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Top 5 Writers’ Museums in London

17 March 2016 | Lydia Cooper

If you're searching for literary inspiration in London, why not visit a writer's house museum? Many former residencies of famous writers have been preserved and transformed into museums, with informative displays and fascinating collections. We pick out the best, including the previous homes of Charles Dickens, Thomas Carlyle, John Keats, Samuel Johnson and Sōseki Natsume.

Dickens House Museum

On 48 Doughty Street in Bloomsbury, you can find the Georgian terraced house of Charles Dickens, the famous Victorian novelist. Dickens lived at this address for two years (1837-1839), completing The Pickwick Papers there, writing Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby, and beginning Barnaby Rudge. The museum has four floors of paintings, furniture, manuscripts, rare editions and other miscellaneous objects related to Dickens’ life. R. W. Buss’ well-known painting Dickens’ Dream is on display in the museum: an unfinished image of the author at work in his study, with some Dickensian characters floating cloud-like above his head. There is currently the chance to explore the museum’s Dickensian exhibition, which goes behind the scenes of the popular BBC television series.

The museum is open Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-5pm. Tickets cost £9 (£6 conc.). Find out more about the Charles Dickens Museum.

 

Keats House

The Romantic poet John Keats lived at this address in Hampstead between 1818-1820: during this time, Keats fell in love with and became engaged to Fanny Brawne, whose family lived in the house next door. He left the house for Rome after becoming seriously ill with tuberculosis - a warmer climate was thought to improve the condition - and died the following year. Keats’ friend Charles Brown claimed that ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ was composed in the garden of Keats House. Key artefacts on display include a copy of Keats’ death mask and the engagement ring that he offered to Fanny Brawne and the old mulberry tree in the garden is thought to have been there when Keats lived there. Keats House have a special programme of events, including lectures, poetry readings and guided walks.

Keats House is open Wednesday-Sunday, 11am-5pm (March-October), and Friday-Sunday, 11am-5pm (November-February). Admission costs £6.50 (£4.50 conc.). Find out more about Keats House.

 

Carlyle’s House

Alright, we know that Thomas Carlyle might not be most famous for being a literary writer, but he did compose a series of famous essays and philosophical works about human nature and history. His 1837 work The French Revolution: A History inspired Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, and his own novel Sartor Resartus is a canonical text.

Carlyle moved to Chelsea with his wife in 1834, and their house is now owned by the National Trust. Another Georgian terraced house, it includes Victorian period furniture, a walled garden, and the Carlyle collection. In its time, the house was visited by Dickens, Ruskin, Tennyson and Thackeray.

The house is open Wednesday-Sunday 11am-4.30pm and is free for National Trust members, otherwise £4.75 (£2.40 conc.). Find out more about Carlyle’s House.

 

Dr Johnson’s House

A short walk from Fleet Street, Samuel Johnson’s former home can be found in the heart of the City. Johnson lived and worked there from 1748-1749, compiling his seminal project A Dictionary of the English Language whilst there. The house is decorated according to the period and exhibitions are themed around Johnson’s life and work. Their current exhibition Zanzibar’s Story explores the last permanent slave market in East Africa and its legacy, with a temporary display highlighting the fact that Johnson was a prominent opponent of slavery who left his estate to his manservant Francis Barber, a former Jamaican slave.

Dr Johnson’s House is open Monday-Saturday, 11am-5pm (until 5.30pm May-September). Admission costs £4.50 for an adult (£3.50 conc.). Find out more about Dr Johnson’s House.

 

Sōseki Museum

The former residence of Sōseki Natsume, the famous Japanese novelist, can be found not far from Clapham Common in south London. Sōseki lived in the private terraced house from 1900-1902, when he was sent to England from Tokyo to work as a Government Scholar, later returning to Japan to become a lecturer in English. His satirical novel I Am a Cat (1905) propelled him to fame, and much of his work deals with the relation between Japanese culture and Western culture. Sōseki has been hailed as the father of modern Japanese writing, and Murakami picked Sōseki out as his favourite writer. The manager of the museum is Mr. Tsunematsu, a translator of Sōseki’s work, who hopes that the collection will enable a greater understanding of Japanese culture. We would recommend this museum for lovers of great literature, who are willing to overcome the barriers of a website in Japanese (Google Translate provides all the necessary details about the visit) and particular opening hours.

The museum is open on Wednesday and Saturday, 11am-1pm, 2pm-5pm, and on Sundays 2pm-5pm. Closed October-January. Find out more about the Sōseki Museum.

 

Looking for more literary inspiration in London?

For other literary spots, you could try some pubs frequented by literary luminaries, which have fascinating historical pasts and eclectic interiors. The George Inn, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese and the Fitzroy Tavern are a good place to start.

At 221B Baker Street in London (in fact between numbers 237 and 241), you can find the Sherlock Holmes Museum, a former boarding house dedicated to Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional creations. Enthusiasts hoping to see genuine objects related to Arthur Conan Doyle may be disappointed, as the museum is simply a period recreation set up as if Sherlock and Watson lived there. More exciting is the Georgian town house's gift shop, which is an excellent destination for Sherlock aficionados as it has the largest collection of Sherlock-themed gifts in the world.

Shakespeare’s Globe offer historical tours explaining the context of Shakespeare's London, and there are a number of excellent used bookshops in the centre of town: we recommend Skoob in Bloomsbury and Any Amount of Books on Charing Cross Road.

For other museums that were former houses of famous historical figures, you could explore Handel and Hendrix in London, the Freud Museum, the Benjamin Franklin House, Leighton House Museum or the Florence Nightingale Museum.

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