mementos | locks of Keats’ hair

It has been (and perhaps still is?) common practice for people to keep a lock of hair from a loved one as a memento. John Keats’ friend Leigh Hunt was particularly interested in doing so.

There are two locks of Keats’ hair that I know of, both taken by Hunt.

One lock is on display at the Keats-Shelley Memorial House in Rome. I’m afraid my photo of it is a tad out of focus, as of course it is kept safe under glass, but this will give you an idea!

I was particularly struck by the reddish tint still obvious in his mid-brown locks. Keats’ personal beauty was often remarked upon by his friends, and here is proof enough that his thick head of curly / wavy hair was indeed attractive. Mind you, I always did have a thing for redheads.

Locks of Shelley’s (left) and Keats’ (middle) hair, February 2013.

A second lock taken by Hunt was included in an album he owned, along with twenty other locks from authors and public figures. This album is now held by the University of Texas in Austin, USA. I am very grateful to the University for making the whole album viewable online – this link will take you to the exact page.

There are notations, presumably by Hunt, that he took “two locks” and that this one is “the later lock”. I am not sure that we have exact dates for either, but will look into it. The album included a (supposed) lock of Milton’s hair. Keats was inspired by viewing this to write the poem “Lines on Seeing a Lock of Milton’s Hair”, so he would have been delighted to have his own lock included in the same album.

The page includes a print of the drawing Severn did of Keats on his death bed in Rome, with the caption, “The last life sketch of Keats, by his friend Joseph Severn.” (Note that Keats’ year of birth, which was 1795, is given incorrectly here as “1796”.)

Again, the reddish-brown colour of this lock is striking. This was the generation before photographs became widely available – but these locks of hair, along with the life and death masks taken of Keats, enable us to feel confident of his appearance. You probably realise by now that I think he was a handsome fellow! ♥

Links

gallery | Southwark

8 Dean Street, Southwark, London

John Keats wrote his first significant poem while lodging at 8 Dean Street, Southwark.

Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospitals shown on an 1833 map of London by W. Schmollinger. Dean Street is to the right (east) of the hospitals.

The Keats Connection

Keats moved to lodgings at 8 Dean Street in late September 1816, on returning from a holiday in Margate with his youngest brother Tom. Keats was returning to London in order to take up his studies at nearby Guy’s Hospital.

Keats lived at the Dean St lodgings on his own, though the original plan had been for Tom to live there with him. Instead, Tom went to live with the middle brother George.

On 9 October 1816 Keats wrote to his friend Charles Cowden Clarke, giving Clarke directions to visit him. Keats wrote:

Although the Borough is a beastly place in dirt, turnings and windings; yet No 8 Dean Street is not difficult to find; and if you would run the gauntlet over London Bridge, take the first turning to the left and then the first to the right and moreover knock at my door which is nearly opposite a Meeting.

(The “Borough” is the Borough of Southwark, and the “Meeting” would have been a meeting house for Quakers.)

Importantly, Keats wrote his first significant sonnet – “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer” – at Dean St, having returned there early one morning after a long night of literary discussions with Clarke. I haven’t found an exact date for him writing the poem, but it was definitely in October, at Dean St.

Keats didn’t stay long at Dean Street; by mid-November 1816, he was living at 76 Cheapside, London with his brothers George and Tom.

In Between

Dean Street was later renamed Stainer Street, apparently in honour of Sir John Stainer (1840-1901), a composer and organist who was born in Southwark. (See the Street names of Southwark page on Wikipedia.)

On 17 February 1941, during the Second World War, a bomb fell on a railway arch over Stainer St, killing 68 and injuring 175 people who were sheltering there. There is now a blue plaque in their honour.

At some point, as the London Bridge railway station grew, the buildings where Keats lodged were demolished. Eventually, Stainer Street was blocked off and no longer accessible to the public. There are now no buildings other than sturdy brick arches between Tooley St and St Thomas St, supporting the many train tracks coming into London.

Today

Stainer Street was reopened in October 2018 as part of the new London Bridge station concourse, for pedestrian access only. There is nothing (yet?) acknowledging the connection with Keats.

