The neglect of Blake’s Cottage

On 25th August 2019 an article by Richard Brooks on the bleak future that seems to await William Blake’s cottage in Felpham was published in The Observer.

The future looks bleak for the restoration of William Blake’s cottage

It is not the first time that the neglect in which the cottage lies calls the attention of the press, and sadly, as things stand now, it seems that we will keep on needing to call the attention of the public to the Blake Cottage Trust’s lack of accountability.

Their website has been dormant for a year, after their “open day” in September 2018. Whatever the current plans for the cottage are, or are not, the Blake Cottage Trust doesn’t seem to consider they have the obligation to inform the public, which gave such enormous support to the project five years ago. But they do have that obligation, and so indeed does the Blake Society, which launched the campaign.

I have noticed that this year there were changes in the Blake Society’s Committee. Mr Luis Garrido has stopped being the Treasurer. He’s no longer a Trustee either.

I don’t know how that came about, but there is logic behind it. For many years Mr Garrido endured the Committee of a Society he didn’t trust, for the sake of his project of marking William Blake’s exact burial place. For achieving that purpose, he felt it was admissible to lie about the cottage project, present inaccurate financial reports to the Charity Commission, and engage in an extensive cover-up.

The Blake Society, in turn, neglected Mr Garrido’s project for marking the grave until they felt it became useful to them, to help wash their reputation after the cottage’s project fiasco. They used Mr Garrido’s willingness to lie and be part of the cover-up, duly recompensed him with finally paying attention to his project, and once the new memorial stone was unveiled last year, Mr Garrido and the Blake Society have finally parted ways, having each done their contribution to ignominy in Blake’s name.

(For more detailed information on this matter, you can look at other entries in this blog, including Spitting on William Blake’s grave .)

The new Treasurer of the Blake Society is Mr Nick Duncan, thus rewarded I guess for his own contribution to the cover-up about the cottage. The link to this blog’s entry quoted above talks about how Mr Duncan acted as “independent examiner” of the deceptive, not to say fraudulent, Blake Society’s financial report on the crucial year of the Blake Cottage project, only to be co-opted as a Trustee a month later, though he hadn’t been elected at the AGM. You can also read about that situation here: Architects at Blake Cottage and more fund raising). I’ve expressed before my concerns that someone willing to endorse the Society’s lying and to join its Committee as an active instrument for their cover-up would be raising further funds for the grave project. Now, he’s in fact the new Treasurer, something that Blake Society members should worry about.

Though the Blake Society is unlikely to have in its hands again a project which entails such financial responsibility as the cottage, they have shown repeatedly an incomprehensible disregard for ethics, a willingness to lie to their members, to the press, to the public and to the Charity Commission, and sadly, since I decided to speak out about what was happening with the cottage in 2015, when I stepped down as the Society’s Secretary, the core of its Committee (Chair, Secretary in the person of Antony Vinall, and Treasurer) has been occupied by individuals who understand their duties as an exercise in deceit.

To the multiple chances these individuals have had of responding to the concerns raised about their behaviour and of engaging in a constructive dialogue, they have responded with a combination of bullying and utter silence.

Now we are celebrating the Blake exhibition at the Tate Britain. We would love to have reasons to celebrate the existence of Blake’s Cottage as well, and after 5 years of unscrupulous actions, lies and corruption, it may be a good moment to go on asking both the Blake Society and the Blake Cottage Trust Committees to become accountable, and to think of ways in which the building can be restored and be in the hands of an accountable organisation that really cares.



Blake at Petworth, and the National Trust

The exhibition William Blake in Sussex: Visions of Albion, recently inaugurated at Petworth, is certainly a thing to celebrate.

However, it is indeed a concern that the National Trust is now not only promoting in its publicity for the exhibition the Blake Society, but actually actively endorsing the Blake Cottage Trust and their plans for Blake’s Cottage. In the Petworth webpage they are in fact announcing some visits to the latter.

That the National Trust is thus openly supporting two corrupt charities which function on the basis of lying to the public, bullying, intimidation, slandering and presenting inaccurate financial information is of course a very worrying state of affairs. The Blake Society and the Blake Cottage Trust may seem unstoppable at the moment in their capacity to attract, and manipulate, the support of good-willed, generous individuals and institutions, not to talk about the super rich, super famous and super powerful. The more they do so, however, the more there will be to regret when both charities finally lay fully exposed for what they are, as they may taint those who have supported them unawares.

I have contacted Mr Andrew Loukes, the curator of the Petworth exhibition, and the National Trust, to warn them about the kind of organisations they are dealing with.

