William Blake by John Linnell, National Portrait Gallery
William Blake was an artist with a powerful visual imagination. His uniquely personal ‘visions’, as he titled several of his poetic works, are strongly descriptive, creating arresting pictures in readers’ minds through their words alone- and this is to say nothing of the illustrations by which many of his books are accompanied.
Blake is a central character in my latest novel, Albion awake! It seemed appropriate, therefore, to mark the book’s appearance with a post offering a gallery of pictures of most of the key locations at which the action occurs in the story. I hope this may inspire some of you to visit some of these locations.
- Hambledon Hill– I like hillforts. I think it’s that combination of ancient history, healthy exercise and (usually) stunning views, that has always got me scrambling up the banks. I started in my teens with British Camp at Malvern, somewhere we always seemed to stop on the way home to Yorkshire from visits to my auntie’s in Cornwall. I’ve been addicted since. Hambledon is a very fine example and a fitting setting for meeting the Fairy Queen.
- Hercules Buildings– the remnants of William Blake’s former street are to be found beneath the tracks leading into Waterloo station. There’s a blue plaque and a grand pub where you might buy some porter for refreshment. I made the pilgrimage one hot summer’s day, before heading to Battersea.
- Battersea Park peace pagoda– here’s an attractive evening shot of the stupa; it’s an exotic discovery just beside where ‘the chartered Thames does flow.’ It’s a fine, large park too.
- the London Stone- here it is, in all the sad drabness of neglect. You’d think that one of the city’s oldest monuments would deserve better. We truly need John and Maeve to save it! (Picture credit to John Goodbun.)
- Boadicea’s grave, Hampstead Heath- a little known prehistoric site on Parliament Hill, with splendid views and acres of woodland and grass for walking. Visit http://www.hampsteadheath.net/tumulus.html for details. Boadicea is not buried here, neither the British queen nor my character Boudicca who features in Albion awake!
- the Don Gorge– you may consider me weird (you probably do already) but the discovery in my late twenties/ early thirties that Doncaster was an area of great historical significance captured my imagination. It’s hard to conceive today, but the traces are there: the Anglo-Saxon name derived from the Roman fort, the mighty white tower of Conisbrough castle, and that Celtic river dedication to an ancient Indo-European goddess. The gorge is now a recognised site of historical and environmental interest: visit http://www.dongorgecommunitygroup.com/. The picture is thanks to Lee Firth at Panoramio.
- The Cloud- in the book John Bullen visits modern Manchester, meets Engels and sees the widespread evidence of street homelessness and poverty. Then he daydreams on the train home, gazing out at the spectacular views of the Pennines. I have often travelled to Manchester for work and love the stretch of the journey from Stockport to Stoke. This hill, the Cloud, near Congleton, is a prominent peak. I’m always drawn to freestanding hills (like hillforts, I suppose) and I long to climb it. (Picture credit: David Humphreys).
- St Georges Hill, Walton on Thames– site of the Digger commune suppressed by local land owners. Irony of ironies, site now of a millionaires’ housing estate and a golf club (Picture credit- The Golfer magazine). There’s a monument to Gerrard Winstanley near Weybridge station (removed from the golf course, naturally).
- 144, Piccadilly- the scene of the famed squat in 1969. The source of this picture is the website www.wussu.com/squatting/144_piccadilly.htm which has lots of other photographs of the events plus useful links.
- Lindow man- the remains of an Iron Age man from the north-west of England, ritually murdered, cast into a peat bog and preserved there. He is one of a number of such bodies found in Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia. Lindow man can (still) be visited in the British Museum.
- Nebra sky disk- in the story I envisage a similar ‘Avebury’ disk. The Nebra disk is a Bronze Age image of the night sky and constellations, used perhaps for religious or even scientific purposes. Like the Antikythera mechanism, it is an indication that our ancestors were more technically sophisticated than we often imagine.
- Kwakiutl raven mask- this articulated mask is the work of Kwakwaka’wakw artist David Knox. I have a longstanding love for the culture and art of the North West coast of native North America. I have also been fascinated by the recent trend to make our ancient British ancestors look more like new age travellers and native Americans, with their tribal tattoos and dreadlocks. But why not? The material evidence here is lost, but it’s what other stone age cultures were doing until very recently. William Blake’s sinister ‘Priests of the Raven of Dawn’ (from the chorus to The marriage of heaven and hell) provided me with an image, but I have made them beneficent and positive, unlike in Blake’s poem, and attired them in traditional ‘American Indian’ garb.
- West Kennett long barrow- the complex of neolithic monuments at Avebury is remarkable. The long barrow is a little off the beaten track, but impressive for its scale and preservation. It is the backdrop for a dream sequence in Albion awake! This splendidly atmospheric picture was taken by Beardy Vulcan; for more information on the barrow itself visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/west–kennet–long–barrow/
- Boscawen-Un stone circle, Penwith- one of my favourite stone circles on this isle of Albion. If you read Albion awake! you may spot the description in another dream sequence.
- Bush Cottage near Bewdley, Worcestershire- a nice secluded place to stay for a weekend perhaps… Picture courtesy of Landmark Trust.
- “Clock Cottage” in Essex– this is a real place, inhabited by real social revolutionaries with a real vision for an alternative society and lifestyle. I won’t name them, but a little home work based on a careful study of Albion awake! and some of my other blog posts may lead you to a solution to the riddle. In the meantime, here’s a photo of a garden much like unto that of my ‘Clock Cottage’ (courtesy of Spiralseed) and also a picture of Greensted’s Anglo-Saxon church, which is mentioned in the book and is worthy of a visit in itself.
My fairy tale Albion awake ! draws upon the rich mythology and archaeology of Britain. I There are many layers of legend and material culture out there to explore. I would like to hope that the book, or even just these pictures, might inspire a few of you to do so! The book is available either as Kindle or paperback through Amazon; I have also posted separately on britishfairies.wordpress.com on the subject of William Blake and fairies.