There is a piece on Blake’s cottage by Richard Brooks in this week’s Private Eye (section “Nooks and Corners”). It mentions the Blake Cottage Trust’s failure to bring to fruition any plan for the building in over six years, and the anger this has stirred in many of us who do care for it.
The national press has yet to do a full coverage of everything that is so wrong with the Blake Cottage Trust and its handling of William Blake’s legacy, but this article is another step in the right direction. People need to know what is going on, and I do hope that other journalists follow Mr. Brooks’ example and dare to challenge the seemingly untouchable Blake Cottage Trust.
On the 12th of November this year I had a telephone conversation with Mr. Jonathan Mullard, who has recently joined the Blake Cottage Trust as its Secretary (he’s also the Secretary of the Blake Society).
It was a welcome change, to have someone from the BCT actually acknowledging my wish to engage in a conversation with them and voice my concerns, after six years of meeting with nothing but silence and lies to the public.
Mr. Mullard was friendly and polite, certainly another change of attitude that I celebrate. He told me about the work the BCT is planning around Blake’s cottage, and how optimistic he is about the future. He mentioned the Blake Cottage Trust’s “initiative” so that Historic England included Blake’s cottage in their Heritage at Risk register.
I have been in fact in touch with Historic England, and my understanding is that, though they are working with the BCT now with the aim of saving the cottage, the initiative was theirs, not the BCT’s. I know too that I have written to HE a few times in the past years asking them to please consider the cottage in their Heritage at Risk register and to get involved. I won’t incur in the same aproppriation of the merit of this initiative that the BCT has recently been to blame for both in their webpage and in their statements to the press, but I do believe that my concern and probably that of other people who might have also discussed this with HE in the past do reflect how much the risk the cottage is in has been in people’s minds, and that such concerns — shared by many except, it seems, the BCT itself for the past six years — has now materialised in this Historic England initiative.
Ignoring the past
There were other points in our conversation on which Mr. Mullard and I didn’t agree either. I told him I was sorry to burden him with information about the unpleasant background of corruption and mismanagement at the heart of the Blake Cottage Trust since its foundation, since he had no way of knowing about it, having joined so recently. However, I said, I firmly believed that as a new trustee, its Secretary and, it seems, spokesman, he did have a duty to know. To my surprise, he responded that he didn’t want to know; that he didn’t want to dwell on the past, he only wanted to move forward.
I find it hard to understand that someone wouldn’t want to know whether the organisation he has just joined is corrupt, when it is clear that many people have had concerns about it for quite a while. He insisted though: he’s not interested and doesn’t have time. What he said, again in a very friendly manner that I do appreciate, was that he was aware of the work I had done for the original 2014 campaign, that it would be useful to have my support, and that we needed to trust each other.
It would be of course great if we could, but I cannot trust people who have founded an organisation through fraudulent practice and who have been unaccountable and unreachable all this time. I told Mr Mullard that for the BCT to be trusted, it would need to answer satisfactorily to quite a few questions, and that I would send him a list with those questions shortly.
“Take your webpage down”
At the end of our call he made an extraordinary request: that I should take this webpage off the web. I told him he was asking me to contribute to a cover-up, and that I certainly would not do it. Why was he asking me to do that? He said that this webpage “is unhelpful”. Unhelpful for what, I wonder? “Think about it”, he insisted.
It is no pleasure, believe me, to have to denounce the Blake Cottage Trust’s seemingly endless lack of ethics and accountability, but as long as they do not put right what is wrong, explain and apologise to public, donors and cottage appeal campaigners for the way they have neglected the cottage and lied blatantly, and as long as they don’t become accountable, this webpage will be on the web.
The Blake Cottage Trust has now officially called for five other trustees to join the four existing ones: the three “founders” who in fact aproppriated the cottage and the fruits of the campaign through fraudulent practice six years ago, and Mr Mullard, who has just joined. (It is interesting to note that only one of those five places is being reserved for a local trustee, despite the BCT’s claim in 2018 that they were actively looking for additional trustees from the local area.)
There are a few points that need to be made perfectly clear here:
That they are finally opening up their tight-closed circle of mismanagement, inaccountability and corruption is not the result of a sudden illumination: it is following the recommendations of Historic England.
It is wonderful to know that new trustees will finally be let in and keep an eye on the urgent repair and the future of the cottage. However, this new trust still won’t be the large consortium, including several interested organisations, that we had promised to the public in our 2014 campaign that would be running the cottage.
The risk is then that these new trustees will know nothing of the original plans for the cottage, of what we promised in our campaign that we would do.
Standing as they will now be on the generosity and good will of the nearly 750 donors to the original campaign and its countless supporters, and on the work of those who created the campaign along with Mr. Tim Heath —the Big Blake Project in Felpham, and myself— the new trustees will have the obligation to find out what the problems with the Blake Cottage Trust have been and make sure that they put right everything that has been wrong. They will have the obligation to ask questions and demand answers. They will have the obligation to be accountable and to report publicly how the money they receive is used. They will have the obligation to listen to the concerns of the public, most particularly the local community, and of donors and the 2014 co-campaigners.
After asking questions and demanding answers, they will have to be able to issue votes of no confidence for trustees who do not deserve that confidence.
I want to believe that Blake’s cottage can still be saved, physically, which is the most urgent thing now, and that it can still become what we promised it would be all those years ago.
I am therefore asking all the new trustees, including Mr Jonathan Mullard, to please listen, to do the right thing, to steer a ship that has been sinking in most dark and troubled waters for six years in the right direction. Don’t believe that because the problems started so long ago they don’t matter. Turning a blind eye to those problems won’t make them go away, and there will still be three individuals among you who will need to become accountable for the harm they have done.
Do the right thing. Let that be your contribution to keeping William Blake’s legacy alive.
I did send Mr Jonathan Mullard my list of questions for the BCT. He acknowledged it a week later. He mentioned having been busy preparing a new press release.
The list is long and of course I know that to do whatever the BCT may want to do with them (hopefully not ignore them altogether, as they have ignored all my other communications so far) will take time. But I am worried about more BCT press releases and public statements without them having first at least shown willingness to answer to these questions, so I am now making them public. They will also be helpful, I think, for the new trustees.
These questions reflect many of the things that have gone so wrong with the Blake Cottage Trust and their handling of Blake’s cottage. I’ve added three questions (20, 21 and 36) that aren’t in the document I sent to Mr. Mullard. I hope he’ll look at those too and that we can continue our conversation, however thorny it may be, in a productive and fruitful manner. I would certainly be so relieved if, at long last, the Blake Cottage Trust could be trusted.
You can download the document in the following link, or simply read it below.
The problems with the Blake Cottage Trust start from its very foundation. The way it was created and its behaviour during the six years of its existence display a degree of dishonesty, unaccountability and incompetence that make it impossible to trust.
Its chair, Mr Tim Heath, has deliberately made it difficult to challenge it through the continuous tactics of concealing the truth and manipulating information, as well as in the very way the cottage was acquired: during the 2014 campaign led by the Blake Society and the Big Blake Project, unbeknown to the Blake Society Committee, the Big Blake Project and the trustee who, along with him, was leading the campaign as far as the BS was concerned (myself), the chair set up the Blake Cottage Trust, with his lawyers standing in for him, then named himself chairman. This was done in absolute secrecy, without consulting or informing any of his fellow campaigners or the BS Committee, and precisely at the time when his probity in the handling of the campaign and his behaviour within the Blake Society Committee were being severely questioned, putting at risk both the BS and the cottage appeal. He only let the BS Committee know when he had already done it, two months later, and he never informed the Big Blake Project. This is the first step in a clearly fraudulent move.
Then, after the campaign failed, he managed to get a big private donation and acquired the cottage, again, shrouded in secrecy. The Blake Society Committee and the Big Blake Project only found out after the purchase had taken place, through the press, FaceBook or the newsletter the chair sent to members.
Therefore, the crux of the matter is that Mr Heath acquired the cottage as a private endeavour, hidden from everyone involved in the public appeal, then tried to make it pass as a triumph of that very appeal, stealing its good name and credibility. He invited to the Trust two men who had nothing to do with the appeal, and the three of them have behaved ever since as the owners of a private property, being completely unaccountable to public and donors.
The consequences of such fraudulent and irresponsible practices are visible in the cottage’s state of disrepair. For the BCT to merit any public trust, it would have to acknowledge and redress the harm done. It certainly has a lot to explain to the public, who supported the campaign and gave generously (we had nearly 750 donors), as well as to the original appeal campaigners, and quite a few questions to answer—far more than can be enumerated here.
I am compiling below those that I think most important.
In a recent conversation with Mr Jonathan Mullard, the new Blake Cottage Trust and Blake Society Secretary, he kindly said that he wants us to trust each other and that he hopes that I can support the BCT work. He even asked me to take my webpage off the web. He also insisted on not being interested in what has happened in the past, but in moving forward.
I would very much like to be able to support the BCT work, but to do that I need to know that it is accountable, capable of preserving Blake’s cottage and of honouring the project that people and donors supported. If I, and members of the public and donors, are to trust them, they must provide clear answers to the following questions, including evidence where relevant. Should they do so in a satisfactory manner, then I can think of supporting them and taking my blog off the web.
Further information and evidence related to the questions I am asking here are all in the said webpage, https://blakecottage.com/. There is a lot of material there, so if you need to be directed to evidence related to any specific question, please do let me know.
