Author Archives: pherecrates1

Dedication to Guendolen

I thought that I’d take a short break from the epic “Hunt for Keats’ House” today, partly to keep up the suspense but also because this blog-site was primarily to record poetry, verse, song which I find related to this area.

Whilst researching the letters of Keats I found this short poem by Henry Buxton Forman which is rather a sweet dedication to his daughter Guendolen in the opening to his book “Poetry and Prose by John Keats”, described as ‘A Book of Fresh Verses and New Readings – Essays and Letters lately found – and Passages formerly suppressed’, published in 1890.

Dedication to Guendolen
(Henry Buxton Forman, 1890)

‘Tis writ among your childish feats,
My Guendolen, – when you were “smallish”,
You “helped your father edit Keats”
By copying those four lines on Dawlish.

“Along the edge” we moved this year,
Of Devon where our poet stayed,
And wondered whether there or here
He met his dainty Devon maid.

From Dawlish “over hill and dale
And bourne” to Teignmouth did we ramble;
Saw Coomb-on-Teign and sweet Coomb Vale
And Babbicombe, – a rocky scramble!

And Newton Marsh, and close at hand
Kingsteignton, aye and all the rest,
And drank the beauty of the land
Wherein the poet wrote his best.

And here you helped me supplement
The four years’ work you saw me finish
Before your childhood’s time was spent –
Before my hair was gray and thinnish.

No matter how you helped me, Guen;
You “builded better than you knew;”
And now, before I drop the pen,
I dedicate this book to you.


The Hunt for Keats House Part 5 – The Biographers

Keats, his poetry and his life have obviously been a fascination and an absorption to many people over the last two hundred years and he has been the subject of numerous biographies.  As I said in the previous post the biographies over the last hundred years or so have drawn heavily on the materials contained in the various collections of letters.  So, it would be interesting to see what other official biographers have made of his whereabouts and experience in Teignmouth.

I could spend a lifetime looking through all the biographies but with limited time I have restricted myself to a cross-section over time and have only looked at the specific time-period around his stay in Teignmouth.  So I may have missed something if there were references back to Teignmouth later in his life.  However, the biographies are well indexed so I’m hoping that I have managed to find whatever was relevant.

For completeness I am also including here biographies which I have looked at but in which I also found nothing.

When I started looking at the biographies I wasn’t holding out much hope of startling revelations – after all what is the importance of knowing exactly which house Keats stayed in in a small Devon town 200 years ago when when you are confronting, as a biographer, the mass of information surrounding his life and thinking.  Let’s see what I found …..

Leigh Hunt, 1828: Lord Byron and Some of his Contemporaries

Leigh Hunt, engraved by H Meyer from a drawing by J Hayter

Leigh Hunt was probably the first biographer of Keats through a chapter in a book he wrote in 1828 entitled “Lord Byron and some of his contemporaries“, with recollections of the author’s life and of his visit to Italy”.

He moved in the London literary circles, published several periodicals, introduced Keats to Shelley and, according to Rollins, ”lost no opportunity of praising the work of his young friend (i.e. Keats)”.

There is no mention of Teignmouth other than an extract from Keats letter written from there in April 1818


Charles Armitage Brown, 1848: Life of John Keats

Charles Brown is quoted as producing this first full biography and he subsequently passed his manuscript to Robert Monckton Milnes for publication in 1848.  It was entitled “The Life, Letters and Literary Remains”.

In describing his compulsion to write about Keats Brown said:

“I knew this task was my duty, and, from the beginning I had from time to time made, I found it a painful one.  Therefore to compel me to my duty, I boldly put down my name at our Institution for a lecture, on 27th December, on “The Life and Poems of John Keats”.  Now that it is advertised, the card printed, the members looking forward to it, there is no retreating: it must be done.

This Lecture, delivered almost sixteen years after Keats’s death, was the first full-length biography of the poet.  At six in the evening, December 27th, 1836 the members took their places in the Lecture Hall of the Plymouth Athenaeum.  It was a solemn gathering ….

Again, though, there is very little reference to Teignmouth, just a recognition that he had been there.

Sir Sidney Colvin 1887 (First Edition): Keats

Sir Sidney Colvin

Sir Sidney Colvin was an eminent English Curator and literary and art critic.  He became a fellow of Trinity College Cambridge at age 23 and five years later the Slade Professor of Fine Art.  He moved to the British Museum as keeper of prints and drawings and has numerous publications including the Keats biography and editions of the letters of Keats.  He is remembered mainly for his friendship and professional relationship with Robert Louis Stevenson.

His biography became part of the series “English Men of Letters” by John Morley.  It seems to be the most in-depth to his date, probably because more letters had been discovered and collated – note that Henry Buxton Forman had also produced his four volume works in 1889 so it is likely that Colvin was aware of the materials being used by Forman as well.

More attention is paid to Teignmouth but, again, there seems to be nothing of direct relevance to this investigation.

Beatrix Cresswell 1901: Teignmouth, its History and its Surroundings

I have already mentioned Beatrix Cresswell in the initial post on the local debate so I won’t repeat the details here. Her book is not a biography but it is the first mention I have found about the issue of Keats’ lodgings and the issue of the milliners.  So I thought it was worth including it here as part of the biography time-line.

Francis Gribble, 1912, The Romance of the Men of Devon

Francis Gribble (1862-1946) was a prolific author of popular historical works and novels so he was not an academic historian or biographer, just a popular writer contributing to the Mills and Boon series.  Make of that what you will.

