News

Treasures in Heaven

Over the past twenty years the fabric of the Cottage has been allowed to deteriorate and so the Trust’s primary concern during our first year has been to safeguard the structure of the building while we move towards a full and complete restoration.

Three structural surveys of the building have been carried out – one with a firm of surveyors who have an expertise in historic buildings, the second with an experienced thatcher, and the third with a structural engineer.

Thatch needs to be replaced every generation and when the old straw is removed, it will enable us to fully inspect, mend or replace any failed wooden beams that support the roof of thatch.

One of the curiosities of the Cottage is that the roof beams were not made of sawn timber, instead they are simply young saplings that had their bark removed, and so this soft wood is inherently more vulnerable to insect attack and fungal decay.

Yet in the best practice of modern conservation, we are endeavouring to retain as much of the historic fabric of the Cottage as possible. So acting on the detailed instructions of the structural engineer, twenty supports have been put in at points identified by the survey and we believe the structure of the building is now secure for the foreseeable future.

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The thatch is deep and weatherproof and we will continue to monitor the situation as we move towards the beginning of the renovations. If further short-term problems arise or measures are needed then we will address these as or when it is necessary.

The Cottage is subject to three weekly visits, is regularly inspected & cleaned and the garden is being cared for and maintained. The garage is also being used by a local resident that offers additional presence and security.

We have been in touch with Historic England (formerly English Heritage) and while the significance of the Cottage is appreciated, the building is not on Historic England’s At Risk Register.

The principal conservation officer and the historic buildings adviser from Arun District Council have both made a preliminary visit to the Cottage and we will be following their guidance & advice during the renovation.

The Blake Cottage Trust is conscious of the condition of Blake’s cottage and is doing everything in its power to secure its future. To cite one of Blake’s favourite sayings from the Bible: Lay up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt … for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

How do you choose an Architect?

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At the beginning of the year the trustees approached the Royal Institute of British Architects to seek advice about how best to hold an architectural competition. Our initial intent was to invite entries from around the world so that we would be sharing this project with all those who work in the visual arts. It would be a brave person who dared separate image from imagination, and so we believed we might receive some extraordinary entries from young architects across the globe who see Blake as the unacknowledged patron of the imaginative arts.

However a number of considerations began to dampen this idea. Firstly, the cost might be far in excess of £50k; secondly, an understanding of Blake requires an extraordinary depth of understanding and any briefing worth its salt would be difficult to provide to those across the seas; and finally there was our concern with how the reception of innovative ideas would be received in the village.  Felpham is an old village; it appears in the Domesday Book and the area immediately around the Cottage is a designated conservation zone.

So we changed track and set about researching a list of practices that were experienced in renovating historic buildings yet caught our eye with their imaginative solutions.  We were seeking an architect who could pare back the accretions that have been added to the building over two centuries to reveal the Cottage that Blake would have known and loved. In the liberated space we could then create a multipurpose building that would expand our curatorial boundaries and be an architectural jewel to draw people to the village in its own right.

From this shortlist we whittled down the names to four architectural firms whom we invited to visit the Cottage. One by one we showed them around the village, house & garden and conversed with them over coffee by the ocean.

It is always a delight to walk around a building with an architect – they see things that are denied to the rest of us.  As one of the finalists observed: in appointing an architect you are trusting a person to take you places you would never imagine.

The appointment will be formally announced in September.

 

Beneath our thatched roof

Roof in Milton

The Trust had the Cottage surveyed before we exchanged contracts with the owners which included an inspection from a specialist thatcher.  In consequence we negotiated down the price of the Cottage from £520k to £495k.  Degradation of the roof has continued and in the Spring we commissioned a report from a specialist firm of structural engineers who are expert in historic buildings.  The report arrived in April 2016 and in July we received permission from the Principal Conservation Officer of Arun District Council to erect temporary steel supports within this Grade II* listed building.  We have obtained a quotation from a local builder in  Bognor Regis and the cost for the work and the hire for keeping the steel supports in place for up to a year comes to £4,800 including VAT.

The report from the Structural Engineers can be read here

A Wooden Rolling Press

Rolling Press in Christ Church

The wooden rolling press that Blake owned is now lost, and with the advent of cast iron all the wooden presses disappeared, however Michael Phillips has researched and rebuilt a replica of Blake’s own press that is now on display in the library of Christ’s College, Oxford.