Is there any good William Blake tourism to be had in London?
December 12, 2013 5:27 AM   Subscribe

I'm headed to the UK for the first time, and would like to do some sightseeing related to William Blake. Is there anything worth seeing? I've haven't found anything apart from Poet's Corner and this very dodgy seeming walking tour. Alternatively, can anybody advise me as to which museums in the UK are best for viewing Blake's original prints?
posted by HeroZero to Travel & Transportation around London, England (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
He is buried in Bunhill Fields which is definitely worth a visit!
posted by Ziggy500 at 5:43 AM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

There’s a list of his residences, which explains that of all his London addresses, the only one of the original buildings still standing is 17 South Molton Street.

You could visit St. Mary’s church, Battersea, where he was married, and his grave.

Apparently the three major holdings of Blake‚Äôs works in the UK are: Tate Britain ‘Works by Blake always on show with frequent changing exhibitions. Specialist viewing for works not on view by appointment;’ The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; ‘Occasional exhibitions. Blake works viewed by appointment in Study Room;’ and the British Museum, Department of Prints and Drawings, ‘The Department provides access for members of the public to carry out their own research in its study rooms, which are open to all.’ (source).
posted by misteraitch at 5:52 AM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

I was just going to post the William Blake display at Tate Britain. We saw some of them in September.
posted by Kitteh at 5:53 AM on December 12, 2013

I've been to the Fitzwilliam and it's AWESOME. There is also nearby a little hole-in-the-wall antiques place that is tons of fun.
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:55 AM on December 12, 2013

Check out Eduardo Paolozzi's take on Blake's 'Newton' in the gardens at the front of the British Library. It is a short walk from King's Cross or Euston.
posted by 0 answers at 6:02 AM on December 12, 2013

Let me tell you about my William Blake tourism moment in London.

I was raised in the Methodist Church, so when my sister and I spent two weeks in London one Spring, we went to Good Friday services* at Wesley's Chapel. After the service, the church historian offered to take any interested parties on the "Wesley Walk," an afternoon-long walking tour of the building and grounds, and then of sites all over London relevant to John Wesley's life. We're both history buffs and wanted to see old buildings that might not be in the guidebooks, so we eagerly joined the group**.

The first stop was Bunhill Fields, also known as "Dissenters' Cemetery," or "Tindal's Burial Ground," right across the way from the chapel. (Wesley's mother is buried there, along with notables like John Bunyan, Daniel Defoe, George Whitehead, and Isaac Watts.) It was never consecrated by the Church of England, and so became a popular burial ground for Nonconformists.

It was one of those green, dewy London days that makes you realize why Shakespeare wrote, "The rain, it raineth every day." There had been a fleeting drizzle that morning, and everything was just slightly damp and mossy, looking like something out of a Pre-Raphaelite painting. And the first thing I wandered upon was the grave of William Blake.

I should mention now that Blake is my mother's last name. It's not mine, but only because the judge made me keep my father's name even after he and his entire family disappeared from my life without a trace, and I've never had the discretionary cash to get it changed, without there being something more important to spend it on. I grew up in a family of Blakes; I am a Blake in all but name. Of course, it's a ridiculously common English surname, and my genealogist mother hasn't found anything to connect us. But right there and then, on the damp grass of Bunhill Fields, surrounded by mossy stones as witnesses, I decided that, DNA or no, I was claiming William Blake as my ancestor by right of mind over matter. I had made my pilgrimage to his grave, intentionally or no, and I wasn't going to go home empty-handed. Adages be damned, sometimes the salt water of oceans crossed and tears of beauty shed are as thick as any blood. I said a few words:
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?

and we've been family ever since. I wanted my sister to take a picture of me near the grave, but nobody else was taking pictures so it seemed a bit gauche at best and maybe disrespectful. We weren't sure what the customs were. But take some time to visit Bunhill if you can.

And if you have a few more free minutes in the neighborhood and you have a general interest in eighteenth-century London, you could do worse than to pop across the street and check out John Wesley's house, which is a museum set up to look like he's still living there with all kkinds of period furniture and paraphernalia, including a Galvanic device he used to give mood-lifting treatments to the poor.

*That particular Friday, they were baptizing triplets. The entire extended family had come from Africa for the ceremony, and many of them were wearing absolutely gorgeous traditional clothing made of amazing batik cloth and jewelry made of shells and beads. When the baptism started, the vicar said, "If you remember nothing else from this service, if you don't remember anything from my sermon or the lessons, you will remember that today is the day we baptized the triplets." And, of course, he turned out to be absolutely right.

**The group was us, a lovely, nice lady from Edinburgh and gentleman from Epsom both at the Chapel looking for genealogical records, and an elderly couple from Florida straight out of Central Casting for "Humorous American Tourists." Hawaiian shirts, fanny packs, sun visors, white socks, enormous cameras, loud Joe Don Baker voices, the whole nine yards. Sweet as praline pie, but I totally expected their last name to be "McStereotype."

posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:04 AM on December 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

You might see if The Blake Society has any advice or events.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:25 AM on December 12, 2013

There is a preview of that Blake walk on the BBC website here
posted by interplanetjanet at 11:29 AM on December 12, 2013

I came in to suggest the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge too. "At the Fitzwilliam Museum, William Blake can be studied in all his complexity, as an artist, as a poet, and as a mystical philosopher. The collections represent the full range of his creative genius, from paintings, watercolours, drawings, and engravings to illuminated books, poetry, and letters."

The museum's collections are searchable online; here's a search for "William Blake" with more than 500 results, though it's not obvious to me how you can tell which items are on open display.

Cambridge is less than an hour by train from London King's Cross, and the Fitzwilliam is maybe twenty minutes' walk from the station, so it's a very easy day trip from London.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:41 PM on December 12, 2013

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