Some places just have that certain something. The French have a phrase for it: ‘zat certain sumsing!’ Quirky spots you stumble upon and tell stories about. Lesser known marvels like bonkers bars, rickety restaurants or curious museums where the curator’s cats run wild. It’s not about price or prestige, no, no. It’s all charm and character. Places with personality. That’s a GLP, my friend. Come in and explore, then go out and explore.
With so many über bars, venues and pop-up restaurants around it’s easy to forget what (we think) really makes London so unique: the fascinating history lurking around every corner. So it’s a good job that people like ‘London Shh’ (Secret Historic Houses) exist to take care of these significant places while we’re off enjoying another prohibition-style cocktail in Shoreditch, or signing up to the waiting list for the 68th floor of The Shard.
Hiding down seemingly regular streets all over town are the former residences of some of history’s more notable personalities, including Benjamin Franklin, Lucien Freud and John Keats, all carefully maintained and kept open to the public by London Shh. The latter (Keats) once resided in a fairly modest house in Hampstead, ‘Wentworth Place’, where he wrote some of his most famous poems and met the love of his life Fanny Brawne, and it’s among the nine houses open to the public (pick up a ‘Shh’ loyalty card if this sort of thing is your bag!)
Keats House is a place which you might otherwise walk by, especially in well-to-do Hampstead, where many of the buildings have something of the impressive about them, but in this pretty white building, next to the local library, you can see Keats parlour, where he wrote ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, his bedroom and even his wine cellar. The house hosts alternating exhibitions, which have included love letters to Fanny Brawne and, currently, his annotated copy of Shakespeare’s works and Fanny’s rather bling engagement ring. What’s more, if you are so inclined, they also run sewing workshops, where you can find a cosy spot anywhere in the house and make yourself an empire line dress / Regency jacket / bonnet. Something to sport for your next trip to the aforementioned Shoreditch cocktail bar perhaps…
The spirit of Keats House’s former inhabitants is very much alive, and visiting is an eye-opening experience, as well as the perfect way to legitimately indulge in some good old-fashioned nosiness. The poor man died at the age of 25, having never married Fanny, and wandering around his old quarters makes you appreciate how much he accomplished in his very short life. Hampstead might be a bit far for some Londoners to travel, but there are open houses all over town. And if you do make the trip up north, Keats House is less than five minutes from Hampstead Heath, so you could combine it with a leisurely stroll or, if you’re feeling brave, a dip in the lidos…
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