His subjects ranged from ‘Early Mountaineers’ to ‘The Life of the Emperor Francis Joseph’.  There are no references to source material in his book but he does describe Keats’ lodgings.

“For Keats was only “in lodgings”, and not in very fashionable lodgings.  He could not afford rooms “on the front”, but located himself in the Strand.  The house is still standing (though it has no commemorative medallion), and every visitor can decide for himself whether it is the sort of house that he would like to stay in.  Instead of a view of the sea, it commands a view of a bonnet shop – which bonnet shop was already there in Keats’s time, and figures in his letters …. It seems that signals of some sort were flashed from his window to theirs (and also, no doubt, from their window to his) and that when the rain rained every day (as he protested that it was apt to do at Teignmouth) he used to step across and ask them, individually and collectively, when they thought it was likely to clear up.

Keats House 1912

For me, much more importantly, the book also contains a photograph of the No 20 house at the time, reproduced here.  If you zoom in you will see that although there is no commemorative plaque there is the name “Keats House” emblazoned on the front door.

The name is no longer there today since that section of the door has been replaced by a glass panel to allow light into the internal hall. It would be interesting to know when the name had been first added and who did it.

Keats House 1912 zoomed in

I also wonder how Beatrix Cresswell, who was still alive in 1912, would have felt when only 11 years earlier she had declared that No 35 was the house.

There is also a plaque at the side of the door showing presumably the name and occupation of the occupant at the time – G Hexter, Mason.

(Interestingly, as an aside, a Hexter was mentioned as the mason responsible for the rebuilding of St Gregory’s church in Dawlish in 1825 in the book “The Teignmouth, Dawlish and Torquay Guide” published in 1829 by Edward Croydon) – 

Amy Lowell, 1925: John Keats

Amy Lowell from Time Magazine cover

Amy Lowell Lowell was born into Brookline’s Lowell family, sister to astronomer Percival Lowell and Harvard president Abbott Lawrence Lowell.  Her work is labelled “Imagism”  and she posthumously won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1926.

Shortly before her death she completed her two-volume biography of John Keats (work on which had long been frustrated by the non-cooperation of F. Holland Day, whose private collection of Keatsiana included Fanny Brawne’s letters to Frances Keats).

Lowell wrote of Keats: “the stigma of oddness is the price a myopic world always exacts of genius”.

From her biography we read:

P598: “George and Tom Keats, like their brother, possessed the happy faculty of making friends.  They had been at Teignmouth three months and had already ‘dug themselves in’ in the society of that little town.  The family with whom they appear to have been most intimate were the Jeffreys, a mother and two daughters.  Mrs Jeffrey seems to have been a long time a widow when the Keats brothers knew her, for she is listed under her own name, Margaret Jeffrey, as one of the taxpayers of Teignmouth as early as 1800 (1)  Footnote: (1) From information supplied by Dr Luke (sic) of Teignmouth to Mr Louis A Holman.”

This is interesting because, as we will see in a coming post, the Jeffreys’ mother was Sarah Jeffrey so this questions Dr Lake’s research.

P605: “Woodhouse records that, at one time during his sojourn, Keats was so low in funds as to obliged to borrow of his landlady (1) ….. Footnote: (1) Woodhouse Book, Morgan Collection.

This is interesting because there is no reference to this in Keats’ letters.  Therefore, there is an alternative source which may include a name of the landlady which, in turn, could be tied to a house through local records.  UPDATE:  I am really impressed with the responses I have received from the various US collections.  I contacted the Morgan Library and Museum and received the following reply:

Thank you for your email – we appreciate your interest in the Morgan. I checked our transcriptions of items selected from Richard Woodhouse’s collection of letters and manuscripts relating to John Keats (transcribed by Amy Lowell from Pierpont Morgan Library scrapbook MA 215), and I believe I have found what Lowell is referencing in her biography of Keats. Below is the transcription – as you can see, it is very brief, and unfortunately the landlady is not named, nor is the house where he stayed mentioned:

 Transcript of Notes of Keats by Woodhouse:

 Her feet were sandall’d ready for the way.
The fight at Hampstead.
Loan of money to him at Teignmouth by his Lndldy.
If I die you must ruin Lockhart.
Brown, he ought not to have asked me.
Thos. K & Wells

So a BIG thankyou to Polly Cancro, Reader Services Librarian, at the Morgan Library.  It doesn’t solve the question but it does confirm the loan which seems somewhat strange – why would a Landlady lend money to a tenant she hardly knows and should be paying her!

Describing Keats leaving Teignmouth: “ ….. a post-chaise jangled up to the door of the house opposite the bonnet shop.  At the window stood poor little Tom hoping for one more glimpse of his friends, the Jeffreys.”

Dorothy Hewlett, 1937 (revised 1970): A Life of Keats

Dorothy Hewlett has already appeared in the first post about the “local debate”, as quoted in a local newspaper.  I thought it was worth transcribing here for completeness though the actual reference in her book to Keats House:

Page 148: “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.  We know that there was opposite Keats’s lodgings a bonnet-shop – he used to talk to the girls employed there – but reference to old directories failed to track down a bonnet shop in the Strand at that date.  There was one however, in the thirties, at No 35 at the corner of Queen Street opposite to No 20 the Strand which may have already been there in 1818.”

