Walking The Pier

Teignmouth Pier

I decided to run a ‘Poetry Walk’ in Teignmouth this week based on a selection of the poems in this collection. The intention was to link poem, people and place, So the walk visited a number of locations in Teignmouth directly connected to each poem. The walk started from Teignmouth Pier, now a somewhat jaded relic of much better times gone by. The Pier has featured in a number of poems so far but I was actually offered a new poem, though written some years ago, from local poet Liz Diamond to add to the collection. It is a personal memory of the Pier:

Walking the Pier

We walk on the pier.
Past the slot machines
where coins stacked on the lip’s edge
promise a fall they rarely deliver.
Past the rifle arcades, the carousels
which return me briefly
to a distant memory of happiness
that is circular and fleeting.

I have been here before.
Walked this pier from one end to another.
Squinted out through the telescope’s enlarging eye
towards Lyme Bay and Portland Bill,
lost in the blue horizon.

I have been here before, too.
This teenaged delight in all things
rediscovered now with you.
I’m surprised again by this realisation
that the nature of happiness
is so circular and fleeting.

For a short biography of Liz see: Liz Diamond

For a short history of the Pier see: Teignmouth Pier

The Compass Rose revived

Mosaic revived

The Compass Rose mosaic at the foot of Eastcliff park in Teignmouth featured as one of the early poems (a couplet) on this site and in the accompanying book Pebbles on the Shore.  Unfortunately the mosaic was wearing away over time but it has now been replaced, this time with the first line of Keats’ sonnet Bright Star.

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art

The reference to Keats is appropriate but remember also the speculation that a local woman, Marianne Jefferies (later Prowse) whom Keats knew well during his stay in Teignmouth, was infatuated with Keats.  She supposedly wrote a sonnet to Keats under the pseudonym of P Fenbank the first two lines of which also referred to the star:

Star of high promise! Not to this dark age
Do thy mild light and loveliness belong

The Donkey Seat – Youth and Age

As the collection of Teignmouth in Verse grows it is intriguing to reflect on how new pieces are discovered.

Sundial pillar by donkey seat

These particular quatrains were found during a walk from the Teign, through Shaldon and up what I have always known as “Beacon Hill” but is actually “Pickethead Hill”.  About half-way up is a bench next to a large pillar which was once the mounting for a sundial.  The bench is known locally as “the donkey seat” because is supposedly marks the grave of a donkey.

On the stone are carved two quatrains entitled “Youth” and “Age”.

The first is now almost illegible and seems to be a sundial motto.

The second appears to be an extract from a sacred hymn. The earliest reference I have  found is from “A Selection of Hymns adapted for Divine Worship” published in Edinburgh in 1818.  The wording doesn’t match exactly but other hymnals and collections of sacred poetry published later also have slight variations in the wording.

Although the first quatrain is barely legible I have found a reference to it the Western Antiquary of 1883.  A certain “P.F.R.” of Teignmouth wrote a piece in the Antiquary describing how he had tracked down the pillar and copied the inscriptions.  So here they are:



Mark well the hour of need
The too-fleeting shadow tells,
And, reader, ne’er commit a deed
On which a shadow dwells.





And as yon sun, descending, rolls away
To rise in glory at return of day,
So may we set, this transient being o’er,
So may we rise upon the eternal shore.


Want to know more?  Check out:

Donkey Seat

Sacred hymn

The Western Antiquary … (go to p 106)

The Hunt for Keats House – Postscript

The investigation is over.  Have the last six weeks been worth it?  Time to wax a little philosophical ……

There was an iconic book in the 1970’s – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – involving a 17-day journey of a father and son by motorbike from Minnesota to California. The story pivots around a series of philosophical discussions.  One exploration I recall, through the blurred memory of time, is the nature of a brick wall.  The essence of the discussion is about what emerges in terms of insight, knowledge, understanding in the process of analysis to an increasingly detailed level – from the wall to the brick to the lumps and bumps to the grain to the crystal to the atom etc.

In the wall of the history of Keats the address of his lodgings is one of those atoms, so can anything be learned in this six-week journey to the infinitesimal?  For me, apart from the satisfaction of perhaps resolving a debate that has rumbled on over the past 120 years, there are three possible insights: the first is the passion for Keats; the second is something nebulous around ‘knowledge, belief and truth’ in history; and the third is the relationship between Keats and Teignmouth.

The Passion

When I embarked on this investigation I truly did not appreciate how much passion there has been for Keats over the past 200 years.  I have been amazed at the number of biographies that have been written about him; the extraordinary analysis not just of his poetry, which you would expect, but of his other writings – most significantly his letters; and the speculation this has engendered into his thoughts and his relationships with others.

For me this suggests a Keats who was far more than just a poet; he appears as a person with a mind in overdrive, thinking deeply even at his young age about profound issues in the psyche of humankind.  But rather than writing philosophical treatises he chose perhaps to express those thoughts through sublimation into his poetry, his chosen medium.  Maybe one of the roles of poetry is simply to make people think.

Knowledge, Belief and Truth

One of Keats’ most famous quotations is:

Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all 
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know

Which leads me neatly on to knowledge, belief and truth in historical research.  The past six weeks have shown how many differing views can be held (sometimes vehemently) about the same subject and how much inconsistency and contradiction there can be in arguing or substantiating those views.

Taking this investigation as an example and based on all the evidence that is available to me, what I feel I can confidently say is that:  I know that Keats spent a couple of months in Teignmouth in 1818, I believe that he stayed at No 20 Northumberland Place but I can not confirm that that is the absolute truth.

Having a scientific background I can see an interesting parallel with scientific method – the ‘belief’ in history is analogous to the ‘theory’ in science – neither can definitely claim to be absolute truth, each can be valid at a point in time but both can equally be overturned by a single new piece of evidence. The other interesting parallel between history and science is that views in the framework of each are always relative to the observer – two different observers will have different views of the same event and may draw different conclusions (most famously stated by Einstein for physical systems in his theory of relativity).

So how important is it, knowing that something is true as opposed to believing it to be true?

