London has long been a metropolitan hub, with immigrants making their way to the city dubbed “The Centre of the World” for hundreds of years. With such an expansive history, it is no wonder that so many of the English-speaking world’s literary greats have lived in the city, and been inspired by their experiences there. Among the sixteen authors whose residences are included here, there are not only English locals, but writers from Ireland, the USA, Dominica and even New Zealand, who all made London their home for a time.
Bram Stoker – 18 St Leonard’s Terrace
There is a blue plaque dedicated to Dracula author, Bram Stoker, at No. 18 St Leonard’s Terrace, and he did complete some of his later works there. His best-known novel, however, was written next door, at No. 17, where he lived with his wife and son, Irving, as well as his brother, George.
Mark Twain (aka Samuel Clemens) – 23 Tedworth Square
Samuel Clemens and his wife, Olivia, moved to Tedworth Square in 1896, following the death of their eldest daughter, Susy, from spinal meningitis. They remained at the address for almost a year, and during that time very few people knew their location. The family maintained an almost complete seclusion from the outside world, and used their time to come to terms with their loss.
A.A. Milne – 13 Mallord Street
This address is the childhood home of Christopher Robin and also of Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and Eeyore. A.A. Milne was working for Punch magazine when he and his wife first moved to Mallord Street in 1919, but, as his son grew up, the stories he created for Christopher Robin gained him much greater fame. The family lived in the house for more than 20 years. It was most recently sold in 2013 for nearly £7 million.
Jean Rhys – Flat 22, Paultons House, Paultons Square
Post-colonial author, Jean Rhys, was born in Dominica but spent the majority of her life in Europe. She lived at Paultons House between 1936 and 1938 with her literary agent and second husband, Leslie Tilden Smith. Her novel, Good Morning, Midnight, was written during this time, from the comfort of her bed.
Ezra Pound – 10 Kensington Church Walk
Poet, Ezra Pound, lived in a bed-sitting room on the top floor of this address for the first five years of his residence in London. Having moved to the city from the USA, he struck up friendships with other writers, such as James Joyce and T.S. Eliot, wrote prolifically, and developed the imagist literary movement.
Kenneth Grahame – 16 Phillimore Place
Kenneth Grahame lived at this address for a period of seven years, during which time his son, Alastair, was born and he turned the bedtime stories he created for Alastair into his most successful book, The Wind in the Willows. Despite being born blind in one eye, having several other medical problems, and being nicknamed Mouse, Alastair was seen as a headstrong character, and Kenneth captured the spirit of his son in the character of Toad.
James Joyce – 28B Campden Grove
Almost constantly on the move, James Joyce lived at this address for a period of about four months in 1931, during which time he was working on Finnegan’s Wake. He indicated that he was intending to settle in London, and married his long-term partner, Nora Barnacle, there. Subject to frequent impositions by the media, however, Joyce soon began to hate the place and referred to his street as Campden Grave. He did not set foot in England again after leaving this house.
Agatha Christie – 58 Sheffield Terrace
Some of Agatha Christie’s best known books, including Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile, were written at this address. The house, which the mystery writer inhabited with her second husband, had a workroom specifically furnished to facilitate her writing. Agatha Christie and her husband lived here from 1937 to 1941 when the bombing from World War II forced them to move.
Matthew Arnold – 2 Chester Square
Matthew Arnold was already an established poet by the time he took up residence in Chester Square; however, the house was his first fixed address in the seven years that he had been married. The house is, and was, less grand than its neighbours, but it is reported to have suited the family well. They remained there for 10 years before moving to Harrow to improve his sons’ educational prospects.
Mary Shelley – 24 Chester Square
This house was the home of Frankenstein author, Mary Shelley, from 1846 until her death, from a brain tumour, in 1851. She was aged 53 at the time of her death, but had already been widowed for 29 years after her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, drowned, leaving her to raise their young son alone.
Alfred Lord Tennyson – 9 Upper Belgrave Street
With a permanent residence on the Isle of Wight, Tennyson and his family rented a variety of properties in London during the poet’s later years. His son, Lionel, worked for the India Office, and so the family’s homes were always located close by, in order to visit him. The house at Upper Belgrave Street was rented in 1880 and 1881.
Ian Fleming – 22B Ebury Street
Built in 1830 as a Baptist church, 22 Ebury Street was subsequently divided into separate flats, and James Bond creator, Ian Fleming bought his in 1934. The previous owner was Oswald Mosley, a British politician known for his support of the Fascist movement in the 1930s. Moonraker villain, Sir Hugo Drax, also lived at the address.
John Keats – Keats’ House (Wentworth Place), Keats Grove
Now a museum dedicated to the poet’s life, Keats House was the home of John Keats, along with friend, Charles Brown, between 1818 and 1820. It is thought that his famous poem, Ode to a Nightingale, was composed in the garden there, and his fiancée, Fanny Brawne, lived next door. In 1820, Keats was advised to leave England for his health, and so he left for the warmer climate of Italy. He died the following year.
D.H. Lawrence – 1 Byron Villas, Vale of Heath
In the years leading up to the outbreak of World War I, D.H. Lawrence was living in Europe with his partner, Frieda. With the start of the war, however, they returned to England and lived at Byron Villas for a few months in 1915 before moving to Cornwall. They, like other conscientious objectors, also congregated at Garsington Manor in Oxfordshire during the war years.
Aldous Huxley – 16 Bracknell Gardens
The plaque attached to this house in Bracknell Gardens commemorates not only Brave New World author, Aldous, but also his brother, Julian, and father, Leonard. The house belonged to Leonard and was the family home during Aldous’ youth. After completing his degree in English Literature at Balliol College, Oxford, Aldous returned to his father’s house before meeting and marrying Maria Nys in 1919.
Katherine Mansfield & John Middleton Murry – 17 East Heath Road
New Zealand born author, Katherine Mansfield, and her husband, John Middleton Murry, critic and editor of the Athenaeum literary magazine moved to Hampstead in 1918, hoping that the fresh air away from the city would improve Katherine’s health. In the basement of the house, the couple also started The Heron Press, a small printing press that published some of their own work. When the current owners filed a proposal to alter the basement of the house, the Katherine Mansfield Society objected on the grounds that the press was of cultural significance.
These sixteen authors lived within only four suburbs of London in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Hundreds of other writers have been immortalised in blue all over the city, and their lives and works continue to influence many of those who come to visit.
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