So Dorothy Hewlett is reflecting some doubt about the house but also doubt about the bonnet-shop. Because of this latter doubt I can only assume that when she says “We know that there was opposite Keats’s lodgings a bonnet-shop” she is inferring this from Keats’ letter; but, as we saw, Keats actually said “over at” which has been interpreted here as “opposite”.  If H Buxton Forman was indeed able to narrow it down on the basis of a bonnet-shop then did he have concrete evidence that such a shop existed at No 35 at that time?

The other interesting point from her biography is that, in the preface, she indicates that she knew Maurice Buxton Forman and had been helped by Mr Fred Edgcumbe, curator of the Keats Memorial House in London.  From the time-scale it would appear that he would have been the curator who had come down to Teignmouth to decide on the location for the plaque.

Given these contacts it is reasonable to assume that she has based her comments in the text on information that was as close to an original source as possible at that time.  It would be interesting to know if Fred Edgcumbe left any contemporaneous notes regarding how he reached his decision.  I have written to the Keats House in London to see if there is anything in their archives and am awaiting their reply.

Aileen Ward, 1963: John Keats, the Making of a Poet

Professor Aileen Ward taught at Wellesley and Barnard. She joined the Vassar English department in 1954 and, later in her career, taught at New York University.  She spent nine years researching “John Keats: The Making of a Poet” which won two major awards, the 1964 National Book Award (in the category Arts and Letters (nonfiction)), and the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize of 1963.

“.… Their lodgings were less than satisfactory – a small, airless apartment facing north on a narrow alley, an unhealthy location for a tubercular patient, and still more so for anyone shut in at close quarters with him.”

It’s not clear where this description has been derived from.  A north-facing view would not correspond with the views that Keats described in his letters.

“.…. But George and Tom had already made some pleasant acquaintances among the townspeople, especially Mrs Jeffery, their landlady, and her three daughters.”

There has been no other evidence so far that Mrs Jeffery was the Keats’ landlady.  In fact, as we saw in the post on the Letters, there had been no reference at all by John Keats to the Jefferys until after he left Teignmouth.  Also, Mrs Jeffery had only two daughters.  I suspect that the confusion arises from the reference to “Fanny” being interpreted as a third daughter rather than an affectionate name for the daughter Sarah Frances.

“They packed hastily, borrowing some money from Mrs Jeffery for the journey.26 Sarah Jeffery offered to go with them on the first stage, and Tom, under doctor’s orders to avoid emotional scenes, made a brief farewell to Marianne and her mother.  Then the two brothers climbed into the post chaise with Sarah, to make a dash to Honiton for the Exeter coach which would carry them back to London.

I have included this extract because it aligns with Amy Lowell’s previous claim that Keats had borrowed from his landlady.  Aileen Ward now claims that the landlady was Mrs Jeffery, which is possibly checkable from local records.  However, the description of the route to London is obviously wrong – they would have gone first to Exeter and then Honiton.  I am also uncertain where the reference to Sarah accompanying them from has come from.

Robert Gittings, 1968:  John Keats

Dr Robert Gittings was an honorary fellow at Jesus College, Cambridge, a producer and writer of features and educational scripts for the BBC and subsequently a visiting professor at several universities in the USA.  He received the WH Smith Literary Award for ‘the most outstanding contribution to English Literature’ in 1968 for this biography of John Keats.

The extract is brief:

Page 198: “Tom and George had enjoyed themselves at Teignmouth.  They lodged in the Strand (1), a narrow street parallel with the waterfront and leading to the Den, the fashionable promenade where there was a bandstand. Footnote 1: The identification as No 20 is based on insufficient evidence

Nicholas Roe, 2012:  John Keats

Nicholas Roe is professor of English Literature at the University of St Andrews, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and Chair of the Keats Foundation, Keats House, Hampstead.

This extract is brief too and, probably sensibly, he doesn’t enter the debate:

“Tom greeted him in streets littered with tiles, branches and other debris.  Together they walked to their lodging at 20 Strand, a compact townhouse some fifty yards from Teignmouth’s busy port.

On a personal note, I attended today, as part of the Teignmouth Poetry Festival, an excellent presentation by Nicholas Roe.  One of the hypotheses he was postulating was the apparent link between Keats’ writings and a sense of place.  In other words his works written at a particular location to some extent were influenced by or represented that location.

With this in mind he wondered whether, in Keats long letter to Reynolds on 3rd May in which he explores the concept of the Mansion of human life, the reference to the “Chamber of Maiden Thought becomes gradually darken’d and at the same time on all sides of it many doors are set open – but all dark – all leading to dark passages” reflects the conditions of the house in which he was living.  This may be the case but unfortunately it wouldn’t discriminate between the two houses vying for the name of ‘Keats House’ since both are three-storey Georgian townhouses with what would have been in Keats time, many small rooms and dark corridors.


So have we learned anything more from the official biographers?  Here are some summary points with indicators in parentheses of the favoured site.

  1. The first mention of the debate about the location of Keats’ lodgings is in Creswell’s book of 1901, and this was a history book rather than a biography. (No35 Northumberland Place)
  2. The earliest photo I have found referencing Keats’ house is in the 1912 book by Francis Gribble, again not a formal biography. (No20 Northumberland Place)
  3. The first official biography to raise the debate was Dorothy Hewlett’s in 1937. (No20 Northumberland Place but by no means a certainty)
  4. The uncertainty continues with Robert Gittings. (The identification as No20 is based on insufficient evidence)
  5. Nicholas Roe: (No20 Northumberland Place)
  6. So the balance of probabilities lies with No20 Northumberland Place but I concur with Dorothy Hewlett when she says that it could simply rest “on the memory of one old man”.
  7. Supporting what we have seen so far the biographies suggest that identifying whether there was indeed a bonnet-shop opposite where Keats lived, where exactly it was and whether Mrs Jeffery was the Keats’ landlady and, if so, where she lived would provide circumstantial corroborative evidence for the memory of one old man. So I’ll start to explore that in the next post using local records sources.

