When you live as close to London as I do, it’s easy to forget that the capital is not just a mass of trendy wine bars, clubs and tube stops. With all of the main tourist attractions in easy reach, (Champagne at the top of the Gherkin anyone?), the more characteristic and quirky places often slip by without a backward glance. Wentworth Place, or Keats House Museum as it is now known, is one such location.
I have long been an avid reader of John Keats, he was the first poet I found I actually enjoyed and understood: he writes about topics that are still relevant and moving today: love, happiness and the need to take pleasure in the little things; (the fact that he was played by Ben Whishaw in 2009 film Bright Star, has nothing to do with it obvs). The house is where he wrote the majority of his major works such as ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ and his famous love letters to the original ‘girl-next-door’ his lover, Fanny Brawne.
Nestled amongst leafy Hampstead’s million pound mansions and a stone’s throw from Hampstead Heath, the house and gardens are open year round to the public, and hold a number of readings, lectures and walks paying homage to the tragic Romantic poet. The house was restored by City of London and London SHH (Secret Historic Houses) in 2009, the rooms are decorated in the typical regency style and a number of Keats’ possessions including his note books and desk are still there, along with Fanny’s particularly bling engagement ring.
I have to admit, even as a lover of old things, I find some National Trust properties somewhat stale, the obligation to examine every intimate detail of the owner’s life often makes you feel more like a consumer than an aesthete. In some ways this is true of Wentworth Place, so I decided to push aside the need to for a guide book and instead take a copy of Keats’ poems or letters to read as I perused, then the place suddenly comes alive. His parlour and the gardens are particular beauty spots and seem to capture the age and air of inspiration he would have felt living there.
A wander around the house made me realise how much he achieved in such a short life, he died aged 25, having never married Fanny and never achieving any success as a poet. But to fully appreciate his artistic genius, my stroll across the Heath in the late afternoon was an experience not to be missed, (George Orwell’s house is also nestled on a side street if you can find it), the calm away from the bustle of London achieves the rural feeling I imagine Keats’ would have felt, at the beginning of the 19th Century Hampstead was still a small suburb of London.
I’m sure as you walk away and return to the madding crowd of central London, you will feel bathed in the glow of his bright star.