Wilfred Owen came on a pilgrimage to Teignmouth in 1911.  Keats was a hero of his and he wanted to visit this small town where Keats had once stayed.  Who knows what Owen wanted from his visit?  Was he, by being in the same place as Keats, trying to re-live the thoughts and emotions of Keats?  Was he trying to absorb the residual spirit of Keats captured in the litho-memory of the buildings and the streets that Keats had wandered through? We don’t know.  What we do know, from his letters, is that he spent a long time standing in front of the house he believed to have been the one where Keats lodged and he seems to have come away inspired.  He wrote some fragmentary verse whilst he was here, just before starting to read the biography of Keats, but he also started and later completed his famous sonnet to his hero Keats, ‘whose name was writ in water’.

What if Wilfred Owen had actually been standing, unknowingly, in front of the wrong house? Would that have changed the impact that the pilgrimage had on him?  Probably not.  He would have still been inspired because his thoughts and actions were based on his belief, not on the absolute truth of the house.  If someone told him a year later that he had stood in front of the wrong house would that have made a difference to him?

Keats and Teignmouth

When I started this whole blog-site about four years ago I was sceptical about the emphasis that was placed locally on Keats as a part of the history of Teignmouth – after all he had stayed here for only two months and yet the town claimed him as a significant historical figure.  I looked for other poets associated with Teignmouth and other verse written about people and events related to the Teignmouth area.  Four years on I have collected over 150 pieces of verse from upward of 100 contributors which sets Keats correctly in terms of historical context if you base any claim to importance on purely numerical contribution.

However, the investigation of the last six weeks has substantially changed my view on the importance of Keats to Teignmouth.  We need to move away from the fact that he happened to stay here for a couple of months, or that he wrote half-a-dozen poems whilst he was here; instead, we need to be a different observer and take a different view by turning the question around and asking “what was the importance of Teignmouth to Keats?”

I have a theory, which is that his stay in Teignmouth was a pivotal moment in Keats’ life, for the following reasons:

  1. Teignmouth gave Keats time and breathing space.  If you read his letters for the six months or so before he came to Teignmouth his life seemed to be a constant whirl amongst the literatti – there were his usual friends in London but also Wordsworth, Shelley, Lamb were thrown into the social mix.  This would have obviously been a stimulating time for him but I wonder whether Teignmouth was almost like a period of rehab away from that intellectual whirl.  In Teignmouth he was essentially on his own with time to think.  From his letters he appears to become more introspective, he starts to question the worth and role of poetry in his life, he starts to plan the next stage of his life – seeking new experiences perhaps in Scotland, perhaps Italy.
  2. For the previous year he had been absorbed, perhaps almost ‘shackled’,  by the enormous undertaking of ‘Endymion’.  In fact he delayed coming to Teignmouth because he wanted to finish Endymion before coming down but that was not to be because his brother George, who was looking after Tom in Teignmouth, needed to be back in London for his wedding and subsequent emigration to America.  So Keats came to Teignmouth slightly prematurely and completed the final copy of Book IV of Endymion early on in his stay here.  That must have been an immense relief to him and also freed him up to take stock and move on.
  3. Although his father and mother had both died when Keats was relatively young I believe that this was the first time that Keats was really confronting death close up.  His brother Tom, who did die later that year, was in the final stages of TB and Keats must have realised that Tom had little time left.  The emotional turmoil that would have created in Keats is evident through his letters and would have undoubtedly caused him to think about his own mortality and future.
  4. Reading what others say about his poetry it appears that he went through a metamorphosis in his style of writing and emerged from Teignmouth as a stronger writer as a result. Following on from the completion of Endymion he wrote Isabella in Teignmouth which was the first ‘story’ he had written in poetic form.  Analysts suggest that he also used Isabella for experimentation in style and that affected his subsequent writing.

So for all these reasons I believe that Teignmouth was an historical confluence, a fulcrum of change for Keats and that that is the true significance of his association with the town.  It’s not the fact that he just happened to stay ‘serendipitously’ in Teignmouth for two months, it’s the notion that Teignmouth allowed Keats to flourish that Teignmouth should nurture and be proud of.



The Hunt for Keats House Part 8 – The Verdict

If we were to apply the rigours of the Criminal Justice System, with its burden of proof, to the evidence presented for one house rather than the other being where Keats and his brothers lodged in 1818 then we would probably have to say that the case for either house is unproven.  However, it’s entirely reasonable to say that in historical research, although we might like the absolute truth, we have to rely more on judgement based on the balance of probabilities.

What has been shown in the posts over the last six weeks is:

  1. The Letters.  Keats’ letters give no reference to a specific house or address, but he does describe a view from his bedroom window which could apply equally to either N20 or No 35 Northumberland Place as the location of Keats’ lodgings.
  2. The Bonnet-shop.  Arguments put forward historically include an assertion that there was a bonnet-shop opposite where Keats lived. I can find no evidence of there being a bonnet-shop in either of these two locations in 1818.  My view is that the bonnet-shop that Keats mentioned was more likely the milliners run by the Sutton sisters in Wellington’s Row, one of the main streets of Teignmouth at the time along which Keats would have probably regularly walked.  So I don’t think that the ‘bonnet-shop argument’ can be used to decide between the two locations.
    However, if I am wrong and there had been a bonnet-shop opposite Keats’ lodgings in 1818 then the only place it could have been, consistent with Keats’ description of his view and being able to see the bonnet-shop, would have been N35 Northumberland Place.  This means that Keats’ house would have been No 20.
  3. The Jeffery Family.  Arguments have also been put forward historically about Keats living with the Jeffery family or close to the Jeffery family.  Again I can find no evidence of the family being in Northumberland Place.  On the contrary local records make reference to them being in West Teignmouth and specifically Old Market Street.  So again I think there is no substantiating evidence here about Keats’ residence.
  4. One Old Man.  The final thread of evidence concerns the ‘one old man’ mentioned by Dorothy Hewlett in her 1937 biography.  I have described this in a lot of detail in the previous three posts so here is a chronological summary:
Pre 1901 Dr W C Lake & Henry Buxton Forman decided on the basis of Keats’ letters that he lodged at 35 Northumberland Place.  I can find no written explanation for this decision.
1901 Beatrix Cresswell reported this in her book “Teignmouth, its History and its Surroundings”, reprinted in 1906
1908 Louis A Holman visited Teignmouth and photographed No 35 Northumberland Place, probably on the basis of Beatrix Cresswell’s book
1908/9 John Gilmer Speed produces article for Century Magazine (published posthumously 1910) including Holman’s photo with caption “The Lodgings of Keats and his Brothers in Teignmouth”
1906-10 My speculation is that the decision changed some time in this period and that Dr W C Lake spoke with William Risdon Hall Jordan (the “one old man”) who claimed that his father had known Keats well and that Keats lived at No 20 Northumberland Place
1910 Frederick C Frost writes to local paper with this claim based on Dr Lake, W R H Jordan and H B Forman’s assessment
1910-12 At some point the name “Keats House” is attached to the front door of No 20 Northumberland Place (Wilfred Owen visited in 1911)
1912 Francis Gribble’s book “The Romance of the Men of Devon” was published with a picture of No 20 Northumberland Place showing the name on the front door.
1913 Louis A Holman writes to Dr Lake and receives a reply 4th April confirming the claim by W R H Jordan that Keats’ house was No 20 Northumberland Place.  Holman attaches clipping of photo from Century Magazine with note that the title was wrong and it should have been “the bonnet shop over the way”
1913 20th May Holman receives 2nd letter from Dr W C Lake with photographs which he annotates indicating that Keats’ house was No 20 Northumberland Place
1925 The house is officially referred to as ‘Keats House’ in the deeds
1926 Frederick Edgcumbe, curator of Keats Museum, visits Teignmouth and concludes that No 20 Northumberland Place was indeed the house where Keats lodged and a commemorative plaque is then placed on the house.  I have seen no explanation for his conclusion but his notes are held in the London Metropolitan Archives
1937 Dorothy Hewlett, in her biography, acknowledges the plaque but also says its veracity depends on the memory of ‘one old man’.
1950 Hyder Edward Rollins publishes summarised versions of Dr W C Lake’s letters in Harvard Library Bulletin
1958 Hyder Edward Rollins publishes his new version of “Letters of John Keats” and quotes Dr Lake’s letter to support statement that Keats lodged at No 20 Northumberland Place.