Why did Mr Tim Heath set up the Blake Cottage Trust secretly, establishing himself as chairman and choosing single-handedly the other two Directors, without consulting or informing the other Blake Society trustee who was leading the campaign with him (myself), the rest of the Blake Society Committee, who was publicly responsible for it, or our co-campaigners in Felpham, the Big Blake Project, and why did he later lie about the date in which it was established? (The incorporation in the Registrar of Companies for England and Wales of the BCT as a private company took place on the 30th of October 2014, Mr Heath being represented by his lawyer, Mr Simon Patrick Weil. He told the BS Committee on the 9th of December that year that the BCT would be set up soon. See https://blakecottage.files.wordpress.com/2016/06/the-blake-cottage-trust-certificate-of-incorporation.pdf)
Why did Mr Heath do that at the precise moment when his lack of probity regarding the cottage campaign and his behaviour within the Blake Society Committee were being questioned?
Why did he decide single-handedly the terms and powers of the BCT’s incorporation as a private company, without consulting his fellow-campaigners?
Among such powers, 5.22 mentions the payment of annual sums and premiums for or towards the provision of pensions for officers and employees. Have the trustees of the BCT been receiving these payments throughout the past six years, and if so, what is the amount?
Article 6 (Application of Income and Property) in the said Certificate of Incorporation mentions benefits or remunerations that can be received by Members of the charity who are not also Directors. Does the BCT have any such members; if so, have they been receiving any such benefits or remunerations, and if so, how much has been paid and what for?
Article 6.4 mentions the kinds of benefits, fees, interest, rent for premises or remuneration that the charity Directors may receive. Have any of the Directors received any such payments during the past six years, and if so, of how much and what for? Can they show the relevant documents to support this?
Why Article 22.3 states that the maximum number of Directors shall be nine, when we had agreed within the Blake Society Committee that, with its eleven Trustees, it was too small to run the cottage, and the same was told to the Blake Society members?
Can the BCT explain clearly what their Indemnity clause (article 36) mean? Does it mean that a Director that incurs any liability for negligence, default, breach of duty or breach of trust will actually be indemnified by the Trust?
Which of the recommendations for the running of the cottage that I left with Mr Heath when I finally stepped down from the appeal, close to nervous breakdown because of the bullying I had been subject to and the impossibility to explain to public and donors what was happening, since he was withholding all information from me, despite my being publicly responsible for it and donations along with him and the BBP, has the BCT followed, apart from its connection with the National Trust (which I know it has)?
One of those recommendations was the recording of decision-making, for the sake of transparency. Has the Blake Cottage Trust records of its decisions for the past six years? If they do, and in view of the concerns about their accountability, will they make them public?
What (if anything) did the BCT tell the other people and organisations we had invited to be part of the consortium to run the cottage, including the Tate, English PEN, Chichester University, Enitharmon Press and several individuals, when the cottage was purchased? [English PEN had no news; another individual contacted me later to say she had never heard from anyone related to the project again.]
Are they contacting these people and organisations again six years later, and if so, how are they explaining to them the interruption of communication and work?
What were the conditions, if any, of the Basil Larsen Charitable Trust for the donation that made the acquisition of the cottage possible?
The Big Blake Project were invited by Mr Heath to be fellow campaigners in the cottage appeal. They worked very hard for around a year and a half and raised a significant amount of money. Why were they elbowed out and treated like enemies and as “a pressure group” when the cottage was acquired?; why Mr Heath didn’t “allow” the BBP’s chair, Mrs Rachel Searle, to talk with the other trustees, Mr Michael Philips and Mr Peter Johns, when the BBP was still campaigning with the Blake Society? Why were Mrs. Searle’s concerns, including those of the need to do repairs to the cottage, ignored?
Why when the cottage was bought Mr Heath didn’t allow journalists access to the Big Blake Project, and why in the press he made sure that only him was mentioned as the leader of the campaign, without acknowledging the work of the Big Blake Project or my own?
Why, after the cottage was purchased, members of the Big Blake Project were denied access to the cottage and, when some of its members asked for at least the chance to visit, they were refused and told to wait for an open day?
Why the Blake Cottage Trust never acknowledged the concerns of people in Felpham about the local community not being represented in the Trust?
As mentioned above, it had been agreed that we would need to create an organisation bigger than the Blake Society to run the cottage and start the fundraising that would make the renovation of the cottage possible. We had promised to the public a large consortium of accountable organisations and individuals, several of whom had been contacted already and were interested. Why then the Blake Cottage Trust was formed by only three men, two of whom had nothing to do with the campaign? Why a fourth trustee came in only now, and they have started to look for more trustees until the end of 2021?
Why didn’t the BCT set up as a priority to start working immediately on the repairs to the cottage, when the need for repair was so clear?
What has the BCT done to address the extensive recommendations for repairs and conservation in the building survey report carried out on behalf of the Blake Society in December 2014?
In the BCT’s first annual report and financial statement for the year ended 31 October 2015 they mention that their activities in their first year of existence had been “focused on the purchase, insurance and immediate maintenance of Blake’s Cottage while honouring its place within the village of Felpham . . .”. Which exactly were those activities regarding the cottage’s immediate maintenance, and why did they make such claims about honouring its place within the village of Felpham, when they were shutting the cottage’s doors to the local community and the Felpham organisation who had been in charge of the local leg of the campaign?
Why was the original project for the cottage, the one that public and donors supported, ditched as soon as it was purchased? Why did Mr Heath lie to the public, to the Blake Society and in BS minutes saying that the project was a “blank canvas” with no vision behind it?
Why didn’t the BCT inform the public for a whole year about their plans for the cottage, and haven’t produced up till now a concrete, formal project, that they have a duty to deliver?
Are they going to make public such a formal plan now, consult donors and the local community for their approval, and once approved, make it binding?
Why, when the BCT finally started talking about their plans, these centred around the creation of a visitor centre on the premises and on renting out rooms, which was never part of the original project supported by the public?
Why the BCT didn’t acknowledge my communications or recommendations, and refused to meet with me and the Big Blake Project to have a productive conversation and clarify things?
Why did requests from the Big Blake Project to meet up with the BS and the BCT and to have a proper response to their concerns were never attended to, despite the fact that two trustees of the Blake Society wrote to the BBP’s chair telling her that her concerns would be addressed? (Mrs. Searle also asked for documents regarding the setting up of the BCT, BS minutes reflecting its decision-making, including when it was decided that Mr Heath would set up the BCT alone, decisions made about the visitor’s centre or disconnecting from the original vision for the cottage. She was never shown such documents.)
Why did the BCT ignore Mrs Searle’s warning that, if they shut the cottage up the way they were doing, they would reduce chances of funding opportunities?
Why did the BCT use the name of the Felpham Village Conservation Society, without informing them and without their permission, pretending they were organising an event together while they knew fully well that the FVCS had other events that day and therefore few people would be there to question what the BCT was doing? (I have the BCT flier and correspondence from the FVCS as evidence.)
Why, when they finally mentioned their plans a year after the purchase, they didn’t involve the immediate repair of the cottage, but rather the construction of a new building?
It had been agreed during the campaign that the visitor centre would be in Bognor Regis, not on the cottage’s premises, and that it would be run by the Big Blake Project. It had in fact been their idea. Why did the BCT steal the idea of the visitor centre from the Big Blake Project, rather than including them and consulting them, honouring their initiative?
Why in 2016 the Blake Cottage Trust was trying to raise £50,000 for an architect for the new building rather than prioritising the repair of the cottage, and ignored completely the local objections to the new building?
Why did the BCT consistently contradict itself about its plans for the cottage, and kept on changing what they said in their webpage and to the press depending on the concerns raised by myself and other campaigners?
Why was no action taken on repairs for the cottage after the BCT received the 2016 Morton Partnership Survey?
Why did the BCT ignore the petition initiated by Mrs Beryl Kingston in Felpham, with 500 signatures, to start repairs on the cottage immediately and objecting to the plans for a new building?
Why did the BCT lied publicly in October 2016 about the time it had taken to raise the funds to acquire the cottage, saying it had taken “several years to raise the initial funds to purchase the cottage and we can expect a similar time frame to raise the monies for stage two”, when the funds for the cottage were in fact raised in less than two years, from around March 2014, when the initial work for the official campaign started, to September 2015, when Mr Heath obtained the large donation on his own?
Why did Mr Heath and the BS trustees collude in a cover up and lie to the public, saying that the cottage was never a Blake Society project? (There is a lot of evidence, including official documents and publicity, apart from the public’s memory of course, to proof that they were lying. You can also look at: https://blakecottage.com/2017/01/26/last-call/) .
Why didn’t the BCT ever respond to the concerns raised about their financial reports?
Why didn’t Mr Heath ever give access to those of us leading the campaign with him, or to the Blake Society Committee, to the full financial information regarding the appeal, including the crowdfunding platforms’ full statements? (The then Treasurer of the BS had shown similar concerns at the time; then he promised to provide such financial reports at the 2015 AGM, but he never did. In fact, he didn’t show up at the AGM.)
Is the BCT willing to show to Mr Heath’s fellow cottage appeal campaigners and to donors a full and detailed financial breakdown from the beginning of the campaign till now, with all the necessary supporting documents as evidence?
Can Mr Heath explain why did the Blake Society appoint as an “independent” finance examiner to audit the cottage appeal finances Dr Duncan, who would the following month become their trustee and later on their Treasurer, and why did the BS lie in their minutes about the date in which Dr Duncan become a trustee?
Why did Mr Heath put pressure on the press to tone down their covering of issues with the cottage prior to the publication of one article in a major British newspaper?
What became of the 2015 appointment of BS trustee Henry Eliot, who was privy to the secret setting up of the BCT though he had no more involvement with the project, as cottage project manager for two years? Did he leave, or did he remain secretly employed after I raised my concerns, and why the promises that he made to me and Mrs Searle about future transparency from the BCT and the work that would start on the cottage and its preservation right away never materialised?
Why did Mr Eliot say, on behalf of the BCT, that the original vision for the project that donors had given their money for was not binding?
