Since Geoffrey Chaucer took up his pen at the end of the thirteenth century, he has scratched his chin thoughtfully and declared that he would write the canterbury tales in English instead of French or Latin, Britain has produced incredible writers.
From the sublime poetry of William Shakespeare to the witty banter of Jane Austen and the wild romance of Emily Brontë, we’ve been hooked. But have you ever wondered where these great works of art were written? What garden did Thomas Hardy look at when he conceived Bathsheba Everdene? What elegant ballroom inspired Agatha Christie to have fun with the filthiest murder? What landscapes and fireplaces were closest to the hearts of our favorite writers?
Fortunately, Britain is well practiced in preserving its historical monuments. All ten houses on this list are still standing today, preserved by people with a passion for literary heritage, and many of them are open to visitors.
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10 Chawton Cottage—Jane Austen
It’s crazy to think that Jane Austen left us only six finished novels. Her unique combination of sparkling wit and social commentary has captured the minds and hearts of countless readers for the past two hundred years. In fact, her work has never been exhausted, not bad for a humble clergyman’s daughter!
Austen never married and she did not own a home. Unfortunately, she lived at a time when single women were financially dependent on the men in her families. In 1809, her brother Edward took pity on her and allowed her to move into one of her estates in a picturesque Hampshire town. Along with her beloved sister Cassandra hers, Austen called Chawton Cottage home for the next eight years until her death in 1817.
From her desk in the back parlor, this penniless, dark woman created characters we’ve loved, hated, and laughed at for two centuries. She just thinks. The mind that gave us Mr. Darcy lived, breathed, ate, and sipped tea in those very rooms. Hollow ground!
9 Top of the Hill—Beatrix Potter
A beloved children’s writer and illustrator, Beatrix Potter is perhaps most famous for her adorable Peter Rabbit creation. Surprisingly, she was able to buy her Hill Top home after the success of her first story, the tale of peter rabbitin 1905.
Hill Top is a 17th century country house in the charming Lake District town of Ambleside. It is surrounded by lush greenery and beautiful flowers. Potter treasured the place as a much-needed retreat, allowing her to reconnect with nature and feed his fertile imagination. In fact, just being there is like stepping into one of his enchanting stories!
8 48 Doughty Street—Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens is the quintessential Victorian. The photos of the novelist present an imposing figure, bearded and serious, with a cane and a starched collar. But despite his somewhat austere appearance, Dickens was a kind and empathetic man who cared deeply for the poor.
Dickens’s first novel, The Pickwick Papers, was so successful that it allowed him to buy his first house at 48 Doughty Street in London. The property is now a popular museum, celebrating the author’s life and writing and hosting various literary exhibitions.
The purchase of such a beautiful home would have been a great personal achievement for Dickens, who was born into a struggling working-class family and knew hardship from an early age. When he was twelve years old, his father was imprisoned for failing to pay outstanding debts, and Dickens was forced to work in a factory for a year. Victorian factories were difficult and unforgiving places, and the experience affected him deeply.
As a result, Dickens’s novels are filled with biting social commentary, along with empathetic and humane portrayals of society’s poor and needy.
7 Monk’s House: Virginia Woolf
A famous member of the Bloomsbury Group in London, Virginia Woolf was a fiercely intelligent and complicated woman who surrounded herself with progressive writers, artists and thinkers. In a time of social and sexual restraint, she lived her life according to her own rules, having an affair with another woman, Vita Sackville-West. She also battled mental illness throughout her life.
Woolf bought the 16th-century Monk’s House cottage in 1919 with her husband, Leonard. It is a peaceful and picturesque place, with ponds and an orchard, surrounded by lovely Sussex countryside. The cottage and grounds are open to visitors, where you can learn about Woolf’s life and the activities of the Bloomsbury Group.
6 Hardy’s Cabin: Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy is famous for his plucky working-class heroines and his portrayals of the hardships of rural life, so it’s no surprise that his family home was a charming thatched cottage in the Dorset countryside.
The cabin had been in the family for generations before Hardy inherited it, having been built by his great-grandfather years before. Hardy himself was born there in 1840. There he wrote several of his most famous books, including Far from the madding crowd. Just outside the cottage is Thorncombe Woods, where the Hardy family would collect logs for the fire.
