Stratford Place is a lesser known but key street in the imagination of William Blake. It is a street that goes vertically north of Oxford Street (as visible in the photo above), a continuation of the bifurcated Davies Street and South Molton Street to the south.
Blake lived in South Molton Street, number 17, for almost two decades, so he would have known Stratford Place well and walked it regularly.
My fellow William Blake walker, Henry Eliot, claims Blake imagined an arch connecting South Molton Street and Stratford Place, and that the arch was a portal into the Gate of Los.
S. Damon Foster’s Blake Dictionary has the following entry: ‘STRATFORD PLACE intersects South Molton Street; there Tyburn Brook crossed Oxford Street and plunged underground. ‘
This may be mistaken. Some historians claim Tyburn Brook flowed as a tributary from the Westbourne upto Tyburn itself; and has no connection with the River Tyburn which still flows underground from South Hampstead to Millbank. Others claim that Brook Street in Mayfair – immediately below and perpendicular to South Molton Street – is named after Tyburn Brook, which would suggest that ‘river’ and ‘brook’ were interchangeable terms. Thus, there was a Tyburn Brook in Hyde Park, and a Tyburn River a.k.a. Tyburn Brook cutting visibly and invisibly through Mayfair.
That the Tyburn flowed by Stratford Place and crossed Oxford Street at that intersection explains the two Blake quotes which mention Stratford Place:
‘Between South Molton Street & Stratford Place, Calvary’s foot’ (Milton 4:21)
‘The Wound I see in South Molton Steet & Stratford Place’ (Jerusalem 74:55)
(Note: Blake mispells Street as ‘Steet’).
The quote from Milton continues:
‘Where the Victims were preparing for Sacrifice their Cherubim;
Around their Loins pour’d forth their arrows, & their bosoms beam
With all colours of precious stones, & their inmost palaces
Resounded with preparation of animals wild & tame,
(Mark well my words: Corporeal Friends are Spiritual Enemies)
Mocking Druidical Mathematical Proportion of Length, Breadth, Highth:
Displaying Naked Beauty, with Flute & Harp & Song.’
This is a place of sorrow for Blake because it puts him in mind of the Tyburn hangings. Elsewhere he writes of ‘Tyburn’s Fatal Brook’. Morton Paley speculates you could see the triple gallows from that point, as one might see the three crosses of Calvary from the foot; but the last Tyburn hangings were in 1783, 20 years before Blake moved to Mayfair. ‘Calvary’s foot’ shows how Blake imaginatively equates Tyburn with Calvary. In an amazing vision Blake limns the victims naked and playing flutes – almost like a hippy protest – to confound the calculating minds of the authorities who have erected the geometrical construction designed to execute 24 people at a time.
The quote from Jerusalem is very obscure, but serves to envision the flowing Tyburn as a topographical ‘Wound’, a scar traversing Oxford Street (which used to be called Tyburn Road):
‘I see a Feminine Form arise from the Four Terrible Zoas,
Beautiful but terrible, struggling to take a form of beauty,
Rooted in Shechem: this Dinah, the youthful form of Erin.
The Wound I see in South Molton Street & Sratford Place,
Whence Joseph and Benjamin roll’d apart away from the Nations.
In vain they roll’d apart: they are fix’d into the Land of Cabul.’
I cannot find the arch that Henry Eliot was talking about. The closest we come is in 38/39 of Jerusalem where the mysterious Gate of Los is described:
‘There is in Albion a Gate of precious stones and gold
Seen only by Emanations, by vegetations viewless:
Bending across the road of Oxford Street, it from Hyde Park
To Tyburn’s deathful shades admits the wandering souls
Of multitudes who die from Earth: this Gate cannot be found
By Satans Watch-fiends tho’ they search numbering every grain
Of sand on Earth every night, they never find this Gate.
It is the Gate of Los. Withoutside is the Mill, intricate, dreadful
And fill’d with cruel tortures; but no mortal man can find the Mill
Of Satan, in his mortal pilgrimage of seventy years
For Human beauty knows it not: nor can Mercy find it! But
In the Fourth region of Humanity, Urthona nam’d,
Mortality begins to roll the billows of Eternal Death
Before the Gate of Los. Urthona here is named Los.
And here begins the System of Moral Virtue, named Rahab.
Albion fled thro’ the Gate of Los, and he stood in the Gate.’
It is doubtful that the Gate imagined here is the same as the ‘wound’ crossing Oxford Street at the intersection of Stratford Place and South Molton Street. Not only is Stratford Place not mentioned, but Hyde Park is. It seems more likely that the Gate of Los is sited somewhere between Hyde Park and Tyburn i.e. below the site of the Tyburn Gallows at the foot of Edgware Road, close to Marble Arch. If it bends across Oxford Street, it does so at the very beginning of Oxford Street, where the Tyburn Turnpike – a tollgate at the point where Bayswater Road becomes Oxford Street – once stood. If we could imagine Marble Arch being turned about so that it crossed Oxford Street, there we might find the Gate of Los.
If we return to Stratford Place, to look for any traces of the Tyburn River, we make a startling discovery. Grays Antique Centre on Davies Street has an underground tributary running through it which is believed to be the Tyburn.
I am grateful to Henry Eliot for alerting me to the Stratford Place/South Molton Street continuum. Stratford Place is one of a million place-names in the great epic, and it never quite registered with me before. Blake sometimes skips from county to county and shire to shire in the space of a few words, and I may have thought Stratford Place was somewhere in East London or even in Stratford-on-Avon. The intersection adds to the mythos of Oxford Street immeasurably but I would cordially suggest to H. Eliot that the link is an underground river rather than an overhanging, gem-studded archway.