Tag Archives: Sarah Frances Jeffery

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 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.