31.03.2015
14:02

Keats House

Address:

Wentworth Place, Keats Grove, Hampstead, NW3 2RR

Phone:

020-7332 3868

Website:

www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/attractions-around-london/keats-house

Opening times:

Tues–Sun and bank holidays 13:00–17:00

How to get there:

Tube: Hampstead

Entry fee:

Admission charge

Additional information:

Disabled access to ground floor only. Shop

In one of the leafiest parts of Hampstead, this charming small Regency house contains a remarkable collection of relics of the Romantic poet John Keats (1795–1821), who lived here for two of his five creative years. It was here that he wrote his ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, under a plum tree in the garden, and several other of his best-known works including ‘The Eve of St Agnes’ and ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’. Keats House is a place of pilgrimage for the poet’s admirers where, in the words of the Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, ‘Keats still seems alive’.

 

History of the House

The house dates from 1814–16 and was originally built as a pair of semi-detached cottages known collectively as Wentworth Place. Charles Wentworth Dilke, a civil servant, and his family occupied the west house and Charles Armitage Brown, a bachelor, the east. In 1817 Keats was introduced to Dilke and Brown by the poet Leigh Hunt, and in December 1818, after the death of his brother Tom from tuberculosis, he came to live here with Brown. Here he remained until September 1820 when, much weakened by tuberculosis himself, he was advised recovery in a warmer climate and left for Italy. In 1819 Dilke quit his part of the house, letting it to a Mrs Brawne, a widow with three children. Her eldest daughter Fanny, then eighteen, was introduced to Keats by Dilke and they were engaged in the autumn of that year. The marriage never took place; Keats died in Rome in 1821. In 1838–39 the two houses were bought by Eliza Chester, a retired actress, and converted into one. She also added the large drawing room on the east side. In 1920–21 the house was rescued from imminent destruction by international public subscription; it opened as a museum for the first time in 1925. A much needed, mainly structural, conservation programme began in 1999, the exterior work being completed in 2003, the interior redecoration due for completion soon. (NB: Periods of closure may be necessary so visitors should telephone in advance of a visit, as well as for details of the regular programme of poetry and literary events.)

 

Tour of the House

The house retains many of its original features, such as fireplaces and shutters, and throughout its rooms are books, manuscripts, letters, prints, paintings, furniture and other artefacts relating to Keats and his circle of friends. Downstairs are the living rooms of Dilke, and then of Mrs Brawne and her family, where Keats first met Fanny. Also at ground level is the Sitting Room probably used by Brown and Keats, where the latter lay on a ‘sopha-bed’ during his illness of February and March 1820, nursed devotedly by Brown. Items in the house relating to Brown include portraits of his parents and his bust by Andrew Wilson, sculpted in Florence in 1828. Keats’ Sitting Room has its original bookcases. Behind the books in one of them Keats carelessly placed the manuscript of the ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, whence it was rescued by Brown. A copy by Edmund Dyer of Joseph Severn’s Keats at Wentworth Place, painted in Rome from details supplied by Brown, shows the poet reading in this room. Upstairs is Keats’ Bedroom, where he first spat blood and realised he was mortally ill with consumption, as well as Brown’s Bedroom and a special display on Fanny Brawne. The museum possesses the almandine engagement ring given to her by Keats, a brooch in the form of a lyre with strings made from Keats’ hair, his love letters to her, and an 1833 miniature of her.

Other Keats memorabilia include letters, literary manuscripts, books from his library, portraits of his friends, his inkstand and portable writing desk, editions of his works and his copy of Shakespeare with the manuscript of ‘Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art’—the sonnet he wrote to Fanny—written in it. Also in the house is Keats Listening to the Nightingale on Hampstead Heath (c. 1845) by Joseph Severn, the friend who nursed Keats through his last illness in Rome. The garden layout is much as it was in Keats’ day, with an ancient mulberry tree and a new plum tree planted on the spot of the one under which Keats sat to write.

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MUSEUMS & GALLERIES OF LONDON

Details below are taken from our Blue Guide Museums and Galleries of London.  This is a 2005 title, here generally updated for website address and opening times, with useful comments from some of the museums themselves.  More recent information is given in Emily Barber's magisterial new Blue Guide London, "Exceptional update to a classic and useful guide to this amazing city" (Amazon reader review).

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