In Maurice Buxton Forman’s edition of the Letters of Keats he includes a footnote to the letter written by John Keats to Mrs Jeffery on 4th or 5th May from Honiton on his way back to London with his brother Tom:
“Up to 1891 Mrs Jeffrey and her daughters remained unknown in the story of Keats. Between that time and the publication of my father’s illustrated edition of the Letters in 1895, this letter and three others to the young ladies were discovered. Mr A Forbes Sieveking published them in The Fortnightly Review” for December 1893”
Also in Hyder Edward Rollins publication of the Letters of Keats there is another footnote:
“Dr W. C. Lake, of Teignmouth, wrote to Holman on August 4, 1913, that ‘Margaret Jeffrey’ was listed among the 146 Teignmouth taxpayers, all without addresses, in 1800, and it is generally assumed that she was the Mrs Jeffrey to whom No 81 was written ….. whether the former (i.e. No 20) was the house of Mrs Jeffrey cannot be proved, though I think it likely that the Keats brothers lodged with, or visited, her there.”
The revelation of these letters seems to have spawned speculation about the role of the Jeffery family in relation to the Keats’ brothers. There have been suggestions of romance but also, of more relevance to this investigation, suggestions that Mrs Jeffery might have been Keats’ landlady or that the Jefferys lodged in the same place as Keats or in the house opposite or nearby in Northumberland Place.
So what do we know about the Jefferys and can it help in the hunt for Keats’ House?
Firstly, let’s get the name right. You may have noticed two variations on the spelling of the surname being used – ‘Jeffery’ and ‘Jeffrey’. The first of these is as recorded in the census records and I am using that, therefore, as the correct version. The second appears to be simply an alternative spelling by Keats in early works of the letters which has been perpetuated by subsequent biographers. (Keats apparently was not good at spelling!)
Next, let’s dispense with ‘Margaret Jeffrey’. According to the baptism records of the sisters Mary-Ann and Sarah Frances their parents were William and Sarah Jeffery. Therefore, it is not clear why Dr Lake should be writing to Louis Holman about a ‘Margaret Jeffrey’ unless he was mistaken or had been responding to a query from Holman about ‘Margaret Jeffrey’. If Dr Lake had made the effort to consult local tax records it seems strange also that he would not have consulted the local church or parish records which would have given more information about the family.
I have been unable to find a marriage record for William and Sarah but the baptism records for Mary-Ann and Sarah Frances show that they were baptised in the parish of West Teignmouth (i.e. St James Church) which means that the family was most likely living in that parish around 1800. Northumberland Place is in East Teignmouth.
The next official record I have found of the family is the national census of 1841. This is the first census in which the details of individuals were collected. It shows Sarah Jeffery and her two daughters living in Old Market Street, West Teignmouth. There is no mention of William Jeffery and, curiously, I can find no official records of him – birth, marriage or death. Sarah Jeffery is shown as being of independent means.
Pigot Directory 1830
The Pigot Directory of 1830 however does have a reference to Mrs Sarah Jeffery. It contains a new section entitled “Nobility, Gentry and Clergy” in which she is referred to as living in Old Market Street. The earlier Pigot Directory for 1822 makes no mention of the Jefferys.
Courtenay Estate Rental Records
The final possible source of information (thanks to Anthony Johnson, another local amateur historian, for pointing me in this direction) are the rental records of the land of the Courtenay Estate. The land in East Teignmouth at that time belonged to the Courtenay family and they granted leases to the occupiers of the land or the properties built on their land. The rents were collected annually and recorded in rent ledgers which can be inspected at the Devon Heritage Centre.
Tying people to locations is not easy though because the records do not register the plots and properties as specific addresses but as descriptions and it is not always clear whether they are entered sequentially by physical location. So, for example, the properties noted as “1” and “1a” on the 1805 map (i.e. around what is now 20 Northumberland Place) shown in an earlier post are included in the ledger as:
- Mr Thomas Pring for a New built House and Garden on the West Side of the Denn
- Mr William Wallis for a New erected House and Garden on the West Side of the Denn
- Mr Robert West for a New built House and Garden on the West Side of the Denn
- Mr Edward West for a New built House and Garden on the West Side of the Denn
The rental records, from 1805 to 1822, have no mention at all of the Jefferys family, so there is no indication that Mrs Jeffery would have been a landlady in Northumberland Place. However, she and her family could have been lodgers there.
Finally, there is an intriguing twist …..
In 1841, Eliza Jane Squarey Periman Tonkin, changed her will.
She was the wife of Sir Warwick Hele Tonkin and was previously Miss Mitchell, daughter of Thomas Mitchell Esq. She is mentioned in Tom Keats letter to Mary-Ann Jeffery of 17th May:
“Convey my compliments to Miss Mitchell and thank her for the present – remember me to Captain Tonkin and Mr Bartlett if he should come in your way in the Labyrinth of Teignmouth – tell Captain T if he puts his projected Tour to Italy we may perhaps meet”
(Note: A Miss Periman is also mentioned in John Keats letter to Mary-Ann and Sarah Jeffery of 4th June: “Talking of that is the Captn married yet, or rather married Miss Mitchel – is she stony hearted enough to hold out this season. Has the Doctor given Miss Perryman a little Love Powder – tell him to do so it really would not be unamusing to see her languish a little – Oh she must be quite melting this hot Weather ….)
In the probate documents of her will in 1870 she also refers to Sarah Jeffery (i.e. the mother) as her friend.
The relevant part of the change in the will, in favour of Sarah Jeffery and her daughters, is as follows:
“I do hereby also in pursuance and execution of such powers and authorities as aforesaid direct limit and appoint give and devise all that messuage tenement and Courtlage with the appurtenances situate in West Teignmouth now in the occupation of Mrs. Sarah Jeffery Widow And also all that messuage or dwelling house with the Coach House Stable Garden and appurtenances situate in the Town of Chudleigh heretofore in the occupation of Thomas Mitchell Esquire but now or late in the occupation of Francis Day Surgeon unto and to the use of John Line Templer Esquire of Highland House in the County of Devon his heirs and assigns Upon trust during the life of the said Sarah Jeffery Widow to convey and assure the said last mentioned hereditaments unto and to the use of the said Sarah Jeffery and her assigns for and during her life or otherwise to permit and suffer her and them to receive and take the rents and profits thereof And from and after the decease of the said Sarah Jeffery then Upon trust to convey and assure one undivided moiety or equal half part or share of and in the said last mentioned hereditaments unto and to the use of Mary Ann Prowse the daughter of the said Sarah Jeffery her heirs and assigns or as she or they shall order and direct And to convey and assure the other undivided moiety or equal half part or share of and in the same hereditaments unto and to the use of Sarah Frances Jeffery the other daughter of the said Sarah Jeffery her heirs and assigns or as she or they shall order and direct”
So we have a record of the family with positive references to them living in West Teignmouth around 1800, in 1830 and at least through to 1841 with no references whatsoever in any official records to their being in Northumberland Place. Is it likely that in between 1800 and 1830 they moved a couple of hundred yards to Northumberland Place and then back again in the intervening period, leaving no trace of that move, or would they have stayed put?
My money is on them living permanently in Old Market Street, West Teignmouth, therefore they too can not be used as a deciding factor in whether Keats lived in No 20 or No 35 Northumberland Place.
FINALLY, there are a few miscellaneous observations from local sources which could have a bearing …..
TO BE CONTINUED …..