Why did Mr Eliot say, on behalf of the BCT, that I couldn’t be involved in the future of the cottage, though they would be very happy to have my ideas, contacts, and support?
Why Mr Eliot said that the BCT had no objections for Ms Paige Morgan to work with them, Ms Morgan being a BS Trustee based in America who, along with Mr Heath, had hijacked the cottage appeal at its most crucial moment, colluding in the withholding of information, including financial information, from the BS Committee, from myself and the Big Blake Project; who had lied to the public regarding her involvement in the appeal, for which she had shown no interest when the appeal started; who was forced in by Mr Heath behind the BS Committee and fellow campaigners’ back, and who, just as Mr Eliot, had repeatedly said she had no time for it and therefore supposedly was not involved?
Why did the BCT ignore my letters of warning following this information about their chair’s unscrupulous behaviour within the BS Committee and in his handling of the cottage appeal?
Why didn’t the BCT honour their 2018 statement about being “actively looking for additional trustees from the local area”?
In the same statement they said: “Once this project is done us three trustees will hand over to the community trustees and we will disappear. It’s got to be for the Felpham and Bognor community, that’s the whole point.” Are they going to honour that promise?
Why was the BCT acting as property speculator in their website in 2017, announcing the sale of Treasurer Mr Peter Johns’ house and pointing at the estate agency that was selling it?
Will the BCT acknowledge fully and publicly my work and that of the Big Blake Project in the cottage appeal, and recognise our right to be part of the future of the cottage if we so wish?
Is the Blake Cottage Trust aware that none of the Blake Society Trustees that were part of the Committee during the cottage appeal and the immediate aftermath of the purchase (with the sole exception of Mr George Fort, who never colluded in the cover-up and was the only one to acknowledge my and the BBP’s desire to meet up and sort out our differences), has the right to work in or for the cottage, given their proven lack of probity which included bullying, secrecy, concealment of information from the other campaigners apart from Mr Heath (myself and the BBP), lying to the public and to the Charity Commission, colluding in a cover-up and manipulation of minutes?
Is the Blake Cottage Trust aware of the fact that, if they plan to continue acting as the private owners of Blake’s cottage, they should explain that to the public and donors who supported the original campaign, including the Heritage Lottery Fund, and return them their money?
Why did Mr. Jonathan Mullard, the new Secretary of the Blake Society and the Blake Cottage Trust, consider it appropriate to ask me to take my website, which is the means through which I have been voicing my concerns about Blake’s cottage and the BCT’s irregularities, off the web?
The following are blog entries regarding the BCT’s plans for the cottage and other irregularities:
In recent days, the news that Historic England has included William Blake’s cottage in Felpham in its Heritage at Risk register has spread all over the press. Those of us who know how extensive the damage to the cottage’s thatched roof and its structure is, due to the past six years of neglect and mismanagement, could at last breathe a cautious sigh of relief.
Why cautious? For one thing, though it is very welcome news that Historic England cares about Blake’s cottage, one can’t help wondering why they took so long to do something about it.
As some of you may know, I was a trustee, then Secretary, of the Blake Society for several years. Along with its chairman, Tim Heath, and the Big Blake Project in Felpham, I was co-founder and co-leader of the 2014 campaign to acquire the cottage and turn it into a centre for creation. After relentless bullying, witnessing widespread mismanagement and corruption in the handling of the project, and alerting the committee, to no avail, I stepped down. The Big Blake Project was then bullied out too. Mr Heath fashioned himself as the owner of the cottage and created an illegitimate organism, also chaired by him: the Blake Cottage Trust (then consisting of only three persons; now they are four), all behind the Blake Society committee’s back. When the cottage was finally acquired in 2015, a purchase that was also shrouded in secrecy, it was in fact stolen from the people who generously donated their money during the campaign.
Throughout the ensuing years, alarmed by what Mr Heath has done and by the subsequent series of neglect, lies, incoherence and dodgy manoeuvres that have characterised the behaviour of the Blake Cottage Trust, which has proved to be routinely unapproachable and accountable to no one, I have repeatedly contacted Samantha Johnson and Peter Kendall at Historic England, to alert them of the risk the building is facing.
Ms Johnson and Mr Kendall have been kind and clear, taking care to explain that, of course, Historic England can’t regulate the behaviour of the Blake Cottage Trust, their task being to protect buildings and preserve historical and cultural heritage. I understand that well.
In January 2017 (nearly five years ago), they told me that they had been in touch with Mr Heath and had inspected the building, and that Mr Heath had told them that the Blake Cottage Trust would prioritise the repair of the building and were “embarking on a period of fundraising”. Ms Johnson also told me (I quote): “If there was to be a very protracted period of inactivity at the cottage, then this could threaten its structural integrity (and therefore potentially its historic interest). In that case we would then discuss with the owner and the local authority how this could be best addressed.”
That very protracted period of inactivity certainly followed, and it certainly threatened the cottage’s structural integrity. I ignore if there were more discussions with the BCT or the local authority, but the outcome was further damage to the building over a period of five years.
In February 2018—that’s almost four years ago—I contacted HE again, telling them that surely the cottage could be now considered at risk: there had been some open days, and visitors had been appalled by its state of disrepair, far greater than it had been in the past. I had seen some pictures, and they were very worrying indeed. I told them I knew that “there isn’t much that Historic England can do if such a building falls into the hands of a Trust that has proved to be utterly unscrupulous and incompetent, incapable to make themselves responsible for it, but now I believe that there are serious grounds to consider it heritage at risk, and if there is any way in which Historic England can help to protect Blake’s Cottage, it would be many both in Britain and the world who would be grateful.”
Mr Peter Kendall’s response was:
You may be aware that inclusion of a heritage asset on our at risk register is based on a combination of factors and that these include most importantly the condition of the building (normally an imminent risk of loss of something significant) and the absence of a secure use or a body capable of managing it.
When we last considered this building we thought it had repair needs but that these were not of a severity that would make it at risk in our terms. Before I might ask our Heritage at Risk team for their opinion of the risk factors I would welcome a bit more information.
It may be worthwhile to reproduce here my whole answer:
Many thanks for getting back to me.
The building has certainly deteriorated since I saw it in 2014, when we knew there was damage but it was not apparent, and this year.
Perhaps the most recent images will speak for themselves. The pictures attached appeared in Mrs Beryl Kingston’s blog recently, after she visited the building:
I would say that the cottage is now in very urgent need of repair indeed.
I am also convinced that there is a complete absence of a body capable to manage the property. It was acquired in September 2015 and during all this time it has been allowed to go into further disrepair.
For nearly a year the Blake Cottage Trust didn’t deign to inform the public what they planned to do with the building. When they finally did, they’ve been incurring into flagrant contradictions, have been lying to the public on a continuous basis, their financial reports are inaccurate, and a long sorry etc. that I have documented well in my own website: https://blakecottage.com/blog/
The reason why the Blake Cottage Trust is not capable to manage the property is its very illegitimacy: during our campaign in the Blake Society we promised we’d create a large consortium of organisations and individuals who would all contribute their skills and expertise, and would guarantee transparency and accountability. We had invited the Tate, English PEN, the University of Chichester, publishers and scholars.
If that had happened, the fund-raising would have continued immediately after the purchase of the cottage. None of that happened because the Blake Cottage Trust is formed only of 3 individuals. Two of them had had no involvement in the campaign nor knowledge of the project. It was a trust set up in secret by the Blake Society chairman, who now also chairs the Blake Cottage Trust.
There is ample evidence of both organisms’ extensive lying to the public and donors, of their bullying and intimidation tactics and their lack of a consistent plan for the building, which they have been changing on and on depending on what their critics make public. One rather concrete result of their incapability to manage the building is the dire conditions in which it stands now.
The more time we allow to pass, the more the building will be affected, something that we all would lament.
I hope you find this information useful.
Mr Kendall said that they would now consider this information. Meanwhile, the cottage kept on deteriorating in the hands of the Blake Cottage Trust.
Fast forward to November 2021, and we hear that at last Historic England is stepping in. Happy as I am, I cannot help wondering why they took so long.
The apparent answer to this question is also troubling me: HE seems to be responding to a request from the Blake Cottage Trust itself.
Early last year a fourth trustee joined the Trust as its Secretary: Jonathan Mullard (who is also now Secretary of the Blake Society). Mr Mullard has been quoted in the press saying, “The Trust applied to Historic England to put it [the cottage] on the Register due to the decay and failure of part of the thatch, roof structure and supporting masonry. . . . “We are very grateful for the support of Historic England.”
It is therefore pertinent to ask whether Historic England is actually supporting the Blake Cottage Trust, and if it is, whether it has paid no attention to the fact that the state of disrepair Blake’s cottage is in is the direct responsibility of that Trust precisely, who has had it in its hands since 2015, and of the Blake Society, who washed off its hands of its responsibility for the campaign it launched in 2014, and was subsequently actively working on a cover up.
I insist: when we (the Blake Society and the Big Blake Project) started the campaign, we promised we would create a consortium of accountable organisations and individuals to look after the cottage, secure its future and open its doors to the public. We would call people and organisation of many talents, including fundraising skills. Had that promise been kept, there is no doubt that the thatched roof and structural damage would have been repaired a long time ago.
Instead of that, Mr Heath was joined by two other utterly unaccountable men, and between the three of them managed to do nothing at all for the cottage, and quite a great deal of damage and mischief. I cannot repeat the whole story here, which is long and convoluted, but all of it is amply documented in this website, for those who care.
Historic England has been warned about this state of affairs for six years now, and I’m sure not only by myself but by other campaigners too, and yet it only steps in on request from the Blake Cottage Trust? Why is that?
