The Blake Society is launching a crowd-funding campaign in September to raise money to buy the former country home of William Blake. The quaint Grade-II-listed thatched cottage at Felpham in Sussex has been on the market for £650,000. It is where Blake wrote the poem for the hymn “Jerusalem”, and Felpham is where he was arrested for sedition.
The current owner, Heather Howell, 89, has lived there for more than 30 years, but it has been in her late husband’s family since 1928. It has remained largely unchanged with the same beamed interiors and original doors – even the vegetable patch seen in Blake’s sketches.
When it came on the market last July, neither the English Heritage nor the National Trust stepped in to save it for the nation, as they have done for countless other important homes and buildings. But the Blake Society, which was terrified of an imminent sale, asked the owner to give them time to raise the money to buy it. Howell gave them until late October 2014 and knocked the price down to £520,000.
Speed is certainly of the essence as the Blake Society runs to the rescue to save the cottage in the next few months, aided by “the Blake seven”, a group of locals in Felpham and Bognor, who also want to raise money to help the campaign.
“The Blake Society has negotiated and signed a legally binding option to purchase the cottage,” says Tim Heath, chairman of the Blake Society. “The owner couldn’t find a buyer. The actual premium on the cottage due to the fact that Blake lived there is not much. There are structural problems in the roof which make it difficult for people to get a mortgage ,” says Heath.
The Blake Society aims to raise a third of the money before the crowd-funding campaign is launched, while the Blake seven, headed by Rachel Searle, an economics teacher in Felpham, will run a local festival called Golgonooza in September to boost the fund-raising effort. Searle, who founded the Big Blake Project, which includes the local Blake trail and poetry prize, met the current owner of the cottage who told her that she should get in touch with Heath and join forces to help buy the cottage “for the nation”.
Blake lived in nine houses in his life, all rented. This cottage is one of the last two of his remaining properties that have not been demolished. His former London house in Mayfair, in which the Blake Society occupies the top floor, has a waxing salon in the basement, and a shop.
“It would be a wonderful marriage between the city and the coast if we bought both houses,” says Heath ambitiously. “But the first step is to secure the cottage. It is far cheaper,” he explains.
The Blake Society intends to turn the cottage into “a centre of the imagination”, rather than a museum. It will also be a place artists and writers, “or people who are challenging the status quo”, he says, can go and stay for a few days. Other parts of the cottage will be set up to show how Blake did his work, with a printing press and equipment for engraving and etching.
“The cottage needs to be saved to give people across the world the opportunity to celebrate his work and this place of inspiration,”asserts Tim Heath