The Romantic poet John Keats (1795-1821) lived in this house at 10 Keats Grove, Hampstead, for seventeen months from 1818 to 1820. From here he travelled to Rome, where he died of tuberculosis at age 25.
The sign by the plum tree explains: “Keats wrote his famous ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ sitting under a plum tree in this garden in May 1819. Plum trees live for around forty years and this is probably the garden’s fourth or fifth plum since Keats’s time.”
Then it quotes four lines from the seventh verse of the poem:
Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
The sign says “You can listen to the full poem inside Keats house.”
One day when I was 22, I had a strange moment when I realized that I could name this particular kind of bird in four languages (the nightingale, die Nachtigall, le rossignol, el ruiseñor) and had even read poems or heard songs about it in all four languages, but I had no idea what the bird sounded like and wouldn’t have recognized one if it had flown over and pecked me on the nose — which I suppose would not have been normal behavior for a nightingale.
There was no such thing as the internet at that time, so I couldn’t just click here to see and hear the bird.
After leaving the Keats House (which in his time was called Wentworth Place) we took a short walk over to the Burgh House on New End Square. This is a house from the “Queen Anne era”, meaning the early years of the 18th century. It was one of the first large houses to have been built in Hampstead, which at the time was flourishing as a fashionable spa known as Hampstead Wells.
The Burgh House was used as a private residence for much of its history, but now it is the site of the Hampstead Museum (which is open Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday afternoons except during Covid lockdowns). Some of the rooms in Burgh House can be rented — or ‘hired’, as the British would say — for both private and public events, such as wedding receptions, parties, recitals and plays. (The house has its own on-site catering service.)
We (our VirtualTourist group) stopped for a snack at the Burgh House’s “Buttery Café”, which has since been re-named the “Pavilion Café.” (I liked the old name better.) At the time, it described itself as “the only licensed garden café in Hampstead to offer an array of mouth-watering, genuine, home-cooked food using fresh, locally sourced and seasonal produce.” (The word licensed in British English means that they are allowed to serve alcoholic beverages.)
Perhaps someone can explain why a few chimneys in Britain (but only a few) were built in this peculiar manner? I don’t know which century this crooked chimney might have been from, but I would guess the nineteenth. I am more confident in dating the quaint old-timey television antennas in the lower right-hand corner of the same photo; these are no doubt left over from the twentieth.
Later we had a look at Fenton House, a listed building that now belongs to the National Trust. It is described as a “handsome 17th-century merchant’s house with walled garden”.
They say the garden of Fenton House “has remained almost completely unchanged in 300 years: a vista of lawns, orchards and vegetable gardens, for you to tour and enjoy.” It includes an apple orchard with 30 different varieties of apples.
My photos in this post are from 2015. I revised the text in 2021.
Next: Back Lane and the Holly Bush.