I don’t blame HE for finding it hard to deal with a painfully complicated matter, with the workings of three men who behave like common crooks yet are rich in cunning. However, I will alert them yet again about the risks of supporting the people who are directly responsible for the fact that Blake’s Cottage is now is at risk of being lost forever. There are the ethical reasons, which no one in this sad story seems to care much about, but also the practical and factual, dazzlingly obvious if we look at the dire state the cottage is in.
In a recent piece published in the Bognor Regis Observer, Mr Mullard, from the BCT, made the following statements:
“The Trust aims to renovate the cottage, with sympathy and imagination, in time for the 200th anniversary of the death of William Blake in 2027. Fundraising and renovation can be challenging but as Blake himself wrote: ‘Eternity is in love with the productions of time.”
2027? Surely this is a joke? To wait that long to have functioning a building that was acquired in 2015, then left to rot all these years?
However, rather than making sure that the needed work was done, or admitting that they didn’t have the capacity to do it, they were hiring architects to design plans for the new building they want to have on the premises.)
In the Bognor Regis Observer article also we learn: “Mr Mullard, one of four trustees, said they had used the opportunity to launch a fundraising bid, initially for £8,000 for a conservation report. Then the trust plans to make bids for funding for the work itself. They are also looking for more trustees to widen the expertise they have on board.”
One question is pertinent here: why are they only looking for more trustees now, in 2021? Why these three men (now four) have been unapproachable and unaccountable since 2015, and suddenly they consider it might actually be wise to have more trustees?
To anyone who’s considering applying for that doubtful honour, I would recommend them to take a serious look at the history behind the Blake Cottage Trust, and to be fully aware that it was created illegitimately, taking money from donors and money given by the Heritage Lottery Fund, to steal William Blake’s cottage and buy it as if it were these men’s private property.
I for one cannot trust in the least trustees chosen by the three original founders, or shall we say thieves, of the BCT. What I saw in the committee of the Blake Society during the cottage campaign, then its acquisition, cured me of any remains of innocence. With the sole exception of a new young trustee who, though he didn’t challenge the committee, at least stayed well clear of the bullying and the cover up, every single one of the other trustees washed their hands off their responsibility and were actively complicit in the cover-up of a great deal of corruption.
Apart from Mr Heath, none of those trustees remains in the Blake Society now. Its present committee members all joined in 2020 and 2021, with one exception, who joined in 2019. How the purge of the old ones took place, I do not know. I have no reason to doubt that the new trustees are all honest and well-meaning people, but they are still working under the direction of a dishonest man who manipulates information and lies to an astonishing degree; a man who is capable of, in fact, fraud—it was through fraud that he acquired the cottage and created the illegitimate Blake Cottage Trust.
As trustees of a charity, they have the obligation to look into the matter, acknowledge the damage done, and stop being complicit with a corrupt organisation.
The same goes for Mr Mullard: he wasn’t there during the campaign or the years of utter unaccountability that followed the purchase of the cottage, so he may know nothing at all about the sorry mess that surrounds the property. However, as the Secretary of both the BCT and the BS, he now has a responsibility to find out what happened and act in consequence. I will make sure to contact him and let him know my concerns. (As it is amply documented in this webpage, I did all in my power, for years, to address my concerns to the other trustees of the BCT, without ever receiving even an acknowledgement of receipt of my communications.)
You will have read in the recent press coverage that Blake’s cottage “was rescued by the Blake Cottage Trust in 2015″. It is crucial that we emphasise, as many times as necessary, until we all refresh our memory, that that was not the case at all. The Blake Cottage Trust did not rescue the cottage in 2015. What it did was steal it and allow it to go into serious disrepair. Are we supposed to reward them for that?
Let’s go back to the new fundraising campaign that the BCT announces they will start soon.
In October this year the Blake Society held an online event around Blake’s Milton. A Poem, at the end of which Mr Heath and Mr Mullard talked about their plans for the cottage, the campaign included. It is recorded in the BS’s webpage, and I’ve just looked at it. Mr Mullard claims that the BCT has been involved in “a lot of discussions with Historic England”, sharing their concerns for a property that has been unoccupied for so long; he mentions their successful request for HE to put the cottage in the Heritage at Risk register, and then says something quite extraordinary: that it may “sound like a bad thing, that we’ve got a property that is at risk”; that it “may sound negative but actually opens a lot of funding opportunities”, and therefore, he says: “I wouldn’t worry too much. It’s a technical analysis of the state of the building, rather than necessarily a building that is to fall down”.
“I wouldn’t worry too much!” After six years of neglect. Can you believe it?
The technical analysis tells us that the cottage where one of the greatest poets and artists this country has given is at risk of being lost forever, and the Secretary of the Blake Cottage Trust wouldn’t worry too much.
Mr Mullard continues: “We can take the opportunity of the publicity of Historic England’s annual register to start a fundraising programme for the cottage, to have it ready in 2027 on the anniversary of Blake’s death.”
Please read this again. After six years of neglect, the BCT is planning an opportunistic burst of publicity to start a fundraising programme that they should have started in 2015, to get it ready in a further six years. They are asking for a 12-year trust from the public, when during half that time they have done for the cottage nothing at all.
Mr Mullard then says: “We’re looking for partners, people who want to help us in this journey”. And why didn’t the BCT look for the partners we committed ourselves to take on board in the 2014 campaign as soon as the cottage was acquired, thus honouring the Blake Society and Big Blake Project’s word of creating a consortium, and fulfilling our obligation towards the campaign’s donors?
So when Mr Mullard tells us that they will be asking “for big donations with a big publicity campaign”, I can only think, “Oh no, not again!”
In 2014 we launched a big publicity campaign, asked for big donations, and just look at the results. The Blake Cottage Trust seems to be staking its chances on the world’s forgetfulness, after such long a time (and God knows we’ve had plenty of causes for distraction).
As one of the founders of the original campaign, it is my duty to help the public remember. Some of you reading these words were probably among the donors who, seven years ago, gave generously and trustingly, and what you got in return was a Blake Society dropping the project and its responsibility, and a devious hijacking of the cottage by the Blake Cottage Trust, who then let it rot. Do you want to see this happen again?
No doubt the Blake Cottage Trust will cajole more celebrities for their new campaign. Another of the hard lessons I learnt with the previous campaign was that, though celebrities look very nice supporting noble causes, they are seemingly terribly busy to care whether the projects they support are destroyed by corruption. In this website you can find the nil results I got from alerting the big names we had in our campaign about what had really happened.
I’m in no way implying that Mr Jonathan Mullard is aware of all this. I don’t know him, he’s joined the Blake Cottage Trust and the Blake Society only recently, and nobody knows what the other BCT trustees cared to tell him about the cottage’s history when he joined.
What I am hoping is that he informs himself, that he listens to these and other people’s concerns, and does the right thing, by not being complicit to further dishonesty and deceit.
He may find the tricks of prestidigitation regarding the relationship between the Blake Society and the Blake Cottage Trust that have abounded during this unedifying story interesting. I will try to summarise them here, for his benefit and that of this blog’s readers, who may have forgotten.
The campaign to acquire Blake’s cottage was, unequivocally, a Blake Society and Big Blake Project endeavour. It was explicitly agreed that the campaign would rely on the Blake Society’s good reputation for its success, and that all the administration of the campaign would go through the Blake Society. I know: I was the Secretary. Extensive proof of this can be found in this website and, of course, in the memory of the public and donors.
If the campaign succeeded, then we would create the large consortium of organisations and individuals that I have mentioned above to run the cottage independently.
Soon, however, the behaviour of Tim Heath, the BS chairman, became alarmingly erratic. I am not talking only of the intense bullying that I, as co-founder of the project and campaign, was subject to. I am talking of how he started to refuse to give information to the committee of what was going on with the project, to the extent that for the last weeks before the end of the campaign he simply disappeared. He was unreachable. The committee had no idea of what he was up to, and all the trustees were, understandably, very worried. Each and every one of them told me about their concerns.
When I stepped down, the whole committee told me (in private) how unfair it was, how worried they were about the whole affair; in fact, how angry. But not one of them ever challenged the chair in the few meetings he deigned to call.
In 2015, when the cottage was acquired, and I found out that the Big Blake Project had also been bullied out and now Mr Heath had claimed the cottage as his own private toy, I was alarmed, and very worried about the donors who had given us their support in such good faith. I therefore contacted the Blake Society committee. Again, all its trustees confirmed that, since I had left, they had known nothing at all about the cottage project; that the chair was unapproachable and refused to discuss the matter with them; that the same had been the case regarding the purchase of the property and the creation of the Blake Cottage Trust. They were extremely worried and angry.
I told them how important it was that they challenged the chair and honoured their responsibility for the campaign as the Blake Society. But they never did, and when I then contacted the Charity Commission and made the matter public, the Blake Society’s tune changed completely. They now simply parroted Mr Heath, repeating that the Blake Society had nothing whatsoever to do with the cottage project. Nothing at all. As if all the publicity, correspondence and printed material weren’t there to prove they were lying.
The cover-up that followed (and it includes muddled financial reports) was vast and thorough. It is all documented in this webpage as well.
Now it’s 2021, and the discourse is, again, that the Blake Cottage Trust and the Blake Society are in this very much together. So much so, that they share the same chair and secretary.
I find this constant change of discourse unsettling. First we had the lying, through which the Blake Society washed its hands and contributed to the illegitimate appropriation of the cottage. Now, with an entirely new committee in the BS, the BCT seems to be relying on the support of its members, since there has been nothing in six years to contribute to the Blake Cottage Trust’s reputation apart from the fact that, in their hands, the building is falling apart.
This is by no means the only instance in which the discourse of both the BS and the BCT has incurred in flagrant contradictions, changes of plans, lies and incoherence. One of the most worrying examples has been the Blake Cottage Trust’s constant changes and contradictions regarding their actual plans for the cottage, starting by ditching the original plan that had been made explicit during our campaign.
