Thursday, 21 June 2012

John Keats, Visit to Keats House Hampstead - Hampstead Heath Station & Environs

*** update 23 June 2012

I returned to Keats House with my friend Jackie and we went around the house visiting kitchen and going over some of the items on display.  Jackie set up a digital camera for me and my first posted photograph is now on this post!

Keats House
(first photograph taken personally by Prof Whitestick)
Hampstead, London
23 June 2012
© Prof Whitestick

*** end of update 

19th June 2012

Something had inspired me to visit Keats House, in Hampstead.  (

The nearest station is Hampstead Heath on London Overground.   Buses C11, 46 and 168 stop for Royal Free Hospital and a walk along South End Green past a parade of shops, cafes and restaurants will lead you to the road for Keats House and Hampstead Heath itself.

John Keats lived in this house for less than 2 years though wrote his major works of poetry here.  Although he lived in part of the house, the whole house has many Keats connections.  Hampstead was a village in those days and had alleged health giving attributes.  Tuberculosis was rife and consumption or “decline” was a common cause of death.  It seemed to run in Keats family.  He had been trained as an apothecary surgeon and when he identified drops of blood which he had coughed up as “arterial blood” he knew he was not long for the world.  It was common for sufferers to move to warmer climes and Keats moved to Italy.  He died aged 25 in Rome, where he is buried.

On arriving at the house, I asked if there were any facilities or special arrangements for visually impaired people and Holly was called and showed me round the house.  Holly had a cardboard model of the house which I could handle to give me an idea of the external arrangement of floors, windows and a canopy at the main door which is at the rear. 

The house was built in 1815 though an extension had been added later in the 19th Century.  Many changes had altered the house and though many of the original objects referred to by Keats and his friends are on show, some period pieces have been added to fill out the house as a whole. 

Keats was slight of stature and a bust of him is fitted at his correct height.  His fiancĂ©e Fanny Brawne was said to be the same height and there are references to the pair in the house with friends such as Joseph Severn the painter, Leigh Hunt and Charles Wentworth Dilke. 

There are many pieces in the showcases and Holly described a Shakespeare Folio Edition which had been owned by Keats.  In a sitting room with portraits there is both a life mask of Keats and a death mask.  I was telling Holly about the life masks of Henry Wellcome (I hit his moustache), Van Gogh’s doctor (I hit his forehead) and the bust of Sir Edward Elgar produced at the National Portrait Gallery (I hit his nose).  At this point Holly said that they had a copy of the life mask of John Keats and would I like to try it.  Placing the life mask horizontally in one hand I touched Keats on the nose!

There are many portraits of Keats using the life mask.  Joseph Severn painted one with a nightingale silhouetted on a branch in front of a moon in Hampstead Heath. 

Detail from "Keats Listening to the Nightingale on Hampstead Heath"
by Jospeh Severn
© Prof Whitestick

Some letters say that Keats was inspired to write his Ode to a Nightingale in the garden.  There are also many profiles and silhouettes of Keats, who became famous after his death.  His poetry became part of the Byron, Keats and Shelley list of romantic poets which has stayed in fashion. 

We went upstairs into some of the bedrooms and other rooms associated with Keats.  Downstairs it is possible to visit the kitchens.  The house is entered from the rear though in Keats’s time it comprised 2 houses.  The connecting doors were often open and there are reports of cats being able to wander from one house to the other and often the inhabitants would take tea in the other house.  Keats would have entered from the side where the extension was built. 

Main entrance, Keats House
Hampstead, London
23 June 2012
© Prof Whitestick

There is a wide selection of postcards on sale and a very attractive illustrated guide book to both the house and on Keats himself.  Books of Keats's poetry are also available.  I bougtht two: Keats at Wentworth Place - poems written December 1818 to September 1820, published by London Borough of Camden Libraries and Arts Department; and a Dover Thrift Edition of Lyric Poems.

There is a concession admission for £3 and the ticket is valid for a year.  The house sits back from the road in an attractive garden with a path encircling the house. 

On leaving, I realised that what had inspired me was A BBC Radio4 “Pick of the Week” featuring a series by Richard Holloway on ‘Honest Doubt’ and on which some Keats had been read out.

Many thanks to Holly for a very pleasant visit, and for finding interesting objects for me to handle as well as describing the contents and pictures. 

London Overground Orientation for Hampstead Heath

The station is announced with “Alight here for Royal Free Hospital” and, with 28 steps to climb from platform plus another 3 for access to the gates, it is quite a climb.    After the ticket barrier, an exit straight ahead provides a ramp (turn left) and this will allow you to align the fruit stall with the tactile paving to a zebra crossing. Once over, turn right for Keats House. For the Royal Free Hospital turn left.  After crossing a side street and keeping a parade of shops (WH Smith) turn left at corner. Keats House is a few hundred yards along the road on the left hand side.

If going to the Royal Free Hospital continue with the parade of shops on your right hand side.  You will eventually reach Pond Street.  There is a zebra crossing (badly in need of a coat of titanium dioxide paint) and turn right on the other side.  The Royal Free is on the left hand side.  A gathering of smokers will alert you to the trail for the Lower Ground floor entry!

Hampstead Heath station - views of east bound platform and steps to ground level
© Prof Whitestick