Keats House

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The home of romance

Keats House, Hampstead

Hampstead Landscape by Amanda White
‘Hamp­stead Land­scape’, a card by Aman­da White, on sale in the Keats House shop

John Keats was born in the City of Lon­don in Octo­ber 1795 and chris­tened at St Botolph’s in Bish­ops­gate. His father Thomas man­aged the liv­ery sta­bles attached to the Swan and Hoop, a large and thriv­ing inn on Fins­bury Pave­ment owned by John’s mater­nal grand­fa­ther John Jen­nings.

Whether Keats was born at the sta­bles or at the fam­i­ly’s uniden­ti­fied home near­by is still a mat­ter of debate but mod­ern aca­d­e­mics broad­ly agree that his ori­gins were not as hum­ble as used to be sup­posed (and roman­ti­cised).

Nev­er­the­less, Keats undoubt­ed­ly came from a much less wealthy and high-bred fam­i­ly than many of the aris­to­crat­ic poets of the day and, at the time his verse was first pub­lished, he was sub­ject­ed to mock­ery by a few snobs of the Lon­don lit­er­ary set, who accused him of pair­ing words that sound­ed like rhymes only to the ears of cock­neys.

At an ear­ly age John Keats was sent away to a board­ing school in Enfield, where he first took an inter­est in clas­si­cal lit­er­a­ture. In 1803 his father died after a fall from his horse while (it is said) rid­ing back to Lon­don after vis­it­ing his son.

Keats’s moth­er Frances died in 1810 and a few months lat­er he left school and entered an appren­tice­ship with an apothe­cary-sur­geon in Edmon­ton. Though he com­plet­ed his train­ing (includ­ing a year at Guy’s Hos­pi­tal) and qual­i­fied as a med­ical pro­fes­sion­al, he soon decid­ed to devote him­self to poet­ry and began to achieve wide recog­ni­tion in 1818. In Decem­ber of that year Keats went to lodge with his friend Charles Brown in the small­er of a pair of new­ly-built Hamp­stead hous­es then called Went­worth Place. It was here that he wrote many of his best-known poems and fell in love with the girl next door, Fan­ny Brawne.

In Feb­ru­ary 1820 Keats began to exhib­it the first symp­toms of tuber­cu­lo­sis and was con­fined to the house dur­ing the months that fol­lowed. In Brown’s par­lour (shown in the pho­to­graph below) a sofa bed was made up for him so that he could look out of the win­dow at the gar­den.

When sum­mer waned Keats trav­elled to Naples and then Rome in the vain hope that the warmer, dri­er cli­mate might improve his health. He died at a vil­la on the Span­ish Steps on 23 Feb­ru­ary 1821 and was buried in Rome’s Protes­tant Ceme­tery. Fan­ny Brawne went into mourn­ing when news of her lover’s death reached her and, accord­ing to some sources, she wore wid­ow’s weeds for six years.

Went­worth Place was opened to the pub­lic as a memo­r­i­al to John Keats in 1925 and is cared for by the City of Lon­don Cor­po­ra­tion. Now called Keats House, its col­lec­tion of mem­o­ra­bil­ia includes books, paint­ings, let­ters, keep­sakes and the engage­ment ring Keats gave to Fan­ny.

Even diehard inde­pen­dent explor­ers of such places should over­come their resis­tance to being herd­ed around and take the guid­ed tour here, to bet­ter appre­ci­ate the sig­nif­i­cance and con­text of each room, its fur­nish­ings and decor, and the mate­r­i­al on dis­play.

Group tours can be booked for days when the house is closed to the gen­er­al pub­lic. Spe­cial events are fre­quent­ly arranged, includ­ing talks, poet­ry read­ings, musi­cal soireés, chil­dren’s sto­ry­telling and cre­ative work­shops. For more infor­ma­tion, see the Keats House Museum’s live­ly Face­book page.

A sofa bed was made up for Keats in this room, so that he could look out of the window at the garden

Keats House, Keats Grove, London NW3 2RR
Phone: 020 7332 3868
Website: Keats House
Open: Wednesday–Sunday 11.00am–5.00pm (closed over Christmas, open bank holiday Mondays)
Admission: £6.50 (adults); concessions for seniors, students, jobseekers and National Trust members; free for National Art Pass holders and children 17 and under
Nearest station: Hampstead Heath (London Overground)
Further reading: Andrew Motion, John Keats (biography), Faber and Faber, 2003
and John Keats (poetry), selected by Andrew Motion, Faber and Faber 2011
Further viewing: Bright Star
NearbyFenton House