I recently looked at the Blake Cottage Trust’s webpage and I see that they have withdrawn some of the most extravagant claims they have made in the past, including their plans to turn the cottage into a kind of fancy hotel so that people could sleep in Blake’s bed, create and procreate, etc. (Luckily, all their past claims are documented too in these pages.)
My concern is: if money starts pouring into the hands of people who for six years have done nothing but lying and contradicting themselves wildly, who is to guarantee that they won’t go back on their word, contradict themselves again, come up with bizarre new plans that have nothing to do with what is promised to those people we support their campaign?
A great first step to at last really rescue Blake’s cottage has been taken by Historic England, as they include it in their register of heritage at risk. We all must celebrate it and make sure that funds are raised to save it. What should follow now, apart from the fundraising itself, is to secure that the building is taken off the hands of the people who have served it so badly and are responsible for the neglect and disrepair in the first place.
This is of course no easy task. I have mentioned the BCT’s cunning before, and both they and trustees in the old BS Committee have made sure in the past to inform/threaten about the very powerful law firm hired by the Blake Cottage Trust, who seems to have money for lawyers but not for repairing the building. However, those of us who care for Blake’s legacy should think of ways to prevent the money from going through the Blake Cottage Trust’s hands.
I admit I don’t know through which mechanism this may be possible, and that I know what an extremely convoluted issue this is, but I would hope that Historic England, after taking a first step in the right direction, might volunteer to manage the money themselves to carry out the necessary repairs, or think of acquiring the property. I am sending this blog entry to them and I will try to discuss my concerns with them further.
The public, all the people who love Blake and who will give once again, generously, and out of love and respect for his work, must be protected and rest assured that their money won’t go into the hands of people who have sequestered the cottage via fraudulent practice.
The Blake Cottage Trust has been talking for a while of also acquiring the property at 17 South Molton Street, London, where Blake and Catherine lived after their return from Felpham, and that Mr Heath has been renting for years. The alarm bells should be ringing loudly. If we’re not careful, the only two standing buildings were William Blake lived will end up in the hands of fraudsters. Can you think of a worse insult to his legacy?
In the recorded event about Blake’s Milton that I have already mentioned, Mr Heath let out another of the vacuous slogans that he has been using since the cottage was acquired. He said that having Blake’s cottage in Historic England’s register of heritage at risk is right “because Blake is at risk in our culture”.
Blake’s work is known and admired now more than ever before, so he doesn’t seem to be much at risk, but the legacy of the cottage where he spent three years that, painful though they were, proved infinitely fruitful, is certainly at risk in the hands of the Blake Cottage Trust and its shadow, the Blake Society. Let us make sure that we aren’t complicit.
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.
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.
What is a memorial? Is a physical object which aims at honouring an event or an individual, presumably with beauty, something to be celebrated at all costs? Even if it is raised by corrupt people? Even if it therefore lays a sad, undeserved weight of ugliness upon the person or event it purportedly honours?
These matters are complicated. The history of mankind is punctuated by instances where honour, beauty, and nobility are meshed with corruption, violence, deception, often inextricably.
I am musing on this because the Blake Society has recently announced that next August, to commemorate William Blake’s death, they will unveil, at long last, the memorial by letter-cutter Lida Cardozo on the site where he is actually buried, fulfilling a promise long due. The story of how this promise has finally become reality is a sorry one, and far from beautiful. It is interesting too and I will get there in a moment.
First, however, a reminder of who the Blake Society are. This website is dedicated to tell the truth about what happened with the Blake Society’s project to acquire Blake’s Cottage in Felpham and turn it into a centre for creation. If you follow this entry, you will find the links between that ignominious story and the final attainment of the coveted stone mentioned above. In any case, the great event that is being announced, with the participation of very famous people (some who surely know nothing of this sad state of affairs, others who do know and chose to be complicit), is being planned by an organisation which has consistently lied to its members and the general public for some four years now regarding its major project: that of Blake’s Cottage. The lying has gone as far as denying that the Blake Cottage project ever was a Blake Society endeavor, something that donors and supporters have all reasons to find insulting.
This organisation’s lies have been extensive and rather serious, as they imply the betrayal of over 700 donors. This organisation is also the one which allowed its chair, Mr Tim Heath, to steal what was a public project (which actually means stealing the money publicly raised) in order to create an illegitimate organism, consisting of only three men and chaired also by himself, which he created in secret, under the wing of his lawyers, without informing the Blake Society Committee or his co-campaigners. We’re talking here of fraudulent practice, and we should remember that in order to set up his Blake Cottage Trust Mr Heath used funds granted by the Heritage Lottery Fund to the Blake Society, while the latter’s Committee washed its hands off the matter saying that this had never been a project of the Blake Society. This new, illegitimate trust acquired the Cottage, dropped the original project (the one that donors supported) and was left with no consistent plan at all. They didn’t have either the ability to continue the project because they were not the large trust made up of accountable and capable individuals and organisations that we had promised to the public we’d create, and therefore the Cottage was left to decay. No work has been carried out on it apart from the props that they put in over a year after its purchase to stop the thatched roof to go on collapsing, and yet they have promised to create a costly visitor centre, for the use of which they have no specific project. The only concrete use for it, it seems, will be that of a front for the odd kind of hotel that Mr Heath wants to make of the Cottage, so that people “can sleep in Blake’s bed”.
The Blake Society has not only refused to acknowledge its responsibility for a public project that they started, and has not only lied shamelessly. It has also failed to present, both in their public documents and those presented to the Charity Commission, coherent financial reports. In these too they have lied and their figures don’t add up. They have also severely bullied people and harmed concrete human beings. In their effort to silence those of us who are speaking out, they have broken their own constitution and have made use of intimidation. They have tried to intimidate the press and also individuals (a few days before an article on this issue appeared in The Sunday Times a couple of years ago, an incident that seemed very likely to be intimidation against me orchestrated by Mr Heath was grave enough to be taken seriously by the correspondent authorities), and they have also incurred in slandering. Evidence of all this can be found here, in the different sections of this website, and I think a reminder is pertinent now, because understanding who and what The Blake Society is is crucial to our reflection on whether if a beautiful memorial is worth having no matter what.
2. A Grave Story
As you may already know, I was a Trustee of the Blake Society from 2011 to January 2015, and its Secretary from 2013 till the moment I left the Society. I was also, along with Mr Heath and the Big Blake Project in Felpham, co-leader of the Cottage project – the conception and implementation of which, as the evidence in this webpage shows as well, owes a great deal to me and to my work.
When I joined the Blake Society Committee the “grave project” was already old, and not devoid of conflict. Mr Heath wasn’t all that interested in it, and probably for good reasons. He often said to me that he didn’t see the point in wasting time and energy on a project about “dead Blake”, rather than concentrating on what was still living of his work and legacy. He wasn’t also that enthusiastic about the reasons why Mr Luis and Mrs Carol Garrido, also Trustees of the Society and joint Secretaries before I stepped in and Mr Garrido became Treasurer, were so keen on having the memorial finished.
Some readers may know already that Mr and Mrs Garrido, after careful research, found out around 12 years ago the exact place where William Blake is buried (the tombstone that people have been visiting for years in Bunhill Fields, and which has become a place of pilgrimage for Blake’s fans, is placed, as it states, near the actual burial site). Blake’s genius attracts all sorts of people, and unfortunately all sorts of theories and personal fantasies are continually being thrown at him who, dead as he is, cannot defend himself. The no doubt admirable zeal in finding his exact place of burial is complex, for it doesn’t necessarily follow a simple, human devotion for an artist’s and poet’s legacy. The reader, though puzzled, might be closer to the truth if looking on the direction of Sahaja Yoga.
During my time in the Committee of the Blake Society the disagreements between Mr and Mrs Garrido and Mr Heath were not seldom. The former felt that the project for which they had worked so hard, and which had been in fact the reason why they had joined the Committee, was being neglected. Odd as their inspiration for the project may seem in the first place, they were right: no one seemed to care about the memorial. For this reason, they said they would step down on a couple of occasions. But they stayed.
The conflict became severe in 2012, when the Committee visited, as option B, the study of a stone-cutter who would charge much less than Mrs Cardozo and had been contacted by the Garridos, who were not so keen on Mrs Cardozo’s choice, as her higher fees would mean a longer wait for the project to be fulfilled. We then paid a visit to the Cardozo Kindersley Workshop itself, with the apparent aim of choosing between the two. It seems that those who had been in the Committee longer (namely Mr Heath and the Garridos) had forgotten that there was already an agreement established with Mrs Cardozo and, should we drop our commitment, there would be a fee for the work already carried out towards design. There was much acrimony around the subject at that time, and it was dropped again from the agenda.
In 2013 we had a short-lived spell of work on the project: the initial funds for the stone that will be laid in Bunhill Fields next August were raised by myself (a £2,000 Memorial Grant from the Grocers’ Company) and by a fellow Trustee, Simeon Gallu, no longer in the Committee (a grant from the Mercers’ Company). These efforts, however, were not continued and the memorial issue kept on slipping from the Society’s agenda, much to the understandable upset of Mr and Mrs Garrido.
In the following years I repeatedly reminded the Chair, in my capacity as Secretary, that we should continue work on the project. We might not all share Mr and Mrs Garrido’s enthusiasm for it, but the Blake Society had committed itself to it several years back, and it was important that the initial work and funding were not wasted. I also reminded him that we had a commitment with Mrs Cardozo. I was ignored.
Then the Cottage project started in full swing in 2014. To alleviate Mr and Mrs Garrido’s disappointment, they were promised that if the Cottage project were successful, then the Blake Society would have more credibility and the fundraising for the Grave project could be continued.