SO, given all the above and on the basis of the balance of probabilities,
my conclusion is that
the house in which Keats and his brothers lodged was ……….
No 20 Northumberland Place.

 Could this conclusion change?

The answer, of course, is “Yes” although it is difficult to see what additional evidence could come to light to change that conclusion.  I have yet to see Frederick Edgcumbe’s notes but he decided on No 20 anyway so there is unlikely to be information to the contrary there.  If a rent book with an address and Keats name on surfaced then that would be conclusive.  Did someone in 1910 have a vested interest in No 20 and encourage a conspiracy between Lake, Jordan and Frost to concoct a memory about Keats?  Possible but unlikely given their local standing and credibility.

At one stage I did wonder why Lake and Forman even focussed on Northumberland Place when there was no reference to it in the letters.  Old Market Street, for example, would have had river views at that time – and that is probably where the Jeffery family lived and it was closer to two milliners.  But, once W R H Jordan’s statement about his father came to light that ruled out Old Market Street as well.

New information does come to light – for example, I have just discovered another source of Keats memorabilia – a collection of Henry Buxton Forman archive material held by the University of Delaware.  Thanks to Tim and Valerie there for sending me a couple of photos; although they don’t alter my conclusion they do add to the growing collection of photos of No 20 in the early 20th century so I thought I’d just bring them all together here in one place:



From Louis A Holman collection, Harvard, sent by Dr W C Lake – note gas streetlamp outside so I think this is the oldest photograph


From Henry Buxton Forman Collection, University of Delaware.  Note gas streetlamp outside Keats House and electric streetlamp on left next to No 35


From Louis A Holman collection, Harvard, sent by Dr W C Lake – note no gas streetlamp


Keats House 1912 – note no gas streetlamp


Keats House 2018


Finally, I’d like to thank Mike and Trudy Posnette, the current owners of No 20 Northumberland Place for allowing me to look around their house, the bedroom where Keats is likely to have stayed and see what remains today of the view from there up the river.

In their lounge there is also a large framed commemoration to Keats which had been presented to Teignmouth Council by Arthur Thomson.  I don’t know when this was presented but I would surmise it was after the decision to place the official plaque on the house.  I thought this would be a fitting end to this long trail of investigation!

The Hunt for Keats House Part 7 – One Old Man cont. ….. The Home Straight

Twenty-seven years passed from Frederick Cornish Frost’s challenge before the address of Keats’ lodgings was mentioned in another biography – the one in which Dorothy Hewlett made the reference to “one old man”.  However, things were going on in the background.  In 1925 the Keats House and Museum opened in Hampstead; Frederick Edgcumbe had been appointed as curator in 1924 and in August 1926 he came down to Teignmouth to assist in deciding on which house had been Keats’ lodgings.

I have contacted the Keats Museum and established that there are archived notes of Frederick Edgcumbe about his visit and information he might have collected.  Those notes are now held in the London Metropolitan Archives in the City of London – they can only be viewed by visiting the Archives so I may need to do that even after all this investigation.  My feeling though is that it is unlikely that the archives would contain new information that has not emerged already from original sources.  By 1926 William Risdon Hall Jordan, Dr W C Lake, Henry Buxton Forman and Frederick Cornish Frost had all died.  Edgcumbe may have met Beatrix Cresswell and the notes might reveal that.

In any event he reached a decision which was that No 20 Northumberland Place was Keats House.

Dorothy Hewlett

Frederick Edgcumbe’s thoughts though may have lived on through Dorothy Hewlett’s biography.  She knew him well and praised him warmly in her acknowledgments:

“Mr Fred Edgcumbe, Curator of the Memorial House, the fairy godfather of all good students of Keats”

As a reminder here is what Dorothy Hewlett said about Keats’ house:

“At No 20, the Strand, there is a granite plate on the face of the old white Georgian house to the effect that John Keats lived here in 1818.  This, by no means a certainty, rests on the memory of one old man in 1901 who said his father, William Rufus Jordan, a solicitor in the town, had told him that Keats had dined with him one evening and informed him he was lodging in either 21 or 22 the Strand.  H Buxton Forman was able to narrow this down to what is now No 20.”