The reader of this blog may be interested to know that back in 2014, when the Cottage appeal started and I had no inkling that Mr Tim Heath, the Chairman of the Blake Society and now of the Blake Cottage Trust, would appropriate the project through extremely unethical practice, I was very keen on establishing links with the National Trust, an organisation that I respect and which has a wealth of expertise and records of accountability that might be of much good to the kind of project we had envisioned for Blake’s Cottage.

I contacted the then Chair of the National Trust, Sir Simon Jenkins, who responded enthusiastically to show his support. A representative of the NT attended our launch of the project in Parliament in the summer of 2014. Throughout the rest of the campaign the link established with that representative weakened. However, I always insisted on strengthening our communication with the NT. I believed that we had much to learn from them and that, if we found a way of working with them despite the fact that our project for the Cottage was different from the structure they usually work with, we would all gain much.

Mr Heath wasn’t much interested in any such link. Evidence of my insistence on the benefits of a partnership with the National Trust can be found throughout my testimony of what happened with Blake’s Cottage in this webpage.

When things got truly wrong with the appeal and I, with my health in tatters, couldn’t take the secrecy and bullying from Mr Heath anymore, I left with him a document with my recommendations for the future of the project, in which I insisted on the pertinence of following up the contact with the National Trust, as can be seen in chapter XII of my testimony.

Then the Cottage was purchased. I realized that Mr Heath’s dealings regarding the project had been carried out all by himself, keeping the Blake Society’s Committee and members completely in the dark about what he was up to. He did the same with the Big Blake Project, who had been our co-campaigners in Felpham and, just as he did with me, he had bullied out. Most worryingly, he had created his own illegitimate trust of only three men, the total opposite of the large consortium of accountable individuals and organisations that we had promised to create, which now bears the name of the Blake Cottage Trust. The first step in registering this Trust with the Companies House was taken in complete secrecy, with Mr Simon Patrick Weil, Mr Heath’s lawyer, standing in for him and actively hiding away from all of us, just when Mr Heath’s probity was being severely questioned and both the Cottage project and the Blake Society itself were in risk of dissolution. This is the Blake Cottage Trust’s certificate of incorporation. Mr Heath kept on denying, at least until January last year, that the BCT had been incorporated on October 2014.

Many people were outraged at the appropriation of Blake’s Cottage by the Blake Cottage Trust – particularly people in Felpham, who had either had their work stolen or had witnessed how this had happened. I was very worried, and so were the Trustees of the Blake Society, who had not an inkling of what or how Mr Heath had been doing since I had left the appeal. However, I still wanted to avoid the need to contact the Charity Commission or making the matter public, hoping that the Blake Society and the Blake Cottage Trust would see reason, get together with all those of us who had concerns regarding their behaviour, and that a solution would be found.

To that effect, I sent to both charities a document in which I explained to the two new Trustees of the Blake Cottage Trust what they were colluding with, in case they didn’t know already, and reminded the Blake Society of their responsibility towards a project that they had initiated, and for which they had received money and support from over 700 donors.

In that document, which you can read here, I mentioned again the desirability of a partnership with the National Trust for the future of the Cottage. By now what I was pointing at with more urgency was the NT’s commitment to accountability and transparency, as an example that both the BS and the BCT would do good in following.

I never received a response to that document.

As the dishonesty of the Blake Society and the Blake Cottage Trust reached then inconceivable heights, and the Cottage was falling into further disrepair without the BCT doing anything to stop it, let alone making public what they were planning to do with it for a very long time indeed after its purchase, I contacted the National Trust in June 2016, in the hope that they could intervene somehow so that the Cottage wasn’t ruined and, most importantly, so that it could be protected by an accountable organism.

I received a very kind response from Ms Jane Cecil, National Trust General Manager at the South Downs, explaining that they couldn’t intervene in rescuing the Cottage, though they would be very glad to offer advice should the various parties involved jointly request it. She stated that the National Trust had already been asked to help with acquisition and presentation of Blake’s Cottage, and that they had provided some limited help. She also said that they believed that the Blake Society and the Blake Cottage Trust as I’d described them didn’t seem to be in a position to progress at that moment the necessary work.

A year and a half later, the National Trust, through Petworth’s promotion of its Blake exhibition, is promoting also the Blake Society and actually endorsing the Blake Cottage Trust.

Of course the staff at Petworth and its curator, Mr Loukes, had probably no way to know that the National Trust had been warned about the lack of ethics of these organisations so long ago. That is why I have now contacted both Mr Loukes and the direction of the National Trust, so that they take pains to ensure that the organisations they support have an impeccable record of accountability and are as committed to transparency as the National Trust, without a doubt, is.

All the evidence regarding the numerous breaches of trust and examples of extremely unethical practice that the Blake Society and the Blake Cottage Trust have been incurring in since 2014 is publicly available, and that will surely make it easier to anyone who may be inclined to support them to act responsibly.