Welcome to our calendar of events for 2016/17 !

This year the Society’s activities run from May through to April with a Talk held once each month.  

The events are free for members of the Society to attend.

Several of our Talks this year will be held at the Waterstones bookshop in Piccadilly. We are grateful for Waterstones’ generosity and hospitality in offering a glass of wine for attendees.  Please email your name to piccadilly@waterstones.com if you intend to attend, and specify the name and date of the event.



7.00 pm Wednesday 25 May 2016
Waterstones Bookshop, 203-206 Piccadilly, London W1J 9HD

The Religion of William Blake

What did Blake believe? Was he an orthodox Christian, a nonconformist, a Gnostic, a Swedenborgian, or was his religion, or guide of life, of his own making?

Tobias Churton is a world authority on Gnosticism, Hermeticism, Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism and Western esotericism in general. Tobias holds a masters degree in Theology from Brasenose College, Oxford, and is the author of many influential books, including Gnostic Philosophy, The Magus of Freemasonry, The Invisible History of the Rosicrucians, The Mysteries of John the Baptist, Aleister Crowley: The Beast in Berlin, and Gnostic Mysteries of Sex.

In recognition of his achievements, Tobias Churton was made an Honorary Fellow of Exeter University in 2005 and appointed lecturer in Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry at Exeter University’s faculty of Western Esotericism.

Tobias is not only a writer, but also a composer and film-maker who worked for the BBC and other prominent British TV companies for ten years interviewing the great Blake expert Kathleen Raine among many others.

Churton’s forthcoming biography of George Gurdjieff completes a quartet of biographies of great spiritual figures: Elias Ashmole, William Blake and Aleister Crowley.

MONTH OF JUNE (first of two events)

2.00 pm Saturday 11 June 2016
Blake’s Cottage, I Blake’s Road, Felpham, West Sussex PO22 7EB

Visit to Blake’s Cottage

After four centuries as a private dwelling, Blake’s Cottage was purchased successfully last autumn and placed into charitable ownership. So this summer’s day is perhaps the first ever time since it was built in the 17th Century that the general public has been able to enter the Cottage – a home where William Blake and his wife Catherine lived for three peaceful yet turbulent years between 1800 and 1803.

‘Beneath our thatched roof of rusted gold’ William and Catherine created some extraordinary works including the visionary encounter with Milton and the words we now sing as ‘Jerusalem’. It was here also where the violent events unfolded that led to his trial for sedition.

The Trustees of the Blake Cottage Trust will be present to show you around the Cottage and talk about the plans for the future and the challenges yet to be faced, and with your help, surmounted.

For those travelling by train to Bognor Regis, ask directions at the station to the sea, then turn left at the ocean and walk along the sea front to the village of Felpham where Blake’s Road runs inland from the beach towards this old Domesday Book village. Blake’s Cottage is at the far end on the right with a thatched roof. The walk from Bognor Regis Station takes half an hour, and is a good way to travel on a fair day.

MONTH OF JUNE (second of two events)

Saturday 25 June 2016 from 10 am to 4.30 pm
The Abbey, Sutton Courtenay, Abingdon, OX14 4AF

Jerusalem The Emanation of the Giant Albion

In this year’s reading retreat we will encounter the last of Blake’s Prophetic Books – the most extensive and complex, and at the same time fully coherent, enactment of Blake’s vision. Through the medium of ‘Reader’s Theatre’, the reading will take place in the readers’ Divine Imagination, as in a radio play. Participants take multiple roles, getting behind the eyes of each character, with the narrator’s words shared by all. This version has been distilled from the poem’s full length into a few hours reading by Susanne Sklar; the day will be led by Barbara Vellacott. Both are long-time members of the Blake Society.

It takes over eight hours to read Blake’s Jerusalem in its entirety. This distilled version should take less than four hours (with breaks). Two subplots have been eliminated; many speeches are condensed. But the story of Jerusalem herself remains as the ‘Golden String’ around which the other themes constellate.

We are again fortunate to hold our summer reading retreat at The Abbey, a unique medieval building in extensive grounds in the village of Sutton Courtenay, 10 miles south of Oxford. It can be reached by bus/taxi from Didcot Parkway station (Paddington 45 minutes on the Oxford main line). Sutton Courtenay is 30 minutes from the M4 (J13) and M40 (J7).