And this is my interpretation:

  1. It is interesting that Henry Buxton Forman (HBF) has been given the credit for this when all the preceding analysis suggests that it was probably Dr W C Lake of Teignmouth, through his connection with William Risdon Hall Jordan, who had reached this conclusion.  I suspect that Dr Lake had told HBF about it, HBF told his son Maurice and Maurice told Dorothy Hewlett and/or Frederick Edgcumbe, putting a little bit of spin on it in the process.  Note that, in her acknowledgments, Dorothy Hewlett thanks Maurice Buxton Forman first and foremost:
    ”To Mr Buxton Forman I make my first bow.  With sources, with advice and kindly criticism he has removed many briars from my path.  Without his help and preliminary encouragement this book would not have been.”
  2. What this does confirm though is the inference from Frederick Cornish Frost’s 1910 letter that the source of the assertion about No 20 being Keats’ house came from William Rufus Jordan via his son (the “one old man”) William Risdon Hall Jordan.
  3. The date quoted, 1901, conflicts with the chronology presented in the previous posts which suggests a date range of 1907-1910 for when the assertion was made.  I believe the 1901 date is just wrong and has probably been confused with the date of publication of Beatrix Cresswell’s book.
  4. The new information that Keats had dined with William Rufus Jordan is something I can’t confirm although, if this were the case, it is strange that it wasn’t mentioned specifically in the 1910 letter of Frederick Frost.
  5. The new information that Keats said he was lodging in either 21 or 22 the Strand (aka Northumberland Place), if true, is interesting not because of the actual numbers (which we know from an earlier post may have changed over time) but because it suggests two houses adjacent to each other.  The maps of the time would therefore suggest that he would not have been lodging in the present-day N35 because that stood on its own, whereas the present-day No 20 is shown as part of a block of 3 houses.
  6. Finally, just as a general observation, the biography has quite a British slant to it. There are hardly any references to the research that had been done in America. In particular, there is no reference at all to Louis A Holman who had been assiduously collecting all sorts of Keats memorabilia from 1908, was still alive when Dorothy Hewlett was compiling her biography and whose collection was actually exhibited at Keats House, Hampstead, in 1936-37.

Hyder Edward Rollins and Louis A Holman

At last we now come to the final piece of the jigsaw and it is through the American connection of Louis A Holman.  It takes us forward another 21 years to 1958 when Hyder Edward Rollins put together a new edition of the Letters of John Keats.  In his words:

“So much information has turned up in recent years about the dating and arrangement of Keats’s letters as to make a new edition almost imperative”.

One such batch of information was the Louis A Holman collection of Keatsiana which became part of the Houghton Library at Harvard.

As a reminder of what Rollins wrote, referring to a letter from Dr W C Lake to Louis A Holman :

“.…. on April 4, 1913, Lake had identified the Teignmouth house in which John, George, and Tom Keats lived as 20, The Strand, now Northumberland Place (today marked with a tablet)

I have been unable to track down this letter in the catalogue of the Houghton Library, even with the help of library assistants there.  However, the reference in Rollins’ book has a footnote referring to an earlier article of his, “Louis Arthur Holman and Keats”, in the Harvard Library Bulletin Vol IV of 1950 a copy of which was kindly sent to me by the Library.  The article is simply a catalogue of letters received by Louis Holman related to Keats, with a summary by Rollins of the main points of each letter.

There are three letters of relevance:

19 February 1913. This is a letter from A Percival Dell who is the clerk to the “urban council Teignmouth”.  It refers Louis Holman to W. C. Lake, MD, of Benton, Exeter Road.

So it looks as though Louis Holman was trying to get information about Keats’ period in Teignmouth and had written to the council for a contact.  This suggests that when Holman had visited England in 1908 he hadn’t made contact with anyone in Teignmouth so the photograph he took at the time must, most likely, have been based on his reading of Beatrix Cresswell’s book and the sketch he saw there.

(As an aside, A Percival Dell was a solicitor in partnership with Edward Tozer, a firm still operating in Teignmouth today.  He was still around in 1930 so could well have been the intermediate passing information about Dr Lake and Louis Holman to Frederick Edgcumbe when he visited Teignmouth in 1926 – that may be revealed if I get to see Fred Edgcumbe’s notes.)

4 April 1913.  This is a letter from W. C. Lake, MD.  It contains quite a lot of information and it looks as though Holman had written to him with specific questions about names and locations referred to in Keats’ letters.  The relevant points here though are (in Rollins own words):

  • 35, The Strand (now Northumberland Place) was not the house K. lived in.
  • He was talking a few years ago with his friend W. R. Hall Jordan (died two years ago aged 90), whose father W. R. Jordan knew K. well.  Jordan said that No. 35 was the house in which K.’s ‘pretty milliners’ lived, and that K. lived in what is now No. 20.
    My inference from this is that WRH Jordan had been told by his father WR Jordan that Keats had lived in No 20 Northumberland Place; you can almost imagine the conversation – “did you know that John Keats once visited Teignmouth and that’s the house where he lodged …”

    However, I’m less convinced that a bonnet-shop would have been part of that conversation because there is no definitive recorded evidence of a bonnet-shop being there in 1818.  However, Dorothy Hewlett in her biography referred to a bonnet-shop being there in the 1830s (something I still need to check).  So I believe that WRH Jordan was talking about his own childhood memory when referring to the house where the milliners lived.

The other note by Rollins concerns a clipping which Louis Holman had attached to the letter:

  • G.Speed’s article in the Century Magazine, LXXX (1910), 690, has a picture, supplied by H. of ‘The Lodgings of Keats and his Brothers in Teignmouth’.  Clipping the picture, H. writes under its caption: ‘In this title I made a mistake.  It should be “the bonnet shop over the way”’.  So this lays to rest the curveball from John Gilmer Speed – Louis Holman acknowledges that he had sent him the wrong title to the photo for his article.

20 May 1913.  This is another letter from W. C. Lake, MD.  Rollins’ notes include the following:

  • A direct quotation from the letter: ‘I do not suppose there are half a dozen persons in the town who know anything about Keats or take any interest in him.’
  • Sends poor photos of No. 20 where K. lived.

Those photos are listed in the catalogue of the Holman Collection at the Houghton Library and I have been sent copies as shown below, together with the handwritten notes of Louis A Holman explaining the pictures:



The photos are undated and they obviously haven’t been taken at the same time – the left-hand photo shows a street gaslamp in front of No 20, whereas there is no lamp in front of it in the right-hand photo.  Also, going back to the 1912 photo of No 20 (see post on biographers), there is no gas lamp.

The transcription of Holman’s notes reads:

“Keats and Tom lived in lodgings (above arrow, photo on left) during March and April 1818.  In the photo on right the house is the one in front of which a girl is walking.  Local tradition locates the “Bonnetshop” in the house with bay windows (right of right photo).

