Between 1761 and 1768 Blake was working as an apprentice to the engraver, James Basire. Basire was official engraver to the Society of Antiquaries. In consequence, Blake was sent out to old churches to draw ancient tombs and monuments. Chief among these old churches was Westminster Abbey, where the Kings and Queens of England are buried. Blake, in his enthusiasm, is said to have clambered on to the tombs in order to draw them better, to have participated in the opening of King Edward I’s tomb, and to have sketched portraits of kings that had been long hidden behind tapestries.
Working in Westminster Abbey made Blake into a passionate admirer of the then neglected gothic, and it contributed to his indifference to the standards of fashionable art of his time. It inspired him to produce his early history paintings (such as The Penance of Jane Shore), and also led him to create a unique philosophy in which religion, history and politics were blended.
There is a monument to William Blake in Poet’s Corner in the Abbey. This was erected in 1957, and Blake is in fact buried in the dissenters’ graveyard, Bunhill Fields.
St. James Park / Westminster