Lunch can be bought at a nearby pub, or you can bring your own.

As there is a limit on numbers, this event is open to members of the Society only. Please let us know by Friday 17 June if you are interested in coming. We can then contact you beforehand with all necessary practical details.



7.00 pm Thursday 14 July 2016
Waterstones Bookshop, 203-206 Piccadilly, London W1J 9HD

An Emotional Dialogue of Poetry & Jazz Improvisation

Peter Marinker and Peter Ind present a special performance – a reading of Blake’s poems with an intertwined bass improvisation, each picking up the movement and rhythm of the pieces and involving the audience in discussion about these pieces.

Their partnership of jazz improvisation and poetry reading began in 2009 with performances, including the Cockpit Theatre, 606 Jazz club and Ronnie Scott’s club. Through their deep interest in the world and poetry of William Blake, tonight’s performance will include a selection from The Songs of Innocence and Experience and Auguries of Innocence.

Peter Marinker is well known for his poetry readings on Radio 4’s Poetry Please, With Great Pleasure, Night Waves, Words and Music and Something Understood, as well as readings at his Bookshop Theatre. Peter Ind is an internationally renowned jazz double bass player and won the 2015 House of Common’s award for contributions to Jazz music. He is focused on the energy and contribution of the bass to Jazz and has worked with poets on improvised duos – the English poet Eric Barker when he lived in Big Sur, California in the 1960’s, and in the 70’s with Michael Horovitz and Pete Brown. Peter Ind also paints and writes extensively about the environment. At age 87 he began writing poetry and the finale of this performance will be his poem as a homage to Blake.


12 Noon Sunday 14 August 2016
Bunhill Fields, 38 City Road London EC1Y 1AU

Poetry at the Grave

We gather at Bunhill Fields at noon to mark the life of William Blake who died in August 1827 and was buried here.

By tradition people often read or share a favourite text.

Afterwards you are invited to repair to a local pub for lunch or conversation.


Saturday 17 September 2016

Passing the Polypus – a Golgonooza Pilgrimage

Henry Eliot will lead four walks through Blake’s London over the course of one day. The walks may be walked individually or as one single pilgrimage. Please register your interest in advance by emailing:


1. Tharmas : Vegetable Blake
Soho & Covent Garden, 3 miles. Meet 9.30am,
The House of William Blake, 17 South Molton Street.

2. Urizen : Radical Blake
Tyburn & Westminster, 2.5 miles. Meet 12pm,
The Rising Sun, 46 Tottenham Court Road.

3. Luvah : Emotional Blake
Lambeth, 2.5 miles. Meet 2.30pm,
Tate Britain steps, Millbank.

4. Los : Visionary Blake
The City & Clerkenwell, 3.5 miles. Meet 4.30pm,
The Albion, 2/3 New Bridge Street.

All walkers are invited to meet from 6.30pm at The Artillery Arms, Bunhill Row, for a celebratory pilgrims’ drink.

This event is free for Blake Society members. For non-members the cost is £5 per walk or £15 for the full day.

Henry Eliot has devised and led guided walks for the National Trust, Google, the City of London, City Lit and the cheese shop in Leadenhall Market. He produces a series of interactive editions of Shakespeare and has co-written Curiocity: In Pursuit of London for Penguin Books.


