8 St. Thomas Street, Southwark, London

The building at 8 St. Thomas Street, London (formerly 28 St. Thomas Street) was residential. There are now offices behind the facades of this house and its neighbours.

The Keats Connection

In Keats’ time, this terrace house was owned by a tallow chandler named Markham, who let out rooms as study-bedrooms, with a communal sitting room. It is very convenient to Guy’s Hospital, with the main gates just down the road.

Keats moved in as a lodger soon after he began studying at Guy’s in October 1815. Initially, his fellow lodgers were George Cooper, a dresser at Guy’s, and Frederick Tyrrell, a surgeon’s apprentice – both older than him and with much more experience. Cooper and Tyrrell finished their courses and moved away at the end of 1815.

Keats then invited two fellow students, Henry Stephens and George Wilson Mackereth, to move in with him. Stephens wrote that Keats “was always at the window [of their sitting room], peering into space, so that the window-seat was spoken of by his comrades as Keats’s place”.

After passing his exams and qualifying as an apothecary in late July 1816, Keats decided to take some time off during summer. He and his youngest brother Tom went to Margate in Kent – and when they returned to London, Keats had arranged to live in different lodgings.

Today

The facades of these residences are original, but the rooms behind have been converted into a network of offices associated with Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. I was lucky enough to work there for a while, actually in Number 8! (Though I can’t remember now if we were on the first or second floor…)

The building bears a blue plaque – not an official English Heritage plaque, but one placed by the Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charities Foundation – commemorating Keats and Stephens sharing lodgings there while studying at the hospital.

Details

  • Address: 8 St. Thomas Street, London SE1
  • Tube: London Bridge on the Jubilee and Northern lines
  • Opening hours: Not open to the public.

Links

Nearby

  • When John and Tom Keats returned to London from Margate in late September 1816, Keats moved into lodgings nearby at 8 Dean Street. This narrow road ran between St. Thomas Street and Tooley Street, but is now “buried under London Bridge Station”.
  • It is a damned shame the place hasn’t survived, as Keats wrote his first really accomplished poem here, “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer”.
  • Guy’s Hospital itself, of course, and The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret are also nearby. I will be creating separate posts about each of them.

NB: Quotations and historical details taken from Keats by Andrew Motion.

Chelsea Physic Garden, Chelsea, London

Chelsea Physic Garden was founded in 1673 as the Apothecaries’ Garden, for the purpose of training apprentices in the identification and use of medicinal plants. It is the second oldest botanical garden in Britain.

The Keats Connection

Between 1722 and 1899, the Garden was leased to the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries. Keats would have known the Garden during his medical studies at Guy’s Hospital. In his biography of Keats, Andrew Motion says:

… [Keats] took during his first year a course on the theory of medicine and materia medica taught by James Curry and James Cholmely, and a course in medical botany with William Salisbury which included instruction in the Society of Apothecaries’ “working laboratory”, the Chelsea Physic Garden.

Keats took the necessary exams with the Society of Apothecaries and gained a license to practice medicine in 1816.

In Between

The Garden was originally located directly on the banks of the River Thames, with plants transported along the river by barge. However, in 1874, the Chelsea Embankment project created a fairly wide strip of land between the Garden gates and the river.

Poignantly, the poet Wilfred Owen – who also loved Keats – spent his last afternoon in England in the Chelsea Physic Garden, before returning to the war in France. These few hours seem like a very beautiful, peaceful time for him. He was later killed during a battle on the Sambre-Oise Canal near Ors, on 4 November 1918, only a week before the Armistice.

On a brighter note! From 1899 the Chelsea Physic Garden was run by the City Parochial Foundation. Finally, it became a registered charity in 1983, and opened its gates to the public for the first time.

These lovely things are tobacco plants! There is also a hint in this photo of the surrounding city. What a view these people must have from their windows!

Today

The Garden is a delightful place to visit, and definitely earns the visitors’ descriptions of it as an oasis and a quiet haven. I visited on a dull day one October – and it was lovely. But don’t let my photos convince you there’s no colour to be found in brighter seasons.

