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Mar 05

Keats in Kilburn

‘Hampstead, from Kilburn Road’, ca 1878. With the steeple of St John-at-Hampstead in the distance

‘Hampstead, from Kilburn Road’, ca 1878.
With the steeple of St John-at-Hampstead in the distance

Kilburn was once a very rural spot. It was in Kilburn Meadows one evening that Keats recited his ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ to a companion ‘in a low, tremulous undertone’.
Keats had a friend in the area, the poet Leigh Hunt who once lived at West End, ‘out of the stir and smoke of this dim spot, which men call London’ and in what he described in a letter to Henry Brougham in 1812 as ‘really and bona fide a cottage, with the most humble ceilings and unsophisticated staircases; but there is green about it, and a garden with laurels.’ And on the gate appeared his name on ‘a fair brass plate’.
The area was described in an 1859 issue of The Gentlemen’s Magazine:
That part, properly called Kilbourn, which gives name to a beautiful suburb, has its stream flowing through some of the most charming sylvan scenery in the neighbourhood of London; and the jaded inhabitants of that vast human hive can do no better than refresh their weary senses by a stroll at its side. … The stream crosses the road and pursues its way through a meadow to West-end, by the ‘Cock and Hoop Tavern,’ remarkable for its shade of dipt lime trees, a shelter from both sun and rain. West-end has the quiet seclusion of a village; the brook is here concealed, but it follows along the course of the street, on the left side of which, in a garden wall, is a conduit head; passing this it soon reappears in the fields, meandering towards the Edgeware-road in the line of the railway now constructing.
The same vantage point depicted in the 1878 etching is shown below.
Mill Lane
With acknowledgments to the original source of this material:

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