Vauxhall Gardens was an extensive pleasure garden on the south bank of the Thames. It is now a (relatively bare) public park.
The Keats Connection
Vauxhall Gardens has a long history, with the park dating back to c.1660. It was developed into a pleasure garden during the period 1785-1859, and boasted a risqué reputation. In his biography of Keats, Andrew Motion observes that “the Vauxhall Gardens epitomised the style as well as the tawdriness of Regency London”.
Keats visited the Gardens in August 1814, and spied a beautiful woman – the fairest form he’d ever seen or imagined. He didn’t approach her, but wrote the poem “Fill for me a brimming bowl” describing the torment of being caught between the distractions of his attraction to women and his desire to concentrate on “The Classic page, or Muse’s lore”. Motion describes it thus: “He longs to push women to the side of his mind; he cannot resist pulling them towards the centre.”
Keats is still thinking of this woman in February 1818 when he writes the poem beginning “Time’s sea hath been five years at its slow ebb”, which is dedicated “To a Lady Seen for a Few Moments at Vauxhall”.
Obviously this glimpse of a woman he never knew embodied some ideal sense of beauty for him. We can try to imagine her for ourselves, with “the melting softness of her face” and her “bright eyes”, but we’ll never know what Keats himself saw – or what his memory later conjured.
It’s a tantalising prospect!
The pleasure gardens were permanently closed in 1859, and were built over. However, a slum clearance in the 20th century opened up the area again, and there is now a public park taking up much of the same space as the gardens Keats would have known.
Westminster Abbey is a significant and central part of British history, and its Poets’ Corner includes a memorial to Keats.
A monastic community was established in this location in c.960, with a stone church named St Peter’s Abbey being built by King Edward and completed in c.1065. Edward was buried there not long afterwards in 1066, and on his canonisation the site became a place of pilgrimage. St Peter’s and the adjacent Palace of Westminster are depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry.
The current church dates back to the 13th century and King Henry III.
Many of Britain’s royals are buried in the Abbey. It has been used for coronations since 1066, and also for many royal weddings.
Poets’ Corner began haphazardly. Chaucer was buried elsewhere in the Abbey in 1400, due to his place in the royal household rather than his reputation as a poet. In 1556, fellow poet Nicholas Brigham installed a marble tomb for Chaucer in the Abbey’s south transept, and had his bones moved there. Edmund Spenser was interred near Chaucer, as he wanted, in 1598.
From there, burials and memorials accumulated. Over 100 poets, dramatists and prose writers are now buried there, with memorials to many others who are interred elsewhere. The name “Poets’ Corner” is first documented in 1733.
The Keats Connection
The Keats-Shelley Association paid for memorials for both poets, which were installed on the Shakespeare wall, and unveiled in 1954. The tablets are simple and elegant, with a carved marble “swag” of flowers and foliage uniting them. The inscription reads:
The Abbey and Poets Corner are well worth visiting. The latter includes memorials to William Shakespeare and George Frederic Handel, as well as Keats’ contemporaries William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey, Lord Byron, Jane Austen, John Clare, and Sir Walter Scott.
Keats himself predicted – or at least hoped and trusted – “I think I shall be among the English Poets after my death.”
Address: The Chapter Office, Westminster Abbey, 20 Dean’s Yard, London SW1P 3PA
Tube: Westminster on the Jubilee, and District & Circle Lines
St James’s Park on the District & Circle Lines
London Victoria or London Waterloo on National Rail
Opening hours: currently only open for religious services due to the pandemic
Following his medical training, John Keats applied for a licence to practice as an apothecary. He was examined at Apothecaries’ Hall and the licence was granted.
The Keats Connection
An apothecary in Keats’ time was equivalent to our general practitioners today, so when he applied for and was granted a licence – the LSA (Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries) – this enabled him to practice medicine as a doctor.