The Hunt for Keats House Part 4 – The Letters

Yesterday, March 13th,  was the 200th anniversary of Keats’ first known letter written from Teignmouth. It was to his old friend Benjamin Bailey who was an Oxford undergraduate reading for the Church.  Keats had stayed with him in Oxford during the summer of 1817 when he wrote the third book of Endymion.

In this first letter Keats reflects on the dire Devon climate which he had suffered from his arrival in Teignmouth although, to be fair, the weather was much the same across the country during that time …..

“… by the way you may say what you will about Devonshire: the truth is, it is a splashy, rainy, misty, snowy, foggy, haily, floody, muddy, slipshod County …”

A number of the clues in the previous post are based on what is claimed to have been said in Keats letters; so what better place to continue the forensic investigation then with that original source material.

We are fortunate that Keats was such a prolific letter writer – to such an extent that all the biographies of Keats over the last century rely heavily on the contents of those letters to gain an insight into what Keats was doing and thinking, as well as his relationships with other people.

Over the years, more and more of Keats’ original letters have been discovered and gradually brought together with other Keats’ memorabilia into collections in the USA.  I would like to thank the Harvard Library, the Houghton Library, the Smithsonian for their help in responding to my email queries.  Also, I was given some useful pointers by Ian Newman of North Dakota university and Brian Rejack of Illinois State University who are both involved in the Keats Letter Project which is publishing on-line each of Keats original letters 200 years on.

The letters, with commentaries, have been brought together into various published collections over time.  These include those of:

Henry Buxton Forman, 1889, part of a four volume collection of “Poetical Works and Other Writings of John Keats”.

Maurice Buxton Forman, his son, who edited “The Letters of John Keats” in four editions between 1931 and 1952

Hyder Edward Rollins, 1958, “The Letters of John Keats

Writing in two directions

In my last post I mentioned my admiration for historians.  I should add to this an admiration for those who have transcribed the letters.  To our eyes today the handwriting is not easy to decipher but it is further complicated at times by Keats overwriting a page of writing in the opposite direction, presumably to save paper, as can be seen on this letter of March 13th.


So what can we learn from the letters?

The Address

Address heading

My first thought was that if you are writing a letter you would normally put your address on it.  Similarly, if someone is writing to you then you would expect your address to be on the envelope you receive.  That would establish clearly where Keats lived.

Unfortunately it appears that is not the way it worked in 1818.  None of Keats’ letters have an address – simply “Teignmouth” and possibly a date, as can be seen from this letter to James Rice



Addressing to Teignmouth

Similarly, when Keats was still in London he wrote to his brothers in Teignmouth and this is what appeared on the wax-sealed outside of the letter.  This shows that the letter was addressed to George Keats at the Post Office in Teignmouth.  So, my assumption is that Keats would visit the Post Office each day that a Royal Mail coach was due to check if any mail had been delivered.  The Post Office at that time was in Fore Street, just up the hill from the Coaching Inn that the coach would have arrived at (see future post for the geographical layout).

The Contents

I have checked all the letters written by and to Keats whilst in Teignmouth; also letters from the time his brothers came down to Teignmouth and any letters with a Teignmouth association following his return to London (these are the few written by John Keats and his brothers to the Jefferys).  There is actually very little in the contents to substantiate where Keats lodged but there are references from which inferences have been made as we have already seen in the “local debate” posts.

This is what I have found …..

The Address

There is no mention in any of the letters of Northumberland Place, the Strand or indeed other street locations in Teignmouth.

14th March 1818, letter to John Hamilton Reynolds

This is where the reference to the view from his window is found:

“I made up my mind to stop indoors, and catch a sight flying between the showers: and, behold, I saw a pretty valley, pretty cliffs, pretty brooks, pretty meadows, pretty trees, both standing as they were created, and blown down as they were uncreated.”

There is no mention of the sea or the Denn so the clear inference is that his lodgings were facing upriver or possibly across the river.  His use of the word “cliffs” is interesting because, if this is the normal use of the word, then it would suggest a partial sea view.  If he were not facing towards the sea he would struggle to see the only feature, the Ness, which could be described as cliffs, from No 20 Northumberland Place or from No 35 Northumberland Place, unless through a side window.  There would have been other locations in Teignmouth (e.g. Old Market Street) which would have had clear views more closely corresponding to the description.

Of course there may be some poetic licence in his description – perhaps “cliffs” are just the steep slopes from the hills on the opposite shore down to the riverbank.

Next is the reference to the bonnet-shop:

“Atkins the Coachman, Bartlett the surgeon, Simmons the barber, and the girls over at the bonnet shop, say we shall now have a month of seasonable weather – warm, witty, and full of invention.”

Considering he’s been indoors for 5-6 days he seems to have met a lot of people!  The reference to the bonnet-shop has been used by others to suggest that Keats’ lodgings were “opposite” or “almost opposite” or “across the way from” or “across the road from” the bonnet shop.  No-one yet has used the actual words “over at” which could indeed be interpreted as something like “opposite” but equally it could imply a location further away.


