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.




The Hunt for Keats’ House Part 6 – Local Records cont.

The Jefferys

In Maurice Buxton Forman’s edition of the Letters of Keats he includes a footnote to the letter written by John Keats to Mrs Jeffery on 4th or 5th May from Honiton on his way back to London with his brother Tom:

Up to 1891 Mrs Jeffrey and her daughters remained unknown in the story of Keats.  Between that time and the publication of my father’s illustrated edition of the Letters in 1895, this letter and three others to the young ladies were discovered.  Mr A Forbes Sieveking published them in The Fortnightly Review” for December 1893

Also in Hyder Edward Rollins publication of the Letters of Keats there is another footnote:

“Dr W. C. Lake, of Teignmouth, wrote to Holman on August 4, 1913, that ‘Margaret Jeffrey’ was listed among the 146 Teignmouth taxpayers, all without addresses, in 1800, and it is generally assumed that she was the Mrs Jeffrey to whom No 81 was written ….. whether the former (i.e. No 20) was the house of  Mrs Jeffrey cannot be proved, though I think it likely that the Keats brothers lodged with, or visited, her there.”

The revelation of these letters seems to have spawned speculation about the role of the Jeffery family in relation to the Keats’ brothers.  There have been suggestions of romance but also, of more relevance to this investigation, suggestions that Mrs Jeffery might have been Keats’ landlady or that the Jefferys lodged in the same place as Keats or in the house opposite or nearby in Northumberland Place.

So what do we know about the Jefferys and can it help in the hunt for Keats’ House?

Firstly, let’s get the name right.  You may have noticed two variations on the spelling of the surname being used – ‘Jeffery’ and ‘Jeffrey’.  The first of these is as recorded in the census records and I am using that, therefore, as the correct version.  The second appears to be simply an alternative spelling by Keats in early works of the letters which has been perpetuated by subsequent biographers. (Keats apparently was not good at spelling!)

Next, let’s dispense with ‘Margaret Jeffrey’.  According to the baptism records of the sisters Mary-Ann and Sarah Frances their parents were William and Sarah Jeffery.  Therefore, it is not clear why Dr Lake should be writing to Louis Holman about a ‘Margaret Jeffrey’ unless he was mistaken or had been responding to a query from Holman about ‘Margaret Jeffrey’.  If Dr Lake had made the effort to consult local tax records it seems strange also that he would not have consulted the local church or parish records which would have given more information about the family.

Baptism Records

I have been unable to find a marriage record for William and Sarah but the baptism records for Mary-Ann and Sarah Frances show that they were baptised in the parish of West Teignmouth (i.e. St James Church) which means that the family was most likely living in that parish around 1800.  Northumberland Place is in East Teignmouth.

1841 Census

The next official record I have found of the family is the national census of 1841.  This is the first census in which the details of individuals were collected.  It shows Sarah Jeffery and her two daughters living in Old Market Street, West Teignmouth.  There is no mention of William Jeffery and, curiously, I can find no official records of him – birth, marriage or death.  Sarah Jeffery is shown as being of independent means.

Pigot Directory 1830

The Pigot Directory of 1830 however does have a reference to Mrs Sarah Jeffery.  It contains a new section entitled “Nobility, Gentry and Clergy” in which she is referred to as living in Old Market Street.  The earlier Pigot Directory for 1822 makes no mention of the Jefferys.

Courtenay Estate Rental Records

The final possible source of information (thanks to Anthony Johnson, another local amateur historian, for pointing me in this direction) are the rental records of the land of the Courtenay Estate.  The land in East Teignmouth at that time belonged to the Courtenay family and they granted leases to the occupiers of the land or the properties built on their land.  The rents were collected annually and recorded in rent ledgers which can be inspected at the Devon Heritage Centre.

Tying people to locations is not easy though because the records do not register the plots and properties as specific addresses but as descriptions and it is not always clear whether they are entered sequentially by physical location.  So, for example, the properties noted as “1” and “1a” on the 1805 map (i.e. around what is now 20 Northumberland Place) shown in an earlier post are included in the ledger as:

  • Mr Thomas Pring for a New built House and Garden on the West Side of the Denn
  • Mr William Wallis for a New erected House and Garden on the West Side of the Denn
  • Mr Robert West for a New built House and Garden on the West Side of the Denn
  • Mr Edward West for a New built House and Garden on the West Side of the Denn

The rental records, from 1805 to 1822, have no mention at all of the Jefferys family, so there is no indication that Mrs Jeffery would have been a landlady in Northumberland Place.  However, she and her family could have been lodgers there.

