Welcome to Keats House, or Wentworth Place, as this house was first called. It was built in 1815 and was one of the first houses in this part of Hampstead. It was designed to look like one villa, but inside was divided into two homes.
On one side lived Charles Dilke and his family and on the other lived Charles Brown – from whom Keats rented two rooms. In April 1819, the Dilkes left Wentworth Place and the Brawne family rented their half of the house.
Watch this introductory film and scroll down for a room by room tour of Keats's home.
Keats rented rooms in December 1818 and lived here on and off until September 1820 when he left to travel to Rome. He spent less than two years at Wentworth Place, but it was during that time he wrote many of his greatest poems - including five of the famous odes. It was also here that he found great friendships and fell in love.
Fred Holland Day’s watercolour
Fred Holland Day was born in 1862, Massachusetts, USA to a family of tanners. He was a well-known photographer and pursued his belief that photography should be considered a fine art. As a collector of rare books and manuscripts, he went on to co-found the publishing firm Copeland and Day. Day became interested in Keats in 1885, and in several visits to England he is described as making
‘pilgrimages to Keats shrines, photographing, running down books and manuscripts, pursuing every imaginable biographical and geographical clue.’
His passion for all things Keats eventually led to the establishment of a memorial to the poet in Hampstead Parish Church in 1894. It was probably during one of these visits that he painted this small watercolour. The painting can be dated before 1896, when the Royal Society of Arts plaque was added to the front of the house, just above the door, and it is the earliest coloured view we have of the house. Apparently Day’s spelling of ‘Hamstead’ instead of ‘Hampstead’ is characteristic of him.
Regency suburban gardens were used as an extra room to the house. The fashion in this period was to include French windows which opened directly onto the garden.
Wentworth Place, as the house was originally known, was built across two plots of land. The Dilke family leased further plots either side of Wentworth Place to house their extended family and to preserve their spacious and attractive garden from being filled in by further houses.
We know that Keats walked in the garden; sat and thought there; rested by the windows overlooking the garden when he was too sick to go out; and drew inspiration for some of his greatest work there. Many of his letters and poems have references to flowers and plants.
‘Ode to a Nightingale’ was allegedly written under a plum tree in the garden over 200 years ago in 1819. The original tree has long since died, but has been replaced on the lawn in front of the Keats Community Library building.
The ancient mulberry tree dominates this patch, standing alongside the tall London plane and the pink-flowered cherry plum tree. This mulberry is at least 200 years old and could live for hundreds of years more.
The mulberry itself is thought to be the last remains of a fruit orchard that once stood in the gardens.
Visits to Keats House begin in the Brawne Room. Originally it was two parlours used by the Dilke and then the Brawne families. Today this room tells the story of Keats’s early life and features a portrait and bust of Keats, along with his medical notebook from his training as a doctor.
As children, John and his brothers George and Tom boarded at Clarke’s Academy in Enfield. The school was in the countryside at the time and Keats enjoyed the early connection to nature, compared to surroundings at his parents’ home in Moorgate in the City of London.
When Keats finished school, he was apprenticed to the family doctor, Dr Thomas Hammond. He spent longer training in medicine than he did in writing poetry. After several years as an apprentice, he then spent a further year training at Guy’s Hospital in Southwark. During this time Keats had a poem published in the literary journal, The Examiner. After gaining his qualification, Keats announced that he was giving up medicine in favour of writing poetry – a brave decision for a young man who had very little money to support himself with.
This is the only surviving book of medical notes made by Keats whilst studying to become an apothecary at Guy's Hospital in Southwark between October 1815 and July 1816. These notes were taken mostly from renowned surgeon Astley Cooper's lectures on Anatomy and the Operations of Surgery.
As well as attending lectures, Keats gained practical experience by helping on hospital rounds and doing dissections, and later assisted with operations. In his busy timetable he saw human suffering first-hand – this was a time before anaesthetics and modern ideas of hygiene.
The apothecary exam included sections on the theory and practice of medicine, chemistry, medicinal substances and translation from the Latin book Pharmacopoeia Londoniensis. On 25 July 1816 he passed and, together with his earlier apprenticeship to a local doctor, this licensed him to practice medicine.