BIG SIGH HERE ….. I think I have clambered at last through Keats’ “Clouds” and presented the last bits of evidence I can find surrounding all the various claims, assertions, suppositions of the past 120 years or so.


The Hunt for Keats House Part 7 – One Old Man cont.

Frederick C Frost

It was exactly 108 years ago today that Frederick Cornish Frost challenged Beatrix Cresswell’s statement about Keats’ House.  Following my earlier post I have since discovered that he was an antiquarian, ran the local family business of auctioneers, became a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1913 and died prematurely of a heart attack in 1914.  He wasn’t an historian or biographer and his contribution to this debate came through a letter he wrote to a local paper on 14th April 1910.

Analysing that letter in more detail, this is my interpretation:

  1. The challenge of the letter wasn’t as much against Beatrix Cresswell as against the local council.  It was aimed at getting the council to take some action about setting up a series of plaques around town commemorating the town’s association with various historic figures, amongst whom was Keats.
  2. Specifically in relation to Keats he said: “The house he lived in is now 21 Northumberland Place ….. For this statement I have the authority of Dr Lake, Mr W R Hall Jordan (WRHJ) and Mr Forman Buxton (sic) CB ….. each remembers this house to have been pointed out to them by those of the former generation as the Teignmouth home of the poet.”
  3. Frost would have known Dr Lake well through their joint interest in history, membership of the Devonshire Association and membership of the Freemasons.
  4. He would have known WRHJ too through the Devonshire Association.
  5. However, I think the reference to Henry Buxton Forman (HBF) is probably an embellishment to add some academic weight to the point he was trying to make in the local paper.  Note that he actually got HBF’s name wrong.
  6. I can’t find any rebuttal by Dr Lake or WRHJ of what Frost is saying – surely if it was wrong then they would have written a letter in response.
  7. However, it is unlikely that Dr Lake would have suddenly remembered the “house to have been pointed out …. by those of the former generation”.  If he had known this then he would have told Beatrix Cresswell in 1901.  The reference to Dr Lake though does suggest that he has changed his mind, so what caused that?
  8. The new piece of information in the letter is William Risdon Hall Jordan.  He was born three years after Keats was in Teignmouth but his father, at least in 1822, lived at 11 Northumberland Place, just up the road from where Keats would have lodged.  So I believe that the memory must have come from WRHJ and that, if that memory was correct, then it would likely have been his father who had told him.  His father may well have met Keats strolling along Northumberland Place, but that’s just speculation.
  9. As often seems to be the case in historical research this may be a case of serendipity.  Maybe Frost, Dr Lake and WRHJ were all together at a meeting of the Devonshire Association some time after 1906 and the conversation turned to Keats, which is when WRHJ revealed his memory.  Who knows?
  10. Whether it was this letter or subsequent local campaigning by Frost, by 1912 the name “Keats House” had been placed by the owners on the front door of No 20 Northumberland Place (see earlier post on biographers).

The John Gilmer Speed Curve Ball

John Gilmer Speed

It turns out that John Gilmer Speed was the grandson of Keats’ brother George.  He started life as a civil engineer but by 1878 he had become the managing editor of the New York World.  He wrote a number of books including editing a collection of “Letters and Poems of John Keats” in 1883.

His article “The Sojourns of John Keats” in the Century Magazine in 1910 is interesting for the following:

  1. There is only passing reference to Teignmouth, with no indication in the text about where Keats lived.  BUT it does include a photograph by Louis A Holman of “The Lodgings of Keats and his Brothers in Teignmouth”.  This is a photograph of No35 Northumberland Place.
  2. The article was actually published posthumously.  John Gilmer Speed died in February 1909.  So the photograph must have been taken in 1908 or earlier.
  3. It turns out that Louis A Holman, of Boston, went to England for several months of work involving antiquarian and other research ….” I haven’t found a record of him visiting Teignmouth but he certainly did some research In Plymouth so it’s not unreasonable to suppose that he would have visited Teignmouth en route given his interest in Keats and the fact that it was in 1908 that he started collecting Keatsiana.
  4. So why did he photograph No35 Northumberland Place as the lodgings of Keats and his brothers? There are two possibilities:
    1. Either he had discovered the Beatrix Cresswell book and tracked down the house from that; or,
    2. He had an introduction to Dr W C Lake (possibly through Henry Buxton Forman) who still hadn’t changed his mind abouts Keats House by then.

So the curveball doesn’t actually give us any new information – it is just another reflection of Dr Lake’s original deduction and Frederick Cornish Frost’s challenge still stands.


The Hunt for Keats’ House Part 7 – One Old Man cont.

I am going to take each of the four views presented in the previous post (plus the curve ball from John Gilmer Speed) and probe them further, starting with Beatrix Cresswell.

Apart from the inconsistencies one of the interesting aspects in the views is what information is missing.  What I can say about the players involved though is that they all have high levels of expertise and I have to start with the assumption that everything which is being told is the truth as they know it; there may be mistakes but I do not believe that anyone is deliberately imparting misleading information.

Beatrix Cresswell

The more I read about Beatrix Feodore Grace Clara Augusta Cresswell the more impressed I am by her contribution to the history and social history of Devon.  It’s all the more impressive given the lack of opportunity afforded to women in educational and academic circles in her time, growing up in the second half of the nineteenth century.  Her brother Richard, for example, automatically went up to Oxford; she didn’t.

Anyway, what do we learn from her contribution (see earlier post on the ‘local debate’)? …..

