I wander thro’ each charter’d street,
Near where the charter’d Thames does flow.
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.
—WILLIAM BLAKE.

London, evoked so powerfully in one of the best known Songs of Experience, now offers only scattered & fragmentary reminders of Blake’s near-lifetime residence.  His birthplace, on the corner of Broad Street (now Broadwick Street) & Marshall Street, was demolished in 1965.  The hideous block of flats built on the site is named William Blake House.  He was christened in Wren’s St. James’s Church, Piccadilly, where you can still see the Grinling Gibbons font where William, his brothers & his sister were all baptised.  His apprenticeship (1771-81), was served under the engraver James Basire in Great Queen Street, which continues Long Acre to the junction with Kingsway.  Basire’s house & shop was demolished in the 19th century.  Blake’s marriage in 1782 to Catherine Boucher, took place south of the river in St. Mary’s, Battersea, reached by a right turn on Battersea Church Road after crossing Battersea Bridge.  There is a fine memorial window.  The Blakes returned to Soho after their marriage, living on Poland Street (1785-91).  Their home throughout the 1790s, Hercules Buildings, Lambeth, was demolished in 1912.

The one, brief period in Blake’s life outside London was eventful.  From 1800 to 1803 he accepted the invitation of William Hayley, a mediocre poet but a good patron, to live in Felpham, now a suburb of Bognor Regis on the Sussex coast.  The cottage which William & Catherine rented still survives.  The stay came to an end when Blake turned a soldier out of his garden & provoked a charge of sedition.  In 1804 he was tried & acquitted at nearby Chichester, in the Guildhall in Priory Park, the former church of the medieval Grey Friars’ Priory.

The house in South Molton Street, where William & Catherine occupied two rooms on the first floor is the only one of Blake’s London residences to survive.  His last years were spent in Fountain Court off the Strand, demolished when the Savoy Hotel was built in the 1880s.  Toward the end of his life Blake still coloured copies of his books while resting in bed, & that is how he died in a room off the Strand in his 70th year.  He died in London, August 12, 1827, leaving uncompleted the cycle of drawings inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy.  He was buried in an unmarked grave in Bunhill Fields, bounded by City Road & Bunhill Row in Finsbury.  There is a memorial in the crypt of St. Paul’s Cathedral, whose ‘high dome’ witnessed the charity service in ‘Holy Thursday’, one of his Songs of Innocence.  A bust by Epstein remembers him in Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey, a building whose monuments he sketched as part of his training in Gothic when an apprentice.

Blake’s London is not T. S. Eliot’s ‘”unreal city” but rather a city of reality and realty made up of social activity, geographical detail and historical survival.

 

Chronology of William Blake’s Residences

1757—1772
28 Broad Street, Soho, London.  This is the house where William Blake was born.  The street was renamed Broadwick Street (Blake’s house stood on the corner of what is now Broadwick Street and Marshall St, London W1).  The original building was demolished, and on the site of Blake’s house there is now a ceramic shop with the entrance on the corner of Broadwick Street, and using the address of 7 Marshall Street, W1F 7EH.

1772—1779
31 Great Queen Street, London WC2 (Original building demolished).  Blake was apprenticed to Basire at this address.  During this period Blake spent 5 years at Westminster Abbey making drawings of the royal tombs and other ornaments.

1779—1782
28 Broad Street, Soho, London (current address 7 Marshall St, London W1).  The house where Blake was born. (Original building demolished.)

1782—1784
23 Green Street, London (renamed Irving St, London WC2).  First address of Catherine Sophia and William Blake immediately after their marriage.  (Original building demolished.)  Nowadays, the back of the eastern wing of the Radisson Edwardian Hampshire Hotel occupies the area where number 23 Green Street once stood.

1784—1785
27 Broad Street, Soho, London (renamed 60-62 Broadwick Street,London W1). At the moment this is the address of the Soho Family Centre and it is adjacent to 7 Marshall Street.  This is next door to the house where Blake was born.  (Original building demolished.)

1785—1790
28 Poland Street, London W1.  (Original building demolished, street name and number remained unchanged.)

1790—1800
13 Hercules Buildings, Lambeth, London.  (Original building demolished.)  The exact location of Blake’s house is marked by a blue plaque on the wall of what is now the “William Blake Estate”, Hercules Road, London SE1.  (The plaque is opposite Virgil Street and it marks the correct position of what was once number 13 Hercules Buildings.)

1800—1803
Blake’s Cottage, 1 Blake’s Road, Felpham, Sussex.  This is the original building in which Blake lived, and Blake’s Road is the modern address.

1803—1821
17 South Molton Street, London W1.  This is the original building in which Blake lived (first floor).  The address and number remained unchanged.

1821—1827
3 Fountain Court, Strand, London.  This is the address where William Blake passed away.  The original address was demolished and renamed.  The current address continues to be a narrow lane which was renamed Savoy Buildings.  If approaching from the Strand, the entrance to this lane lies to the left of Simpsons.  Simpsons has the current address of 100 The Strand, London WC2.  The old number 3 Fountain Court is now part of the Savoy Hotel, 35 metres down the lane named Savoy Buildings, on the right, coming from the Strand.  The small lane Savoy Buildings does not appear on the London A to Z.  The London A to Z contains a nearby address of Fountain Court EC4 which is not the one where Blake lived.

Catherine Sophia Blake’s Residences after William Blake’s death

1827—1828
6 Cirencester Place, London.  Renamed Great Titchfield Street, London W1.  The original buildings were demolished and replaced by Halcroft Court, a housing estate consisting of many flats.  The old number 6 Cirencester Place lies to the right of entrance F Halcroft Court on Great Titchfield Street, as you face the building.

1828—1830
20 Lisson Grove North, London (renumbered 112 Lisson Grove, London NW1).  (Original building demolished.)

1828—1831
17 Upper Charlton Street, London.  This address ceased to exist with the building of Halcroft Court.  The old number 17 Upper Charlton Street corresponds to the area inside entrance B of Halcroft Court, London W1, on Carburton Street.

Last modified 28/03/2008 22:49.