John Keats’s House

John Keats lived a brief life—he was born in 1795 and died in 1821. But the poetry he wrote in the 4 years leading up to his death has had an enormous and ongoing impact on poets and poetry, and he is widely considered to be one of the greatest English poets.

In 1818, after the tragic loss of his younger brother to tuberculosis, Keats moved into what was then called Wentworth Place in Hampstead, London, with his friend Charles Brown. He stayed there for 17 months before leaving for Italy, where he died. In 1925, Keats House was opened to the public, and in 1931 a new building was erected close by to house a large collection of books, letters, paintings, photographs, and everyday objects relating to the poet.

In 1998, the City of London assumed responsibility for Keats House and has since restored the interior. Join this Expedition to tour the house and learn more about John Keats.

John Keats’s Early Life

This room introduces John Keats’s life before he became a poet. Keats was born in 1797, the son of a stable-master at an inn—an unusual background for a poet at a time when most literature was produced by wealthy men.

He did well at school, but after his parents died, the 14-year-old Keats had to work to support himself and trained as a doctor. After passing his medical exams, he left London for Hampstead, to try to succeed as a poet. 

Map of London

London in the 1800s was far smaller than it is today. Keats grew up in the Swan and Hoop Inn at the north edge of the city. His father earned enough to send him and his younger brothers to boarding school. 

Keats’s Life Mask

This life mask of Keats was made by Benjamin Haydon, an artist friend. He covered Keats’s face with resin to create a mould. Keats could not move until it set and breathed through straws. The finished mould was peeled off and filled with plaster.

Bust of Keats

This bust of Keats is set at his actual height—just over five feet tall. He was sensitive about his height. At school had a reputation for fighting, but he was also a popular and high-achieving pupil. 

Medicine Cabinet

This case shows what Keats would have learned as a medical student: mixing remedies as an apothecary, bloodletting and performing surgeries. As a student at Guy's Hospital, Keats helped with operations that were carried out without anaesthetics.

Charles Brown's Sitting Room

When it was first built in 1815, the house was divided into two. Charles Brown lived in the east half, and entertained his friends in this sitting room. The friends Keats made while staying here included famous artists and writers. 

Sadly, the poet was already ill with tuberculosis, for which there was no known cure. In September 1820, Brown and Keats’s other friends raised the money to send him to Rome, hoping the warm climate would improve his lungs.

Bust of Charles Brown

Charles Brown, the first owner of this side of the house, was a businessman who was also an amateur artist and writer. He and Keats wrote a play together, Otho the Great, which was never performed in Keats’s lifetime. 

Sofa-Bed by the Window

At the start of 1820, Keats suffered a haemorrhage—the first sign of the tuberculosis which was to kill him a year later. His doctor prescribed rest, and Keats spent the spring recovering on a sofa in Charles Brown’s parlour. 

Bust of Leigh Hunt

Leigh Hunt was the editor of the magazine The Examiner, which first published Keats’s poetry. Hunt lived near Charles Brown in Hampstead, and during Keats’s time at the house the three men often met up to drink and discuss poetry. 

Portraits of Brown’s and Keats’s Friends

These paintings and drawings show some of the well-known people whom Keats met while living with Charles Brown. They include the poets Coleridge and Shelley, and Shelley’s wife Mary, who would go on to write several novels, including Frankenstein.

John Keats’s Room

Keats came to Hampstead in 1817, hoping to start his career as a poet. He stayed with his brothers George and Tom in cheap lodgings in nearby Well Walk. Within a year, George married and emigrated to America, and shortly afterwards, younger brother Tom died of tuberculosis.

At this point, Brown invited Keats to live here as his lodger. This was the poet’s sitting-room when he moved in with Brown in December, 1818.   

Writing Desk

Keats wrote his most famous poetry while living here. He wrote with a dip-pen and ink-well like the ones shown here. In the days before electricity and gas, writing after dark had to be done by lamp-light.

Keats’s Bookcase

Although Keats was poor, he owned a large book collection, including medical and philosophical works and copies of Shakespeare and Milton, whose pictures he also had on his wall. At the time, books and pictures were not mass-produced, so they were much more expensive than today.