Finally, there is an intriguing twist …..

In 1841, Eliza Jane Squarey Periman Tonkin, changed her will.

She was the wife of Sir Warwick Hele Tonkin and was previously Miss Mitchell, daughter of Thomas Mitchell Esq.  She is mentioned in Tom Keats letter to Mary-Ann Jeffery of 17th May:

“Convey my compliments to Miss Mitchell and thank her for the present – remember me to Captain Tonkin and Mr Bartlett if he should come in your way in the Labyrinth of Teignmouth – tell Captain T if he puts his projected Tour to Italy we may perhaps meet”

(Note: A Miss Periman is also mentioned in John Keats letter to Mary-Ann and Sarah Jeffery of 4th June: “Talking of that is the Captn married yet, or rather married Miss Mitchel – is she stony hearted enough to hold out this season.  Has the Doctor given Miss Perryman a little Love Powder – tell him to do so it really would not be unamusing to see her languish a little – Oh she must be quite melting this hot Weather ….)

In the probate documents of her will in 1870 she also refers to Sarah Jeffery (i.e. the mother) as her friend.

The relevant part of the change in the will, in favour of Sarah Jeffery and her daughters, is as follows:

I do hereby also in pursuance and execution of such powers and authorities as aforesaid direct limit and appoint give and devise all that messuage tenement and Courtlage with the appurtenances situate in West Teignmouth now in the occupation of Mrs. Sarah Jeffery Widow And also all that messuage or dwelling house with the Coach House Stable Garden and appurtenances situate in the Town of Chudleigh heretofore in the occupation of Thomas Mitchell Esquire but now or late in the occupation of Francis Day Surgeon unto and to the use of John Line Templer Esquire of Highland House in the County of Devon his heirs and assigns Upon trust during the life of the said Sarah Jeffery Widow to convey and assure the said last mentioned hereditaments unto and to the use of the said Sarah Jeffery and her assigns for and during her life or otherwise to permit and suffer her and them to receive and take the rents and profits thereof And from and after the decease of the said Sarah Jeffery then Upon trust to convey and assure one undivided moiety or equal half part or share of and in the said last mentioned hereditaments unto and to the use of Mary Ann Prowse the daughter of the said Sarah Jeffery her heirs and assigns or as she or they shall order and direct And to convey and assure the other undivided moiety or equal half part or share of and in the same hereditaments unto and to the use of Sarah Frances Jeffery the other daughter of the said Sarah Jeffery her heirs and assigns or as she or they shall order and direct

So we have a record of the family with positive references to them living in West Teignmouth around 1800, in 1830 and at least through to 1841 with no references whatsoever in any official records to their being in Northumberland Place.  Is it likely that in between 1800 and 1830 they moved a couple of hundred yards to Northumberland Place and then back again in the intervening period, leaving no trace of that move, or would they have stayed put?

My money is on them living permanently in Old Market Street, West Teignmouth, therefore they too can not be used as a deciding factor in whether Keats lived in No 20 or No 35 Northumberland Place.

FINALLY, there are a few miscellaneous observations from local sources which could have a bearing …..


The Hunt for Keats’ House Part 6 – Local Records cont.

The Bonnet-Shop

My previous post indicated that the decision on which  house Keats lodged in could depend on whether or not there was a bonnet-shop opposite his lodgings.

The original quote from Keats’ letters was:
“ ….. the girls over at the bonnet-shop say we shall now have a month of seasonable weather …..“

As already shown, the phrase “over at” has been interpreted by biographers as “opposite” and a story has built up about flirting with those girls at the bonnet-shop and that those girls might well have been the Jefferys sisters.  However, at this stage that is all speculation – Keats, in his letters, has made no comments to that effect.

So what do we know about bonnet-shops in Teignmouth in 1818?

