The Swan and Hoop Livery Stables, just north of the old London Wall, is assumed to be where John Keats was born in 1795. The buildings of Keats’ time were demolished some while ago, and the current building now houses the Keats at the Globe bar.
The Keats Connection
John Keats’ maternal grandfather, John Jennings, with new wife Alice Whalley, leased the Swan and Hoop livery stables from February 1774, and later also rented the inn beside the stables.
The establishment was located just north of where Moorgate (the gate) allowed entry through the London Wall. Jennings was therefore ideally placed to cater for travellers journeying in and out of London along (what is now) City Road.
Jennings employed Thomas Keats at the Swan and Hoop – we think as an ostler, though as Thomas was able to keep his own ‘remarkably fine’ horse, his origins may have been rather less humble than that implies. In any case, Thomas married John and Alice’s daughter, Frances Jennings, in 1794, and the young couple lived either at the Swan and Hoop or nearby.
John Keats was born to Thomas and Frances on 31 October 1795. John was baptised at nearby St Botolph’s, so we assume he was born at the Swan and Hoop. Hence, the Swan and Hoop is where The Birthplace plaque is, but there is no definite proof one way or the other.
When John’s brother George was born in February 1797, we know that the family were living in Craven Street, Shoreditch (and George was baptised at nearby St Leonard’s), but we are not sure when exactly the family moved.
In any case, when John Jennings retired in 1802, Thomas Keats took over management of the Swan and Hoop, and the family moved there to live. (Note, however, that the Bunhill Fields burial register for Edward Keats has him “brought from Craven Street City Road” for burial on 9 December 1802. I am guessing the handover of responsibilities from John Jennings to Thomas, and the family’s move from one home to another, may have taken placed over an extended period, especially if Edward’s illness was prolonged.)
The youngest child, Frances Mary (Fanny), was presumably also born at the Swan and Hoop, on 3 June 1803.
When the London or City Wall was first built in Roman times, it blocked the course of the Walbrook stream, and this created a marsh or ‘moor’ along the north of the wall. Later, in the Middle Ages, when a small gate was built in the wall, it was named Moorgate after this ‘natural’ feature.
(The name ‘Moorgate’ is now associated with the original gate, the area, and the road on which the Swan and Hoop used to stand – so apologies if I am overly pedantic about identifying which I’m talking about at any given time.)
The marsh was slowly drained during the 1500s, and was eventually laid out as a formal park, known as Moorfields.
In 1672, Moorgate (the gate) was rebuilt as something more imposing – but in 1761, this was demolished to allow more traffic through.
In 1675-76, a new hospital was built along the London Wall running to the east of Moorgate, to accommodate the Bethlem Royal Hospital, infamously known as ‘Bedlam’. By 1791, this huge building was in very poor condition, and parts of it were uninhabitable. It continued to be used, however, until a new building was finally available in Southwark in 1815. Following this, the London Wall along that area was demolished in 1817.
As a child, then, Keats would not have known Moorgate as a ‘constructed’ gate, although much of the nearby London Wall was preserved. He would have known Moorfields as open parkland. And he lived literally just over the road from a deteriorating Bedlam!
I confess myself a tad confused over whether Keats would have known the road at the front of the Swan and Hoop as ‘Moorfields’ or ‘Little Moorfields’. Today, however, the thoroughfare is known as Moorgate. To the north, once it passes Ropemaker Street and South Place, the road becomes Finsbury Pavement.
I am not sure of the history of the current buildings at the Swan and Hoop’s location, but they certainly contain nothing that Keats would have recognised.
A pub named The Globe occupies the ground and first floors at 83 Moorgate, with an associated bar named Keats at the Globe next door at 85 Moorgate. The latter building is the one with the blue plaque, which reads:
In a house on this site the ‘Swan & Hoop’ John Keats Poet was born 1795
In his biography Keats (1998), Andrew Motion says the frontage of the livery stables was ‘117 feet long’ (page 6). This indicates that the Swan and Hoop ran a fair distance up along what is now Moorgate, so I’m not sure if there’s a reason why 85 Moorgate is the claimant of the blue plaque.
By the way – just as ‘Moorgate’ has nothing to do with Othello, ‘The Globe’ has nothing to do with Shakespeare. ‘The Globe’ has been a popular pub name since the reign of Charles I. The symbol of the globe (i.e. the world) was associated with Portugal, and the pub name therefore signified that it served ‘fine Portuguese wines’.