  1. This is the first written reference to where Keats lived in Teignmouth.  So she isn’t relying on earlier biographers but quoting an original source, a combination of Dr W C Lake and Henry Buxton Forman (HBF).
  2. She probably knew Dr Lake reasonably well since they had both lived and grown up in Teignmouth in the same period, they both had an interest in history, they both contributed to the Devonshire Association and I would surmise that her father also moved in the same Teignmouth “academic” circle as Dr Lake.  So she would have trusted Dr Lake’s judgment.
  3. I would guess that her communication with Dr Lake on this topic would have been conversational rather than in writing.  If it had been in writing then, since Beatrix was a meticulous researcher, she would undoubtedly have kept it in her notes and it would more than likely have been discovered by future biographers – and there has been no such reference that I can find.
  4. She makes no mention of William Risdon Hall Jordan (WRHJ), who appears later as a source. So I would assume that he hadn’t been involved with Dr Lake and HBF in their investigation at this time.
  5. The reason she gives for Dr Lake’s and HBF’s decision is: “By studying his letters they concluded that the young poet lodged in a house (now 35, Strand)”.  This suggests that they too had not looked at other sources (unmentioned) and hadn’t consulted with WRHJ at that time.  The intriguing point though is that, as I showed in my earlier post on the Letters, there is nothing in those letters that discriminates between No 35 and No 20 Northumberland Place as Keats lodgings …. unless Dr Lake and HBF knew something else, which hasn’t been recorded.
  6. Image of Keats’ Lodgings in Cresswell’s book – now 35 Northumberland Place

    Did Beatrix make a mistake?  I don’t believe so.  She was quoting Dr Lake in a published book and I am certain that if he had been misquoted he would have said something about it.  (Remember she was pulled up on another error in the book by someone in the Devonshire Association).  Beatrix’s book was reprinted in 1906 with exactly the same information so Dr Lake would have had 5 years to challenge the reference.

    Also, Beatrix’s book was illustrated by a professional illustrator which would obviously have cost her something.  She not only quoted Dr Lake but also commissioned the illustrator to produce the sketch of No35 Northumberland Place in her book, so she must have been confident about the information.

    So I believe that some time prior to 1901, Dr Lake genuinely believed that No 35 was Keats’ lodgings and imparted that to Beatrix Cresswell.

  7. However, I do wonder on the extent of HBF’s involvement in this decision.  He was certainly the expert on Keats’ letters and would have been able to brief Dr Lake but I wonder whether Dr Lake actually made the decision independently.
    The reason for my doubt is that HBF too was a meticulous scholar – his book on Keats’ letters is full of footnotes, interpretations, additional information yet there is nothing about the address of Keats’ lodgings.  His son Maurice continued updating the book on Keats’ letters through four editions upto 1952 and there are no references in those either to Keats’ lodgings.  There is a collection of HBF’s notes at the University of Delaware which, as far as I can tell, has no written notes about talking with Dr Lake about the address ….. although there appear to be a couple of photographs which I am still trying to get hold of.

So Beatrix Feodore Grace Clara Augusta Cresswell has laid down the gauntlet.

COMING NEXT ….. Frederick C Frost takes up the challenge.

The Hunt for Keats’ House Part 7 – One Old Man

Clamouring through Clouds

I started writing this on 8th April so I thought I’d look back 200 years ….. whilst on the 8th April 1818 John Keats was looking forward to the future.  He wrote to his friend Benjamin Haydon:

“I will clamber through the Clouds and exist”

In the hunt for Keats’ House I feel I’m clambering through the clouds now …… is there life beyond!

One Old Man

In Dorothy Hewlett’s Biography of Keats in 1937 she says (see post on biographers):

“At No 20, the Strand, there is a granite plate on the face of the old white Georgian house to the effect that John Keats lived here in 1818.  This, by no means a certainty, rests on the memory of one old man in 1901 …..”

There is a brief explanation of where this information came from which is what I want to explore in more depth here.  This involves an understanding of the players, amongst whom are more than one old man.  Most of them have already been mentioned in the various preceding posts but I want to draw them all together here to round off the plot.

The Players

  1. Harry Buxton Forman,

    Henry Buxton Forman, 1842-1917, was a prolific author and authority on Shelley and Keats. He produced the ‘centenary’ collection of Letters of John Keats in 1895.  In 1934 it was discovered that he had produced a number of forgeries of literary works, for sale in the American market – though none by Keats..

  2. Maurice Buxton Forman, NPG etching by Wig, 1931

    Maurice Buxton Forman,1872-1957, was Henry’s youngest and, apparently, favourite son, who followed in his father’s footsteps.  He was well acquainted with his father’s literary work and friends. He and Thomas James Wise sorted the Buxton Forman Collection after his father’s death in 1917, prior to its sale as part of the estate.  He continued updating the “Letters of John Keats” collection through to its 4th edition in 1952..

  3. Dr W C Lake, 1825-1920, was Teignmouth born and bred.  His father, Anthony Proctor Lake, was a naval surgeon and William followed his profession having studied at Kings College, London, and St Andrews University.  He practised in Teignmouth for over 40 years, was on the honorary medical staff of the Teignmouth Hospital, for 14 years was Medical Officer of Health for the urban district, and performed much useful work during the outbreak of cholera in 1867.  He was also a bit of a polymath with special interests in local history and meteorology on which he wrote a number of articles for the Devonshire association.  Of special interest for this piece of research was that:
    • His parents moved to Teignmouth in 1817;
    • he went to school with Robert C R Jordan (1825-1890) who also became a doctor and was the younger brother of William Risdon Hall Jordan;
    • according to Pigot’s Directory of 1822 his father was recorded as a surgeon at No16 Northumberland Place. The Navy List of 1841 shows that his father was registered in the service in 1806.
  4. William Risdon Hall Jordan, 1821-1911, son of William Rufus Jordan, also Teignmouth born and bred, was a solicitor like his father and also performed various public roles – e.g. Clerk to Teignmouth Urban District Council and Teignmouth School Board; Hon Sec to the Bread & Coal Society and the Soup Kitchen. He too was a member of the Devonshire Association and wrote various articles on local history and natural history.
  5. William Rufus Jordan, 1792-1865, was the son of Robert Jordan one of the influential businessmen of Teignmouth who instigated the plan for the infilling of Teignmouth town centre where the river Tame once flowed.  He was a solicitor and, in 1818, a founding member of the Teignmouth branch of the Missionary Society   In Pigot’s Directory of 1822 he was recorded as an attorney at No 11 Northumberland Place, so a close neighbour of Dr W C Lake’s parents.
  6. Hyder Edward Rollins from Guggenheim Foundation

    Hyder Edward Rollins, 1889 – 1958, was an American scholar and Gurney Professor of English at Harvard University from 1939. He was a prolific author of articles and books on Elizabethan poetry, broadside ballads, and Romantic poets. He was an internationally recognized scholar on John Keats, and edited the authoritative two-volume edition of Keats’ letters.  These he completed in the last four years of his life..

