William Lilly (11 May 1602 – 9 June 1681) was one of the main authorities of traditional Western astrology. He was the author of Christian Astrology, the first astrological textbook in English. He is also renowned for his prediction of the Great Fire of London - made fourteen years before the event. Lilly was the most influential British Astrologer since Dr John Dee, advisor to Queen Elizabeth I.
The William Lilly Cottage Appeal
Lilly was born and raised in the village of Diseworth in Leicestershire, England. In 1998, Lilly’s first home the 500 year old cottage came available for sale. Property values in Britain were quite low at the time. Astrologer, Deborah Houlding saw it as an opportunity to purchase this piece of history for the astrological community. I was one of a few astrologers involved in her initiative. We received pledges of over £100,000 and raised funds through the efforts and good will of many astrologers. However, it was not enough to acquire this unique piece of history which sold early in 1999.
But through this lost opportunity, there were many positive personal experiences. First, I got to know Deborah Houlding, her wisdom, passion and integrity. She is now arguably our leading expert in traditional astrology outside the academic community. Much of the resurgence in this field comes from her pioneering studies, lectures and articles.
To Leicester via St Pancras
I visited Lilly’s cottage in June 1998. It was a short journey by train from the Victorian Gothic Railway Station of St Pancras in north London. Time passed quickly as I was accompanied by Kim Farnell who had just published her biography of Sepharial and legendary astrologer, Charles Harvey.
As we travelled through the green and bright yellow undulating landscape, the heavens began to cloud over. Just as our minicab entered Diseworth, storm clouds gathered and in true synchronistic style, thunder struck as we walked up the path to the front door. Was this a greeting from the mystic ‘from beyond’ or simply an omen or yet another supposedly meaningless random event?
Ominous Arrival at the Cottage
Lilly’s cottage as it is known is utterly charming. It is centrally located in an unspoilt and peaceful village. The land includes a well tended garden (at the time). Within the cottage there is a rare atmosphere that astrologers will pick up. History seeps out of the walls, it gives you a strange sense of 'coming home'.
A Tudor timber framed structure with a thatched roof
The property is a Tudor timber framed structure with wooden glazing bars on the windows. On a passage wall is graffiti dated 31 March 1692, with the initials of Richard Lilly, and small drawings of hands, stars, a tower and a steeple.
Though there have been several stages of construction and renovation since the 15th century, the present building is well preserved. At the time of our visit, there had been much recent work to the thatched roof.
With funds and management, the property could work as a museum for portraying living in the 17th century, the life of William Lilly and the chequered but fascinating history of astrology or as an environment. It could also be used as an environment for talks and teaching. Though I live in a 500 year converted Mill, this type of building would not work for me as a home. One reason is that it is that it is listed as Grade II building by English Heritage. This means that most internal and all external construction work must be approved so it remains in keeping with the period. So this is not suitable for the “DIY home enthusiast”. But for a dedicated owner this charming and cosy cottage in an unspoilt village would be an idyllic existence.
Farewell to the legendary Charles Harvey
Charles Harvey, outside William Lilly's Cottage 1998. Photo by Robert Currey.
Later when the Sun came out, the outgoing owner, Mr Lindley gave us afternoon tea in his abundant and fertile garden. Then we all hopped over the road to the nearby Bull and Swan pub for a drink. It was a memorable day most especially the time passed with Charles Harvey.
Charles was unwell with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and this turned out to be our last day together before he died. It was typical of Charles to lend his generous support to astrological projects like this. His legacy is immeasurable and in tricky ethical situations, it helps to consider what would Charles do. Maybe one day a wealthy astrologer (an oxymoron) will realise the dream and make the house available as a centre so people can learn about the fascinating life of William Lilly and study his arcane field.
Update - October 2013 I was contacted by Quentin Field-Boden who had read the original article here. The Lilly Cottage was rennovated by his relatives some years ago and he has made an excellent short video of the interior of the house.