At the same time as studying medicine, Keats was also developing his poetic ideas. He made a dramatic announcement that he was giving up medicine not long after qualifying. Critics warned
'it is a better and wiser thing to be a starved apothecary than a starved poet’.
Keats’s medical training meant his awareness of his own final illness was more acute. When he had a haemorrhage in 1820 he knew ‘the colour of that blood... it is arterial blood’, and that tuberculosis would soon claim his life.
This was Keats’s Parlour, one of the rooms in the house which Keats would have had as his own. Keats worked on some of his finest poems in this room. He also studied here, reading and experimenting with writing styles and rhyme schemes. The split wooden shutters and fire grate would have been there in Keats’s day and a selection of his books, the print of Shakespeare and position of the chairs help it feel like a very personal space. This room has been carefully recreated from Joseph Severn’s painting Keats at Wentworth Place, painted from memory a few years after Keats’s death. A reproduction by Edmund Dyer now hangs over the fireplace.
Anatomy of Melancholy
This is an 1813 edition of The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton. It was given to Keats by his friend and housemate Charles Brown in 1819. The poet's annotations demonstrate his fascination with the work and the links to the poems he wrote that year.
First published in 1621, Burton's lively style and combination of medical, philosophical and literary approaches to melancholia (now known as depression) meant the work was popular for centuries afterwards. It references classical scholars such as Aristotle and Pliny as well as later authors like Keats's beloved Shakespeare. It was an attempt to draw together thousands of years of contemplation on the human condition, inspired by Burton's own suffering. This desire to understand some of the causes and treatments of depression struck a chord with Keats's own depressive nature and Romantic sensibility, as well as his medical knowledge.
In Burton's section on 'Love-Melancholy’, Keats discovered the story of Lamia and Lycius on which he based his narrative poem Lamia. The child-eating seductress of classical myth became, under Keats's sympathetic treatment, a nymph transformed into a snake but in love with the mortal Lycius. Lamia was published in 1820, with a quotation from The Anatomy of Melancholy.
The Anatomy of Melancholy also probably inspired Keats's ‘Ode on Melancholy’, composed when he was living in this house.
The room opposite Keats’s Parlour was Charles Brown’s. Charles Brown was a loyal friend to Keats. He invited Keats to live with him, lent him money, and helped to transcribe his poetry and see it through to publication.
This parlour was used by both friends for leisure and entertaining. Many guests were writers, artists and musicians associated with the radical poet and editor, Leigh Hunt. Today, the room tells the story of the literary and social circle who Keats associated with in Hampstead and beyond.
When Keats became ill with tuberculosis in 1820, he would often lay on the sofa in Brown’s Parlour so he could look out of the window into the garden.
Bust of Leigh Hunt
This bust celebrates James Leigh Hunt (1784 - 1859), the man responsible for first publishing a Keats poem and supporting his career throughout his life. It is a plaster cast of the one made in 1866 by Joseph Durham for Hunt's funeral monument in Kensal Green Cemetery.
Hunt was the editor of The Examiner, a liberal magazine for news, politics and literary discussion which Keats first enjoyed at school. On 5 May 1816, The Examiner featured a sonnet entitled 'To Solitude' and signed 'J. K.', which Keats had written the year before.
Six months after his poem was printed, Keats was introduced to his hero, and became part of Hunt's group at Hampstead. Hunt continued to encourage Keats's talent and a grateful Keats dedicated his first volume of poetry to Hunt, writing of his pleasure that he
‘could please, / with these poor offerings, a man like thee.’
Hunt was quite a radical figure, imprisoned for libelling the Prince Regent in The Examiner, and Keats’s association with him was fuel for critics who dismissed his work. Blackwood's Magazine attacked him as part of Hunt's 'Cockney School' of poets criticised for their vulgarity and lower-class backgrounds.
Though their relationship was not always easy-going, Hunt took care of Keats in his time of need, and nursed him in the summer of 1820, before Keats left England for his health.
