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Keats House in the 1890s

​Keats House in the 1890s

The first residents

Keats House, or Wentworth Place as it was originally known, was built in 1814 by William Woods, a local builder and completed in 1816. Originally two separate houses, the larger side of the property was first occupied by Charles Wentworth Dilke and his family, while the smaller, eastern side was occupied by Charles Brown. It was to Brown’s side of the house that John Keats came to live in 1818, staying here for just 17 months before travelling to Italy where he died.

Eliza Jane Chester moves in

A major change to the building happened in 1838 when it was bought by the actress Eliza Jane Chester. She removed the staircase in the Keats/Brown side of the house and knocked through the walls to create a single house. She also added the drawing room at the eastern end of the house (the Chester Room). Miss Chester was famous during the 1820s and early 1830s for playing the lead roles in comedies and especially for her appearances as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing and Lady Teazle in The School for Scandal. She was known for her beauty and elegance rather than her acting ability or her voice. She had a wealthy and influential patron, and later became a favourite of King George IV.

Keats's home under threat

Following the changes made by Miss Chester, the house remained largely unaltered and continued to be a private residence until the early years of the 20th century. In 1920, however, it was threatened with demolition to make way for a row of flats. The property was offered for sale at £3,500 and a Memorial Committee was formed to raise the £10,000 necessary to buy the house, repair it, and maintain it as a memorial to Keats.  After a successful fundraising effort in Britain and the United States, the property was formally acquired on 24th March 1921, and in April of the following year the Committee resolved to offer the house to Hampstead Borough Council. 

Becoming a museum

Keats House opened to the public on 9th May 1925 and a ceremony to mark the occasion was held, at which Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch delivered the inaugural address.

Sir Charles Dilke, grandson of Charles Wentworth Dilke, had donated his collection of books, letters and artefacts relating to Keats to Hampstead Borough Council and this was displayed at Hampstead Central Library in Finchley Road, a mile away from the house.  In order to display the collection in a more convenient location, a building was erected next to the house in the area which had once been stables and kitchen gardens. As well as housing the collections, part of the building was used as a branch library. The new building was opened on 17th July 1931 by the Marquess of Crewe, son of Lord Houghton, the first biographer of Keats.

In 1974-5 the London Borough of Camden, with the aid of a grant from the Historic Buildings Council, undertook a restoration programme which included a complete redecoration of the interior. The Victorian conservatory was also replaced, and changes were made to the layout of the basement.

Recent developments

In 1998 the City of London assumed responsibility for Keats House. A programme of conservation work began in 1999 and in 2007 the house was awarded £424,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to allow for the internal restoration of the building. In 2014 Keats House was awarded a grant by Arts Council England to redisplay the house and make more of the collection accessible to the public.

Registered Charity number 1053381

 

Published:
17 April 2012
Last Modified:
29 September 2017

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