Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Literary London: Blake

If you've been around these parts before then you may remember that one of my favourite London pastimes is, like my good friend Darles Chickens, walking. I can walk for hours, turning down new streets or familiar roads, crossing different bridges or poking my head into various nooks and crannies in my favourite city.

This past Saturday we spent a particularly blustery yet delightfully sunny day wandering around East London. As we made our way home we were forced to take a slight detour due to some roadworks that took up the entire pavement. We nipped behind a block of flats and walked towards a railway bridge we hoped would lead towards home. It did lead towards home, but it also lead to one of the most exciting discoveries I've made so far this year.

Railway bridges, tunnels and arches are not an uncommon sight around the area I live and I pretty much think that if you've seen one, you've seen them all. You could have knocked me down with a feather when I walked under this particular bridge and the late afternoon sun caught the edge of something coloured. I had definitely been walking along grumbling about how much I needed a wee and how sore my feet were and probably how hot/cold I was, but that moaning died on my lips when I looked up and saw a mosaic bearing the title page of William Blake's Songs of Innocence.

The mosaics line both sides of the tunnel (Centaur Street in Lambeth, for any London based Blake enthusiasts) and brought such life to an otherwise worn out road. Each mosaic was beautifully made and depicted scenes from his Songs and other works - some dark in subject matter, and some cheering. This last photo I think demonstrates quite how incongruous the mosaics look in their setting, but it is the perfect place for something based on Blake's poems ('London' springs to mind).

I've always had a love for mosaics so that plus Blake was a marriage made in Lit Nerd heaven. It was also rather lovely to stumble across this collection so soon after reading Tracy Chevalier's Burning Bright and having my love for William rekindled.

After a quick bit of research I found out that the project was organised by Southwark Mosaics, who had this to say on their website:

''William Blake lived for ten of his most productive years in North Lambeth at 13 Hercules Buildings. The old house has been knocked down, but there is a plaque where it once stood on Hercules Road. William Blake lived in Hercules Road, SE1 from 1790 – 1800 and this mosaic project pays homage to his genius and some of his greatest work. Southbank Mosaics artists worked with 300 volunteers over a period of 7 years to research, design, plan, make and install 70 mosaics based on the words and paintings of William Blake into the railway tunnels of Waterloo Station, turning them from dark unwelcoming places into street galleries bright with opulent and durable works of art.''

If there is one thing that I've learnt from this discovery it is the importance of keeping your eyes open. Keep them up, look all around you, look at the sky, look at the tops of buildings, look at lampposts, look at doorways, look in the crannies and open spaces - look everywhere and never stop seeing the little things.

I truly hope that London never loses its capacity to surprise me and that I'll never run out of things to discover here. I have a sneaking suspicion that that won't happen any time soon.


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