Despite the Garridos’ repeated objections to the way the Blake Society was handled, and in particular to what they called the Chair’s authoritarian way of working, they held on to the promise. I suppose that now they feel, despite all the ignominy lived through, that it was worth the waiting.
3. At all costs
So who are Mr and Mrs Garrido? What are these people, stirred by purportedly spiritual guidance, willing to put up with in order to see William Blake’s death place thus ‘honoured’?
Mrs Carol Garrido is no longer a Trustee of the Blake Society, as far as I know. She stepped down the same year that I did. I remember her as a very kind woman, always. When the conflicts with Blake’s Cottage arose she let me know she knew I was telling the truth and, in her way, supported me, for which I was grateful, though it would have been much braver to have voiced her support in front of the whole Committee. I remembered her as kind and was much surprised to see that, at the Blake Society’s AGM in 2017, she was no longer saying hello to me. In this blog I have given an account of the awfulness of that AGM (A Time of Bullies), of how Mr Heath, the new Secretary Antony Vinall and the Treasurer Luis Garrido lied blatantly to those present once again, how they didn’t allow me to voice my concerns through the tactics of harassing, bullying me and shouting me down. When I left the venue, asking all of them how could they sleep at night, I passed by Mrs Garrido. She looked away from me and just stared ahead with a fixed, tense half-smile on her face. And it was very sad to watch, for I have known her for far higher human values.
As to Mr Luis Garrido, things are more dire. Elsewhere in this webpage and in the My Testimony section I have mentioned his repeated disagreements with the Blake Society’s Chair, Mr Heath; how shocked and outraged he was at everything that happened with the Cottage appeal; how many times he told me on the phone that what Mr Heath was doing was wrong (he even got to use the word ‘sinful’), and how I, the Big Blake Project in Felpham and all the donors to the project had been wronged. But he didn’t say all this to the rest of the Committee either, and when I finally decided to speak out and alert the public about the corruption surrounding Blake’s Cottage, Mr Garrido joined the rest of the Committee in the continuous lying that has marked the Society’s behaviour these past four years.
Coming from the Treasurer, this is very serious, for Mr Garrido has presented financial statements for the Society in which the information related to Blake’s Cottage has no regard to truth (the evidence can also be found in this webpage: Inconsistencies in financial reports; financial concerns).
The degree of dishonesty that Mr and Mrs Garrido have witnessed during the many years they’ve been Trustees of the Blake Society has been extensive. The degree of dishonesty and lying that Mr Garrido himself has incurred into just so that they could see their memorial project come true has been indeed abject. I do understand their frustration at waiting so long for seeing any progress in a project they worked so hard for, and I am by no means minimizing their efforts or the worth of their research, but to grasp the project at all costs, trampling on the most elementary principles of ethics and human decency, is not the way to honour anyone, and abiding by the corrupt rules of a corrupt organisation has soiled whatever virtue their project might have once had.
A last word about the Blake Society Committee and the Grave project: a while ago there was an invitation to a kind of musical gala organised by the Blake Society to raise funds for the memorial. I was surprised to see that the event was announced by Mr Nick Duncan. I have already explained in detail in this webpage that Mr Duncan signed as the “independent examiner” of the Blake Society’s financial report (meaning the crucial report in which the Society presented false information), only to became a Trustee the following month (Nick Duncan and fundraising for the grave). I raised my concerns with the Charity Commission, questioning that a Trustee could be “an independent examiner” of his charity, particularly when there was contention regarding the misuse of funds. I tried to raise the same concerns at the infamous 2017 AGM, so Mr Duncan was spirited away and not elected again as a Trustee. The masquerade lasted only a few months: soon after Mr Duncan was inviting people to a fundraising event, a rather dubious practice when he has condoned the Blake Society’s lies regarding previous fundraising, and when he has lent himself to the farce of being both its Trustee and an “independent” examiner of its finances.
Now Mr Duncan is the person to contact if the public wishes to acquire “a chipping from Blake’s gravestone” to raise further funds.
4. The Big, the Famous, the Mighty
Mrs Lida Cardozo is an eminent stone-cutter, and the head of a deservedly prestigious workshop. When I heard of the musical fundraising gala mentioned above I was distressed about the Blake Society’s intentions of further abusing the good will and support of many people, while still deeply engaged in the corruption that plagues that Committee since 2014.
I wrote to Mrs Cardozo to call her attention to this corruption. I received a terse answer in which she stated, in her own words, that all she cared about was her work on the memorial. Not for the first time was I surprised that people who are duly respected for their work or their authority could be so flippant about their involvement with an organisation that was suspected of corruption. The whole Cottage saga has been a great eye-opener to me: corrupted organisations like the Blake Society and the Blake Cottage Trust can exist because they are inserted in a society that is either corrupt itself, or at least formed by ambitious individuals who aren’t squeamish at all about being involved with the corrupt. To acknowledge the reach of such a reality provides the kind of bitter knowledge that may not make you happier, but does make you infinitely wiser. And braver, because the greater the scope of the collusion with corruption is, the greater the determination to make the truth known becomes.
Recently Mrs Beryl Kingston, who has also been campaigning for the truth regarding Blake’s Cottage to be known and for the building to be protected, wrote in her blog about the seeming recent decision of Historic England of not including Blake’s Cottage in their risk register (Beryl Kingston’s blog). It is depressing news. Historic England has been repeatedly contacted by Mrs Kingston and myself, and know fully well the dire state of disrepair in which the Cottage stands. They have also had at their disposal the evidence of the lack of care that the Blake Cottage Trust has had for the building, from its acquisition to the present day. They have chosen to ignore all this, and theirs tend to be vacuous, bureaucratic communications in which true responsibility is avoided. The reader would be sadly surprised if they saw a list of the individuals and institutions who have decided to turn a blind eye to what they have been warned is wrong supported with evidence, including those who at some moment had expressed their own concerns regarding the Blake Society’s and Blake Cottage Trust’s lack of ethical standards. This is what I mean when I talk about a corrupt society. It’s nauseating, but fascinating too: this is, after all, human nature. There are great novels dwelling on this kind of phenomena, not to talk about Blake’s own Prophetic Poems. The big, the famous, the mighty, will usually want to remain among their peers, and they won’t risk status, prestige, privileges or jobs just for the sake of something as tiny as truth.
Which leads me to Mr Philip Pullman, who apparently gave the Blake Society’s annual lecture earlier this year and who is now announced as one of the luminaries to attend the unveiling of Blake’s memorial in Bunhill Fields.
Mr Pullman is the President of the Blake Society. True, being the President is not much more than an honorary title and, for as long as I was a Trustee at least, he was never involved in our work or decision-making. However, being the President of an organisation entails a responsibility, and Mr Pullman will have a lot to answer for when the truth about the Blake Society’s practice of corruption, lying and bullying is finally acknowledged (and it will, because the truth is never concealed forever).
As members of the public may remember, Mr Pullman made a generous donation to the Blake Cottage appeal and endorsed it publicly, for which we were all very grateful. When the Cottage was acquired and I realized that Mr Heath had created his own illegitimate private Trust and had bullied out the Big Blake Project, just as he had first done with me, and when I realized that the Blake Society Committee was washing their hands off their responsibility, I was very worried about the repercussions this might have on some of the big names who had supported us. Mr Pullman was much mentioned in the press when the Cottage was purchased, and I realized that, because of this, some people in Felpham (and people in Felpham have been treated very badly indeed by both the Blake Society and the Blake Cottage Trust) suspected him of being involved in the corruption.
I knew this was unfair, and serious, so I contacted him. Since I had myself called him during the campaign to ask for his support for our appeal, I felt doubly responsible. He first was worried, as he didn’t know anything of what was going on. He asked me to explain clearly what had happened. I did, and he never got back to me. Since, when he’s been asked by the press about the conflict around Blake’s Cottage, he has responded that he sees nothing wrong with it, and keeps on endorsing the Blake Society. I have said elsewhere in this blog how, when someone as famous as he is, refuses to engage in a conversation with someone denouncing a wrong state of affairs, and publicly dismisses those legitimate concerns, he’s actually incurring, inadvertently or not, in abuse of power. He has had at his disposal all the evidence he needs to know what is so wrong with the Blake Society for years, and he has either refused to see it, or ignored what he’s seen.
Why does he do this? Has he believed the slandering I have been the subject of by the Blake Society? Well, he only needs to look at the evidence provided to be disabused. Mr Pullman often appears in the press defending what we call “just causes”, and as I have said before in my testimony, even his heroines in some of his books are brave creatures who fight for truth. However, when it comes to the real thing – to defending truth in the world outside fiction, he chooses (at least in what regards the Blake Society) to side with the corrupt, the liars, and to therefore contribute to the silencing of truth. I don’t know why, but I do know that, as the President of the Blake Society he has a public responsibility, and sooner or later he will have to respond for his condoning an organisation that has incurred in the utmost unethical practice.
Among the things I have learnt during this sad affair is the fact that the famous, the big and the mighty exchange among themselves the currency of power and prestige. Long ago the prestige of Blake’s Cottage, should the project be successful, was promised to Mr and Mrs Garrido to serve as a stimulus for people to support the Grave project.
All these years later, the Blake Society, who, as we have seen, has had so little interest in the Grave project in the past, is using the prestige of the grandiose memorial in order to add a veneer of respectability to them and to the Blake Cottage Trust, being both organisms under the leadership of Mr Heath.
It is a very sad state of affairs, and it would be so no matter who was the dead poet or artist that we’re supposed to be honouring, but the iniquity is multiplied when they are sinking in the mire in the name of William Blake, for abuse of power, corruption, the cynicism and blindness of the rich and powerful was one of the issues that most pained him, as an artist and as a human being. He dedicated much of his life and art to stand against such a rotten status quo, and the insult that these supposed ‘homages’ to him signify is abject beyond expression. I have said it before: this whole story bears all the marks of a Faustian pact.
