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: Thursday, Friday and Sunday, 11am–1pm and 2pm–4pm
Admission: £7.50 (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