The Chester Room, at the end of the corridor, did not exist in Keats’s time. The doorway to this room would have been Brown’s front door and would have led straight into the garden. It was added after 1838, when the house was converted into one home by retired actress Eliza Jane Chester. She used the room to entertain her guests and it is still used for this purpose today, hosting special events as part of our year-round programme.
Portrait of Eliza Jane Chester
Eliza Jane Chester was an actress during the 1820s and early 1830s, famous for playing leading roles in comedies such as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. Her rise to fame was fast and she attracted wealthy and influential patrons, becoming a favourite of King George IV. Chester bought the house in 1838 and converted it from two small properties into one large one. This portrait was painted by John Jackson R.A. and exhibited in 1824. It was published as an engraving in 1826.
From the Chester Room we pass from one house into the other. An archway has now replaced the wall that divided the two homes. Behind you is the doorway into the Chester Room, which originally served as the entrance door to Brown and Keats’s side of the house. A stairway leading up to their bedrooms and down to their basement has been removed from this Hallway. The doors leading to Keats’s and Brown’s parlour's have also been moved from their original location which was closer to the Chester Room.
Sketches after Hogarth
The eight prints in the hallway depict the A Rake’s Progress story by the prominent artist William Hogarth. They were published in print form in 1735 and chart the decline of the fictional Tom Rakewell, starting with an inheritance from his father, and ending with him as a patient in Bedlam. These were owned by Charles Brown and may well have been on display in the house during Keats’s time here. Keats mentions in a letter of February 1820 to his friend James Rice that Brown has
‘taken to the imitative art – he is doing his forte which is copying Hogarth’s heads.’
Mrs Brawne’s Kitchen was used by the Dilke and Brawne families and had a tradesman’s entrance to allow for deliveries. The servants of these families would have worked and lived in these spaces and you can still see the bells used to call them.
At the time, most people preferred plain dishes such as roast meat, puddings and pies. Fresh food was kept cool in cellars, but it didn’t last long and people often ate preserved foods that had been pickled, cured or smoked. Food was brought in from local traders or grown in the garden around the house. Letters and sketches show this garden was used for growing fruit trees, lettuce and lavender.
After dark the kitchen would become gloomy, lit by oil lamps and candles.
The dresser in this room is original. Regency kitchens often had large dressers covered with plates, jugs and kitchen utensils. Three of the plates on this dresser are now adorned by quotes from Keats’s poetry:
With fennel green, and balm, and golden pines,
Savory,latter-mint, and columbines,
Cool parsley, basil sweet, and sunny thyme
John Keats, from Endymion
I have fed upon Oat cake – not long enough to be very much attached to it
John Keats writing from Scotland
holding to my Mouth a Nectarine – It went down soft pulpy, slushy, oozy… like a large beautified Strawberry.
This kitchen would have been in Brown’s half of the house. Keats and Brown were by no means rich, but they did have a servant to help them with house chores and their meals. This was usual for middle class bachelors of the period.
Abigail O’Donaghue was a servant here from 1819 and had a scandalous affair with Charles Brown. They were married the same year and their son Carlino was born in 1820. Brown later emigrated with Carlino leaving Abigail behind, and little is known of her later life.
At the back of the room is a wine cellar that also dates from Ms Chester’s ownership of the House. Originally this would have been a coal cellar where Brown and Keats would have stored their coal. The companies that delivered the coal would have direct access through a hatch in the garden.
The bread oven in this room was installed by Eliza Jane Chester, who lived here in the late 1830s. It is likely that a fireplace was located in this space in Keats's time. To operate the oven a fire would have been lit inside to heat the tiles. This would then be put out, and the bread put in to bake.
One of the bedrooms is today shown to be Fanny Brawne’s Room, although we are not sure which of the rooms she would have used. Fanny Brawne lived in this side of the house with her widowed mother and two younger siblings. She was known for her fashionable taste and witty sense of humour.
Fanny was 18 when she first met Keats and over the following months they fell deeply in love. When Keats became ill with consumption and was unable to see Fanny, they communicated through letters. The engagement ring which Keats gave to Fanny Brawne is on display in this room, along with other personal items, including her needlework.