If we check back against the list of clues in the previous post then I can confirm that the letters do not say that

  1. Keats dined with William Rufus Jordan.  Keats did mention other people he had met in Teignmouth but not Mr Jordan.  Of course he could simply have chosen not to mention him, or maybe there there other lost letters which might refer to him.  Note also that there is no reference either by name to the Jeffery family in any of the letters written from Teignmouth.  That is surprising given that that family appears to have had a fairly close relationship with initially George and Tom Keats and later with John Keats when he arrived.  Given this you would think that he would have mentioned them in the letters to his friends.  He and his brothers did write to the Jefferys after they left Teignmouth
  2. Keats ogled the milliners at the corner across the way.
  3. There was a glove shop opposite
  4. From Tom and George’s window they often signalled across the road to the girls at the bonnet shop
  5. The house where he lodged was a corner house
  6. John’s room was at the back of the building
  7. He was lodging in Northumberland Place

The Lake/Forman Connection

Hyder Edward Rollins in his “The Letters of John Keats” makes specific reference to a letter dated 4th April 1913 from Dr W C Lake of Teignmouth to Louis A Holman, one of the American collectors of Keats memorabilia.

“.…. 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.”

The actual reference to the letter actually occurs later in Rollins book and is given as the Harvard Library Bulletin IV 1950 p390.  It is not available on-line and I am still trying to get hold of a copy which, hopefully, would explain exactly Dr Lake’s reasoning on his identification of Keats’ House.


In summary there is little in the letters to substantiate many of the assertions previously made about the characteristics and location of Keats’ House.  The strongest piece of evidence at this stage would seem to be a letter written in 1913 – but what did it say?

The Hunt for Keats House Part 3 – The Clues

If this exercise has given me anything so far it is an undying admiration for historians and the patience they must have in trying to research and make sense of the past.  I am just trying to establish one simple piece of information – where Keats lodged in Teignmouth – yet I have already encountered so many claims, counter-claims, assertions, contradictions.

The time has come to take stock of what has been revealed so far.  So, from the previous posts on local views here is a summary of the clues so far ……

The Lake/Forman connection

Beatrix Cresswell -1901: Dr Lake and Mr H Buxton Forman studied Keats’ letters and concluded that Keats lived in 35 Strand. (repeated in Teignmouth & Dawlish News 1934 and Herald Express 2005.  Note that she also refers to knowing this several years before)

Fred C Frost – 1910: Dr Lake, Mr W R Hall Jordan and Mr Forman Buxton (sic) CB remember the house No 21 Northumberland Place being pointed out to them “by those of the former generation” as Keats’ lodging. (Note the new number, not 20)

The Advertiser 1982: Biographer Dorothy Hewlett wrote that the case for No 20 rested “on the memory of one elderly man in 1901 who said that his father, Mr William Rufus Jordan, a solicitor, had told him that Keats had dined with him one evening and said that he was lodging in either 21 or 22.  Mr H Buxton Forman, Editor of the Keats Letters, was seemingly able to narrow this vague description down to what is now number 20”. (Note again the new range of numbers).

Letter Teignmouth Museum 1994: “Back before the end of the 19th century Dr Lake and a friend identified the “Keats House” as No 35, Northumberland Place (the bow-window pink house opposite No 20).

The Mystery of the Milliners

Fred C Frost -1910: From Keats’ letters Keats ogled the milliners “at the corner across the way” and “we know that” No 35 was a milliners (The implication therefore is that No 21 was Keats house)

Grace Griffiths 1965: “we know from his letters that ….. there was a glove shop opposite.

The Advertiser 1982: Mr H Buxton Forman specified No 20 based on an old bonnet-shop in the Strand at that date

Letter Teignmouth Museum 1994: “Keats, in his letters, states that he lodged ….. opposite a milliner’s shop”

Ian Frost Note 1994: “There was in the 1830s a Bonnet shop at No 35 at the corner of Queen St”

Lucy Simister 1995: “Across the road from the Keats’ boarding house was a bonnet shop, (still there today – empty and virtually unchanged) that sold gloves, bonnets and ribbons”.  Also “From Tom and George’s window they often signalled across the road to the girls at the bonnet shop”

River View

Teignmouth & Dawlish News 1934: “Keats refers in one of his letters to ‘looking up the river’ ….. quite probably, he was able at that time to have looked up the river from either house”

Grace Griffiths 1965: “we know from his letters that the house ….. had a view up the river

Letter Teignmouth Museum 1994: “Keats, in his letters, states that he lodged in a …..  house which had a view upriver”

Corner House

Grace Griffiths 1965: “we know from his letters that the house was a corner house

Letter Teignmouth Museum 1994: “Keats, in his letters, states that he lodged in (1) a new corner house.

The Jeffreys

Lucy Simister 1995: Writes that according to parish records William and Sarah Jeffery lived there (I.e. at the bonnet shop) with their two daughters Mary-Ann and Sarah Frances


Teignmouth & Dawlish News 1934: Mrs Osborn, living at 35 Northumberland Place, has a cutting from an old book saying “he lodged at the house now numbered 35 The Strand”

Grace Griffiths 1965: “John Keats spent the spring of 1818 in a newly built house on the Strand”

Letter Teignmouth Museum 1994: Edgar Chapman puts forward a new theory that Keats lodged at No 38, based on location of milliners and river view

Lucy Simister 1995: “In the December of 1817 his brothers George and Tom arrived in Teignmouth to stay in lodgings on the newly built Northumberland Place”.  Also, “Research strongly suggests the John’s room was at the back of the building, whilst his two brothers shared a larger room at the front” (Note: the implication of this is that if John Keats was looking upriver from his window then he must have lodged in No 35, whose back faces upriver, rather than No 20, whose front faces upriver).

