Burford Bridge, Mickleham, Surrey

John Keats stayed at the Fox and Hounds (now the Burford Bridge Hotel) at the foot of Box Hill while finishing his poem “Endymion”.

The Keats Connection

Keats needed to write another 500 lines to finish his epic poem “Endymion”, and at the time London was both boring and too distracting. His brothers Tom and George planned to travel to Teignmouth in Devon for the sake of Tom’s health. In the meantime, John travelled alone to Burford Bridge, near Dorking in Surrey.

He seems to have been immediately invigorated by the lovely location. In his biography of Keats, Andrew Motion tells us:

When [Keats] climbed down from the Portsmouth coach on the evening of Saturday 22 November [1817], he immediately liked what he saw: a low, white-washed building fronted with a row of elms; the river Mole winding nearby; woodland stretching to the horizon. Renting a small room overlooking the stable yard, he climbed the twilit hill – Box Hill – beyond the garden, then returned to write ‘some lines’, and letters to Reynolds and Bailey.

I am not sure where Motion got the information about Keats’ room overlooking the stable yard (and I don’t know where the yard was, though one assumes at the side or rear of the inn). Having dug around in plans and reports and whatnot, I can say that the inn was considerably smaller than it is now. All kinds of extensions have been added over the years, and the original building(s) have been almost swallowed up.

In Keats’ time, the hotel basically consisted of the three roofs you see here, forming a joined-up building of two or three storeys. The lower roof and extension along the front, which includes the current reception, is a later addition.

But back to Keats himself. The letters mentioned by Motion include some of Keats’ most moving and significant thoughts. The letter to Bailey includes the lines:

I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart’s affections, and the truth of Imagination. What the Imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth — whether it existed before or not — for I have the same idea of all our passions as of Love: they are all, in their sublime, creative of essential Beauty.

In the letter to Reynolds, he seems bubbling over with happiness at being where he is. His twilit hunt for the Moon was particularly relevant, as she was both his muse and Endymion’s love.

I like this place very much. There is Hill and Dale and a little River. I went up Box hill this Evening after the Moon — ‘you a’ seen the Moon’— came down, and wrote some lines.

To Reynolds he talks of “the fine point of his soul”, which I borrowed as a title for my novel on Keats’ last months:

… why don’t you, as I do, look unconcerned at what may be called more particularly Heart-vexations? They never surprise me — lord! a man should have the fine point of his soul taken off to become fit for this world.

Keats did indeed finish off his poem “Endymion” while staying in Burford Bridge – and he must have written at a great rate, as he finished the first draft on 28 November, less than a week after he arrived.

He was back in Hampstead, London by 5 December.

Before and In Between

This beautiful area has attracted many visitors, including some of note. Jane Austen visited friends who lived near Burford Bridge, and crafted a key scene of her novel Emma (1816) around a picnic on Box Hill. Apparently Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson and Emma, Lady Hamilton stayed in the hotel itself, and it is claimed that Nelson spent his last night in England here.

Other names associated with the area include John Evelyn, Celia Fiennes, M d’Arblay (who married Fanny Burney), RL Stevenson, George Meredith, John Stuart Mill, William Wordsworth, and William Hazlitt.

Today

Burford Bridge Hotel is now a four-star hotel owned by the Mercure chain. Suffice to say, I suspect Keats would hardly recognise it!

I am pretty sure that if you’re staying in rooms 200-207, you’ll be in the part of the hotel that Keats would have known. More detail than that I cannot provide!

Severe flooding in December 2013 brought forward the hotel’s renovation plans, and they made the most of their literary heritage. A quote from Austen’s Emma now adorns a wall in the restaurant, and two chairs in the foyer are upholstered with lines from Keats’ “Endymion”.

A thing of beauty is a joy forever …

Details

  • Address: Burford Bridge Hotel, London Road (A24), Dorking RH5 6BX
  • Opening hours: open all year round

Links

Margate, Kent

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.

“Margate from the Sea, Whiting Fishing” (1822) by J.M.W. Turner

Today

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.

Details

  • 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.

Links

Nearby

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.”

Eastgate Square, Chichester, West Sussex

John Keats was staying with the parents of his friend Charles Dilke in their house on Eastgate Square, Chichester, when he began writing his poem The Eve of St Agnes.

The Keats Connection

John Keats joined Charles Brown in Chichester in January 1819, to stay with the elderly parents of their friend Charles Wentworth Dilke. Keats and Brown were only there for a few days before moving to nearby Bedhampton to stay with the Snook family, parents-in-law to Charles Dilke’s sister Letitia.

During this time, Keats was writing the first draft of his poem “The Eve of St Agnes”. The poem’s medieval setting was influenced by the beautiful old architecture of Chichester.

The Dilkes’ home was just outside the city walls, facing the East Gate. Keats visited the Gothic cross in the town square, and took a letter from Fanny Brawne to the 12thC cathedral so he could read it in privacy.

Today

There is a plaque on the building commemorating Keats’ stay, directly above what is now St Wilfrid’s Hospice Retro and Vintage Store at 11 Eastgate Square. It reads:

Here John Keats began to write The Eve of St Agnes 1819

There is also a statue of Keats, sitting on a bench just over the road, created by sculptor Vincent Gray and unveiled in August 2017. Behind it, a low stone wall winding along the roadside bears a quote from his poem, “When I have fears that I may cease to be”:

When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance

Chichester is an idyllic English city, surrounded by beautiful countryside, and well worth a visit in its own right.

Details

  • Address: 11 Eastgate Square, Chichester, PO19 1JH
  • Opening hours: The plaque and sculpture can be viewed at any (reasonable!) hour

Links

Nearby

  • Bedhampton
  • Stansted Park

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

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