Discover Bedford Park with poet WB Yeats

Images above: CGI of new Yeats sculpture planned to be unveiled in June; WB Yeats

LB Ealing pledges £8,000 to Yeats project

London Borough of Ealing have just pledged £8,000 to the project, Discover Bedford Park with poet WB Yeats, as one of a number of community-led projects to receive grants under the Future Ealing transformation programme to improve the borough.

Along with a gift of £2,000 from Irish author, journalist, and Bedford Park resident Polly Devlin, this takes the organisers to 61% of their fundraising target just three weeks after launching their crowdfunding appeal.

The project will provide what the Yeats committee describes as “a total education/arts/heritage poetry-places visitor-experience bringing local people of all ages & backgrounds, and arts/poetry-lovers worldwide, to explore Yeats’s boyhood London neighbourhood”.

It encompases school work packs and resources as well as a programme of live events and online ways of discovering more about Yeats, such as a trail around his childhood neighbourhood you can download to your phone.

The grant from LB Ealing recognises the fact that Bedford Park is 60% within Ealing borough and makes Ealing one of the larger donors to the overall WB Yeats Bedford Park Project after London Borough of Hounslow, Royal Academy of Arts, Embassy of Ireland and local Chiswick-based Irish poet Anne-Marie Fyfe, followed by The Josephine Hart Poetry Hour, Dukes Education and almost 400 others including actors, writers, musicians, celebrities, architects, academics, artists, community organisations and – mostly – local Chiswick, Ealing and West London residents.   

And it recognises the fact that the Yeats family, after living in Woodstock Road (now in Hounslow) when young WB Yeats was a teenager, lived at No.3 to Blenheim Road (in Ealing Borough) from 1888 to 1902, with many of the key landmarks on the planned Discovery tour within Ealing’s borders.

Conrad Shawcross Studios are already in the process of creating the project’s dazzling Enwrought Light artwork for delivery and installation at the “gateway” to Bedford Park in time for Irish Nobel-Prize-winning poet WB Yeats’s “birthday” on 13 June which falls during this year’s Bedford Park Festival.

Project organiser, Irish poet, broadcaster and long-time local resident, Cahal Dallat, has written this guest blog for The Chiswick Calendar to persuade us we should all “discover” Bedford Park through the life, times and poetry of its famous former resident.

Image above: the Bedford Park Yeats trail

What’s to “discover” in Bedford Park and why we need Yeats to lead the exploration?

Guest blog by Cahal Dallat

In some ways Celebrate Yeats in Bedford Park was an easy story to tell visually, with, at its centre, Conrad Shawcross’s dazzling vision of poet WB Yeats’s genius springing from the very ground on which the young poet walked between the “roadway” and the “pavement grey” of his much-loved poem The Lake Isle of Innisfree: the place where, like Shawcross’s spiralling gyre of “golden and silver light” to quote from another very-Bedford-Park poem, he “bade his soul rise upwards”.

Now the artwork phase of the project’s coming to fruition, thanks to our having reached our £135K crowdfund target in July, we’re coming up to the final hurdle on the last lap and appealing once again for a much smaller sum to create a free, public, living “open-air museum” of arts, architecture and ideas around the Yeats/Bedford-Park story.

Enwrought Light will bring locals and international visitors alike to Bedford Park as a literary and cultural landmark, and we want them all, simply by clicking a QR code on the information signage with a smartphone, iPad or tablet, to unlock the magical story of how the uniquely Utopian, progressive, aesthetic Arts-&-Crafts atmosphere and Bohemian/artistic community of nineteenth-century Bedford Park, a pastoral haven in the middle of industrialised Victorian London, fostered the genius of an Irish migrant family and produced the only Nobel-Prize-winning poet to have been raised in England, with Bedford Park as the crucible that transmuted a young London schoolboy’s love of Irish landscape, legends and lore into Nobel gold!

Image above: Yeats’ house

Why Yeats and Bedford Park matter to the world

Yeats’s influence far outreaches his poetry, of course, having created a cultural revival in his native Ireland (he was born in Dublin but the family moved to London before he was two) which would lead to his country taking its place among nations – just as many of his Bedford Park friends were influential in campaigning for Indian independence and shaping the modern world – just as so many of Bedford Park’s “ideas” (multi-culturalism, egalitarianism, independence, vegetarianism, a anti-imperialism, votes for women, ending sex discrimination and seeking Eastern spirituality) would become the template for the 1960s and the second half of the twentieth century.

