Highgate

Coleridge's memorial in St Michael's church, Highgate.

In 1816 Coleridge returned to London and attempted again to come to terms with his opium addiction, consulting a number of eminent physicians before finally becoming the house guest of Dr James and Mrs Anne Gillman in Highgate.

The Gillmans’ affection for, and success at managing Coleridge’s health issues, provided an environment secure and comfortable enough for the poet to remain with them the rest of his days. The publication of Sibylline Leaves and Biographia Literaria confirmed his celebrity as a leading writer, critic and talker, and Highgate became a place of pilgrimage for the great and the good in the world of literature, science and the arts.

The Ancient Mariner was now republished with additional marginal commentaries, and both Kubla Khan and Christabel – formerly Coleridge’s oratorical party-pieces, were published at the insistence of Lord Byron who had been much impressed by them.

The Highgate years offered Coleridge some stability and contentment. Although he was obliged to grapple with family problems and was never able to conquer his opium addiction, he continued to write and lecture, and talk endlessly to his friends and admirers.

He also holidayed in Ramsgate, becoming an enthusiastic sea bather, and even undertook in 1828 a nostalgic reprise of his German tour with Wordsworth. Shortly after Coleridge’s installation in The Gillman household they all moved to a larger house at 3, The Grove, where the top room became Coleridge’s study / bedroom. The Grove became the focus of pilgrimage by the glitterati of the day, who would listen to the great man’s mesmerising talk.

When he did get out and about, which was still quite regularly, it was for much shorter walks in and around Highgate village – still a rural settlement in 1816 – and at a much reduced pace. The journey from home to the chemist for surreptitious, not-medically-scrutinised supplements to his opium regime, would have been a regular trip. You can still stand in the doorway where STC waited for the local chemist to deliver his opium. Its a five minute walk from the Grove along South Grove to Highgate Hill, then turn right and watch for Townsend Yard on the left. Ten yards in, on the left is an arch top doorway that was formerly the side entrance into the chemist’s shop. If anywhere deserves a blue plaque, this is it!

Coleridge spent the rest of his life with the Gillmans. He died in 1834, and was buried in the local cemetary, where it became overshaddowed by a new building and somewhat neglected. Then on 6th June 1961, after a fundraising effort, his remains were reburied in the crypt of St. Michael’s. The Poet Laureate, John Masefield, gave the address at the unveiling of the stone.