Going Beneath the Grains of Sand

As an accompaniment to our recent video teaser of William Blake's new stone finally in place at his grave in Bunhill Fields, we bring the story 'full circle' with this post and video from James Murray-White on his visit to the birthplace of that stone monument: Portland Head in Dorset. Here, beneath the 'grains of sand', is a place resonant with Blakean names: the Jordans Mine of Albion Stone.

One of the real highlights of my process of starting in on a project is the research time I always undertake, and then the physical journeys I get involved in to explore and create and find stories within the story. It is all about uncovering and hearing stories: following my nose and my gut into the underworld, or the meta-narrative, of the bigger story.

This has been true of many of my projects: a year spent while in my final year at Hull University on the trail of Eric Gill (which leads nicely back into this Blake Project); my undergraduate dissertation of the Dekalog films of Krzysztof Kieślowski; my five years living with and experiencing the life of the Bedouin tribes of the Negev Desert; my two films and research for a bigger project on the life and work of poet John Clare in North Cambridgeshire (my homeplace) and Epping Forest; and now, this wonderfully rich and curious journey into the life, work, and legacy of William Blake.

To Albion Stone

This has now literally taken me down into the bowels of the earth, under the “grains of sand”, down to the seam layer of Portland stone thousands of feet underground, to see the place where the new stone marking Blake’s burial place was cut from, in preparation for the careful work of Lida Kindersley to cut the letters.

Going in
Photograph: James Murray-White © 2018

Hallam Kindersley — Lida’s son — and I set off on an eight hour round trip to Portland Head, to visit the mine where Portland stone is hewn from. Last year I made contact with Albion Stone in preparation, to think about the process of stone being cut, right through to it being carved and created, through to the setting ceremony on August 12th.

For various reasons, I wasn’t able to go before Christmas, and the piece of stone that is being used had already been cut and was sitting in a stoneyard in Cambridge, from where Lida chose it (see the short film showing this, under February in our The Story Continues timeline). So I’m being open that here I’m ‘cheating’ the natural timeline and filming after the event — although forget you’ve read this when it comes to the film, as I’ll play around with the sequence of events and ‘pretend’ that we’re going to choose the piece of stone direct from the quarry…

Down in Jordans Mine

We met Mark Godden, Mine Manager, in Albion Stone’s HQ on Portland Head, and after a quick cup of tea and introductions to our project and to the work of the company, we set off the mile or two to the mine. I knew we were in interesting company when Mark straightaway referred to the Blakean “grains of sand”, and shared that he’s loved Blake’s work for many a year.

Jordans Mine is under-whelming from the outside: a curving white track, a couple of shipping containers at the top, and just two large holes framed by steel — and that’s it. Not sure what I expected, but this was it, and in we went.

It’s bizarre walking into a mine — I thought we were driving in, or even going in by some lift contraption, but no, Mark parked up and in we went. There was an instant differentness to the air and the atmosphere: a chalky clarity and a subterranean ambience, maybe. During some of the time there, around the mining, there was a sulphurous smell, like a bilious release, but it didn’t linger. I smelt it again at Lida’s workshop, as she cut the thicker letters of the name — and we both recoiled at the sudden stink: all those tiny critters released, after so much time encased and crushed down as sedimentary rock.

Mark led us deep in: it’s a very spacious place, as still as you would expect, interrupted every 10-15 minutes or so by the lights and then the sound of a hulking great vehicle taking stone out, or coming back in to collect more. I hope in the footage I’ve captured the slightly sinister sense of these coming towards you and roaring past, like beasts in a dark night. They illuminate and charge past, then the dark enfolds around again, and we walk on.

The cutting blade
Photograph; James Murray-White © 2018

My preoccupation was (and always is!) getting decent footage and sound, and this space threw up lots of challenges, and alongside that, I was watching my reaction to the space, feeling for creeping claustrophobia or indeed panic! Thankfully this didn’t rise up and force me to flee. Mark steered us gently between seams, between active work going on, measuring and assessing, and a close-up look of the huge saws and bits of kit used to cut and extract the stone. This mine quarries stone, not mines it or explodes it out: it’s a complicated process of cutting, then a metal bag is forced inside the cut; this contains water, which slowly expands and then the stone cracks off, and is hoiked out by machinery. The pressure is intense as this metal bag expands, and the sense that a huge boulder would be freed — I looked up at the structural roof supports, and wondered…

The way out
Photograph: James Murray-White © 2018

And so, here is our film of that strange and intriguing day spent underground, in search of Blake’s stone.

Mine Visit V2 from James Murray-White on Vimeo.

 

Notes

You can find out more about Albion Stone at their website and you can download an article by Mark Godden on the history, quarrying and geology of Portland stone:

Coming Full Circle – ‘a Liquid Ledger Stone’

Finding Blake's creator and film maker James Murray-White has been following the careful and painstaking process of creating the new gravestone for William Blake's final resting place. Here he reports on the moment as the final letter is cut and stone nears completion under the hands of Lida Kindersley.

With a final tap tap of the chisel, and then a salutary finger wipe of the remaining dust that the letter cut had created, the last letter – an ’s’ – and William Blake’s new ledger stone was completed.

