John Keats stayed in Margate twice, partly for relaxation and health reasons, and partly as a writing retreat.
The Keats Connection
After passing his apothecary’s examination, John Keats felt he had earned a holiday. Also, his younger brother Tom was increasingly unwell, with symptoms indicating consumption. The seaside town of Margate in Kent was an obvious choice of resort for these Londoners, as it was readily and cheaply accessible via steamship down the River Thames. (In his biography of Keats, though, Andrew Motion suspects that John and Tom travelled there by coach.)
John and Tom stayed in Margate for a number of weeks from August through September 1816. We don’t know the exact dates – and we don’t know where they stayed, though Motion says “probably in rooms overlooking Hawley Square in the centre of the old town”. (The featured image for this post was taken in Hawley Square on a summer’s day.)
Keats wrote several poems and letters while he was there that were important to his development as a poet. He was obviously influenced by the sea and the cliffs; his sonnet “To My Brother George” includes the lines:
The ocean with its vastness, its blue green,
Its ships, its rocks, its caves, its hopes, its fears,—
Its voice mysterious, which whoso hears
Must think on what will be, and what has been.
In the following year, John Keats set himself the task of writing the epic poem “Endymion”. He went to the Isle of Wight in order to write in seclusion, but this proved an unsatisfactory location for the purpose. Within a week or so he had travelled to the familiar Margate instead, and stayed there from late April to mid May 1817.
His brother Tom joined him again in Margate, and from there they moved to Canterbury.
While Margate has become a tad shabby following a decline in local industry and tourism, there is still much to attract here – and there is a whole heap of history and lovely countryside in the near vicinity. As someone might have already observed, Kent is always a good idea. Even where there is no precise Keats location to visit.
- Address: Hawley Square, Margate, Kent CT9 1PF
- Opening hours: There’s no denying that the summer holidays are the only busy season, but the seaside is intriguing in any weather. And you can enjoy the pleasant park of Hawley Square at any time, while respecting the rest and privacy of the inhabitants.
- Visit Thanet official tourism website
- Turner Contemporary official website, commemorating J.M.W. Turner’s association with the area
- Margate page on Wikipedia
Canterbury: John and Tom moved from Margate to Canterbury in mid May 1817, and stayed there for a week or a little longer, before finally returning to Hampstead, London in June. We don’t have any details about exactly where they stayed, so I don’t anticipate creating a separate post for Canterbury.
Keats seemed to move to a new location whenever he got stuck with writing “Endymion”. In a letter of 16 May to his prospective publishers Taylor and Hessey, Keats says, “At Canterbury I hope the remembrance of Chaucer will set me forward like a Billiard Ball.”