The high brick walls and the proximity to the river create a warm micro-climate within the 3.5 acres, and there are greenhouses for those plants which need even gentler surroundings.

The licensed Tangerine Dream Cafe serves delicious homemade food, including lunch and afternoon tea, with both indoor and outdoor seating. There is also a Book & Gift Shop to browse.

There are free guided tours of the Garden, and also audio guides available.

Step-free access is available via the foyer at 66 Royal Hospital Road. The Garden itself is quite level, with gravel and grass paths throughout.

I would highly recommend a visit if you are at all interested in gardens, botanical medicine or history. It’s not the only physic garden in the world, but in itself the Garden is unique.

Details

  • Address: 66 Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea, London SW3 4HS, with the entrance on Swan Walk
  • Tube: Sloane Square on the District and Circle lines
  • It is a good 15 minute walk from Sloane Square, so you might also want to use bus route 170, which stops directly outside the Garden.
  • Opening hours: It’s complicated! During the main season, the Garden only is open on Mondays from 11am to 5pm. The Garden, cafe and shop are open on Tuesdays to Fridays from 11am to 6pm; and the same on Sundays and Bank Holidays.
  • Making the most of the long summer evenings, the Garden stays open late on Tuesdays and Wednesdays during July and August.
  • And then the hours are restricted during the winter season.
  • Please do check the official website when you are planning your visit, for all the current details!

Links

Keats Walks with Anita Miller, London

John Keats is intrinsically associated with London, and the easiest and most interesting way of exploring the places he knew is with Anita Miller Walks.

Anita Miller is a qualified City of London Guide with a degree in History. She hosts a number of different walks in London, including Shelley: The Trumpet of a Prophecy. The two we're most interested in, however, are Keats in Hampstead and Keats in the City.

The Keats in Hampstead walk starts at Hampstead Tube station, and takes in Well Walk (where the Keats brothers lived for a while) and the Vale of Health (where Leigh Hunt lived when Keats first knew him), among other places. It ends at Keats House, which you can then tour.

The Holly Bush in Hampstead has been operated as a pub since 1807 - so Keats would have known it. The building stands on the site of an old stable block.

The Keats in the City walk begins at Moorgate Tube station, near where Keats was born, takes in a number of locations, and finishes at Guy's Hospital (where Keats studied medicine).

Anita is a friendly host, full of information, and takes the time to read out well-chosen selections from Keats' poetry along the way.

I highly recommend going on both tours if at all possible.

Details

  • For more details of the walks, visit Anita's website (link below).
  • Tours are scheduled throughout the year, and will go ahead in all weathers except the most extreme.
  • The Keats Walks are very popular, so you will need to book ahead for them. You can do this via the Keats House website (link below), which books events online using Eventbrite.

Links

Brompton Cemetery, West Brompton, London

Brompton Cemetery is the resting place of Frances Lindon, better known to us and to Keats as Fanny Brawne.

A general shot taken in this surprisingly photogenic cemetery.

The Keats Connection

Brompton Cemetery opened in 1840, and was originally known as the West of London and Westminster Cemetery. (You can still see this name over the entrance on Old Brompton Road.) It was one of the 'Magnificent Seven' cemeteries of the era, though I feel it is more modest in many ways than some of the others.

Keats' love and fiance, Fanny Brawne, mourned him for several years after he died in February 1821. Finally, though, on 15 June 1833, Fanny married Louis Lindo (later 'Lindon') and they had three children.

Fanny led a quiet life, and was discreet - even secretive - about her engagement to Keats. Her husband might never have even heard of it, if he hadn't been curious about a portrait of Keats that was displayed in the Dilkes' home, and she only told her children towards the very end of her life. Despite this, Fanny kept all her Keatsian treasures safely, and she wore his engagement ring all her life.

Fanny died on 4 December 1865, at the age of 65, and was buried in Brompton Cemetery. Her husband Louis died on 21 October 1872, and was buried in the same grave.

In Between

The headstone was originally inscribed 'Sacred to the memory of Frances wife of Louis Lindon', with the date of her death, and Louis's name and details were added below on his death.