There is a large, beautiful artwork on the arched ceiling towards the Tooley Street end of the concourse, called “Me. Here. Now.” by Mark Titchner, installed in 2018. The main photo above shows one of the pieces, in which the message reads, “Only the first step is difficult.” Intentionally or not, I feel this is delightfully appropriate for the Keats connection.

It seems that No 8 Dean Street was about halfway along Stainer Street, on the western side (i.e. towards the Tube station and away from the National Rail station). (See below for the reference.)

Confusions

The Tooley Street page on Wikipedia suggests that Keats’ Dean Street equates to the northern end of Weston Street, which “connected with Tooley Street opposite Hay’s Galleria”. However, the Schmollinger map clearly shows Dean Street running parallel to The Maze, on the west, and Weston Street running directly into The Maze.

Meanwhile, the map associated with the 9A, St Thomas Street heritage listing on Historic England (copied below) shows Stainer Street to the west of Weston Street (with no mention of The Maze). It seems clear to me that The Maze and Weston Street are connected, and that Stainer Street is what Keats would have known as Dean Street.

This is further supported by this map on the Mapping Keats’s Progress site, which also indicates that No 8 Dean Street was about halfway between Tooley and St Thomas Streets. (Unfortunately this site states incorrectly that George and Tom lived with John at this address, but it can be difficult not to let errors of assumption sneak in!)

I should add that I was first alerted to the Dean St / Stainer St connection by a Network Rail employee, who was looking for information about Keats in anticipation of the opening of the new concourse.

However, any further information would always be welcome!

Map for 9A St Thomas St listing on Historic England.

Details

  • Address: Stainer Street, running between Tooley Street and St Thomas Street, London SE1
  • Tube: London Bridge on the Jubilee and Northern lines
  • London Bridge on National Rail
  • Opening hours: the Stainer Street walkway is accessible 24/7, while the station concourse closes in the small hours each night while the trains aren’t running

Links

Nearby

Guy’s Hospital, Southwark, London

John Keats studied medicine at Guy’s Hospital and qualified as an apothecary.

Engraving of Guy’s Hospital entrance c.1820, by James Elmes and William Woolnoth.

The Keats Connection

Keats completed his medical apprenticeship with Thomas Hammond, a doctor in Edmonton, in mid 1815. He then began studying as an apothecary-surgeon at Guy’s Hospital in Southwark, London. Guy’s Hospital was (and still is) a teaching hospital, associated with St Thomas’ Hospital.

Keats registered at Guy’s as a surgical student on 1 October 1815, and began working and studying there on 15 October. He qualified as an apothecary, but ended up deciding to quit medicine in late 1816, without becoming eligible to qualify as a surgeon.

Today

The courtyard entrance to Guy’s Hospital would still look very familiar to Keats, especially now it is pedestrian only (it used to be a car park).

If you walk across the courtyard and through the further colonnade, you’ll find two more squares opening up to either side. On the left, there is a statue of Keats himself, by Stuart Williamson, installed in 2007. I have sat there in the little shelter a few times, in search of peace.

Statue of Keats by Stuart Williamson (2007).

Details

  • Address: St Thomas Street, London SE1
  • Tube: London Bridge on the Jubilee and Northern lines
  • Opening hours: You can visit the statue during daylight hours. However, please be respectful of the hospital’s staff and patients!

Links

Nearby

The Old Operating Theatre and Herb Garret, Southwark, London

The Old Operating Theatre and the Herb Garret were part of St Thomas’ Hospital, which was associated with Guy’s Hospital where John Keats studied medicine. While the operating theatre was built the year after he died, Keats would have found it familiar, and he may have known the herb garret.

The Keats Connection

Keats studied medicine at Guy’s Hospital, Southwark, from 1815 to 1816. The students of Guy’s Hospital and St Thomas’ Hospital were entitled to observe operations conducted at either hospital.

Prior to this particular operating theatre being built, surgical operations on women patients would have been conducted at one end of the Dorcas ward – a situation understandably distressing for the other patients, especially with a crowd of students all jostling for position, not to mention the fact that this was in the days before the use of anaesthetic. In 1821, it was decided to create a separate, purpose-built operating theatre nearby.

The operating theatre we can visit today was built in 1822 in the attic of St Thomas’ Church. While this may seem an odd location, the space was at the same level as the Dorcas ward, and was already used as a “herb garret”. We assume this means that the attic was used by the hospital’s apothecary to store and work with medicinal herbs.