The Hunt for Keats’ House Part 2 – The Local Debate cont.

The claims and assertions from local sources continue in this second post.  These may appear a little repetitive but this is the first time that all this information has been brought together in one place so please bear with me.  The next post will summarise the key pieces of the argument to be used in assessing evidence from other sources.

Grace Griffiths, History of Teignmouth, first published 1965

There is a surprisingly short and non-committal paragraph about Keats:

“John Keats spent the spring of 1818 in a newly built house on the Strand – on land reclaimed from the marsh.  Houses in that area have been renumbered so many times it is impossible to be sure exactly where the poet lodged but we know from his letters that the house was a corner house, that he had a view up the river and that there was a glove shop opposite.  He became friendly with the owner and the assistants.”

 The Advertiser, May 28, 1982

Moving on almost another 50 years from the previous newspaper article, the debate re-emerges in a write-up of what looks like a local presentation about Keats by one of his biographers, Mrs Dorothy Hewlett:

“ ….. But there is doubt even about where precisely Keats lodged.  One biographer of the poet, Dorothy Hewlett, describes his staying at number 20 as ‘by no means a certainty’.

According to Miss Hewlett, the claim rests on the memory of one elderly man in 1901 who said that his father, Mr William Rufus Jordan, a solicitor, had told him that Keats had dined with him one evening and said that he was lodging in either 21 or 22.

Mr H Buxton Forman, Editor of the Keats Letters, was seemingly able to narrow this vague description down to what is now number 20.

He did so by reference to an old bonnet-shop in the Strand at that date.  Keats used to talk to the girls employed there.

Accepting then that Keats did stay at number 20 – though the evidence is slim it points to no other house in the area – there is no doubt about why he was in Teignmouth.”

This too contradicts what Beatrix Cresswell said about Buxton Forman’s conclusions and also suggests that the location of a bonnet-shop, as mentioned in Keats’ letters, is key to identifying the correct location.

Letter Teignmouth Museum (now Teign heritage Centre)  – 1994

On September 21st 1994 the Museum received a letter from Mr Edgar J Chapman, 167 Chester Road, Watford, Herts which contained a personal analysis of the location of Keats House:

“The other matter of interest is the plaque now on No 20 Northumberland Place.  Back before the end of the 19th century Dr Lake and a friend identified the “Keats House” as No 35, Northumberland Place (the bow-window pink house opposite No 20).  It was still so considered in 1906 when Beatrix Cresswell wrote her book on Teignmouth.  She included a pencil sketch of No 35.  Last time I was in Teignmouth I searched the minutes of the former UDC in the Teignmouth Library but found no mention of the fixing of plaques or the date of such a happening.

As you probably know, Keats, in his letters, states that he lodged in (1) a new corner house (2) which had a view upriver, and (3) was opposite a milliner’s shop.

Sketch 35-38 Northumberland Place

It is possible that the house was No. 35, as the range now behind it was built later (including the Ship Inn, but then the milliners shop must be near where the William IV now is, and that is unlikely, as the recent purpose built shop on that side seems to have been the present Rock Shop opposite No 38 Northumberland Place.

This last house, abutting on the Harbour Master’s office also had a clear view upriver and was also on a corner (later called New Quay Street).  Alas, this building, painted grey and divided on the ground floor into two shops, is in very poor repair, as may be seen from the still existing side doorway.  Even so, it is No 38, from the rear windows of which Keats could look upriver, that probably stood opposite a milliner’s shop (now the Rock Shop), as all the buildings further south on that side seen have been private dwellings.  But from the point of view of the visitor No 35, identified by Dr Lake, should still be ‘Keats’s House.  No 20 has no claim whatsoever.

Mrs Nell Plahn, Hon.Archivist at the Teignmouth and Shaldon Museum replied to Mr E J Chapman, including the following paragraph on Keats’ House:

“Regarding ‘Keats’s House’, Mr Ian Frost of Teignmouth has been carrying out detailed research on John Keats and has not been able to ascertain for sure which house was the one Keats stayed in.  I will hand on your notes to him.  If I may add a suggestion of my own – the mention of a milliner’s shop does not necessarily mean that the business was carried out in a ‘shop’ as we now know it.  Number twenty might well have been used by milliners without having ‘shop’ windows.”

A further note (from Ian Frost?) refers to 18 Northumberland Place and quotes from the Dorothy Hewlitt biography (see above).  It also says:

“This part of the Strand was added to Northumberland Place and the houses renumbered in the 1880s.  There was in the 1830s a Bonnet shop at No 35 at the corner of Queen St.  Later in life, Sarah Jeffries made bonnets for Lady Tonkin.  Was she one of the Bonnet shop girls? Was that how Keats met the Jeffries family?  For internal evidence of letter of 14th March to Reynolds p 86 Buxton Forman ed.”

AND in handwriting: “cf also Holden Rollins ed. of letters”

Lucy Simister, “To Mr John Keats of Teignmouth”, 1995

Booklet cover

The front cover of this local pamphlet has a picture of the official Keats House, I.e. No 20 Northumberland Place. However, as you will see from the extract below there is no written confirmation of which is the actual house that Keats stayed in.

