Keats House is a historic home where the legendary poet John Keats lived between the years 1818 and 1820. It was here that he met Fanny Brawne (his fiancée and muse), hosted notable friends and fellow artists like Leigh Hunt, John Hamilton Reynolds, and Joseph Severn, and penned many of his most famous poems. Today Keats House contains educational displays on the poet’s life and works, a number of notable historic artifacts, and special temporary exhibitions on the ever-fascinating Romantic literary period.
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History of Keats House
The historic home we know today as Keats House was built by a local man named William Woods between the years 1814 and 1816. Originally the structure was dubbed Wentworth Place, and it consisted of two separate dwellings. One was occupied by Charles Wentworth Dilke, a literary critic and civil servant, and his family, and the other by Charles Brown, a dear friend of John Keats. Brown would invite Keats to come live with him in late 1818, and Keats would call the place home until he departed for Italy in the fall of 1820 on the medical advice of his doctors. During this brief but influential time, Keats would write several of his most famous poems and meet Fanny Brawne, to whom he became secretly engaged in late 1819. The pair was to be married when Keats returned from Italy; however, stricken by tuberculosis, the poet’s condition deteriorated rapidly and he died in Rome in early 1821.
Keats House was a private residence until the early twentieth century. A widespread fundraising campaign saved the home from the looming threat of demolition in 1921. By 1931, a library had opened here holding a special collection of Keats’ papers and letters; during the 1970s an extensive renovation project was completed. In 1998, the City of London took over stewardship of the site, and it again underwent a thorough refurbishment to ensure its continued existence for a third century and beyond.
Keats House Highlights
The many rooms of Keats House have been lovingly restored to appear as they might have during the years Keats called the place home. Throughout these stirring spaces visitors will come across a series of exhibits that display several moving Keats-related artifacts. These include Keats’s personal copy of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, the engagement ring Keats gave to Fanny Brawne in 1819, several of the lovers’ handwritten letters, and even a replica of Keats’ death mask.
In particular, poetry lovers will not want to miss the chance to see Keats House’s garden, which in addition to being a picturesque spot in its own right is purported to be where (according to Charles Brown) Keats wrote “Ode to a Nightingale” beneath a plum tree. One large mulberry tree still stands in this garden; believed to date to the seventeenth century, Keats himself could have sat in its shade while he worked.
Keats House also typically stages temporary exhibitions on a variety of subjects broadly pertaining to Keats, his contemporaries, nineteenth-century poetry, and the Romantic period. While the nature of these productions is subject to change depending on when you visit the attraction, one notable recent show was Young Romantics in the City, an exhibition that examined a number of writers working during the Romantic period—including Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley—through the lenses of politics, class, gender, and race.
More to See and Do at Keats House
Keats House is a popular destination for lovers of literature from all over the world. Keep reading for several additional things to keep in mind as you plan your upcoming poetry pilgrimage.
*Currently Keats House is open to the public Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday between the hours of 11:00am and 1:00pm, and then again between 2:00pm and 5:00pm. Even these limited, idiosyncratic hours are subject to change, though, so you’ll definitely want to visit the Keats House official website in advance of your trip for all the absolute latest information.
*Be advised that only the ground floor of Keats House is wheelchair-accessible; the site lacks an elevator to either its basement or second story. There is a touchscreen on the attraction’s ground floor that will provide visitors with information, photographs, and more about the house’s other floors.
*Visitors looking to make the most of their visit to Keats House, which is located north of central London in Hampstead, will want to build time into their excursion to see other nearby attractions like Hampstead Heath, Freud Museum London, Fenton House, and Kenwood House.
Why Keats House Should Be on Your Must-See List
200 years after his tragic death at the age of only 25, John Keats continues to attract legions of readers across the world drawn to this compelling figure’s remarkable life and timeless poetry. Given that Keats died abroad—in what is known today as the Keats-Shelley Memorial House, prominently situated near the base of the Spanish Steps in Rome—and is buried in Italy, this historic home is a can’t-miss destination for any London visitor who has ever read “Ode on a Grecian Urn” and walked away with a new perspective on life.