Exhibits in the herb garret.

The building containing the wards directly abutted the church, so patients could be conveyed through a set of double doors at the end of the Dorcas ward, into a vestibule, and from there into the operating theatre.

Keats qualified as an apothecary, but not as a surgeon. He quit medicine towards the end of 1816, and later died in February 1821, so he wouldn’t have known this particular operating theatre. However, it wouldn’t have been unfamiliar to him – at least in function, if not exactly in form – and there is a chance that he at least knew of the herb garret and perhaps even had cause to use it.

In Between

The Charing Cross Railway Company bought the hospital’s land, and in 1862 the hospital began to move to its current location in Lambeth. The operating theatre was closed.

I am not entirely sure of the chronology here, but the double doors leading from the Dorcas ward were bricked up. At some point, the internal structures of the operating theatre were stripped out. Also, some of the floorboards were disturbed in the early 1900s when electrical work was carried out relating to the ceiling of the church below.

Although the operating theatre and garret weren’t entirely forgotten, they weren’t physically rediscovered again until 1956, almost a hundred years since they were last used. Raymond Russell was researching the hospital’s history, and decided to investigate the space – which at the time was only accessible by climbing a ladder up to the only remaining “entrance” high on a wall.

Russell found the shell of the operating theatre still existed, along with the plaster work and the flooring. While the structures such as the standings had been removed, the place hadn’t been further cleaned out, so there were still plenty of clues showing what had been built where.

No other 19th century operating theatre in Europe has survived, so this location is unique.

The operating theatre was reconstructed with some confidence, given the clues left behind. The operating theatre and the herb garret were then opened as a medical museum in October 1962.

Today

The museum can be visited seven days a week. It contains all kinds of exhibits relating to the work of apothecaries and surgeons in Keats’ time. There is a small wall display about Keats, with images of him, giving a brief outline of his association with the hospitals.

Two Warnings

First: Some of the surgical exhibits are not for the faint of heart! I am a tad squeamish, so I was rather nervous about this. However, I’ve visited twice now and found it easy enough to quickly glance past the worst of it – and there’s plenty of other things of great interest to make a visit worthwhile.

Second: Access is via a very narrow, steep, winding staircase in the church’s bell tower. There are 52 steps, so it’s a bit of a climb, and the only handrail is the thick rope running down the centre. I’m afraid there is no other way up to the attic if you are not in a position to be able to manage this under your own power.

The stairs, looking down from the entrance to the gift shop and museum.

Details

  • Address: 9a St Thomas Street, Southwark, London SE1 9RY
  • Tube: London Bridge on the Northern and Jubilee lines.
  • Opening hours: Mondays from 2pm to 5pm
  • Tuesdays to Sundays from 10:30am to 5pm

Links

Nearby

Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire

Keats and his friend Bailey visited The Birthplace and Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon.

The Keats Connection

Keats was staying with his friend Benjamin Bailey, in Bailey’s rooms near Magdalen College in Oxford. Towards the end of their month together, “they decided to pay homage to the presiding genius of their friendship”. (Keats, Andrew Motion, p193)

On 3 October 1817, they caught a coach to Stratford-upon-Avon, and visited Shakespeare’s birthplace (the house on Henley Street) and resting place (Holy Trinity Church), before returning to Oxford.

They signed the visitor books in both locations – though Bailey later indicates that they (also?) signed the bedroom wall in The Birthplace. If so, they were not the only ones! There was a grand tradition of signing either the walls or the panes of glass in the window. The much scratched window was eventually replaced, but is currently on display (protected behind glass!) in the house.

Bailey’s and Keats’ signatures at The Birthplace.

Bailey gives his ‘Place of Abode’ as ‘Oxford’, while Keats – mischievously? seriously? in a state of negative capability? – gives his as ‘everywhere’.

Keats’ and Bailey’s signatures at Holy Trinity Church.

At the Holy Trinity Church, Keats provides the same place of abode – but in Latin this time: ‘Ubique’. Bailey then follows with ‘Ubi’, which I believe means ‘when, where’ in Latin – perhaps adding a question mark…? I am not learned in interpreting such things. But bless their hearts!