Portrait of Keats

Keats had never had the use of a sitting room before. This picture is a copy of a portrait by his friend Joseph Severn, who recalled visiting Keats here: ‘I found him sitting with the two chairs as I have painted him’.

Keats’s First Publications

This case holds two of Keats’s volumes of poetry. His first two books were ignored or attacked by critics, who thought that a working-class ‘cockney’ (someone born in London’s east end) like him should not write poems. His third book, though, was a success. 

Fanny Brawne’s Room

John Keats met Fanny Brawne in 1818 when her mother rented the west side of the house. Keats described Fanny in a letter to his brother as ‘. . . beautiful and elegant, graceful, silly, fashionable and strange’. 

By the summer of 1819, he was sending her passionate love letters, and they became secretly engaged that autumn. Before he left for Rome in September 1820, they gained her mother’s permission to marry if he returned—but Keats died in Rome. 

Display Case

This case includes gifts from Keats to Fanny, including her engagement ring, which she wore for the rest of her life. Before he left for Rome, Keats gave her his volume of Shakespeares plays, one of his most treasured possessions. 

Fashionable Dress of the 1800s

Fanny Brawne was skilled at sewing, knitting, and embroidery, and made many of her own clothes. She sewed a silk cap for Keats to wear when he went away to Italy. 

Fanny’s Portrait

This portrait of Fanny was made in the 1830s. After Keats’s death in 1821, Fanny carried out the mourning rituals expected of a widow, cutting her hair and wearing black for many years. 

Dressing Table and Fashion Plates

At the time when Keats was courting her, Fanny had a reputation for being always very well-dressed. Her interest in clothes continued after his death, and for the rest of her life she collected fashion prints, including historical ones. 

John Keats’s Legacy

This room explores Keats’s influence after his death, especially through the artworks inspired by him. Many of his friends were artists, and some, such as Benjamin Haydon and Joseph Severn, became famous.

Both these artists painted or sculpted Keats at different times in his life. After his death, several paintings were also inspired by the stories of his poems. 

Portraits of Keats by His Friends

This cabinet includes portraits of Keats by his friends, including a sketch by Benjamin Haydon and one by Charles Brown, the owner of this side of the house, who was an amateur artist. (33)

Isabella and the Pot of Basil

This painting by Joseph Severn shows a scene from Keats’s early poem of tragic love, ‘Isabella, or the Pot of Basil’. When the heroine Isabella finds her lover murdered, she cuts off his head and buries it in a pot, which she plants with sweet basil.

Two More Tales of Dangerous Love

Here are two more paintings inspired by poems by Keats. In ‘The Eve of St Agnes’, a girl dreams of her lover, and runs away with him ’into the storm’. In the poem ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’, a young knight is doomed by his love for a fairy lady. 

Picture Inspired by Keats’s Poem ‘Lamia‘

The story of ‘Lamia’, like several other poems by Keats, is inspired by Greek mythology. Lamia is a creature who is a half-woman, half-snake. She takes on human form for love, but is unmasked at her wedding with tragic results. 

Keats House Garden

In Keats’s time, the garden was shared by both sides of the house. In the period when the Brawnes rented the western side of the house, it’s likely that Keats and Fanny Brawne met here. 

In the last year of his life, the poet was ill throughout February and March and confined to a sofa in Brown’s study. He wrote to Fanny that he could see her in the garden through the window and told her, ‘I will follow you with my eyes’.

The Mulberry Tree

At 200 years old, this mulberry tree is the oldest thing in the garden. John Keats might have seen it as a sapling when he lived here. 

Keats’s Side of the House

This side of the house, to the left of the front door, was Charles Brown’s half. The window at the front looks out from his study, where Keats lay recovering from his attack in the spring of 1820. 

Plum Tree

This plum tree was planted to commemorate Keats’s poem ‘Ode to A Nightingale’. Charles Brown wrote that Keats composed the poem while sitting in the garden, in ‘the grass-plot under a plum-tree’ where a nightingale had built its nest. 

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