The Spirit of Poetic Vision:
A Seminar Course on the Songs of Innocence and of Experience
This seminar course will, over ten sessions, delve deeply into the Songs of Innocence and of Experience, with occasional branching out into the Prophetic Books and Poetical Sketches to articulate and enrich ideas suggested by the Songs.
Through a close and careful reading of the poetry, alongside inspiration from Blake’s imagery, the course will also touch upon the larger questions of the enduring significance of Blake’s work, as well as the meaning and importance of poetic vision in today’s world.
This text seminar offers a guided but open-ended approach that encourages free discussion, exploration of meanings and exchanges of ideas centred on the text rather than on opinions about it. The aim is to approach the text as something to learn from and with, rather than simply ‘about’.
The focus of our approach will be simply the text itself – the text as the source, ground and focus of our discussion, but also the text as mirror for understanding oneself, others, and world, and as a spring for new meaning.
About the Teacher:
VALENTIN GERLIER Teacher, writer and musician, is a tutor and lecturer for the Temenos Academy and the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts. Valentin regularly lectures on Greek Philosophy, Shakespeare and the Renaissance, and the Romantics. Aside from these, his influences include Joseph Campbell, Northrop Frye, Paul Ricoeur and the writings of Blake, Coleridge and WB Yeats. He has a deep love of Shakespeare and has taught, lectured on, directed and acted in Shakespeare’s plays for many years. Valentin is Reviews Editor of the ‘Temenos Academy Review’ and is currently completing a PhD Thesis on Shakespeare, Poetics and Theology.
Materials: Seminar participants are asked to bring an edition of the Songs. Additional printed materials will be photocopied and distributed during seminars.
Length of Seminars: 1 hour 30mins
Number of Seminars: 10
First session: Tuesday 20th September, 7pm.
Price: £120 (£100 for students)
Venue: Arch 347, Beck Rd, London E8 4RE. Nearest Tube: Bethnal Green; nearest Overground: London Fields; buses: 106, 254, 388, D6 (Stop: Mare Street/Victoria Park Road)
To book a place please email: seminars@blakesociety.org
For a leaflet on this course, please click: SEMINAR COURSE


4.30 pm Wednesday 5 October 2016

Genius Above the Age – Drawing Westminster Abbey

In 1773, the engraver James Basire sent William Blake to make drawings of the monuments in Westminster Abbey. The experience was hugely formative for the 15-year-old apprentice: the Abbey was where Blake developed his lifelong passion for gothic architecture and it was where he had memorable visions of Christ and the Apostles and of a ‘great procession of monks and priests’.

In this practical workshop, we have been granted special access to King Edward’s shrine at the heart of Westminster Abbey, site of the principal monuments drawn by Blake. We will take on Basire’s commission and attempt to sketch the very same monuments that Blake recorded. The painter and draftsman Toby Ward will lead the workshop, and will be on hand to lend assistance and expertise throughout.

Toby is artist in residence at Westminster Abbey, recording the three-year transformation of the Abbey’s medieval triforium into the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries. He has worked as artist in residence at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, the Mercers’ Company and the Athenaeum and travelled as a recording artist with HRH The Prince of Wales.

Numbers are very limited at this unique event. Please register your interest by email including a short summary of your drawing experience and why you would like to attend.



7.30 pm Wednesday 9 November 2016
Burgh House, New End Square, Hampstead, London NW3 1LT

Blake and Musical Words

During Blake’s lifetime, music passes through some very interesting points of development. Blake is born almost exactly at the point that Western music leaves the harmonic complexity of the baroque and enters the contrasting simplicity of the classical period. Blake and Beethoven die in the same year; the composer was one the main instigators of a harmonic revolution that forced music out of classicism into an era of revolution and romanticism.

It is well documented that Blake often sang his poems and refers to them often as ‘songs’. This begs two questions …

Firstly, if Blake sang, what would the musical content have been like? And secondly, if he was primarily an engraver and a poet, why was music so important to him as an adjunct to his lyrical texts?

Jan Waterfield read music at Girton College, Cambridge, where she was also a choral scholar. This was followed by postgraduate studies in harpsichord and piano at the Royal Academy of Music in London, where she won prizes for both lieder accompaniment and continuo playing. After graduating from RAM, she was a member of the prestigious European Union Baroque Orchestra. Jan is also a regular player with the Academy of Ancient Music, the Classical Opera Company, His Majesty’s Sagbutts and Cornetts, La Serenissima, the Scottish Ensemble, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Ludus Baroque.


7.00 pm Tuesday 6 December 2016
Waterstones Bookshop, 203-206 Piccadilly, London W1J 9HD

Tithe Grant Award 2016

An opportunity to see all the drawings submitted for the 2016 Tithe Grant ‘The Bounding Line’, with the announcement of the winner, judged by artist Jeremy Deller.