These days the cottage is owned by the National Trust and is preserved in Hardy’s memory. In fact, if you visit him today, you can sit in the same room where he wrote his books!
5 Shakespeare’s Birthplace: William Shakespeare
The father of modern English literature was born in a country house in Stratford-Upon-Avon in 1564. His father, John Shakespeare, was a glovemaker and respected businessman. As far as we know, Shakespeare did not write any of his plays under this roof, as he spent most of his adulthood in London mingling with the theater crowd. We know that he inherited the house when his father died, and his own three children were born there.
He must have been fond of Stratford-Upon-Avon, however, for he put down roots there in 1597 when he bought his first house, “New Place,” just a few streets away. He lived in this house for 19 years, dying there in 1616. Sadly, New Place no longer exists, but a garden has been built on the site to commemorate it.
4 Greenway—Agatha Christie
Ah, Agatha Christie. The very name conjures up images of village festivals, gossiping old women and afternoon tea in the drawing room. Christie is a legend, and the timeless mysteries of her somehow manage to feel vaguely threatening and infinitely welcoming all at the same time.
Greenway in Devon was Christie’s beloved holiday home, where she and her extended family would gather to spend weeks together enjoying the elegant home and lush surroundings. It’s exactly the kind of place where you can imagine one of Christie’s murders, with corridors lined with portraits, an elegant drawing room and a cozy library.
It’s no surprise that Agatha is officially the best-selling author of all time: her 78 novels have been translated into 44 languages and have sold over two billion copies. All hail the undisputed queen of middle class murder!
3 Haworth Parsonage: The Brontë Sisters
The Brontës were a weird and wonderful bunch. Sisters Charlotte, Emily and Anne grew up in the northern town of Haworth, a quaint little town bordering the wild Yorkshire moors. Her mother died of cancer in 1821 and they had two older sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, who sadly died of tuberculosis a few years later.
Since their father was a clergyman, the sisters grew up in the village parsonage. Together with her brother, Bramwell, they spent their quiet and isolated childhood entertaining themselves with stories. But life was hard, and tragedy was never too far away. Bramwell died of tuberculosis at age 31. Emily passed away shortly after. Anne died in the seaside town of Scarborough while she was working as a governess, still in her early twenties. That left Charlotte, who she lived to be 38 years old. Unfortunately, her father outlived all of her children.
Brontë Parsonage is now a museum open to visitors, as is the nearby school room where Charlotte worked as a teacher.
2 Abbotsford—Sir Walter Scott
When Sir Walter Scott first bought this property in 1811, it was a modest country house on a riverside near the Scottish town of Melrose. After expanding the grounds and planting numerous trees, Scott turned his attention to his home. He demolished the farmhouse and replaced it with the grand, imposing, castle-like structure we see today.
The interior of Abbotsford is exactly what you’d expect a romance novelist’s home to look like: all mahogany paneling, towering bookshelves, and armour. Most of the rooms have been preserved since his death, and you can look around him before taking a walk through the forest paths that Scott designed. The Abbotsford Trust still hold a whopping 120 acres!
1 Villa Diodati—Mary Shelley
Okay, I’m cheating a bit: the Villa Diodati is not in Great Britain. The imposing privately owned villa is situated on the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. It’s about as far from the cozy cabins and charming townhomes found on this list as you can get. Even so, the story of Shelley’s stay there, in the summer of 1816, is so legendary that it had to be included.
Shelley was in the villa visiting the romantic poet Lord Byron and his physician, John Pilidori. During their stay, the weather took a turn for the worse and the group became snowbound. None of them imagined that this period of house arrest would go down in literary history. But he did.
The fierce storms and desolate landscape must have had a great effect on the villagers because Lord Byron challenged the group to write a ghost story and they all agreed. Soon after, Shelley had a nightmare about a mad scientist building a person out of body parts. She turned this dream into her own ghost story and expanded on it, and a literary sensation was born.
Incredibly, Shelley’s visit to Villa Diodati took place when she was only 18, and the subsequent publication of her first novel, Frankensteininspired by the experience, it took place when she was 20 years old.
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