“In the December of 1817 his brothers George and Tom arrived in Teignmouth to stay in lodgings on the newly built Northumberland Place …..

….. Across the road from the Keats’ boarding house was a bonnet shop, (still there today – empty and virtually unchanged) that sold gloves, bonnets and ribbons, where according to parish records lived William and Sarah Jeffery, who had two daughters Mary-Ann Jeffery, born 11th January 1798, and Sarah Frances Jeffery, born 7th December 1799 …..

….. From Tom and George’s window they often signalled across the road to the girls at the bonnet shop.  Research strongly suggests that John’s room was at the back of the building, whilst his two brothers shared a larger room at the front.  In 1818 there was an alleyway that led between his lodgings and the King William IV Inn, that went beyond to the market at Brunswick Place.  It is also more than likely that John entered by a back door.

Viv Wilson MBE, Herald Express 2005

The final extract from a local newspaper continues the doubt and the questioning of the accuracy of the identification of Keats House:

View down Queen St, with No. 35 on right

“The connection between John Keats and Teignmouth has not diminished with time, and many people still seek out the place where he stayed in 1818.  The red granite plaque on Keats House in Northumberland Place satisfies the majority but there is another contender for the title.  A school of thought supports the idea that Old Place, just opposite, with the canon protecting its corner wall, was the place where he stayed.  Beatrix Cresswell’s book of Teignmouth published in 1901 refers to it as the place he stayed, known then as 35, Strand.  Street names and numbering have changed but the building is unmistakeable.  Could it be that when TUDC erected a series of red granite plaques on significant buildings around the town, that someone made an error?  Former dwellers at Old Place recall the spirit of a little girl who appeared to a guest during her slumbers one night.  Local artist Maureen Fayle must be a subscriber to the Old Place theory for she features it on the cover of an illustrated book she has just produced called John Keats in Teignmouth.

The Hunt for Keats House Part 2 – The Local Debate

We start the Hunt for Keats’ House with a collection of observations from local sources over the past 100 years or so.  I would particularly like to thank the Teign Heritage Centre in Teignmouth and the Devon Heritage Centre in Exeter for access to the materials they hold and for the brilliant assistance I have received from the archivists most of whom (if not all) work on a voluntary basis.  Their resources have helped in this and the subsequent sections.

There is a lot of information here so I have spread it over two posts.

Beatrix F Cresswell – 1901

1901 – The Cresswell Book

We start 117 years ago in 1901 when Beatrix F Cresswell wrote a book “Teignmouth, its History and its Surroundings”.  Born 1862, she was the daughter of the Reverend Richard Cresswell of Teignmouth and was a diarist and a prolific writer of historical works mainly about the churches of Devon but extending to books such as the above and other places and historical aspects of Devon.

(Ref: A Handful of 2012 Anniversaries: Devon Women Writers; Names and Texts)

In her book is a section on Keats and she mentions the issue of where Keats lived:

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.  Then, as now, there was a shop close by, and the pretty milliners who kept it seemed to have been no small attraction to the young gentleman as yet ‘to fortune and to fame unknown’, who was busy revising and finishing his ‘Endymion’, begun the year previously in the Isle of Wight, but which was issued from Teignmouth, the author’s preface bearing the date, ‘Teignmouth, April 10th, 1818.’”

Sketch in Cresswell book

There is a sketch in the book showing the house identified – the same as the pink bow-windowed contender mentioned in the previous post.

How valid is this reference?  We do know that Beatrix Cresswell made mistakes.  There is a critique of this book in Devon Notes and Queries, January 1900 to October 1901”, edited by PFS Amery, John S Amery and J Brooking Rowe FSA.  They say:

“This is a well written and prettily got up little volume ….. Our fair authoress must, however, enlist the services of someone who will prevent her from making such a mistake as to suppose that the surname of the Vicar of Kingsteignton was Huish, it was Richard Adlam.”

Also, earlier in her section on Keats Cresswell states that he “spent a winter and spring in Teignmouth”, whereas he was in Teignmouth only for two months at the start of Spring.  She may have been confused by the stay of all the brothers.

Fred C Frost, FSI – 1910

A letter by Fred C Frost disputing Beatrix Cresswell’s claims appeared in a local newspaper on 14th April 1910 under the heading “Bygone Teignmouth Worthies”.  I don’t know who Mr Frost was but he obviously had an interest in and knowledge of local history and was a regular contibutor to a London publication “Notes and Queries: A Medium of Intercommunication for Literary Men, General Readers, Etc.”  This newspaper cutting was contained in a file “Notes on Old Teignmouth” compiled by H Parry and held at the Devon Heritage Centre.

Extracting from his letter, he asks:

“I want to ask my fellow townsmen how it is that a town which was the home of John Keats the poet, Thomas Luny the marine painter and Edward Pellew, the naval hero, has no memorial of either.  John Keats lived here and at Teignmouth finished his masterpiece ‘Endymion’ dating the introduction to the poem Teignmouth, October 1818.  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 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.

He also states:

“Further in support of this I fancy Keats in one of his published letters (was it written to Fanny Brawne?) speaks of sitting at his window, weather-bound, ogling the pretty milliners at the corner across the way and we know that No 35 was, until all events, three-quarters of the 19th century had passed, a milliners shop and had been so for many years previously.  Couldn’t a memorial for Keats be placed on No 21?”

