Tag Archives: Frederick Edgcumbe

The Hunt for Keats House Part 8 – The Verdict

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

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

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

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

 Could this conclusion change?

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

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

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

 

   

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

 

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

 

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

 

Keats House 1912 – note no gas streetlamp

 

Keats House 2018

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dorothy Hewlett

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

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

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

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

And this is my interpretation:

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

Hyder Edward Rollins and Louis A Holman

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are three letters of relevance:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

 

   
 

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

The transcription of Holman’s notes reads:

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

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

COMING NEXT …. THE VERDICT

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

Clamouring through Clouds

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

“I will clamber through the Clouds and exist”

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

One Old Man

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

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

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

The Players

  1. Harry Buxton Forman,

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Views

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

TO BE CONTINUED …..