Today

We can easily follow Keats and Bailey on their pilgrimage. The Birthplace and other significant Shakespearean locations are managed by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and open to the public. The Holy Trinity Church is also open to the public, except on Sunday mornings and during any other services.

I assume, if you have the chutzpah or scholarly credentials, you could also ask to see the original visitors books in the archives.

Details

  • Address: Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Henley St, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire CV37 6QW
  • Opening hours: nine to five, seven days a week
  • Address: Holy Trinity Church, Old Town, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, CV37 6BG
  • Opening hours: nine to five-ish, six days a week
  • afternoons only on Sundays

Links

Clarke’s Academy, Enfield, London

Keats and his brothers attended Clarke’s Academy in Enfield as boarders.

The Keats Connection

This school in Enfield was run by headmaster John Clarke, and his son Charles Cowden Clarke (who was a particular friend of and mentor to Keats). Keats’ uncle Midgley Jennings had attended the school, so there was already a family connection. There was, presumably, also the desire that the boys were educated in this liberal, even progressive establishment rather than the more traditional Harrow.

John and George Keats were enrolled in Clarke’s Academy in summer 1803, when Keats was seven years old, having both already attended a dame school. They continued at Clarke’s until the summer of 1810, when Keats was apprenticed to Thomas Hammond in Edmonton, and George began work in London.

The village of Enfield was at that time separate from London, and sounds quite idyllically rural and well-to-do. Keats’ grandparents lived in nearby Ponders End, though his grandmother Alice Jennings later moved to Edmonton (two miles from Enfield) when his grandfather John died in 1805.

“The school occupied a handsome three-storey building of dark red brick. It had been constructed … in 1672, and decorated with pedimented gables and a pillared facade ‘wrought by means of moulds into rich designs of flowers and pomegranates, with heads of cherubim over two niches in the centre of the building’.” (Keats, Andrew Motion, p23)

More importantly for Keats, there was a large garden stretching back behind the house. The image of this schoolboy reading The Faerie Queene in a “rustic arbour” at the edge of the garden near the woods, is just too sublime for words.

In Between

When the railway finally reached Enfield in 1849, the tracks were laid down through that long garden, and ended at the house, which became the train station.

The house was later demolished in 1872, and replaced by a new station (which in turn was demolished and replaced). The ornate facade of the original house was saved, however, and purchased (for £50!) for the Structural Collection of the Science Museum, then part of the South Kensington Museum. This is now part of the Victoria and Albert Museum; the V&A website currently lists the facade as being in storage.

Today

A modern train station (dating to the 1960s) now stands on the site of the house and former school, with a plaque acknowledging the connection to Keats. This station is still the end of the line, so at least you can sense the location and orientation of the original house and garden! The only thing here is to see, however, is the plaque opposite the ticket office.

The plaque reads:

The house which stood on this site was built in the late 17th century. Later it was used as a school and John Keats was educated here. In 1849 it became the station house and was demolished in 1872

Details

  • Address: Enfield Town rail station, Southbury Road, Enfield, London EN1 1YX
  • Tube: Enfield Town on the London Overground
  • Opening hours: early until late, seven days a week

Links

gallery | Edmonton

Church Street, Edmonton, London

John Keats and his siblings lived with their grandmother on Church Street in Edmonton, and Keats later worked as an apprentice at Thomas Hammond’s surgery on Church Street.

The Keats Connection

Alice Jennings

Keats’ grandmother Alice Jennings had moved from Ponders End to Church Street in Edmonton after his grandfather John Jennings died in early 1805. When Keats’ mother Frances Rawlings (widowed and re-married) abandoned her four children, they went to live with the 69-year-old Alice. John Keats was nine years old at the time. I haven’t found a street number or any other details of Alice’s house.

Edmonton at that time was a village with a population of about 5,000, surrounded by countryside and separate from London. It was praised in a local history of 1819 as having “many advantages … the beauty of the scenery, the variety of the views, and its vicinity to the metropolis, would not be overlooked by those whose rank and fortune enabled them to select a suitable residence”.

(This is an interesting reminder that the Jennings were comparatively well-off, having successfully run the Swan and Hoop Livery Stables for many years. Unfortunately the financial and legal situation for the Keats children started going pear-shaped following their grandparents’ deaths.)