Wine, Cake and Conversation


7.00 pm Friday 20 January 2017
Waterstones Bookshop, 203-206 Piccadilly, London W1J 9HD

Chris Wood sings Jerusalem

Chris Wood started out as a choirboy and much of his music bears the influence of those years spent among Bach, Handel, Gibbons and Boyce. He is one of the leading folk musicians of his generation.

Self-taught on guitar and violin, he is a lifelong autodidact – and his independent streak shines through in his composition and studio work.

‘I woke at 4 am one morning. Anyone trying to feed their family by making music knows that 4 am is the hour of the wolf. Blake’s poem Jerusalem was in my head but I could not remember it accurately because of the monster tune that Hubert Parry put to it. I got up and hunted down the words in an actual book and, without Parry’s music I could plainly see that this was a 4 am poem. Four questions which I believe Blake asks because he feels the answer may be, “no”.’

Chris Wood founded The English Acoustic Collective, a movable feast of musicians, writers, photographers and choreographers who look to England’s indigenous arts as their inspiration.

Annual General Meeting

The AGM of the Blake Society will immediately precede this concert.


7.00 pm Wednesday 22 February 2017
Waterstones Bookshop, 203-206 Piccadilly, London W1J 9HD

Congenial Beings from another Sphere
The meeting of Coleridge and Blake in fact and imagination

When the Swedenborgian Charles Tulk introduced Blake and Coleridge he described their meeting and conversation thus: ‘Blake and Coleridge, when in company seemed like congenial beings from another sphere, breathing for a while on our earth’. Unfortunately he doesn’t tell us what they actually said. In this talk Malcolm Guite will try to tease out what they had in common, particularly in their theology of Imagination.

Malcolm Guite is a poet and priest, working as Chaplain of Girton College, Cambridge. He also teaches at the Faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge and lectures widely in England and North America on Theology and Literature. He is the author of The Singing Bowl: Collected Poems (2013), Theology and the Poetic Imagination (2010) and Faith Hope and Poetry: What do Christians Believe? (2006). A spiritual biography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, to be called Mariner, will be published in 2017.

Malcolm was the inaugural artist in residence at Duke Divinity School in the USA in September 2014, and ‘Visionary in Residence’ at Biola in Los Angeles in March 2015. His poetry was used in ‘Passion: a contemporary journey to the cross’ a performance in Dance, Word and Music, which toured a number of English Cathedrals in 2015.

Malcolm Guite has a particular interest in the imagination as a truth-bearing faculty and continues to reflect deeply on how poetry can stimulate and re-awaken our prayer life.


7.00 pm Friday 17 March 2017
Waterstones Bookshop, 203-206 Piccadilly, London W1J 9HD

Blake’s Light as You Catch It in Soho

The Ginger Light is the unique collaboration between the acclaimed poet and author Jeremy Reed and the musician and producer Itchy Ear. Ginger Light is an attempt to blur the boundaries that exist between spoken word, music, sound design and song. Together they create a performance dynamic unparalleled in British poetry.

Jeremy Reed was acclaimed by JG Ballard as ‘the most gifted poet working today’; his poetry, fiction and performances are singularly inimitable in their opposition to grey mainstream poetry. Jeremy has published over 40 books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, winning prestigious literary prizes like the Somerset Maugham Award. On coming to live in London in the 1980s his first patron was the artist Francis Bacon. Bjork has called his work ‘the most beautiful, outrageously brilliant poetry in the world.’

For this evening Jeremy has devised a special set focusing on Soho and Blake whom ‘I still feel walking down Broadwick Street, busy and radiating light’.


7.00 pm Wednesday 19 April 2017
Waterstones Bookshop, 203-206 Piccadilly, London W1J 9HD

Neo-Romantic Envisionings
The influence of William Blake and Samuel Palmer
on British artists of the inter-war years

Late in his lifetime, Blake inspired a small coterie of artists, The Ancients, and Samuel Palmer in particular; a century on, however, his art influenced a Neo-Romantic envisioning that flourished through the inter-war years.

This evening we’ll explore woodcuts, drawings and paintings by Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland, Cecil Collins and others who sought the spirit and mystery of the British landscape.

Dr M L Banting has a background in Russian Studies and Women’s Studies, and has for a number of years tutored on Russian and British art. His current focus is on British art of the early 20th century.