The closest I have been able to get is the Pigot’s Directory of 1822.  This directory seems to be equivalent to a modern Thompson’s business directory or a Yellow Pages.  It lists businesses in Teignmouth at the time but what I am unable to confirm is whether it is a complete listing (for example, whether some payment was involved in being included and, therefore, the directory comprised only those businesses prepared to pay for inclusion).

The directory shows:

  1. There were no businesses described as “bonnet-shops”;
  2. There were three businesses described as “milliners”, a milliner being a maker of women’s hats.  These were:
    • Grace Bidgood in Old Market Street;
    • Rosamond Bulley in Regents Place.  This would have been just down the road from the library towards the sea.  In relation to the 1805 map this was to the right of the right-hand “A” marker.
    • Mary Ann Sutton and Eliza Sutton in Wellington’s Row
  3. There was, however, a “hatter”, Mary Higgs at 8 Northumberland Place.  A hatter would have been a more generic occupation involving the manufacture of both women’s and men’s hats.  There is no other mention of hatters in the directory, therefore my assumption is that Mary Higgs’ establishment would probably have specialised more in men’s hats than women’s and would probably not have been described as a bonnet-shop.  In any event,  No 8 does not appear to be opposite either No 20 or No 35.

The directory also shows that Wellington’s Row would have been a thriving street for local trade, containing not just the milliners but also a bank, a chemist, a confectioner, two grocers, three linen drapers, a music seller, a perfumer, a tailor, a watch-maker, a wine merchant and, of course, the London Hotel where Keats arrived in Teignmouth.

The directory was produced in 1822, so could there have been a milliner’s in Northumberland Place or the Strand in 1818?  It is certainly a possibility but is it likely that a new milliner would have set up here in a developing area when there could have been competition from three others in the main part of town and then close down by 1822.

Referring back to the 1805 map, Wellington’s Row also led to the library and the theatre visited by Keats.  I would suggest that it is highly likely that Keats would have regularly walked along this busy street passing by the milliners.

Also In Keats’ actual words, and one of the few references he makes to local people, he talks about: “Atkins the Coachman, Bartlett the surgeon, Simmons the barber, and the girls over at the bonnet shop …..”.  Atkins is likely to have been based at the London Hotel, the coaching inn where Keats would have arrived – at the corner of Fore Street and Wellington’s Row.  I can’t find any reference to Simmons the barber but, in the 1822 Pigot Directory, the surgeon Joseph Bartlett was located in Regent’s Place – at the end of Wellington’s Row and close to the library.  So three of the four people mentioned by Keats could have been along his walk down Wellington’s Row to the library.

So, on balance and without any other evidence, I believe that the “girls over at the bonnet-shop” he referred to in his letter are likely to have been the Sutton sisters who ran the milliners in Wellington’s Row.

If that is the case then the absence of a “bonnet-shop” in Northumberland Place would mean that there is still no hard evidence to differentiate between No 20 and No 35 as being Keats’ House.


The Hunt for Keats House Part 6 – Local Records

I am returning to local sources of information for this next section of evidence on the whereabouts of Keats lodgings.  There are three parts to this – the location, the “bonnet-shop” and the Jefferys.  There is quite a lot of detail in this part of the analysis so it may seem a little nerdy ….. bear with me!

Location first …..

There are no street maps available from the period; however, I have tracked down two maps of Teignmouth which show the development of the town from 1805 to 1828. So the exact topography in Keats’ time, 1818, does not appear to be documented and we would have to make assumptions about it from the transition between the two maps.

I’ll start with the 1805 map as the base, as shown.  This is an extract from a map held at the Teign Heritage Centre which, in turn, seems to be a copy of a slightly more detailed version held at the Devon Heritage Centre in Exeter.  This latter map has a surveyor certification and is part of a legal representation of the Courtenay estate (basically the Courtenay family owned East Teignmouth) so I am happy that is an accurate representation as far as possible for the period.

Teignmouth 1805



















I have annotated the map and need to first explain those annotations because of their importance in interpreting the local records.

Firstly, Teignmouth was historically divided into West Teignmouth and East Teignmouth.  Each part was its own parish; the parish church for West Teignmouth was St James’s, located opposite the top “B” on the map and the church for East Teignmouth was St Michaels located further up the coast and roughly in line with the right-hand “A”, off the right-hand side of the map.