So Fred C Frost quotes the same source of information as Beatrix Cresswell but directly contradicts her in the conclusion reached.  He too makes mistakes such as quoting the date of Endymion as October 1818 instead of April 1818.

Teignmouth and Dawlish News July 6th 1934

Following Fred C Frost’s proposal the local Council put up a series of plaques around the town in 1929 (tbc) but the debate continued 24 years after Fred’s letter with an article in the local press headlined “Two Houses in Northumberland Place Rivals for Honour”:

“Where did the poet Keats reside in Teignmouth when he finished ‘Endymion’ and wrote the preface dated ‘Teignmouth, April 10th, 1818’?

There is an inscription on a plaque at No 20 Northumberland Place reading ’Here lived the poet Keats in the year 1818’, but there has never been absolute certainty that this was the actual house in which he resided.

The controversy has once again been revived by a report that the truth of the matter is that the poet lived at a house on the other side of the street, No 35 Northumberland Place (formerly 35 The Strand) on the corner of Queen Street.

Teignmouth has always been proud of the fact that numerous famous people have at one time or another lived in the town, or, as it were, the village, but when, about five years ago, there was a move to erect memorial tablets to show the early residences of its illustrious inhabitants, some difficulty was encountered in establishing definitely certain vital facts.

It was the local Advertising Committee which first suggested that such plaques should be put up, and they approached the Council who willingly complied with the request.

Signs were then put up at the house in Teign Street where the artist Luny resided; at Bitton House, where Edward Pellew, Viscount Exmouth, lived; at French Street to commemorate the burning of the town by the French; in Station Road to mark the site of the theatre in which the actor Edmund Kean played; and at 20 Northumberland Place, to show the former residence of Keats.

At the time the greatest of care was taken to ensure that accuracy should be secured in the fixing of the tablets to the proper places, but from the first there was a query as to the veracity of the belief that Keats lived at 20 Northumberland Place.

There has been doubt for many years, and, in more than one old guide book, support has been given to the opinion that the house on the opposite side of the road is that in which Keats lived.

Mrs Osborn, who lives now at 35 Northumberland Place, has a cutting from an old book in which it states:

“The poet Keats, whose father was a Devonian, was staying at Teignmouth for his health when he finished Endymion and wrote its remarkable preface.  He came here 1818 and we are told that he lodged at the house now numbered 35 The Strand.  He speaks of the ‘girls over the bonnet shop’, which shop is still standing.  We find many local touches in his poetry.”

A more modern guide book published, in 1901 by Miss B F Cresswell, includes the following in support of this theory: (THEN FOLLOWS THE EXTRACT FROM ABOVE).

On the other hand, the local Council, before deciding on which house to put the plaque, wisely consulted the Curator of Keats House, Hampstead, London, and he gave his verdict in favour of 20 Northumberland Place, where the tablet was accordingly fixed.

River View Controversy.

Keats refers in one of his letters to “looking up the river” and this is a source of considerable controversy, when it is considered that, quite probably, he was able at that time to have looked up the river from either house.

From 35 Northumberland Place it is difficult now to get a glimpse up the river, but it would have been easy when the adjoining house on the west side was not built – and this was certainly the case in Keats’ time.  From 20 Northumberland Place, it might be argued, he could get a glimpse up the river by looking straight through Queen Street, whatever buildings were on either side of the road there.

These words referring to the view up the river have been taken by both ‘sides’ in the controversy as bearing out their case, and their value is therefore doubtful.

The Curator of the Keats House in London apparently places them among the arguments in favour of the house at which the plaque has been erected.

In any case, nothing definite or unequivocal is known that would end the controversy, and it is therefore useless to pretend that either case has been ‘proved’.  Until further evidence comes to light, one can only suppose that the position will remain as it is.

So, the answer remained inconclusive in 1934 when the plaque was put up, but it would be interesting to get hold of a copy of the “old book” that Mrs Osborn referred to.


The Hunt for Keats House Part 1

Today, 6th March, we commemorate the 200th anniversary of the arrival of John Keats in Teignmouth.  He came to look after his brother Tom who was suffering from TB and arrived here after a three day coach journey from London in which he apparently had an outside seat and had to endure torrential, stormy weather.  The rain continued for six days after his arrival and did not endear him to the town or Devon.

Official Plaque

Teignmouth will be marking Keats’ stay in the town at its Poetry Festival from 16th to 18th March.  As part of this I will be leading a “Keats Walk” around the town imagining the Teignmouth of 1818, getting inside Keats’ head, seeing him through the eyes of others  …… and exploring the question of where he actually lived when he stayed here.


Official Keats House

You would think that Keats’ address would be beyond doubt; after all there is a house in town, at 20 Northumberland Place, with a plaque outside declaring it to be “Keats’ House”.

However, there has been debate amongst locals for over 100 years about whether this was the correct address or whether in fact John Keats and his brothers stayed at the pink bow-windowed house on the opposite side of the street at No 35 Nothumberland Place.

A cursory glance at a biography of Keats doesn’t provide corroborative evidence one way or the other.  So I have set out to track down and document what evidence there may be from various sources and how these have been interpreted.

Contender to Keats House

My search will be revealed over the coming days in the following analyses:

  • The local debate over time
  • Keats’ letters
  • Local sources
  • What the biographers say

Can we put an end to this long-standing contoversy or will it remain a point of dispute?

Enjoy the quest.