We do know though that the pact doesn’t end up well for Faust.
Since I started this webpage, I have been contacted by people who appreciate the fact that there are some of us telling the truth, and also by people who have known Mr Tim Heath for many years and recognize in my statements either his tactics of division and concealment or his inflated sense of self-importance, and who know that some of the stories that he has told us all about his unique and heroic efforts to preserve Blake’s legacy are, in the best of cases, delusional.
Unlike Hataja Yoga, I don’t pretend to speak for the dead William Blake, but through knowing his art, his poetry and the key facts of his life, I think he would probably weep and rage if he only knew the things that are being done in his name, and I very much doubt that he would enjoy to have their awful weight imposed upon his remains, however beautiful the appearance of the memorial may be. Its essence is certainly not beautiful at all.
As for me, I’d rather keep on visiting the old shrine – the humble tombstone which tells us that nearby lie the remains of William and Catherine Blake, and which has become a symbol of the artist’s genius and spirit for many years for people from all over the world who go there and leave some offering. That piece of stone, unlike Mrs Cardozo’s, isn’t tarnished with corruption and deceit.
In the first part of this entry I’ve asked the Blake Cottage Trust some questions that they have a public duty to respond to, as they concern their unethical practice and mismanagement in their handling of Blake’s cottage. I also commented on their bizarre display of virtual images of a future cottage that stand in painful contrast with the dire actual conditions in which the building stands now.
I also said that I’d comment on a document they have recently published in their website. I’d advise the reader to take a look at the first part of this entry as well (A virtual visitor centre… Part I).
The mentioned document is 33 pages long, it is illustrated with the same virtual-reality images that we saw in the video recently published by the Bognor Regis Observer, and it purportedly contains the architectural plans for Blake’s cottage. It contains, however, more than that: it contains baffling contradictions and statements that confirm what some of us have known for a long time: that there is no real project or vision for the use of the cottage, and that the Blake Cottage Trust has never intended to honour the original project that donors and the public supported in such good faith.
The Blake Cottage Trust is still bent on turning it instead into some kind of literary hotel.
But let us start with the minor issues, and the odd. It called my attention, for instance, that Mr Tim Heath, the BCT’s Chair, keeps on stealing some of my words and ideas to try to articulate what the cottage might be. I’ve mentioned this before. It’s not even outrageous anymore – it is just boring, and pathetic.
I am also intrigued by their mention in page 5 of their intention of providing ” space for a small second residence for an eventual resident caretaker”:
We should keep an eye on this. After all the instances of extraordinarily dodgy practice we have seen so far, it would be important to know who they intend to offer accommodation to in the cottage’s grounds.
The Blake Cottage Trust keeps on stating that their “intent is to bring the Cottage back as much as possible to a state that William and Catherine Blake would have recognised
when they lived and worked there between 1800 and 1803”, and that is why they plan to remove the 20th Century extension to the building and build a state-of-the-art visitor centre in its place; I therefore see myself in the need to ask again:
Would William and Catherine Blake have recognised a visitor centre in their garden?
This question is important because the original plan for Blake’s Cottage was to make of it a creative residence for authors, artists and thinkers that would give continuity to Blake’s dissenting imagination, and we were adamant about preserving the building’s peace, which would be conducive to creating, without the distractions of a visitor centre. The visitor centre, as anyone who has followed the wretched story of the Blake’s Cottage project knows, would be created in nearby Bognor; it would function in close collaboration with the building in Felpham, and it was an idea and contribution to the project brought by the Big Blake Project – who, as we also know, were elbowed out by Mr Heath as soon as the cottage was purchased -, while he stole this idea from them.
Later on, on page 16, we come across this near incomprehensible passage, that seems to contradict their aims stated above:
The BCT tells us then what we already know, and which is a matter of concern for many: that “The condition of the cottage is such that it is in pressing need of preservation and conservation work and general repair.” They add that “The roof has been over thatched (perhaps more than once) which has overloaded the existing roof trusses and stays, causing failure. The roof is now propped to arrest more movement.”
Those props – put in place a long time after its purchase – are, as we know, the only thing that the BCT has done for the actual building in 30 months.
They publish a couple of the many existing pictures of the awful condition of the building, manipulating them along with their text so it would seem as if they promptly set those props in place to avoid further damage. However, that is far from being the truth. In the long history of the cottage and its structural changes that they take us through in these pages – no doubt interesting – they fail to mention one important point: that when the Cottage Appeal started in 2014, though we knew that the thatched roof had damage, it wasn’t all that apparent. I know this, because I visited the building myself that year. The dismal state of disrepair and neglect that has been revealed by photographs taken this year simply wasn’t there. That is to say, that the further disrepair and neglect have all taken place during the years that the Blake Cottage Trust has been in possession of the building.
In fact, the props didn’t come in until 2016, the first time they boasted about being caring for the building, actually publishing in their own webpage a piece of news from the Bognor Observer commenting on this late intervention:
This means that from 2015 to October 2016 they did absolutely nothing to avoid further disrepair, and that from 2016 to this day they have done nothing more.
But things get worse.
The Cottage Appeal started in 2014. That may be, for some, many years ago. The excess of information we’re all exposed to inevitably means that we forget much. However, I am sure that neither donors nor all those who supported our project then have forgotten that the project was one of a creative haven for artists that would also include as part of its programme a house of refuge for persecuted writers. Of course the doors would be open to the public as well; there would be exhibitions, talks, etc., and this cultural programme would be closely linked to what artists and writers created within the cottage’s walls.
If the reader has forgotten, or is curious to know, the whole story of the project has been told, step by step, in the My Testimony section in this webpage: My Testimony.
I also reminded the Blake Cottage Trust what the project was, as well as of their responsibilities, in a document I sent them shortly after the building’s purchase, in November 2015, to which they never answered: A Vision for Blake’s Cottage
In my testimony you will learn, with the aid of the provided evidence, that from the moment the cottage was acquired I have been very worried by Mr Heath’s repeated allusions to Blake’s Cottage becoming a kind of hotel according to his fancy. The Blake Cottage Trust has changed over and over again the information they give to the public about their actual plans for the building, as I have also summarized in another blog entry (https://blakecottage.com/2016/12/16/the-project-for-blakes-cottage/). They have contradicted themselves endless times; they have amended their statements depending on the concerns publicly raised by myself or other campaigners, and in the midst of this inconsistency, there has been only one constant: the Chair’s goal of opening the doors of the cottage so that people, in his own words, “can sleep in Blake’s bed”.
And this is certainly not what those of us who were involved in the campaign worked so hard for, let alone what the donors and the public supported with such generosity.
In 2016 an article in The Sunday Times mentioned my concerns about the Blake Cottage Trust’s disowning of the original project and the Chair’s intentions of turning the building into a kind of Blakean B&B. Mr Heath denied that he had any such intention (article The Sunday Times).
Now, in their latest published document, they surreptitiously go back to their vacuous, incomprehensible yet overriding wish for the future of William Blake’s Cottage. In their own words (page 5):
When they say that they “they don’t want the Cottage to be a lifeless museum”, they are simply parroting part of the original vision (a part that was essential to gain the public support for the appeal, and which owed much to my contribution to the project. In fact I was the only person who actually articulated those aspects of our vision, as can be seen in the Documents section in this webpage). However, they are perverting the original aim by immediately adding that they “will ensure that part of it can be used for short term accommodation”. So I ask:
According to whom the best way to stop a literary house from becoming a lifeless museum is to turn it into a small hotel?
You will see that they no longer make any distinction between the artists, researchers or “simply Blakean enthusiasts” who will have the privilege of staying over “a short weekend or a longer week”. I ask Mr Heath specifically:
Why is he changing his discourse again? He had said this before and I challenged him in this blog, reminding him that the project that the public supported was one of a real creative residency, and that no meaningful creative work could be achieved in a week, let alone a weekend. He therefore modified his story and begrudgingly mentioned longer creative residencies. Are we to understand by his latest statements that he’s gone back to his plans of simply having people holidaying in the cottage?
With which criteria are those artists or researchers going to be invited to holiday in the cottage, and what for?
Where is the concrete, professional project of what they have in mind when they vaguely talk about cultural activities in the visitor centre, and where is the board of trusted and accountable individuals and institutions that will oversee that?
As for how will the “simply Blakean enthusiasts” enjoy the cottage, the Blake Cottage Trust have finally spelled out their real intentions (page 20):
That’s it: letting out rooms is the main purpose of the Blake Cottage Trust. They have passed the small exhibitions, concerts and talks that we would hold there in the original project (intimate given the dimensions of the building) to their sleek visitor centre, because the cottage itself will be no more than a hotel.
How can the Blake Cottage Trust justify spending millions of pounds in creating a flashy state-of-the-art empty visitor centre with the sole aim of having their own private hotel?
The idea was to preserve Blake’s Cottage. How did it become the turning of Blake’s Cottage into a hotel as a front for an empty expensive building for which there is no concrete plan or vision, and of the said empty expensive building into a front for their hotel?
How can they possibly have taken seriously the whimsical mantra of their Chair of letting people “sleep in Blake’s bed”, or, as he says in their webpage’s FAQ section, “So, yes, every home should be a gallery, and every room a place of creation and procreation – Blake’s Cottage especially so”?
In their document, the BCT add:
It can’t be clearer now. All the ideals, the hard work, the principles; all the beauty of the original project; all the support given by individuals and institutions; all the generosity, so many hopes to make of the cottage a place that would honour William Blake by supporting artistic and intellectual creation, have been trampled on by three men representing an illegitimate trust set up by one of them in secret, hiding from his co-campaigners and from the Blake Society, which was responsible for the appeal, in order to let out rooms and fulfill Mr Heath’s fantasies of having people sleep in Blake’s bed.
