More than words needed to save William Blake’s cottage from collapse

William Blake vowed in verse never to give up until Jerusalem was built in England’s green and pleasant land.

But his modern-day devotees are striving to save the collapsing cottage where he penned his most famous lines, and which is said to be “one of the most important places in English literary history”.

The thatched roof of the cottage in Felpham, West Sussex,where Blake lived from 1800 to 1803 and wrote the words to Jerusalem, is at risk of collapse. 

Historic England has added the Grade II-listed property, which has had a 1970s bungalow extension added, to a register of sites suffering from neglect.

The Blake Cottage Trust, which bought the property from a private owner in 2015, is also seeking £450,000 to reverse structural damage that threatens the 17th-century building. Jonathan Mullard, the secretary, said: “At the moment, we’re fundraising. Part of that money will be to remove some of the additional 1970s features.”

He said the trust wanted to “remove those extraneous additions” and “bring the cottage back to something that Blake would have known”, adding: “It is the most important physical artefact of Blake’s creative life.”

The cottage’s timber supports are buckling under the weight of its thatched roof after being weakened by damp and woodworm, causing sections of the walls to bend.

Timber supports are buckling under the weight of the thatched roof

Credit: Chris Redgrave/Historic England Archive, Historic England

Money will help fund work to preserve or replace timbers and keep the poet’s residence intact. Adding the cottage to the Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register will also open it up to the possibility of grant funding.

Alma Howell, inspector of historic buildings at Historic England, said: "I think it’s one of the most important places in English literary history.

“It’s where he composed his most significant works, and something that we are all connected to, which is ‘England’s green and pleasant land’. It’s such an important site for English history. He fell in love with it.”

Blake was among the first cohort of Britain’s Romantic poets, and key examples of his verse were said to be inspired by his bucolic surroundings in Felpham, including the words to the future hymn Jerusalem.

His home for three productive years is also mentioned in a poem contained in one of his letters, which said: “Away to sweet Felpham, for Heaven is there / The ladder of Angels descends through the air”.

Blake's cottage has had a 1970s extension added to it, which campaigners would like to remove

Credit: Chris Redgrave

Blake enjoyed the “the sweet air and the voices of winds, trees and birds” and found the locals to be “polite and modest”. However, he was charged with sedition during his stay for allegedly damning the king in the presence of an officer he had thrown off his land.

His cottage, which trustees hope to make suitable for visitors and creative residencies by the 200th anniversary of his death in 2027, has been deemed “at risk” along with 129 other sites across England.

While his former home is under threat, Historic England has announced good news at the former residence of his fellow Romantic, Lord Byron. A mock fort and dock built on the lakeside near his home of Newstead Abbey in Derbyshire has been declared saved after falling masonry was secured.

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