Teignmouth 1828

The boundary between West and East in this section of Teignmouth was marked by a river, the river Tame, which flowed along the line AA on the map.  In earlier times that river had a basin which was roughly the triangular area marked by the points 1, 4, A (right-hand).  This basin was gradually being infilled following the vision of Robert Jordan in the late 18th century.  By Keats’ time this was largely completed although the river Tame itself was probably still open.  A protective wall had been built from roughly point 4, along the red-dashed line south to the far bank of the river Tame (AA).  Where the red-dashed line crosses there was a bridge and south of that point became known variously as the Strand or Northumberland Place (more later).  The 1828 map shows the extent of growth in the town by then, with the population more than doubling from 1805.

The red line north from 4 was Fore Street leading to the old Exeter Road and this is the route the stagecoaches would have followed.  Point 4 marks what was the original coaching Inn, the Globe, which later became the London Hotel.  So this is where Keats would have arrived on 6th March 1818 after his epic journey from London.  The Post Office which Keats would have used was situated in Fore Street, just North of point 4.  The dashed red line running roughly West-East from D to A was the main street of West Teignmouth.  On the left-hand side of point 4 it was know as “Old Market Street”, on the right “Wellington’s Row” (more of both of these later).  Both the library and the theatre which Keats mentioned in his letters were situated in the area to the right of the right-hand “A” marker (if you look closely at the map you will see that this area is labelled “Marsh” in 1805)

So that briefly sets the geographic scene …… now Keats’ House.

No 20

Following the dashed red line south we reach two locations marked 1 and 2.  Location 1 is what is now 20 Northumberland Place and is the officially designated site of Keats’ lodgings.

No 35

Location 2 is now 35 Northumberland Place (the pink house with the bow windows) and is the contender.  The rear of the No 35 site was developed at some time (I haven’t yet been able to track down a date, but before 1828) as the site of the current Ship Inn.  This whole area has now been completely developed (and the start of that expansion can be seen in the 1828 map).

View 2018 from No 20


Today there is a limited view of the river from No 20 (see adjacent photo) and no view from No 35.  So if we want to use Keats’ statement of what he could see from his window as a deciding point between the two locations we need to extrapolate possible views from each house according to the 1805 map.

As a reminder, this what Keats observed from his window:

“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.”

View from No 20 1818 plus more to left

The possible views in 1805 are indicated on the map by the sets of coloured lines labelled “V”.  So, starting with location 1, the present 20 Northumberland Place, the green V1 lines show the potential view – see the adjacent photo showing what that could have looked like based on the current view with houses removed.  So the view from No 20 would match Keats’ description, assuming that Keats had a room at the front of that house.


Moving on to No 35, there are two possibilities.

View from No 35 1818 plus more on either side

If Keats had lived in a room at the back of the house then he would have had a much broader view upriver as indicated by the two red lines V2B, similar to the adjacent photo, and would have been able to see up both banks of the river.  So, again, this matches Keats description.  However, there would have been nothing opposite him other than the river.  It has been suggested by biographers that there was a bonnet shop opposite Keats room; if this were true then it would rule out this option of a room at the back of No 35.

The second possibility is that Keats lived in a room at the side of No 35.  Here he would have had a view (marked by the yellow lines V2S) very similar to that from No 20 and, if there were a bonnet shop opposite then that would have been No 20.  However, that view would also have included the sea, which wasn’t mentioned by Keats in his description.

In summary:

  1. If we accept that Keats would have mentioned the sea if he could have seen it from his bedroom then that would rule out N35, the side bedroom;
  2. If we accept that when Keats mentioned “over at” the bonnet shop he meant “opposite” his bedroom on the other side of the road then that would rule out No35, the back bedroom
  3. So this leaves N20 as the only option for Keats house which satisfies both criteria of the view and the bonnet-shop.
  4. However, if by “over at” Keats actually meant “somewhere else close by” then both N20 and the rear of No 35 would satisfy the criteria.

So the existence and whereabouts of a bonnet shop could help to determine which of the two houses, No 20 or No 35, is the real Keats House ….. more to come!

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?