Intriguingly, though, someone has since added the name 'Fanny Brawne' to the stone, with no further explanation. This wouldn't have been done in Louis's lifetime, and it seems to me unlikely to have been added by her children. It looks a little newer than the earlier engraving, but not much, and the letter-forms are slightly different. But the point is that someone, at some stage, felt the need to acknowledge her by the name that Keats knew and loved.

Frances and Louis Lindon's shared headstone.

Today

Brompton Cemetery is designated Grade I on English Heritage's Register of Parks and Gardens. It is the only Cemetery in the country owned by the Crown and managed by The Royal Parks on behalf of the nation.

The Cemetery has been popular with filmmakers, and can be seen in The Wings of the Dove (1997), Johnny English (2003) and Stormbreaker (2006) among others.

Unfortunately Fanny's grave isn't on a proper path, so you'll need to go off-piste if you want to visit her directly. It seems that many people do, as there is a fairly well-used track to follow. We probably shouldn't indulge too often - and we must be respectful of all the other people resting beneath our feet on the way. I have marked the spot on the map below, which I borrowed (without permission) from The Royal Parks' official website, and I offer the following directions:

  • Walk down the outside of the colonnades, on the north side. Follow the curve as the straight avenue branches out into the Great Circle.
  • There are large ornamental archways at each quarter of the circle. Find the one that points just a little east of north (if you're using a Real Life compass). Or, if the Great Circle is a clock-face with 12 in the direction of the North Gate, then find the archway that is halfway between 1 and 2.
  • With your back to the archway and the Great Circle, you'll see a little dirt path leading off into the graveyard. (See the arrow I've marked on the map below.) Follow the track until you reach a tree; about three grave-lengths.
  • Turn left and follow the track across the graves, roughly parallel to the proper path and the colonnades. (I found this by instinct, the first time I went looking. I assume Fanny has enough visitors to keep the 'track' fairly obvious. So, just give it a try!)
  • Aim for a small-ish deciduous tree, which has branches literally reaching towards her. The other trees in the area are large and evergreen. You'll come to a place where the alignment of the graves straightens up, roughly equivalent to where the proper path and the colonnades become straight.
  • Turn to your left, and have a look at the next row of white-ish headstones that are revealed. Fanny and Louis's should be the second headstone along. (See the heart I've marked on the map.)
  • Pay your respects, and of course treat yourself and all the inhabitants with care.

Zoomed-in and annotated map of Brompton Cemetery, borrowed from The Royal Parks. Click for the full version!

Much of the Cemetery is easily accessible and all on the level, so it should prove a doddle to visit for just about everyone - though you need to be able to cope with uneven ground to read Fanny's grave.

Details

  • Address: Fulham Road, West Brompton, London SW10 9UG
  • Tube: West Brompton on the District line
  • The District line runs alongside the Cemetery. As you come out of the West Brompton Tube station, turn right, and walk along Old Brompton Road until you reach the North Gate; it's only a couple of minutes away. The South Gate of the Cemetery is on Fulham Road.
  • Opening hours: The Cemetery is open every day during daylight hours, though closes early during winter. Check the official website for details before making plans! Entry is free.

Links

“John Keats: A New Life” by Nicholas Roe

Brilliant. Just brilliant. The biography by Andrew Motion has been my Keatsian bible for many many years now, and while I reluctantly began thinking it was probably about time for an update, I also dreaded the prospect. I really love and admire John Keats, and Motion was a big part of me getting to know him; I didn't want to lose my (always inadequate, always conditional) grasp on who Keats really was.

Of course I needn't have feared, and any courage needed certainly paid off. This is a great book, a truly great book, and I think it works perfectly as an addition to (or a complement of) Motion's work as well as the work of others.

My take on Motion's Keats is that he was both a poet and a medical man, a healer of both bodies and souls. Roe's Keats is a poet (full stop), and any return to his training or work as an apothecary would have been a turning away from his true self. Which is right? I don't know, but it's very interesting to consider the question in such detail.