  7. Louis A Holman, 1866-1939, was an illustrator, art editor, and print dealer in Boston, Massachusetts.  Beginning his studies of Keats and collection of Keatsiana in 1908 he became an expert on the “life of Keats and the persons, places, things connected with Keats.” He described his collection as a “poor man’s for no item in it has cost more than five dollars….. about 500 pieces – contemporaneous portraits of Keats, his family, teachers, friends, critics, enemies; places having relation to Keats; facsimile[s] of Mss, pictures & sculpture which influenced his poetry, first printings of his poems, cut from periodicals of his day, etc…”. His collection now forms part of the Houghton Library at Harvard.
  8. Fred C Frost, was a Teignmouth contemporary of Dr W C Lake and William Risdon Hall Jordan.  He lived at 5 Regent Street and would have known Dr Lake well since they were both members of the Freemasons Benevolent Lodge 303.  He too was a member of the Devonshire Association and made contributions to that organisation and to the “Antiquary” and “Notes & Queries, a Medium of Intercommunication, for Literary men, General Readers etc” on subjects as diverse as the Devon dialect, medieval religious orders and heraldry.  He used the initials FSI after his name which could mean he was a Fellow (full member) of the Surveyors Institution, awarded a royal charter in 1881 and the forerunner of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.
  9. Frederick Edgcumbe, was the curator of the Keats House and Museum in Hampstead, London, from its inception in 1924 through to his death in 1941.  During that time he amassed a large amount of Keats related material and was a well-respected source of information for biographers.  He edited the “Letters of Fanny Brawne to Fanny Keats”, published by OUP in 1936.  A memorial tree and plaque was placed in the grounds of Keats House by the Keats-Shelley Association of America.  He also visited Teignmouth to recommend which house should be designated as Keats House.

The Views

Here’s a reminder of the views from earlier posts:

Beatrix Cresswell, 1901: “A year or two ago, Dr Lake and Mr H Buxton Forman, C.B. (the latter then busy in searching for memorials of Keats), were at some pains to ascertain, if possible, the house in which he stayed.  By studying his letters they concluded that the young poet lodged in a house (now 35, Strand) at the corner of Queen Street, a turning toward the river.”

Fred C Frost, 1910: “The house he lived in is now 21 Northumberland Place (adjoining the King William Inn, facing Queen Street) and is not , as Miss Cresswell in her guide states, No 35 Northumberland Place at the corner of Queen Street nearly opposite.  For this statement I have the authority of Dr Lake, Mr W R Hall Jordan and Mr Forman Buxton (sic) CB who although neither of them are patriarchal enough to have been the contemporary of Keats each remembers this house to have been pointed out to them by those of the former generation as the Teignmouth home of the poet.”

Dorothy Hewlett, 1937:  “At No 20, the Strand, there is a granite plate on the face of the old white Georgian house to the effect that John Keats lived here in 1818.  This, by no means a certainty, rests on the memory of one old man in 1901 who said his father, William Rufus Jordan, a solicitor in the town, had told him that Keats had dined with him one evening and informed him he was lodging in either 21 or 22 the Strand.  H Buxton Forman was able to narrow this down to what is now No 20.”

Hyder Edward Rollins, 1958: (referring to a letter from Dr W C Lake to Louis A Forman): “.…. on April 4, 1913, Lake had identified the Teignmouth house in which John, George, and Tom Keats lived as 20, The Strand, now Northumberland Place (today marked with a tablet), and the shop of ‘the Girls over at the Bonnet shop’ as 35, The Strand.  Whether the former was the house of Mrs Jeffery cannot be proved, though I think it is likely that the Keats brothers lodged with, or visited, her there.”

So, we have a number of views, with some inconsistencies and contradictions.  Is history always like this?  Discuss.  The next post will try to make sense of these views and see if there is a single most likely scenario.

But ….. just when you think everything is going swimmingly and it’s safe to go back in the water something comes in from left-field, rife with mixed metaphors, to add to the state of confusion.

I have just discovered an article “The Sojourns of John Keats” by John Gilmer Speed in The Century Magazine, Vol 58, May to October 1910.

The text itself doesn’t add to the debate but it does include a photograph by Louis A Holman of “The Lodgings of Keats and his Brothers in Teignmouth”.  This is a photograph of No 35 Northumberland Place.



The Hunt for Keats House Part 6 – Loose Ends

There are a few loose ends to tie up on the local records.  They don’t necessarily contribute directly to the decision on where Keats lodged but they are peripheral pieces of pertinent information which help to complete the picture.  So here are some observations on the address, the Deeds ….. and a young visitor.

The Address

Although I have been focussing on just two houses in Northumberland Place, No 20 and No 35, as the two potential candidates for Keats House there was mention in earlier posts about Nos 19,20,21,21 and 35,36,37,38.

One of the things that has caused confusion amongst various correspondents is the change in addressing that took place in Teignmouth during the 19th century, reflecting the growth of the town, the influence of local personalities and historic events.

So I have done a little research which doesn’t contribute much to the Keats House debate but does explain the confusion and rounds off that part of the debate.  It is included here for completeness.

Notes on the Origin of the Streets of Teignmouth

There is an excellent article by Dr W C Lake (already featured in previous posts and more of him in next post) entitled “Notes on the Origin of the Streets of Teignmouth, and on their Nomenclature” which appeared in Vol 22 of the Reports and Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art, July 1890. Here are a few points from that article:

  1. At the turn of the 18th/19th century Northumberland Place did not exist.  Referring back to the 1805 map the area south of the river Tame (AA) following the route of Fore Street was known as the Strand – “the first new house erected called in consequence ‘Strand House’ being that now occupied by Mr Hoare, the cooper, Number 31 Northumberland Place.”  (Note: Looking at the 1805 map this would seem to correspond with the building to the left of the block marked ‘1a’)
  2. “the names of the larger number (of streets), where any were attached to them, doubtless varied from time to time according to local circumstances, their present names being only for the most part their latest designations ……”

    ”In 1880, therefore, the Local Board appointed a committee for naming the streets and numbering the houses ….. “This committee determined to make no alteration, not absolutely called for, in the customary names of the streets, but felt they might give themselves a free hand in the numbering …..”