This intricate gold ring set with a reddish-purple almandine (a type of garnet) was given by Keats to Fanny when the lovers came to a secret arrangement with the hope that they might get married.
Early in their acquaintance Keats described Fanny as
‘beautiful, elegant, graceful, silly,fashionable and strange’.
In his later letters we see all aspects of his love for her – from his admiration of her beauty and the power it had over him, to his jealousy and despair at his situation.
The engagement came at a time when neither was certain of the future. Keats did not have enough money to support a wife, and his health was beginning to deteriorate. His greatest pain during his illness was his inability to see Fanny, and he was both hopeless and hopeful; he wrote,
‘God bless you my sweet Love! Illness is along lane, but I see you at the end of it, and shall mend my pace as well as possible.’
When his illness worsened, he offered to break off the engagement but Fanny refused. Fanny did eventually marry in 1833, 12 years after Keats's death, but she kept Keats's letters throughout her life and wore the ring he gave her until her own death in 1865.
In this pale pink room, Keats rested and thought. His poems are filled with characters sleeping and dreaming, as they venture beyond the real world into imagination. Keats’s bedroom contains the original fireplace, mantle piece and surround.
For many this is the most poignant room in the house, as it was here in February 1820 that Keats first realised he was suffering the symptoms of consumption (today tuberculosis). During his illness Keats became tired of this room and requested a bed was made up in Brown’s Parlour so that he could look out and see Fanny Brawne enjoying the garden and Heath beyond.
Sketch by Severn
As Keats’s health continued to decline throughout 1820, doctors advised he wouldn’t survive an English winter, and should travel to Italy for the warmer climate. In September 1820 Keats went to Rome with his friend Joseph Severn, who nursed him in his final months. This sketch was made by Severn in the weeks before Keats’s death in 1821. He noted next to the sketch
‘28th January 3 o’clock mng. Drawn to keep me awake – a deadly sweat was on him all this night’.
This is one of only two copies that Severn made of his original sketch, which is in the Keats-Shelley House, Rome.
Severn enjoyed great success as an artist and continued to paint scenes from Keats's poetry throughout his life. It is thanks to Severn’s letters and accounts that we know many of the details of Keats’s time in Italy. He is buried next to Keats in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome.
The Landing on this side of the House tells the story of Keats’s final journey to Rome, where he died on 23 February 1821. Early in 1820 he began coughing blood. He was suffering from consumption (now tuberculosis).
In September that year, following medical advice, he travelled to the warmer climate of Italy with his friend Joseph Severn. On the wall you will see a watercolour by Joseph Severn of the Maria Crowther, the ship in which they spent almost two months. Images of the Keats-Shelley House and Keats’s grave in Rome are also shown, along with Keats’s death mask.
Watercolour of the Maria Crowther by Severn
This is a watercolour of the sailing brig Maria Crowther, which took Keats to Naples in September 1820. It was painted by his travelling companion Joseph Severn, an artist who produced several other notable images of Keats.
Keats was told by doctors that his poor health meant he should avoid a cold English winter, so his friends raised money and organised his travel to Italy. He and Severn boarded the ship on 17 September at London Dock, but bad weather delayed the journey.
The painting's serenity contrasts with how uncomfortable the voyage was – Keats was mostly restricted to his bunk bed, the food was poor, and one of his fellow passengers was also suffering from consumption. As well as his physical condition, Keats was tortured by his emotions and homesickness. His separation from his fiancée Fanny Brawne was especially agonising. He wrote to Charles Brown that
‘The persuasion that I shall see her no more will kill me.’
Charles Brown’s bedroom today tells the story of Keats’s poetic legacy.
When Keats died aged 25, his writing was not widely known. His friends promoted his writing and 30 years after Keats’s death, Victorian Pre-Raphaelite poets and painters fell for Keats’s sensuous imagery and painted scenes from his poems, bringing them to a wider audience.
Gilt Bust of Keats
Following his death, John Keats’s sister Fanny Keats and his fiancée Fanny Brawne together commissioned a Hampstead artist to create this bust as a way to remember the man they mourned.