Roe's strengths are in Keats' early years - his childhood and then right through to his time at Guy's Hospital - and in Keats' poetry - which is given terrific context in the poet's life and times, and thus enhanced meaning. Roe is also very knowledgeable about Keats' relationship with Leigh Hunt - which is no surprise as Roe is also Hunt's biographer.

Roe very interestingly touches on the idea that Keats was very conscious of passing time, and in particular the things that mark it: the anniversary of his father's death, the new or half or full moon, the date he announced his decision to be a poet to his friends, and so on. Keats even contrived to die late on the day of the ancient Roman festival Terminalia, which honoured the god of boundaries. I'm not entirely sure how seriously we are to take this, but there's no denying that Keats' work often deals in liminalities, and Roe certainly conjured a number of relevant happenings and images along the way to give credence to this - especially the late-night farewells between young Keats and his teacher Charles Cowden Clarke on the bridge between their homes.

There were certain areas of Keats' life that I felt weren't given much space on the page. Especially, but not only, Keats' love and fiancee Fanny Brawne. I'm not sure whether this is due to Roe deciding that such things had already been well covered (and I certainly think Motion does justice to Brawne). Or that 400 pages is enough, and something had to be dealt with truly though briefly. I'm hesitant to think that Roe didn't think Brawne important... I mean, OK we're not all interested in a man's love life, but she was important to Keats the man and Keats the poet - and Roe does give her her due, even if a little too succinctly - so let's go back to my initial thought of such things being covered well elsewhere.

Which takes me back further to the notion that this book is a great addition and complement to the existing work on Keats. And leads me on to the notion that perhaps, even for a life this short, there can never be a definitive 'Life'. Read this, and read Motion, and read as much of the rest as you like. Keats himself will repay you well.

Links

“Keats” by Andrew Motion

It is difficult to know what to say about this book! This biography by Andrew Motion, first published in 1997, has been my key text for years. (You can tell that by how well-worn my copy is, in the image above - and I'm someone who takes care of books, too!) It has become part of my mental furniture.

I came to really love the feisty and engaged young man that Motion depicted - and while Keats was as fallible and conflicted as any human must be, I feel that he is one of the best and most interesting people who've ever lived.

Perhaps it is best to borrow Motion's own words. These are from his article in the Guardian about Jane Campion's film Bright Star, which was based on his biography:

Keats's story is amazingly charged: poverty, doomed love, extraordinary natural talent, lingering illness and early death. Of all directors, Campion, I thought, stood a decent chance of paying due respect to his high-flying genius, while at the same time proving that he was someone who kept close to the ground.

The next time Jane was in London, we met and talked about Keats for most of a day. There are a few other poets whose poems I prefer reading, but none whom I think of as combining such talent with such magnificent human qualities: his kindness, courage, good humour, exuberance, truthfulness and cleverness coalesce in the kind of adult wisdom it would be wonderful to find in a person of any age, and which seems not much short of miraculous in someone who died aged 25.

That is the person whom Andrew Motion wrote about in this biography. Read it - and if you're not already in love with John Keats, then there's a good chance you won't be resisting any longer.

Motion gives the appropriate weight to Keats' gift for friendship, to the power of his love for Fanny Brawne (cause of both ardent joy and deathly despair), and to his deeply felt vocation as a poet. I can't recommend this tome highly enough.

Links

gallery | Keats Cottage, Shanklin

Keats Cottage, Shanklin, Isle of Wight

John Keats stayed at Keats Cottage (known at the time as Eglantine Cottage) in July and August 1819, with his friends James Rice and Charles Armitage Brown.

The Keats Connection

Charles Brown took a summer holiday each year, and sub-let his part of Wentworth Place (now Keats House) in Hampstead. Hence, his lodger Keats must find alternative accommodation for the period, despite being low on funds. During the summer of 1819, Keats agreed to join his friend James Rice in Shanklin on the Isle of Wight. Charles Brown joined the pair later.

It has to be said that Keats wasn't overly happy while at Eglantine Cottage, but he did get a lot of writing done, which is no bad thing. He wrote a substantial portion of the play Otho the Great, the story of which Charles Brown (as co-author) was sketching out for him. Keats also started writing one of his most well-known narrative poems, 'Lamia'.