It is an unwholesome fantasy, bred by betrayal of colleagues and of public trust, misuse of funding and, needless to say, a sorrowful betrayal of everything that William Blake stood for.
I have only two more questions:
What right do these three men think they have to do this?
Are we, who care for Blake’s legacy, going to allow them to do it?
We live in times when it’s easy to lose our grip on reality and start living entirely in a fantasy world. Our overdose on what we call technological advances has made of the disconnection, dissociation and disintegration of our minds a strange commodity.
In this context, I wonder whether if the Blake Cottage Trust’s three Trustees have really lost it altogether now, whether if they are trying to take advantage of the gullibility of contemporary men- and women-folk, ever more willing to believe in what is not actually there, or a combination of both.
Be as it may, we recently had a chance to see an article on the Bognor Regis Observer, boasting 3D images of Blake’s Cottage (new Blake’s Cottage 3D images). The reader could access this piece of entertainment by watching the accompanying video: a slide show created by MICA, the architecture firm that the BCT has chosen to help them do as they wish. The video has an interesting caption telling us that we’re looking at images “of what a fully restored Blake’s Cottage would look like”. That is, we’re watching images belonging to the realm of make-believe.
Those deadened images of something that has no material existence are, of course, ultra-modern architectural sketches for a project, and nothing more. They don’t show much of the purported restoration of the actual cottage (apart from showing a whitewashed exterior rather than the present brick and flint-stone one). They rather concentrate on the polemic visitor centre on its grounds, which was never part of the original plan, and which has met with no little objection.
My first question is:
With what money has the Blake Cottage Trust been paying MICA architects to draw up their plans?
I ask this because the production of such sleek (even if, in the circumstances, meaningless) images cost money, and while the Blake Cottage Trust keeps on trying to fool the public with ever clumsier attempts to draw them into their fantasy world, the reality of Blake Cottage is one of dismal decay. The state of its physical existence is as far from restoration as it can possibly be, as visitors could see by themselves during the recent open days, orchestrated around the Blake Petworth exhibition.
Why hasn’t the money used to pay the architects to plan a fancy, controversial visitor centre been applied instead for the obviously urgent: to actually restore the building and preventing it from collapsing altogether?
Why has the Blake Cottage Trust allowed Blake’s cottage to reach such a dire state of disrepair during the 2 years and a half since it was acquired?
There are further questions regarding those images of disrepair, one of which the Blake Cottage Trust is using to keep on lying to the public in a curious little document they have just published, but the said document is interesting enough to merit its own entry, so I’ll leave the matter for the second part of this comment.
Meanwhile, let’s look at the statements made by the Blake Cottage Trust’s Treasurer, Mr Peter Johns (mistakenly called Richard in the Bognor Regis article). In the article, which doesn’t fail to mention the criticism the BCT has been subject to since the acquisition of the cottage, Mr Johns is quoted saying: ““We are actively looking for additional trustees from the local area. Once this project is done us three trustees will hand over to the community trustees and we will disappear. It’s got to be for the Felpham and Bognor community, that’s the whole point.”
Now these are extraordinary statements to make for one of the three men who have stolen a public project and have so far treated the Felpham community with untoward contempt. Therefore, I ask:
Why are they looking for additional trustees only now?
Why have the three of them been grasping at the illegitimate trust they formed for two years and a half, ignoring completely those of us who’ve repeateadly reminded them that when we started the Cottage Appeal we aimed at creating a large, proper and inclusive trust that would be transparent and accountable, and that it was completely inappropriate, unethical and verging on fraudulent practice for them to appropriate a public project?
And why do they suddenly want local trustees, again, two years and a half after they acquired the Cottage and bullied out the Big Blake Project – the Felpham organism with which we at the Blake Society ran the campaign -, actually calling them “a pressure group”? And why, after having treated the Felpham community with great contempt during all this time?
I will remind these men that it is a bit too late now to be boasting about being looking for more trustees, local or otherwise. What they have been engaged in since Blake’s cottage was acquired on September 2015 is too long a chain of unethical practice, incompetence and blatant, constant lying to the public, and therefore the only way for a Blake Cottage Trust to function is to open it up completely as we had originally conceived it, calling for the accountable and trust-worthy institutions and individuals who can take proper care of the property.
What this means is that none of these three men can possibly remain in a legitimate Blake Cottage Trust, because none of them has been accountable for their actions, nor trust-worthy or ethical for the past two years and a half. Their time to “disappear”, as Mr Johns said, has long been up.
Mr Johns also says in the mentioned article: ““We are progressing satisfactorily. A couple of people have been saying we are taking too long but we have had to go through the architectural stage, which has taken nearly nine months, and now we have to go through the planning stage which could be five to seven months.” Anyone looking at the state the cottage is in would of course be forgiven for asking what do these people consider “satisfactory progress”. In any case, I have another question:
If the architectural stage has taken nearly nine months, what exactly has the Blake Cottage Trust been doing for the other 21 months during which the cottage has been in their hands?
I can say what they have not been doing: they have not been building a reliable and accountable trust, despite having been repeatedly asked to do so and to honour what those of us who worked in the Cottage Appeal promised to donors and the public to do, and this means that therefore the cottage hasn’t benefited from the expertise of people and institutions in the various aspects of the project, working as a team, that was crucial for its success. It also means that there was no swift, visible and energetic continuation of the fundraising immediately after the purchase of the cottage, which was also crucial. Instead of that, they remained for nearly a year in complete silence, not deigning to make public a single word about their plans for the building.
When they finally spoke, it was to start weaving a fantastic web of lies, bullying and intimidation. The document I mentioned above that the Blake Cottage Trust has just published in their website is the latest example of those extensive lying, contradictions and manipulation, and these are so outrageous that, as I said, the second part of this blog entry will be dedicated exclusively to it. Please keep an eye on this space.
Meanwhile, I’d just like to remind the reader that Mr Peter Johns, the Treasurer of the Blake Cottage Trust, has presented in the past an inaccurate Blake Cottage Trust’s Report and Financial Statement in which he’s plainly lying, as stated in former entries in this blog (Inconsistencies in Blake Cottage Trust and Blake Society financial reports), and that is very serious indeed.
In the “New Concerns Over Cottage” note that appeared in The Bognor Regis Post on 20 February, Peter Johns, Treasurer of The Blake Cottage Trust, and responsible for the financial reports about Blake’s cottage that show a worrying degree of contempt for truth, is quoted saying that now that the architects’ plans for the projected visitor centre have been finalised, “we can go to potential funders to show them that this is a real project and that is what we intend to do”.
That is an extraordinary thing to say. The Blake Cottage Trust has had since September 2015 to show not only to potential funders, but to the public, that theirs is a real project, and they have failed miserably. What they have achieved is rather to allow the cottage to go into an appalling state of further disrepair. Visitors during their open days coinciding with the Petworth exhibition could see by themselves the cottage’s heartbreaking state of ruin and decay.
I have given a timeline earlier in this blog about the Blake Cottage Trust’s actions and, mostly, inaction during these past years. In fact, for around a year since the purchase of the cottage they didn’t even deign to communicate to the public at all what their plans for the building were. I find it a bit too late for them to try to show that theirs is a real project, two years and five months after the purchase, and with the building in such a dire state.
We do know that they never honoured what was promised to the public during the 2014 campaign: that a large consortium of accountable organisations and individuals would be created to take care of the cottage and honour the trust put in the Blake Society, who created and ran the public appeal, along with the Big Blake Project.
If such a consortium had been created, as I have said many times before, the necessary funds would have been raised a long time ago and the cottage would have now been repaired. The fund-raising should have continued immediately after the purchase, with all the members of the consortium contributing their expertise and their skills and, most importantly, making sure that everybody involved was accountable.
Instead, the cottage and the whole project were hijacked by three ambitious but incompetent men who have squandered their energies in lying to the public, bullying and intimidating any one who dares to challenge them, who have proved to be utterly unscrupulous and utterly incapable to take care of the building.
They have lied to everybody continually and systematically: recently I found their statements to the Felpham Village Conservation Society in 2016, a concoction of falsehoods that the FVCS, if their minutes are anything to go by, swallowed like a child.
It’s about time that the public calls these men to task, before the cottage collapses completely.
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.
What does the Blake Society think it’s doing by advertising in their July newsletter the mansion that one of the Trustees of the Blake Cottage Trust, Peter Johns, has just put on sale?
The piece taken from the MailOnline is not an item offering any information that might be of interest to Blake followers: its sole purpose is to advertise the sale of the house, as its heading makes quite clear: “Your chance to own England’s green and pleasant land: House that inspired William Blake to write Jerusalem goes on sale for £900,000“.
It is not only the bad taste of the whole thing (England’s green and pleasant land is not owned, even though the three members of the Blake Cottage Trust seem to believe they somehow do by having stolen Blake’s Cottage. Maybe that is why they, and the Blake Society Trustees, feel happy with the vulgarity of the language). And, Mr John’s house didn’t inspire Blake to write Jerusalem, so they might as well get their facts right.
In any case, and given the mess that both the Blake Society and the Blake Cottage Trust have made around Blake’s Cottage, including their muddled finances, this seems to be, apart from distasteful, a worrying turn of events. I wonder how far they think they can go in mixing the affairs of their private wealth with their duties as Charities, and just how far they think they can appropriate the space, work and fruits of the Charities they are supposed to serve through this bewildering practice.
The Blake Society even points the reader, in their newsletter, to the property agency in charge of selling Mr John’s house! Is that what the Blake Society and the Blake Cottage Trust have become now? Property speculators? They should know better.
Though the Blake Society has removed me from their newsletter list, without even warning me they were planning to do so, they can’t really hide so easily.