Pilgrim’s Business

Bunhill Fields: where Bayes, Blake and Bunyan are laid to rest — whose works echo through the City.

In late 2019, many hundred-thousand folk admired William Blake’s Ancient of Days projected on St Paul’s Cathedral dome. For at least a generation, every year, millions have breathed life into his verse, Jerusalem.

John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory and first novel written in English. In print for centuries, translated into two hundred languages, and counted among Franklin Library’s 100 Greatest Books of All Time.

The protagonist is an everyman character, and the story concerns his journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial one. It’s a story of faith.

Our endeavours, ambitions and industry would amount to naught without that proactive confidence, nor without confidence others lend us.

In considering a new name for the school both my father and I attended (separated by a procession of Saturn), the memory that stands out is of the late Professor Shelagh Heffernan. Those who knew Shelagh testify to her respect and passion for proper learning.

On some topics we failed to see eye-to-eye, but that didn’t blunt her faith in my potential. I benefited from her generosity and belief, and witnessed the egalitarian devotion reserved for each of her tutees.

Sadly, Shelagh’s husband, Professor Peter Sinclair, succumbed to ‘Covid’ last year. Upon remembering him, I recalled the first speech David Cameron gave to the City as Conservative party leader alongside Osborne. If not the Remembrancer, then who invited them to use Sir John Cass Business School for their seminal address? Peter was Cameron’s tutor at Oxford.

Shelagh’s requiem service was held at St. Bartholomew’s on Winter Solstice a decade ago. There, with my back to a stone-cold wall, I turned to read an inscription in marble:

Sluice your briny flood, what! Can you keep your eyes from tears and see the marble weep? Burst out for shame, or if you find no vent for tears, yet stay, and see the stones relent.

The hand of a tradesman reminding me be sure-footed; to reflect but not dwell, and accept life’s pilgrimage with a glint something like seen in Blake’s illustration of The Pilgrim’s Progress — painted a century after Bunyan’s ink had dried.

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