Iron Maiden frontman joins hundreds at unveiling of William Blake gravestone

A woman lays a flower by a headstone for William Blake at Bunhill Fields in London (Victoria Jones/PA) Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson was among hundreds of people at the unveiling of a gravestone marking the exact resting place of artist and poet William Blake, nearly 200 years after his death.

Blake, who wrote the words to the hymn Jerusalem, died in obscurity in 1827 and was buried in an unmarked common grave in Bunhill Fields in London.

A memorial stone in the cemetery records that the artist is buried nearby but the exact site of Blake’s final resting place was not rediscovered until 2006.

The Blake Society raised £30,000 to pay for a new headstone, which was unveiled on Sunday, the 191st anniversary of his death.

Dickinson, whose band is one of the most enduring and successful heavy metal bands of all time, said Blake is “one of the greatest living English poets, artists”.

Speaking to the Press Association, following two nights performing with his band at The O2, he said: “I said ‘living’ because if you’re into Blake, he never really dies.

“And I think he, in his way, should be as honoured as Shakespeare for his contribution to the English spirit and I suppose a contrarian eccentric Englishness, which is still, thank God, alive and well.

“All the way from Monty Python to rock music and punk music. It spans generations.”

Speaking about Blake, the star said: “William Blake is argumentative. William Blake is controversial.

“William Blake is individualistic. William Blake is anti-hierarchical society.

“He’s a thoroughly modern poet. Not just a poet, an artist.

“And I think it speaks to all manner of artistic people, anybody that has an ounce of soul in them couldn’t fail to be moved by Blake.”

An inauguration took place at the cemetery on Sunday, followed by a sunset vigil during which 191 candles were placed at the grave.

Dickinson was among a few speakers addressing the crowd before the headstone was unveiled.

Comedian Will Franken speaks ahead of the unveiling Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

Trustee of the Blake Society Gareth Sturdy said: “I can’t tell you how relieved I am because it’s been the end of many years of work.

“And we really didn’t know how many people were going to turn up.

“We didn’t know if we were going to have four, five people, or as you can see, the hundreds that have turned up. So that’s wonderful.

“And it’s been quite a difficult journey to get such an important monument placed in such a historic burial site. And it’s done.”

Speaking about Blake, he said: “He is extraordinary. I think he is a complete original. 

“I think there is nobody else in English literature or visual art quite like Blake.”

Speaking about the unveiling event, Mr Sturdy said: “It’s lovely to have such a diverse range of people.

“Satirists, heavy metal-ers, canons of the Church of England. All sorts.

“Blake speaks to so many different people.”

The unveiling Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

Nick Duncan, another trustee, said: “It matters that we recognise those who have contributed to our cultural heritage, and no creative genius has influenced people to the extraordinary extent as William Blake.

“Yet almost two centuries after his death, Blake’s grave is unmarked.

“People walk unknowingly over it, dropping litter and thinking of other things.

“At last the grave will be correctly identified for future generations.”

The new memorial has been carved from Portland stone and features the Blake quotation: “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.”

People laid flowers on the gravestone after it was unveiled.