Keats House

Historic Home Jan 23, 2018

There was a naughty boy
And a naughty boy was he
For nothing he would do
But scribble poetry

~ John Keats, 1818

John Keats lived on one side of this white-washed double home with his poet friend Charles Brown from December 1818. The house, known as Wentworth Place, was built in 1815-16 for Brown and the Dilkes family. In 1819, the Dilkes moved away and Fanny Brawne and her family moved into the newly-vacant side of the house. She became his Muse, his love for her fueling a major part of his greatest works.

Tragically, their love was never to be realized. They were originally prevented from marrying due to a lack of money, while later it was because of Keats' rapidly declining health. He had contracted the family illness, then known as consumption, today called tuberculosis, a bacterial infection of the lungs. In those days it was a very serious condition, often resulting in death. Keats' own brother, Tom, would die in December 1818 of the disease.

In 1820, after suffering two hemorrhages, Keats' friends raised enough money for him to travel to Italy, in the hopes that the warm climate would improve his health. Keats was loathe to leave his beloved Fanny, with whom he was secretly engaged, saying "I feel it almost impossible to go to Italy - the fact is I cannot leave you." He and Fanny exchanged a diary, books, a ring, and a lock of hair. When he departed on 13 September 1821, Fanny wrote simply in her pocket book, "Mr. Keats left Hampstead."

She would never see him again. On 23 February 1821, at the age of just 25, Keats died in Rome.

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Fanny kept his letters and the ring he gave her, treasuring it for the rest of her life. It is currently kept in a little display case in what was her room.

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After Keats left, Wentworth Place was converted into a single home and was extended. Scheduled for demolition in 1920, it was saved by subscription and converted into a museum in 1925.

The house itself is rather unobtrusive, located back from the street behind a fence, like most every other house on said street.

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The map provided suggests a route through the house, with overviews of what is to be found in each. For example, the first room, The Brawne Room: the making of a poet, talks of Keats' time at school and his growing passion for poetry. The room itself contains a more in-depth look at the overall ideas, providing objects, portraits, and letters to do so.

We begin on the first floor in the Brawne Room, followed by Charles Brown's Parlour and the Chester Room.

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The Chester Room contains a board of arrange-able words, a small table (far left in the picture above) with writing material and a puzzle of the portrait of Keats hanging above it on the wall, ideal for any visiting children.

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A very interesting aspect to the house is the "scars" and marks leftover from when it was originally divided into two homes.

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In the basement is both the Brawne's kitchen and the Brown/Keats kitchen. Note the quotes from Keats' poetry painted on the walls.

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Also down here is a little area where kids can try on the clothes worn at the time.

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Passing from one kitchen to the other is another noted mark of where the dividing line between the two houses once was:

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And a quote from Keats on the nature of his work:

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Brown's kitchen is called "Abigail O'Donaghue's Kitchen," after the Irish maid who worked here. Brown had an affair with her, eventually marrying her upon a pregnancy resulting in a son. When the boy was several years old Brown and he moved to New Zealand, leaving Abigail behind, and not much is known of her later life.

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Across the hall is a ten-minute video on Keats' life.

Going back up the stairs to the second-story bedrooms provides the personal details into Keats' love for Fanny in "Fanny Brawne's Room: letters and love."

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Keats' own room contains the four-poster bed in which he first coughed up blood and realized he had consumption, and the portrait of him in his last weeks before his death hanging over the fireplace.

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In the landing are pictures and quotes pertaining to Keats' final journey, when he traveled from Wentworth Place, Hampstead, and Fanny to Rome. Included are sketches of the ship they sailed on by Joseph Severn, as well as an image of Keats' grave there.

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The final room is more uplifting, being what was Charles Brown's Bedroom, and dealing with Keats' poetry and legacy. When he died, he had published just three books of poetry. It was through the unfailing love of his friends who were instrumental in bringing about his eventual success, saving his works and promoting his writing. Thirty years after his death Pre-Raphaelite poets and painters began to take notice of his poems, being drawn to his sensual imagery. Several of their paintings are displayed in the room, along with the poems they depict.

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It's rather difficult to end on a happy note the story of a gifted poet who died at the age of 25 before he could marry his true love from a now-curable disease, all the while considering himself a failure in his chosen career. Letting the viewers leave with images of his eventual - though posthumous - triumph is about the only way to do so, and I think they do a fairly decent job.

The museum has a lovely little saying written on the front of its visitor guides: "It was a poet's house who keeps the keys of pleasures temple." And it's true; there's always something special about walking through the rooms and across the floors that John Keats and Fanny Brawne once did, seeing their possessions and reading their letters.

It was the poet's house, and the house of his beloved. And that is something special, in and of itself.

Information taken from:

Keats House Visitor Guide, picked up at the museum
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Keats
London, Pocket Rough Guide. Rough Guides Ltd., Strand, London. 2015., page 151

Rachel Polaniec

I enjoy researching, visiting, and writing about local historic and cultural sites.