The Apothecaries’ Act governing this licencing had only been introduced in August 1815, just under a year before Keats made his application; he was the 189th candidate to apply, and the 168th to pass. The licencing was administered by The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, a City Livery Company incorporated in 1617. The Society has occupied the Hall in Blackfriars since 1632.
To qualify, Keats had to provide testimonials proving his medical training, including:
his apprenticeship for five years with Thomas Hammond in Edmonton;
the lectures he had attended at Guy’s Hospital; and
his six months of work on the wards at Guy’s Hospital.
Keats attended Apothecaries’ Hall on 25 July 1816, along with six other candidates. In his biography of Keats, Andrew Motion tells us that Keats would have sat for four papers: a translation of the pharmacopoeia (Latin); the theory and practice of medicine; pharmaceutical medicine; and materia medica. Keats appeared before the Court of Examiners, with all twelve of the Court present, and was verbally examined by one of them – the Royal Apothecary, Everard Brande. His application was duly approved.
The examination would have taken place in the Great Hall. Any subsequent ceremony in which he was given the award would have taken place in the Court Room.
The LSA certificate allowed Keats to practice “in the country”, which meant he could not practice in the City of London nor within ten miles of it. He couldn’t have practised in Edmonton, for example, as that’s only about nine miles from the city.
Andrew Motion gives the context for this as Keats already experiencing doubts about his future in medicine. The fee of six guineas to practice in the country was cheaper than the fee of ten guineas to practice in the city, and so he chose the less expensive option so as not to risk wasting any more money than he had to. Whether he meant it or not, he announced that he would prefer to practice in the country outside London.
Keats took a holiday in Margate with his brother Tom after qualifying, and then continued to work and train at Guy’s Hospital for a few months. If he wanted to pursue a career in medicine, he could have gone on to qualify as a surgeon as well. However, towards the end of 1816 he finally decided to quit medicine and concentrate on poetry instead.
The Society has a fascinating history, with links to other notable people such as Nicholas Culpeper (an independent practitioner, often at odds with the Society!) and Agatha Christie (who passed the Assistants’ Examination in 1917, having learned much about poisons). Christopher Penfold, who passed the LSA in 1833, went on to found Penfolds Wines in Australia. The Society’s dinners are greatly enhanced by this connection! Significantly, in 1865, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson qualified as an apothecary, thereby becoming the first woman to receive a medical qualification in the UK.
The Society made and sold medicines at the Hall, with a shopfront on Black Friars Lane, between 1672 and 1921. There is still a doorway, to the right of the main entrance, labelled “Warehouses”. The Society founded the Chelsea Physic Garden, and supplied medicines to the East India Company and to the First Fleet.
And those are only a few highlights!
The Hall itself has plenty of history, too, dating back before the Society bought it in 1632. The Court Room, for example, was where Catherine of Aragon was examined (in 1529) about her marriage to Henry VIII, after he’d sought an annulment. There is a small painting of the scene on the wall between the two windows.
The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries continues as busy as ever, and is still licensing doctors to practice medicine. The Society has founded two Faculties – one in the History and Philosophy of Medicine, and the other in Conflict and Catastrophe Medicine – and can award eight different Diplomas.
While the Hall is not generally open to the public, you can contact the Clerk’s office and ask about tours. When I did so during a recent trip back to England, they very obligingly let me tag along with a group who had booked a tour one morning. Thanks are due to the Society and to the tour group itself for their kind welcome!
Address: Black Friars Lane, London EC4V 6EJ
Tube: Blackfriars on the Central and District Lines
Blackfriars for National Rail
Opening hours: The Hall is not open to the public without prior arrangement.
John Keats wrote his first significant poem while lodging at 8 Dean Street, Southwark.
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.
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.
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 eastern side (i.e. towards the National Rail station and away from the Tube station). (See below for the reference.)
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!
John Keats studied medicine at Guy’s Hospital and qualified as an apothecary.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Address: 9a St Thomas Street, Southwark, London SE1 9RY
Tube: London Bridge on the Northern and Jubilee lines.
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.
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.
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
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