Hayley2020 – conference

Hayley2020, the first conference devoted to the life, works, and influence of William Hayley (1745-1820) runs at the Fitzwilliam Museum and Trinity Hall from 12-13/11/2020. Appropriately – as Hayley prided himself on his epitaph-writing – it’s timed to coincide with the bicentenary of his death on 12 November 1820.

Bringing together scholars of literary, art history and society, the conference will combine papers on Hayley and his milieu with innovative, object-focused sessions on manuscripts and artworks. Together, these will enable a new understanding of collaborative cultural production in the long eighteenth century. On the evening of  Thursday 12, Alex Kidson, the leading authority on the work of artist George Romney, author of George Romney: A Complete Catalogue of His Paintings (New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 2015) will deliver a public lecture on the artist and his relationship with Hayley.

William Hayley
Hayley made a profound contribution to the literature, visual arts and society of the long eighteenth century. A close friend of George Romney, John Flaxman and Joseph Wright of Derby, he would source commissions and suggest subjects for them to depict. Both the resulting artworks and their correspondence suggest they appreciated his interventions. William Blake, however, did not. Blake, moved down to Sussex in 1800 to work for Hayley, became increasingly frustrated with his approach, which, in today’s language could best be characterised as micro-managerial. Find out more about William Hayley.

Hayley 2020 will generate fresh perspectives on Hayley’s highly-influential network, which included Blake, Cowper and Romney, investigating these relationships, their impact on the individuals’ life and work, and how they influenced the content and course of British literary, social and art history. 

Running online on Thursday 12th and Friday 13th November, and convened to mark the bicentenary of his death, Hayley2020 is the first ever conference dedicated to writer, scholar and amateur doctor William Hayley (1745-1820).  

Hugely influential in his time, Hayley is now mostly remembered for persuading William Blake to move to the Sussex coast, commissioning illustrations and prints from him and driving him to distraction. But there is much more to the man who wrote (in verse) a runaway bestseller advising young women on how to attract and keep a husband, refused the poet laureateship for political reasons, and was the first person to publish an English translation of a long extract from Dante’s Inferno.

All are welcome. 

Book now at https://tickets.museums.cam.ac.uk/hayley2020.  There’s no charge, but donations to the Fitzwilliam Museum are welcome.

More information at https://hayley.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/conference

Pre-recorded material will be available on a password-protected site to view from Thursday 5 November.


  • Dr Alexander Marr (Art History, CVC)
  • Jane Munro (Fitzwilliam Museum)
  • Dr Suzanne Reynolds (Fitzwilliam Museum)
  • Dr Mark Crosby (University of Kansas)
  • Dr Lisa Gee (external consultant on Hayley Paper project)
  • Dr Naomi Billingsley (University of Manchester)