Bunhill Fields is an extraordinary place. Nestled amongst the modern buildings in the centre of the city of London, lies a small courtyard, surrounded by iron railings and crowded with old gravestones standing shoulder to shoulder, amongst them Daniel Defoe, John Bunyan, and William Blake…
Who was William Blake? It is hard to categorise him – he has been variously described as “Poet”, “Mystic”, “Artist”. Probably his best known work is the poem “Jerusalem”, which was set to music by Sir Hubert Parry and now ranks as an unofficial second national anthem.
From childhood he had experienced strange visions, and was a gifted artist and writer. At the age of ten he enrolled at art school, began to write verse at the age of twelve, and at fourteen he was apprenticed to the engraver James Basire where he learned his craft. Although fond of Basire, he left him in 1779 to enrol at the newly formed Royal Academy.
In 1781,Blake visited Battersea and fell in love with Catherine Boucher, his host’s daughter. They were married in 1782, and although Catherine was illiterate, Blake taught her to read and write, and she was soon helping with the printing in the print-selling shop he had opened with a fellow engraver.
Between 1789 and 1794 he published his “Songs of Innocence and Experience”, inventing a new process which involved etching, printing then hand water-colouring each copy. The powerful illustrations which surrounded each poem supplied more meaning to the accompanying text. He followed these with increasingly prophetic works such as “Milton” and “Jerusalem” which were based on the book of Revelation.
Blake passed though a period of obscurity and dire poverty during the early part of the nineteenth century, however it was during this time that he produced what is often considered to be his finest work, the illustrations for “Dante” and “The Book of Job”. As a result of this there was a revival of interest in his work and in the final years of his life he was surrounded by enthusiastic young students.
The exact location of Blake’s grave within Bunhill Fields is not known, however his wife Catherine is known to be buried with him.