Lida has been working on this for six months, and has been involved in the planning for the stone for at least ten years since the Blake Society decided to commission it, after the discovery of Blake’s actual resting place within the Bunhill Fields cemetery. I’ve been filming Lida work on this, visiting every week to see progress and film the next line or word. I have enormous respect for her integrity and craft that glides from the chisel or pencil into every piece of work she designs and creates. It ’s been a tremendous pleasure to record her work, and chat very deeply at times – sometimes jokingly, sometimes philosophically and metaphorically too.

Cutting in progress Photograph: James Murray-White © 2018

At one with the stone

On this last session of cutting, she talked of really becoming one with the stone, and the stone coming into her, and we joked of a CGI graphic that could animate this: the letter cutter becomes stone, and the process completes. Making tender memorials is being face-to-face with the human experience of death – of lives that have lived, loved, and left, and our wish to memorialise them and leave something to honour them. Whether it is Blake, here known as ‘Poet — Artist — Prophet’, or my mum (on a smaller square of Portland Stone, to be completed next: ‘Potter’) or the many timeless and ethereal quotes on stone that are around the workshop and out in the world, memorialising and placing within the landscape makes up much of the work of the Kindersley Workshop. I feel we are blessed by this dedication to the letter, the word, and to humanity.

The phrase above that I’ve used, a “liquid” stone is adapted from an exclamation by one visitor to the workshop on seeing the stone: that the letters seemed both strong – ‘set in stone’ – and very fluid and liquid-like. Indeed they do, as the attached photos show. In this current intense light, changing as it does about 6.00pm from the full intense heat of these summer days and, as the stone has been in a corner of the workshop and with light from windows on two sides, the letters do appear to dance and their intensity ebbs and flows and eddies around the stone: particularly the name – big and bold – and the quote too, its shape and form as intense as the intricate meaning of the words themselves, falling back into a ball of string, anchoring you into Blake’s vision of a ‘holy’ Jerusalem and its gate.

Liquid light Photograph: James Murray-White © 2018

There have been long bouts of silence too, just the tapping of the chisel, and the sounds of the workshop – often other tapping sounds as other stones are cut – and I’ve got absorbed in the camera: the light, the sound, the recording, and thinking how I might edit the material and show the entire flow of the work. Lida has been absorbed in her work, learned at the stone face over many years and trained by her Master husband David, and with stone dust as well as the intense grip of the chisel turning her hand slowly white; and I’ve been absorbed in mine, recording, witnessing, hearing, watching, being with the presence of this mighty piece of shaped stone, and reflecting internally and with Lida about Blake and his value in this turbulent world. We’ve talked a lot, and I’ve come away many times and discussed with an array of people those three words highlighted above. And two or three times over the course of the cutting process I’ve gone away and stood face to face with a Blake painting – in the Fitzwilliam, in the Tate, and at the Petworth House temporary exhibition – and returned with the glory and detail of his angels and people and beings, and breathed in Blake by this glorious stone.

The end of a process

And now it’s completed – or nearly completed, as there still is the washing process, possible staining, and any gilding or painting within the letters, and the visit of the Blake Society to see the stone with all the letters completed. The organising committee came down for a morning a few months ago, to see the stone in its early stage, with the letters drawn before cutting began, and it will be a treat to see their faces erupt in smiles and delight when they see it now.

I’ve been reflecting deeply on this, the end of a process, a long slow sometimes laborious one: Lida often had to transfer to another project or to work with one of the other cutters or an apprentice; or I’ve not been able to go into the workshop for a few days, and have really missed the attention to detail and the friendship and companionship.

The hands of a master of the craft
Photograph: James Murray-White © 2018

Soon it will be out in the world, ready to attract visitors to it, who will pause and reflect a minute, and shine light onto the visionary world of poet — artist — prophet: William Blake 1757 – 1827:

“I give you the end of a golden string,
only wind it into a ball
It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate
Built in Jerusalem’s wall.”


Notes

Further information about the unveiling event to be held on August 12th in Bunhill Fields will be revealed on the Blake Society website in due course — and Finding Blake will there to film the event and pay our respects.

Jerusalem in South Molton Street

This month Finding Blake launches a series of eight short video posts featuring readings of some of Blake's poems. We start the series with Matt's powerful reading of Jerusalam, Blake's most famous poem.

We took actor Matt Ray Brown to London to film him reading these in Blake's flat in South Molton Street. In this exclusive series, filmed and sound recorded by Finding Blake's Jonnie Howard, we showcase eight pieces -- some well known, some not so well known -- and delight in that they are being read probably in the very place they were written!
Jerusalem 

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land.


Finding Blake team member Linda Richardson says of this poem: “The scientific, rational and analytical mind will never be able to understand the full meaning of William Blake’s work and art, because he is not speaking that language. We might agree that his work is imaginative, but he is a mystic and a prophet, so the purpose of his work is not to impart information, but to pull us deeply into his imaginative world and more importantly than that, we have to let his words imagine us.”


Notes

Matt Ray Brown reads eight Blake poems for Finding Blake and appeared in the original film for our Crowdfunder video. You can find all Finding Blake videos, as they are posted, on the Finding Blake Films at a Glance page in our Blakean Archive section. You can explore Matt’s work as an actor, including his showreel at Mandy.com, ‘the world’s largest creative community of actors, film and TV crew, theatre professionals, child actors, voiceover artists, dancers, singers, musicians, models and extras.’