Exclusive: Rimbaud and Verlaine house in Camden Town is put on the market

Fans of revered French writers fear plan to turn property into a 'poetry house' venue may be lost

Thursday, 12th November 2020 — By Tom Foot

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Estate agent details celebrate its former “colourful residents”

AN historic Camden Town house once lived in by two world-famous poets has been put up for sale in a blow to admirers who want it to become a meeting place for writers, performers and artists.

Estate agents are marketing 8 Royal College Street, the 19th century home of Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine, as an opportunity to buy a “gorgeous” four-bedroom house that is “steeped in history including some colourful Camden residents over the years”.

It has raised fears that an unsympathetic buyer will purchase the property, listed at £1.75 million. The Rimbaud & Verlaine Foundation had planned to convert the three-storey Grade II-listed house into a European-style poetry house and venue for performers and artists.

Its chief executive Graham Henderson told the New Journal yesterday (Wednesday): “We had a wonderful vision for creating the poetry house there, and we were well on our way doing that, but as it stands this is not going to happen. It’s very disappointing.”

He added: “Of course, a sale would threaten the original raison d’être of the charity. My message to the owner is we would very much like him to change his mind.” Two months ago, 10 former culture ministers and a long list of artists in France signed a petition to President Emmanuel Macron demanding the two poets’ bodies be exhumed and reinterred in the National Mausoleum of Paris – in a process known as “Pantheonisation”. 

Arthur Rimbaud

The two poets, who had an intense and violent relationship in the early 1870s, are described in the petition as “symbols of diversity”. Recently, one of their letters sold at auction for £200,000 and a pistol, used by Verlaine to shoot Rimbaud, sold for 373,000 euros. In another incident, Rimbaud is said to have slapped Verlaine in the face with a fish.

They have been referred to as “the French Oscar Wildes” while Mr Henderson described them as being “like Wordsworth, Keats and Shelley all rolled into one”, adding: “They have a huge cult following.”

Campaigners had originally wanted the French government to buy the house when it was initially put up for sale by the Royal Veterinary College. Former Camden councillor Gerry Harrison was joined  by actor Simon Callow, writer Julian Barnes, Lisa Appignanesi, Tracey Chevalier and the rock star Patti Smith in a campaign to protect it at that time.

Paul Verlaine

The house was eventually bought privately in 2007 by Michael Corby who said he would restore it and make it a base to promote the poets’ work.

But Mr Henderson said he had spoken to the owner after the house was put up for sale and it had been made clear to him that the original deal was now off the table.

The New Journal was unable to contact Mr Corby yesterday (Wednesday). After buying the house, he had said: “I will admit I do not particularly care for Verlaine but think Rimbaud is absolutely wonderful.” Somers Town councillor Paul Tomlinson said he would support any application to give the building greater planning protection by making it an Asset of Community Value (ACV).

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