Keats House will be restored to original 19th-century condition

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The Independent Online

It is the house where the English Romantic poet John Keats composed Ode to a Nightingale and fell in love with the girl next door. And now, because of a £424,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, it is to be restored in the style of the early 19th century, when Keats lived there not far from his fellow poets Byron, Shelley and Coleridge.

Experts have spent four years researching the decor and layout of what is now called Keats House, in Keats Grove, Hampstead, north London. They discovered that several ground floor rooms, particularly Keats' study and the so-called Chester Room, were wallpapered to a high standard because of their status.

That information will help with the restoration of the Grade I-listed property where Keats lived from 1818 to 1820 with his friend, Charles Armitage Brown, during the most creative part of his short life.

While there, he fell in love with Fanny Brawne, who lived next door and who he first saw walking in her garden. They were engaged to be married but Keats suffered from tuberculosis, and as his health deteriorated, he left for Rome, where he died in 1821, aged 25.

Deborah Jenkins, head archivist at the City of London, which administers the property, said: "The house really does present the context of the love story - the beautiful physical environment where these things happened. There are letters of his describing seeing her walking in the garden, and daydreaming his love."

The house is also important as it was built on a site carved out of Hampstead Heath only three years before Keats moved in. In a letter, he describes looking out of the window and seeing a Gypsy woman on the heath.

Alongside the restoration, work will be done to improve security so that more of the collection of Keats' papers and artefacts, such as the engagement ring he presented to Fanny Brawne, will be displayed.

Among the most touching items will be his copy of the works of Shakespeare. In its flyleaf he wrote the first clean version of Bright Star, a love poem for Fanny, which he appears to have completed on his way to Rome. "He knew he was dying," Dr Jenkins said. "He was trained as an apothecary and he nursed his mother and a brother through TB. He knew the symptoms, he knew he had it and he knew exactly how horrible it was."

Renovation is due to begin in April and to be completed by November 2009. Dr Jenkins said she was very grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund.

"The money will enable us to realise a long-held dream for Keats House and ensure that the house remains a relevant and powerful national landmark. It should provide an enriching and inspiring experience for visitors."

After Keats left, the house remained in private hands for many years until, threatened with demolition for a new development, it was saved by donations from around the world. It opened as a museum in 1925.

The Heritage Lottery Fund grant, which will be supplemented by £76,000 from house funds and supporters, brings the total Lottery money invested in London to £750m.

Mary Austin, who is chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund London committee, said: "Before HLF, the heritage sector faced a crisis of funding, but by investing £750m in London's past we have funded a cultural renaissance unparalleled since the Victorian era."