William Blake and Felpham (1800-1803).
Blake was encouraged to move to Felpham in 1800 by the poet Hayley. Hayley supported him by commissioning engraving work, introducing him to Homer, Latin and Hebrew.
Blakes delight in Felpham was captured in a letter to Butts in which he wrote. "I met a plough on my first going out at my gate the first morning after my arrival, and the Plowboy said to the Plowman, "Father the Gate is Open"."
Blake referred to Felpham many times in his letters and prose which is how we know that it was the birth-place of one our favourite hymns sung across the land from Cricket Grounds to Schools and Churches. From Felpham he drew such inspiring pictures as "Noah and the Rainbow" and "Jacob’s Dream". He also did a couple of landscape paintings which was very rare for Blake.
Below are some of the other references that Blake made to Felpham:
“Heaven opens here on all sides her Golden Gate; her window’s are not obscured by vapours.”
“My first Vision of Light, on the yellow sands sitting. The sun was Emitting His Glorious beams From Heaven’s high Streams. Over sea over Land My Eyes did Expand Into Regions of air away from all care ……I stood in the Streams of Heaven’s bright beams, and Saw Felpham sweet Beneath by bright feet…..This is my fold, O thou Ram horn’d with Gold!.....And the voice faded mild. I remain’d as a Child; All I ever had known Before me bright Shone. I saw you and your wife by the fountains of Life. Such the Vision to me Appear’d on the sea.”
“A dwelling place for immortals”.
Letters show how an unfortunate incident seems to have soured his experience of Felpham. He had to appear at Chichester Crown court charged with sedition following an incident with a drunken soldier. All the villagers rallied around and spoke up for him in Court. Hayley and Seagrove helped him out with bail. The charges proved flimsy and Blake was cleared. This whole business was too much for the mild-mannered Blake and he felt increasingly restricted by his commission work. Eventually William and Catherine returned to Londonin 1803.
However, Blakes cottage with its “thatched roof of rusted gold” still remains as a memory of Blake and the visions and inspiration he had here.
With thanks to:
Norah Owens (Bognor Regis Local History Society).
Find out about the Big Blake Trail