Good news and last push for Yeats Memorial

The London Borough of Hounslow granted planning permission for the WB Yeats Bedford Park Artwork Project on Friday (30th), which means it can claim a grant of £35,000 from London Borough of Hounslow’s Thriving Communities Fund to add to its final fundraising flurry.

Celebrities and locals have rallied to support pledges for the artwork, Enwrought Light, which reaches its crowdfunding deadline next Tuesday.

Musician and advocate, Bob Geldof, a supporter of the project, says,

“Bedford Park is where the National Poet understood what it was to be impoverished, alien, exiled, became obsessed with a woman who would haunt his life and give rise to the greatest poetry of the 20th century. Surrounded by his extraordinary family and his radically revolutionary neighbours, Bedford Park whipped the beautiful young poet into the maelstrom of poetry that would give rise to a nation.”

A target of £135K must be reached by May 11th to make Conrad Shawcross’s Yeats-inspired visualisation a reality at the ‘gateway’ to Bedford Park by St Michael and All Angels.

The helical swirl of gold and silver not only celebrates Ireland’s ‘national poet’ and former Chiswick resident, William Butler Yeats, who did most of his growing-up here, but acknowledges the area’s role as a hub of late 19th-century artistic creativity, and the community’s egalitarian ethos that made it possible for a migrant family to flourish and produce one of the twentieth century’s outstanding literary figures.

Despite being the only poet brought up in England to win a Nobel Prize (in 1923), Yeats has, perhaps surprisingly, no monument anywhere in Britain. If the project reaches its funding target on May 11th, Chiswick may claim him.

Changing Chiswick

Local poet and artwork-project organiser, Cahal Dallat, says,

‘When English Heritage wanted to put a blue plaque on one of the Yeats’s former homes some years back, locals objected on the grounds that ‘the father’, John Butler Yeats, the much-loved conversationalist and not entirely successful portrait painter who’d brought his family to London when young Willie was just two years old, ‘never paid his rent’.

‘That was a snobbish Bedford Park that had clearly forgotten Dublin-born property developer Jonathan Carr’s radical concept, and had lost sight of the development’s original role as an artists’ colony, less expensive than Mayfair and Belgravia, where a community of artists – painters, poets, playwrights – could rent their share of an invented pastoral idyl, complete with studios and minstrels’ galleries, in which to create, away from steep and narrow Victorian London streets, while still being within a short train ride of the metropolis’s theatres, publishers and patrons.’

Bedford Park rent collectors clearly have a long memory. The Yeatses moved into Woodstock Road in 1879 so that JB Yeats could be near artist friends, and moved to Blenheim Road from 1888 to 1902, so were 80 years gone when their credit-worthiness still came under local scrutiny.

Art in Exile

Arguably, John Butler Yeats’s lack of success turned out to be a positive feature in young Willie Yeats’s development. As the family had had to move frequently in their pre-Bedford-Park days, they’d also, like many migrants when times were tough, sent the children ‘home’ to stay with relatives to ease the financial burden.

And it was in his mother’s native Sligo that William Butler Yeats discovered his love for Irish landscape, legends and lore, developing, on his returns to London, a longing and nostalgia for that Land of Heart’s Desire, as one of his plays is titled, a longing that he felt ‘in the deep heart’s core’ in one of his best-loved poems The Lake Isle for Innisfree, written in Bedford Park’s Blenheim Road and thought to be inspired by Chiswick Eyot.

And if it was exile in London that spurred Yeats’s poetic imagination, it was London contacts, national newspapers, West End theatres, poetry presses, who saw his poems published and his plays performed.

And the crucible for the alchemy that transmuted Irish imagination and invention into Nobel-Prize gold was Bedford Park itself.

A Chiswick for Creatives

Now Chiswick appears more appreciative of creatives in its midst, notably, St. Michael and All Angels, the Yeatses’ old family church, a regular focus for the arts in the community, hosting performances and the annual Bedford Park Festival  and Chiswick Book Festival.

And The Bedford Park Society, while ensuring conservation of the area’s Arts-&-Crafts 19c Queen-Anne-retro built environment, is also keen to promote community pride in Bedford Park as a place of artistic excellence and radical, progressive ideas as well as of beautiful buildings.

The proposed literary landmark shimmering with the ‘golden and the silver light’ of Yeats’s genius and the area’s creativity will be seen by the hundreds of thousands of commuters and international visitors who pass by on District and Piccadilly Lines each year and who might be drawn to visit Chiswick to view the artwork, read Yeats’s lines, study the interpretive signage which will link to a Yeats/Bedford-Park Walk on the project’s webpage and discover the magic of Chiswick’s ‘creative quarter’, building on the work already done by Chiswick Timeline,  Chiswick PlayhouseArts Ed, Chiswick Book Festival and Bedford Park Festival!

Local Support

‘It hasn’t simply been an amazing week’, Cahal says, ‘but an amazing ten weeks since the crowdfund campaign was launched on, with, to our surprise, some 200 separate backers, mostly local, showing their support.

‘Of course we’ve had some famous Yeatsians, and poets and actors, literary critics and academics all pledging and sending messages of support – a lovely quote recently from Bob Geldof who’s passionate about our celebration of the ‘London’ Yeats.

‘But what’s been really affirming is the number of local residents among those 200 plus backers, many of whom had little or no awareness of Yeats’s time in Chiswick or Bedford Park’s world-wide significance as the world’s first garden suburb.”

‘Plus we’ve had that amazing grant of £35,000 from London Borough of Hounslow’s Thriving Communities Fund. That funding recognises how much improving the local environment matters in a COVID-recovery situation.  And how a major literary landmark attracting international ‘cultural tourists’ will help Chiswick’s mostly small business and cafés recuperate from so many months of lockdown and restrictions. But it also recognises the importance of community cohesion engendered through pride in a shared arts/cultural heritage.’

All pledges, large or small, are equally important to this community project, a sign that people are engaging with the message, with the idea that a neighbourhood like Bedford Park, the first ever to be built for communal happiness – with its inn, church, social club, schools and sports facilities, the first modern housing development to embrace a holistic approach – can foster and nurture not just creativity but world-class genius. Not just work/life balance in contemporary jargon but a true work/life/art balance.

What Happens Now?

One of the striking things for the project committee in the ten weeks since Shawcross’s visualisation of Yeats’s spiralling genius and Bedford Park’s centrifugal swirl of advanced ideas was ‘unveiled’ and reported in The Chiswick Calendar has been the level of interest from unexpected quarters and the useful practical comments and advice from locals, architects, conservationists, artists and especially teachers, on the role it will fulfil both in explaining Bedford Park to the world and in inspiring local creativity among schoolchildren growing up here.

Discussions have already begun on how to celebrate – with poetry and the arts generally – the unveiling of the finished work on Yeats birthday in 2022 .

Pledges via:

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Why the Yeats sculpture will be a great addition to Chiswick

See also: W B Yeats, Nobel prize winning poet and one of the foremost figures of 20th-century literature

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