That’s a cultural heritage in which all of us in Chiswick and Ealing should take pride: yet until now local school children have learned little about the local schoolkid who became not only an outstanding literary genius but a poet whose work speaks to, and is loved by, ordinary people in poems such as Down by the Salley Gardens, When You Are Old, He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven and Innisfree.

Local migrant and migrant-heritage families, including London-Irish, have little idea not just of how the Bedford Park community nurtured, even created, artistic genius, but how its multi-cultural ambience was central to its art and ideas, with one of Britain’s first Asian MPs living here alongside Russian and Ukrainian exiles, French painters, Icelandic folklorists, Buddhists, Theosophists and Transcendentalist Americans!

Images above: a sketch of Yeats, Yeats’ blue plaque in Chiswick

Googling our way around history

Our smartphone “walk” – which expands on the story we’ve been telling on our Yeats Land of Heart’s Desire guided strolls for many years – will take anyone with a personal device (and we know this will engage so many, teens and young adults particularly, who wouldn’t go to a formal lecture or enroll on a literary tour) around ten key Bedford Park locations, the Yeats family’s two addresses, St Michael and All Angels, the family’s parish church whose symbolism so inspired Yeats, the Bedford Park Club (now the London Buddhist Vihara) where young Yeats attended Buddhist lectures and saw the local amateur dramatics that inspired his theatrical career and the world famous Abbey Theater… and many more.

Google directions will take the visitor to each point-of-interest, radiating out from newly-erected Enwrought Light (we need to raise funds to launch the discovery project at the same time as the artwork’s unveiling) and will tell the Yeats/Bedford-Park story of that location, with images, a short info-talk, on-screen and audio, and a Yeats poem read by National Theatre actor Ciarán Hinds who’s one of our project patrons and whose reading of He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven inspired Conrad Shawcross’s gold-and-silver Yeatsian vision.

The Total Package

But Discover… doesn’t end with the smartphone tour: we’re developing Yeats/Bedford-Park poetry workbooks with the help of local schools to have children learn and understand selected Yeats poems, own their local literary heritage, and – inspired by suitably simply Yeats themes, from those poems everyone knows, loves, and quotes from as easily as they quote Shakespeare – to write their own poems as a start on their route to the next generation of Nobel literature prizes!

As the total visitor-experience can be experienced individually or collectively we’re reaching out to community groups across Ealing and Hounslow, just as we’re involving schools, to ensure that everyone shares ownership of this unique heritage and exciting cultural moment in the area’s history, inviting everyone to an open lecture on Yeats and Bedford Park before the June launch/unveiling explaining the story, the artwork the importance of Yeats to Bedford Park and vice versa: and the unveiling itself will be an open-air public event but with invited speakers, celebrities and a post-launch reception for invited schools and community representatives, plus a celebrity Yeats poetry reading in the evening as part of the Bedford Park Festival.

And to take the message to the wider world we’re having a promotional video made for social-media platforms and arts and tourist what’s-on sites… inviting visitors, individuals, families, cultural tourists, Yeats fans, and art and architecture enthusiasts from around the world to visit Bedford Park: all good for the area and good for local small businesses including hospitality, on the terrace and at Bedford Park Corner and South Parade, springing back into life after two inhospitable years!

After raising £25K to launch the organisation, cover talks, consultations, professional surveys and planning application we were astounded by the generosity that took us to £135K so quickly in July 2021.

For the final phase, the last lap, the icing on the cake that gives everyone a share of the Yeats story and Bedford Park’s unique legacy, we need £24.5K, £5K already raised from donations and, with today’s announcement of £8,000 from Future Ealinand £2,000 from Polly Devlin ,we just need another £9.5K to kick off the whole web, video, school-work pack, lecture and readings programme, that will tell the world of Bedford Park’s, and Ealing and Chiswick’s outstanding contribution to world culture.

Pledges via: spacehive.com/discover-bedford-park-with-wb-yeats

Info on: wbyeatsbedfordpark.com

Contact: cahal.dallat@wbyeatsbedfordpark.com

Cahal Dallat is the Discover Bedford Park with poet WB Yeats project organiser, Irish poet, broadcaster and long-time local resident of Chiswick

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