John Keats and his brothers attended school as boarders in the village of Enfield, which was two miles from Edmonton.

In early 1809, Keats’ mother Frances Rawlings returned to live with Alice and the children in the Church Street house. She was seriously ill, however, and died in March 1810. Despite his comparative youth, Keats nursed her devotedly throughout his school holidays.

Thomas Hammond

In autumn 1810, when Keats was almost fifteen, he left school and began training as a surgeon-apothecary. He was taken on as an apprentice by Thomas Hammond, a neighbour in Church Street and the doctor who had attended both John Jennings and Frances Rawlings in their final illnesses.

The apprenticeship included board and lodging, and Keats took his meals in the main house. The surgery was based in a cottage behind the house, though, and Keats slept in the cottage’s attic.

Keats’ grandmother Alice died in December 1814. By this time, his three younger siblings were all based in London (George and Tom at work, and Fanny at school), so Keats no longer had any family near him.

His apprenticeship with Hammond was completed in mid 1815, and from October 1815 Keats was training at Guy’s Hospital in London.

In Between

Charles and Mary Lamb

The siblings and co-authors Charles (1775-1834) and Mary (1764-1847) Lamb also lived in Church Street, from 1833, in a house known at the time as Bay Cottage – and Charles died there in 1834. This is a private property, but there is an Edmonton Heritage Trail green plaque at the gate, and an English Heritage blue plaque on the house itself. The siblings are buried together at All Saints’ Churchyard, just across the road.

Today

Thomas Hammond’s house and cottage at what was 7 Church Street were demolished in the early 1930s. The current buildings date back to that time, and feature a series of shopfronts at street level. The location is now known as “Keats Parade” in honour of the poet.

A plaque is placed at the centre of Keats Parade, above what is currently a real estate agency. It’s difficult to get a good photo, as there’s a ramshackle wooden box on the wall just below it!

The plaque reads:

On this site formerly stood the cottage in which the poet John Keats served his apprenticeship (1811-1815) to Thomas Hammond a surgeon of this parish

The earlier date is slightly incorrect, in that Keats’ apprenticeship began in autumn 1810.

Details

  • Address: Keats Parade, Church Street, Edmonton, London N9 9DP
  • Tube: Edmonton Green on the London Overground
  • Opening hours: The blue plaque can be seen at any time.

Links

Nearby

Garden at Church Street and Winchester Road

Further along Church Street, on a corner where it meets Winchester Road, there is a small garden with a stone bench featuring a quill as its backrest. The paving at the bench’s foot is carved to commemorate the (male) literary connections of the area, Charles Lamb and John Keats.

The paving reads:

Essayist and Poet of Church St. Edmonton
Charles Lamb “Loved his brethren as mankind”
John Keats “Beauty is truth, truth beauty”

Bronze reliefs by George Frampton

A pair of bronze reliefs also commemorate Charles Lamb and John Keats. These were created by sculptor George Frampton in 1898, and were originally displayed in the lobby of the Passmore Edwards Public Library Building on Fore Street.

The library building is now a mosque, however, and the bronze reliefs can instead be found at Community House, 311 Fore Street, Edmonton, London N9 0PZ.

Please note that this community centre is used by a wide range of people, some of them vulnerable, and anyone visiting should treat the staff and other visitors with respect. Also note that you will be required to sign in at the security desk.

Once in, follow the signs to the cafe (which serves darned good cake). Just before you get there you’ll find a junction of hallways, lifts and stairs. The bronze reliefs are on the wall under the staircase to the right.

link | “Photochroms of Rome” by Alex Q. Arbuckle and Wolfgang Wild

I found these truly lovely images on Mashable. They are ‘colour’ photos of Rome dating from c. 1890, sourced from the Library of Congress. These were taken seventy years after Keats was in Rome, but it still feels like a glimpse into the world that he would have recognised. Joseph Severn would have known this Rome, as he died only ten or eleven years before.

I’ve copied the two most relevant images here (with great respect, but without permission) and you can see the rest via the link below.

The Pyramid of Cestius at St. Paul’s Gate. Image: Library of Congress

Photochroms of Rome