded that this would be beyond the society’s means, especially considering it also wished to construct a visitors’ centre on the site.
Mrs Kingston presented a photograph proving the cottage’s need for drastic repairs and sparking further concerns that nothing had been done so far. The news that the society will not open the cottage to the public, rather for invited guests, was also not well received. Lack of involvement from the Felpham Village Conservation Society was questioned.
Solutions were also discussed at the meeting. Mrs Kingston explained that there were organisations that could provide funding, such as English Heritage or the National Trust. People agreed that communication between the society and the public would also be beneficiary, as well a dialogue between residents to raise awareness of the situation.
William Blake left Felpham after having being put on trial for sedition. Although it is documented that he was in fact guilty the people of Felpham defended him in court, allowing Blake to walk free. Mrs Kingston asks for that same spirit now. She said: “come on people of Felpham, support Blake!”
More information and an online petition to preserve the cottage can be found at www.berylkingstonblog.wordpress.com.