Historic Houses in Hampstead

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.

A plum tree in the front garden

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.”

We could not do this, however, because we were there in the morning and the house is only open in the afternoons. But it is always possible to read the poem here or listen to it here.

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.

Burgh House

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.)

The Buttery Café at Burgh House

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.)

A crooked chimney near Burgh House

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.

Entrance to the grounds of Fenton House

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.

Walking up the path towards Fenton House

My photos in this post are from 2015. I revised the text in 2021.

Next: Back Lane and the Holly Bush.

14 thoughts on “Historic Houses in Hampstead”

  1. I asked my sister’s partner David, who comes from Britain, about the crooked chimney. Here is his answer: “However, and this is my theory, it could also be to stop heavy rain from coming directly down and into the fire, running instead down the slope and dripping away from the fire underneath.” And one more:

    “Folklore says that this was done because witches could only fly down a straight chimney and the bend would prevent them from coming into your home.” (from: https://northeasternchimney.com/what-is-a-witches-crook/)

    “The witch explanation is far more interesting though!” said David.

  2. I’m a MASSIVE Keats’s fan, and I visited the Keats House when I was in London over five years ago. It was a short visit, but I greatly enjoyed going through the narrow corridors and checking out the rooms in which he roamed when he was still alive, over two centuries ago. Visiting his house gave more meaning to the poems he wrote during that time, especially those dedicated to Fanny Brawne, and I’d return to see it again. 🙂

  3. I was going to ask how long pear trees live, but you answered my question before I could ask it. It’s like the live oak under which Gabriel was supposed to have met Evangeline in the poem – that official tree has been replaced four or five times.

  4. The kink in the stack deflect rains and prevents downdrafts. Chimney guys will tell you that there are regional traits in chimney stacks and pots, and that crooked chimneys are thought to be native to the Chichester area, and date back to the Georgian period. The interesting thing is that this is a classic case of necessity being the mother of invention. If you look inside the straightest of chimneys you might well see a routine bend designed to combat downdraft – it would be angled so as to allow for an east or west wind and so on. So there was nothing new about the kink itself. Taking it out to the exterior was simply an architectural flourish. Purists could be quite sniffy about this kind of whimsy, e.g. Richard Brown in (1852) “Domestic Architecture: containing a history of the science, and the principles of designing public buildings, private dwelling-houses … With observations on rural residences” – though Brown reserves special venom for another aberration, that of “phantom” chimneys, put up for the sake of mere symmetry rather than for the noble intended purpose.

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