What?: Intimate museum housed in the one-time home of 19th-century Romantic poet John Keats. We live round the corner from Keats House and often spend the afternoon in his lush garden, which is free to use and offers a tranquil alternative to nearby Hampstead Heath, which can get a bit rowdy on nice days. I’d taken Bab round his house a couple of times in her sling, but since that’s no longer an option for either of us given her inability to keep still and my inability to withstand having a 20lb toddler strapped to my person for any length of time, I decided we’d go freestyle for the day, abandoning the buggy at the door and letting the erratic slitherer do her worst. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, amazingly, not much. Amazingly because, despite the absence of breakables, valuables and non-edibles at toddling height, the National Trust property is home to an unusual number of staircases for a house of its size, with some more twisty-turny and treacherous than others. On top of this there’s an extremely sooty flagstone floor in the basement and various other obstacles that are to be expected of a public museum that hasn’t been crawler-proofed, which is basically all of them except the Museum of Childhood, whose childproofing is obligatory since it has the word ‘child’ in its name.
Anyway, Bab got dirty. But I mean really so what? I’m so past caring about dirt. Every single item of her clothing aged between nine and 18 months is permanently stained with the dirt of a billion museum, shop and theatre floors from every corner of London and beyond. We now have several pairs of leggings that are so discoloured from floor filth we save them specially for days when we know she’s going to get heavily soiled. These are basically the toddler equivalent of period pants.
But while I don’t care about dirt, obviously I would rather Bab didn’t fall down a 200-year-old uneven stone staircase and crack her head open, so you can’t get too blasé about these things. Thankfully though she limited her staircase flight ascension count to three (normally it’s more like 20) and spent the rest of our visit mesmerised by the guided tour or playing in the Chester Room, a large extension added after Keats’ death that’s filled with relevant children’s activities, from Keats colouring sheets and jigsaws to a magnetic poetry set and a singing nightingale. There is also a dressing-up box in a bedroom on the first floor and a plate-design activity in the basement, and if all of this fails to impress then the garden with its wealth of beautiful flowers and friendly resident cats should do the trick on nice days, while in winter there’s the free-to-use children’s library next door.
Where?: Keats House is on Keats Grove, a three-minute walk from Hampstead Heath (Ginger) and nine from Hampstead (Northern).
Best Bits: The staff are welcoming to the point that our trip felt less like a formal museum visit and more like we’d popped round to a mate’s house for a chat. The lady on the till went out of her way to entertain a maniacally busy Bab and the tour guide made us feel relaxed and at home, even when Bab danced and shrieked all the way through his talk. There are tonnes of kids’ activities, very little they can’t touch and plenty of atmosphere.
Worst Bits: There’s no cafe, though there are more than enough on nearby South End Road and Hampstead High Street. The house is not buggy-accessible, so bring a sling if your tiny is pre-crawling.
Facilities: Baby changing. And that’s about it.
Price: £6.50 for adults and free for under-17s.
Would We Come Back?: Keats garden is our saviour on fine days and we will definitely venture back inside the house once we’ve forgotten everything we learnt this time. This is an easy day out for us given its proximity to our flat, but even if you don’t live nearby this is a fabulous place to take toddlers and definitely worth the trip.
Bab plays with a toy nightingale in the Chester Room at Keats House, Hampstead.