- Address: 83 Moorgate, Moorgate, London EC2M 6SA
- Tube: Moorgate, on the Northern line, and the Circle, Hammersmith & City, and Metropolitan lines
- Opening hours: The blue plaque can be seen at any time, though it’s fairly small and quite high up, so you may want to save it for daylight hours!
- The pub is open every day except Sundays. Check the official website for more details.
The Parish Church of St George, Hanover Square is where John Keats’ parents married in 1794. The church was designed by John James (one of Christopher Wren’s assistants), and built in 1721-25, funded by Queen Anne’s “Commission for Building Fifty New Churches”.
The Keats Connection
This fashionable church in Mayfair has always been a favoured venue for ‘high society’ weddings. Thomas Keats and Frances Jennings were more lower-middle class, but they married there on 9 October 1794. The church is a fair distance from their own parish, and so the choice can be seen as a statement of their ‘social intentions’ (as Andrew Motion puts it).
Thomas died in 1804, and Frances married William Rawlings just over two months later on 27 June 1804. I honestly don’t mean to judge her, but it does seem incredibly tactless that Frances chose, once more, to marry at St George’s.
Other weddings at the church include that of Theodore Roosevelt (future US President) and Edith Carow in 1886 – and it is noticeable that Wikipedia lists a number of architects marrying there, too.
The church’s burial grounds were located separately at Mount Street and, later, at Bayswater. Burials include Laurence Sterne (author of Tristram Shandy) in 1768 and Ann Radcliffe (author of Gothic novels) in 1823.
Handel (1685-1759) was a regular worshipper at the church, and it is still used as a musical venue by the annual London Handel Festival.
St George’s Hanover Square seems still very active today, in this busy part of the city, only a few minutes’ walk from Oxford Street. I like that the official website includes a photo of people eating their sandwiches while sitting in the sunshine on the steps of the portico – it makes the place seem very much a part of London life.
The website states that the church was ‘splendidly refurbished’ in 2010, though it seems that this was sympathetically done and perhaps Keats’ parents wouldn’t find it unfamiliar. The painting of the Last Supper behind the altar was painted for the church by William Kent in 1724, so they would have known that.
The church is a lovely place, and worth a visit. It is easily found, if you look south from Hanover Square, with the Corinthian columns of the facade standing well forward of the other buildings.
Hanover Square itself is quite small, and is surrounded by traffic and buildings, but seems a lovely green space. It features a statue of William Pitt the Younger (1759-1806).
- Address: The Vestry, 2A Mill Street, Mayfair, London W1S 1FX, with the front entrance on St George Street
- Tube: Oxford Circus on the Bakerloo, Central and Victoria lines
- Opening hours: Open Monday to Friday until 4pm, with slightly later hours on Wednesdays. Open on Sunday mornings. Closed on Saturdays other than for weddings and special services.
- Check the official site for details of hours, music and services!
A lovely article that traces – in great detail! – Keats’ trip on the mail coach from London to Southampton on 14-15 April 1817. (And I’m delighted to see that this was written in the context of preparing a new collection of essays on the theme of “Keats and place”.)
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.
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.
- Address: 8 St. Thomas Street, London SE1
- Tube: London Bridge on the Jubilee and Northern lines
- Opening hours: Not open to the public.
- John Keats and Henry Stephens blue plaque page on Open Plaques website. This page mistakenly lists the street number as 3, but you’ll find it all pretty obvious if you visit!
- 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 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.
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.
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.
- 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!
Interesting article on Anthony Burgess and his relationship with Keats, published on the International Anthony Burgess Foundation site on 6 April 2016.
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 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.
- 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.
Brompton Cemetery is the resting place of Frances Lindon, better known to us and to Keats as Fanny Brawne.
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.
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.
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 right, 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.
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.
- 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.
- Brompton Cemetery official site on The Royal Parks website
- Brompton Cemetery official page on Facebook
- The Friends of Brompton Cemetery official site
- The Friends of Brompton Cemetery official account on Twitter
- Brompton Cemetery page on Wikipedia
- Fanny Brawne page on Wikipedia
- My Brompton Cemetery photo album on Flickr
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.
- "John Keats: A New Life" by Nicholas Roe page on Goodreads