    ”Some of the streets, besides their general names, had had their line of houses, even when quite continuous, cut up into groups separately named or not named, and numbered, or not numbered, such names or numbers having been in some cases attached to them, in some not.  The committee determined, therefore, to ignore the whole of these, and to number each street continuously throughout. They also sought to provide, as far as they could, for the perpetuity of the work, and arranged that where an unoccupied space occurred in a street sufficient numbers should be omitted for the supply of houses that might subsequently be built there; that where two houses were now used as one but might again be separated, each house should be numbered; that where a single house at the corner of two streets had an entrance into each, it should yet be only numbered in one; and that in the point of commencement and course of the numbering of each street, regard should be had to the readiness with which they could be found by strangers or any unaccustomed to the locality ……”
  3. “In fixing the name of the street below Somerset Place (i.e. below left-hand ‘A’ on 1805 map heading south) the Committee felt some difficulty.  It had been known for many years generally as the Strand, but a large part of its eastern side had been also long known as Northumberland Place, while some groups of houses recently built on its western side had been variously designated as well.  After some consideration they therefore determined to call the whole of the street Northumberland Place, numbering it as such throughout, reserving the term Strand for a group of houses on the Den lower down.  Northumberland Place received its name on a visit of the then Duke of Northumberland to Teignmouth at the time it was being built, and his residence there.  Numbers 26 to 30, the houses nearest the Den on the western side of the street, were, when built a few years ago, named Devon Terrace, from the Earl of Devon, the lord of the manor of East Teignmouth; the house adjoining is Strand House, before referred to.  The three adjoining houses to this, Numbers 32 to 34, were, when recently built, named Strand Terrace …..”
  4. At the end of his article Dr Lake apologises !! ….. “This sketch of the origin and nomenclature of the streets of Teignmouth must, I fear, in much be tedious, if not be even wearisome, yet I trust it may not be altogether without its points of interest.”

We know from Pigot’s Directory that by 1822 the name Northumberland Place was well-established with 18 addresses from which various people were running businesses.  Not all of these were numbered in the directory but those which were comprised:  2,6,8,11,16 (which were possibly those referred to the Courtenay estate rental records as being “near Tame Brook”) and 30,36,37,38,39.  The first set seems feasible when compared to the 1828 map but that map wouldn’t appear to have enough buildings on the west side of Northumberland Place to correspond to the second set of numbers unless, as Lake, suggests there were gaps in the numbering for some reason.

Finally, in a biography of the naval hero Admiral Edward Pellew (Cecil Northcote Parkinson, 1934)  there is reference to the Duke of Northumberland.  This appears to be Hugh Percy the 2nd Duke of Northumberland who used to regularly winter at Teignmouth for the sake of his daughter’s health.  He was a friend of Edward Pellew, who settled in Bitton House in Teignmouth in 1812, and there are other references to them both involved in property purchases in Teignmouth between 1810 and 1816.  So I would guess that Northumberland Place gained its name some time between those dates.

The Deeds

There is one last official record to present, the Deeds of No 20 Northumberland Place.

In the latter part of the 19th century the Courtenay Estate appeared to be going through financial difficulties and there are records from then onwards of the gradual sale of the land and properties of East Teignmouth, I assume to raise capital to offset the debt of the Estate. Essentially the leasehold of each parcel of land/property was converted to freehold and sold.

One of the last properties to be sold was No 20 Northumberland Place.  The sale was referred to as a ‘freehold reversion’; the Vendor was The Right Hon Earl of Devon, the Purchaser William Powell Esq.  There is a reference to an earlier indenture of lease of 14th March 1871 between the Right Honourable William Reginald Earl of Devon and John Hook which indicates that the house was formerly known as 19 Northumberland Street – which corroborates Dr Lake’s assertion about the re-numbering of properties.

Much more interestingly, though, this house is officially recorded in the legal document as “Keats House, No 20 Northumberland Place, Teignmouth”. Of course this only supports the fact that the house was named Keats House (as we saw in the 1912 photograph in the blog post on biographers), not that it represented historical fact.

A Young Visitor

Finally, although not strictly a local record, I have included here the anecdote about another giant of English poetry – Wilfred Owen.  This is taken from the 2013 biography by Jon Stalworthy:

“In April 1911, Wilfred again stayed with the Taylors in Torquay ….. One Friday in April Wilfred took the train from Torquay to Newton Abbot and along the widening estuary to Teignmouth. There, head down and collar up against ‘soft buffeting sheets and misty drifts of Devonshire rain’, he went in search of the house where Keats had lived from March to May 1818.  He found it, 20 Northumberland Place (formerly 20 The Strand), and gaped at its bow windows regardless of the people inside, ‘who finally became quite alarmed’ …..”

The internal quotations are from the Collected Letters of Wilfred Owen.

When Wilfred Owen visited, none of the collections of Keats’ Letters nor the biographies to that time had mentioned the location of Keats’ House in Teignmouth.  So how did Wilfred know which house to gape at?  My guess would be that the name “Keats House” had already been placed on the front door of No 20 Northumberland Place by that time.

(Note:  Wilfred Owen wrote a sonnet to Keats after his visit which was posted earlier elsewhere on this site; he also wrote a fragment of verse inspired by the visit which I’ll post later).

In Summary ….

So what can we conclude from the local records?  A lot of ifs and buts:

  1. If we believe that Keats was unable to see the sea from his room, because he didn’t include it in his description of the view, then by looking at the local maps of the time we would conclude that, of the two houses being considered, Keats would either have lodged in a front-bedroom of No 20 Northumberland Place or a back bedroom of No 35 Northumberland Place.
  2. If we believe that Keats lived opposite a bonnet shop and could see the girls there then he must have lodged in No 20 and the bonnet shop would have been No 35, because there would have been no other house opposite him from No 35.
  3. The commercial records show no evidence of a bonnet-shop at either No 20 or No 35 Northumberland Place.  But there is evidence of the more likely existence of milliners in Old Market Street, Wellington’s Row and Regent Place, streets along which Keats would have probably regularly walked.  If this were the case then it would imply that Keats’ lodgings could still be either No 20 or No 35.
  4. Records about the Jeffery family indicate that they most likely lived in Old Market Street, with no record at all of their being in Northumberland Place.  If this were the case then Mrs Jeffery could not have been Keats landlady there, nor would the family have lodged with Keats or lived across the road.  Again this would imply that Keats’ lodgings could still be No 20 or No 35.
  5. The deeds of No 20 Northumberland place show that the house was referred to as Keats House in the legal documents in 1925.
  6. The pilgrimage of Wilfred Owen to Keats House in 1911 would suggest that the name “Keats House” was attached to No 20 Northumberland Place before then.