A great part of Keats' unhappiness was caused by his love for Fanny Brawne, whom he longed for desperately - but whom he could not afford to marry. He was considering alternative careers at this time, that might pay better than poetry, but such compromises were not to be, especially as his health was already worsening. His poetic vocation, his love for Fanny, his poor health, and his perennial need for enough money to live on (let alone marry on) were conflicting burdens that tore him every which way.

Then, as now, the old village in Shanklin and its Chine were a great tourist spot, and so the summer crowds did not help Keats' mood nor his ability to concentrate on writing.

A happier association with Eglantine Cottage is that Charles Brown drew my favourite image of Keats while staying there, in July 1819. (Follow the link to see a copy downloaded from the National Portrait Gallery under their Creative Commons licence.)

In Between

The artist George Morland also stayed at Eglantine Cottage, in 1789. His Coast Scene with Smugglers (1790), for example, shows a view of Shanklin beach. (Links: George Morland page on Wikipedia; Coast Scene with Smugglers page at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.)

Other visitors to the Cottage apparently included the playwright Thomas Morton. (Link: Thomas Morton page on Wikipedia.)

I don't have much information about Eglantine Cottage over the years, but it was open to the public as 'Keats Cottage Hotel' before the current owners, David and Ewa, took over. It has since been refurbished, with respect for yesterday's visitors and consideration for today's.

Today

Mr B and I have stayed at Keats Cottage twice now, and we have really loved it. David and Ewa are very obliging and friendly hosts, and Ewa's cooking makes breakfast and dinner at the restaurant a real treat.

The Keats room at Keats Cottage - a little more luxurious these days than he would have known it!

NB: The rooms are all up various flights of stairs, so people with mobility restrictions may need to plan accordingly. Part of the restaurant is at street level, however, so that is probably doable for all.

NB: There is no on-site parking, but there is a council car park just down the road, and the island-wide rate for a number of days' parking is quite reasonable.

We have stayed in the Byron, Keats, and Shelley rooms on the first floor - and while I must say the Shelley room has the edge in terms of a superbly large bathroom, it is a real thrill to stay in the Keats room, which is where he stayed in 1819, complete with a view up to the Shanklin Theatre. I stayed on my own for two nights in that room, and wrote some of my novel The 'True Love' Solution there. What Keats would make of that, other than politely offering general encouragement, I have no idea!

David and Ewa host regular events at the restaurant, with focuses on various cuisines (Polish, Italian) or particular types of food or drink (wine, crab, vegetables).

One of Ewa's delicious entrees in the restaurant at Keats Cottage.

I really can highly recommend the experience to all Keatsians!

Details

  • Address: Keats Cottage, 76 High Street, Shanklin, Isle of Wight, PO37 6NJ
  • Train: Shanklin on the Island Line
  • Opening hours: The B&B is open throughout most of the year, but do check availability before you make travel plans. The restaurant is open five nights a week during the busy season, but fewer nights per week over winter.

Links

Nearby

  • The top of Shanklin Chine can be found in the old village, just below where High Street becomes Church Road. It leads down quite steeply to Shanklin beach. Keats called the Chine 'wondrous'. (Links: Shanklin Chine page on Wikipedia.)
  • Keats and his friends apparently had an outing to sketch St Blasius Church one day, before returning to Eglantine Cottage where Brown sketched Keats in the portrait I've linked to above. The church dates back to medieval times, but was largely rebuilt in 1859, so it would have appeared quite different to Keats in 1819. (Links: St Blasius Church, Shanklin page on Wikipedia.)

St Blasius Church in Shanklin.

gallery | portrait of John Keats by Charles Brown

John Keats by Charles Armitage Brown, pencil, 1819

This is my favourite portrait of John Keats. It was drawn by his friend Charles Brown while they were staying at Eglantine Cottage (now Keats Cottage) on the Isle of Wight in the summer of 1819.

The drawing is held by the National Portrait Gallery in London, and I am sharing it under the NPG’s Creative Commons license. (Your respect for the terms of this license is appreciated.)