O, for a draught of vintage: Keats House scraps plan to sell alcohol

Hampstead museum where poet once lived drops plans following objections from locals

“Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know,” the Romantic poet John Keats wrote in a letter to his sister, Fanny, 200 years ago in August 1819.

His 21st century neighbours would rather put the kettle on and hear absolutely nothing of their neighbours it seems. Dozens of Hampstead residents, including the TV presenter Bill Oddie, 78, were celebrating victory as the Keats House museum scrapped its “inappropriate” plans to sell alcohol and screen films.

The Grade-I listed Georgian house in north-west London, Keats’ home for two years until shortly before his death in 1821 at the age of 25, inspired some of his most memorable poems and is now a popular museum. It attracted nearly 14,000 visitors over the last year.

Keats House bosses were pilloried by local residents for setting out plans to sell alcohol until 10pm every day except Sunday and hold screenings and readings.

Hampstead inspired various other romantic poets in Keats’ era, among them Byron, Wordsworth and Joanna Baillie.

It’s questionable whether Keats, responsible for a poem containing the line “Give me women, wine, and snuff”, would approve of his neighbours’ objections.

Campaigners referred to the poet’s more critical takes on inebriation, such as: “Shall I gulp wine? No, that is vulgarism, a heresy and schism, foisted into the canon-law of love.”

In a letter to Camden council’s licensing panel, Oddie said: “It seems that sooner or later every attractive venue applies for a liquor and music licence, no matter how inappropriate it is.

“As a resident of this area for over 30 years, I ask you to reconsider this proposal and support the notion of Keats House as a stylish historic memorial to the poet himself. Mind you, if he were in charge he and his mates would have probably have turned it into an opium den.”

The City of London Corporation, which owns Keats House, amended its proposals, limiting events to 50 a year and capping indoor capacity to 100 people. Plans to sell beer were also scrapped. Alcohol will be sold at a maximum of six outdoor events a year, with a maximum capacity of 200.

Instead of boozing at the museum, fans can do a ramble across Hampstead Heath and flock to the 16th century Spaniards Inn instead, said to be the pub where Keats wrote his famous Ode to a Nightingale.


Jedidajah Otte

The GuardianTramp

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