Number 13 Hercules Buildings, Lambeth

A few people have asked myself and my co-founder, Vici MacDonald, why we decided to call our new press Hercules Editions. The simple answer is that we both live in Lambeth (although in the last four years I have strayed further South in the Borough, all the way to Stockwell), and that the presiding spirit of our part of the world is William Blake, who moved to Number 13 Hercules Buildings in 1791 (there’s a blue plaque on the side of the 50s council block that stands there now marking the location of his house).

Stanley Gardner writes of Blake’s Lambeth address:

Number 13 Hercules Buildings, Lambeth, was a comfortable two-story house with a garden front and back. The Blakes lived there, at least from the summer of 1791, until they moved to Felpham on the South Coast in September 1800. The first three years in Lambeth redirected Blake’s thinking on the follow-up to ‘Songs of Innocence’, and from here he launched his attack on the broader conspiracies of place and power, which perpetuated oppression and conflict.

The follow-up, as we know, was Songs of Experience, which contained some of Blake’s most famous poems, ‘The Sick Rose’, ‘The Tyger’ and ‘London’. What was it about the ‘exclusive gardens of Lambeth,’ as Gardner calls them, that produced this extraordinary work?

Gardner says:

Lambeth itself, convenient to Westminster Bridge, had long been a place of commercialised charity, tough factories and seedy pleasure. The land downstream from the bridge, between the river and the marsh, was lined with a half mile of timber yards, Lambeth Waterworks, barge makers and a patent shot manufactory. Across and around the marsh, on twenty-nine acres leased from the Prince Regent, were dye-houses, storehouses, cranes, brewhouses, stables, Mr Beaufoy’s vinegar manufactory, and among the ponds and water courses across the marsh, seventy dwelling houses. Sentinel over all, the new shot-tower was dropping into wartime production as Blake pulled together ‘Songs of Experience’.

It was the London of small industry and great poverty, a place of pleasure gardens and hard labour. The old Hercules Hall became the Female Orphan Asylum, and Blake would have been familiar with the charges of that institution when he was writing ‘The Little Girl Lost’. He was down the road from the Palace of Lambeth and the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who himself was downwind from Vauxhall Gardens, the most notorious place to indulge in any imaginable sin.

I wouldn’t dream of comparing ourselves with Blake, but the project Vici and I undertook was all about London’s hidden histories, the tough & tattered cheek by jowl with grand mansions and leafy squares. Much of it is set in SE1, the quarter of town we know well. In addition, Blake was his own poet, his own illustrator, his own printer, his own book designer, and so we wanted to follow his early model of DIY publishing. Our product will be a bit rough and ready compared to Blake’s beautiful books, but we hope it is in keeping with the Lambeth we inhabit today.

Formerly, our first publication, will be hot off the press to coincide with the exhibition of photos and poems from the book at the Poetry Cafe from 18th June to 14th July.

Here’s our website: