Logo

The scandalous history of 8 Royal College Street revealed

PUBLISHED: 16:00 26 July 2017 | UPDATED: 16:40 26 July 2017

8 Royal College Street today, where Verlaine and Rimbaud spent a stormy three months before the flight to Belgium. Photo: Google Maps

8 Royal College Street today, where Verlaine and Rimbaud spent a stormy three months before the flight to Belgium. Photo: Google Maps

Archant

Home of the French poets and lovers who inspired Leonardo di Caprio and Bob Dylan singled out to mark 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality

No 8 Royal College Street, London. Home to the French poets and partners, Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud in 1873. Copyright: Historic England Archive No 8 Royal College Street, London. Home to the French poets and partners, Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud in 1873. Copyright: Historic England Archive

In order the mark half a century since the decriminalisation of homosexuality Historic England have listed or re-listed places that played a part in England’s Queer history.

“England has a rich and colourful history and yet there’s a gap when it comes to recording our LGBTQ heritage,” said Deborah Williams, Historic England’s listing team leader for the west.

“That’s why we want to uncover and share the untold stories of these buildings and places. They have a rightful place in our nation’s history.”

One of the 14 re-listed places is 8 Royal College Street in Camden Town, a building that hosted a particularly colourful chapter of Queer history.

Rimbaud photographed in 1871, the year before he met Verlaine Rimbaud photographed in 1871, the year before he met Verlaine

The Grade II listed Regency property was briefly called home by French poets Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud during their tempestuous love affair.

Verlaine is most associated with the Decadent movement, an artistic and literary movement that flourished in the late 19th century and, as the name suggests, was concerned with excess, perversity, moral decay and the attractions and ultimate disappointment of pleasure with a sprinkling of Satanic horror.

Inspired by Baudelaire, Rimbaud developed a symbolism style of poetry whose form and themes would inspire the Symbolism, Surrealist and Dadaist movements. His work was concerned with love, suffering, madness and the tortured soul of the poet.

The lovers relocated to London in September 1872 after scandalising the whole of Paris with their absinthe and hashish fuelled affair, eventually taking up lodgings on Royal College Street in May 1973.

Portrait of Verlaine painted by Fr�d�ric Bazille in 1867, five years before he met Rimbaud Portrait of Verlaine painted by Fr�d�ric Bazille in 1867, five years before he met Rimbaud

Verlaine, then 27, had left his wife and son for the 17 year old Rimbaud after the younger man had sent him a series of love letters.

Whilst living in London they wrote some of their most important works. Rimbaud completed his collected work ‘Romances sans paroles’ (Songs without words), and Verlaine wrote ‘Une saison en enfer’ (A season in hell) one of his most celebrated extended prose poems.

But the hard-living pair were as famed for their wild behaviour as much as they were their art.

At 16 Rimbaud had written: “I’m now making myself as scummy as I can. Why? I want to be a poet”. According to his biographer Graham Robb so great was the young poets’ commitment to the lifestyle he rarely bathed, spiked one friend’s drink with sulphuric acid and defecated under the pillow of another.

Verlaine and Rimbaud, bottom right corner, in Henry Fantin-Latour's 'By the Table', painted in 1872 before the pair moved to London Verlaine and Rimbaud, bottom right corner, in Henry Fantin-Latour's 'By the Table', painted in 1872 before the pair moved to London

Verlaine meanwhile was an alcoholic who became abusive when he drank. He was particularly taken with idiosyncrasies of Victorian London, noting that it was “prudish, but with every vice on offer”, and Londoners to be “permanently sozzled, despite ridiculous bills on drunkenness.”

Together with Rimbaud he loved to explore the streets of London and haunt the absinthe bars of Soho, then known as the French Quarter.

If creatively fertile the relationship was by all accounts toxic. After getting on the gin and the absinthe the couple would fight, sometimes mutilating each other with knives.

Everything came to a head a few months after they moved in to their Camden Town lodgings. Hanging out of an upstairs window Rimbaud observed his lover coming back from Camden market with a bottle of cooking oil and a herring held between thumb and forefinger, presumably with the intention of a fish supper.

Sketch of Rimbaud and Verlaine in a London Street by Félix Régamey, 1972 Sketch of Rimbaud and Verlaine in a London Street by Félix Régamey, 1972

The younger man called out a rude comment on the ridiculous figure Verlaine was cutting, and here accounts diverge. Some say the offended Frenchman slapped his boyfriend around the face with the offending fish.

According to another report Verlaine simply stormed into the house, put the food down, packed his bags without a word and jumped in a taxi to the docks and caught the next boat to Belgium.

Rimbaud chased him down but he refused to return to London, and it was in Belgium that their ultimately doomed love affair concluded. In a hotel in Brussels the pair had a drunken row that ended in Verlaine shooting Rimbaud in the arm with a revolver. A second bullet ricocheted off the wall and into chimney. The 7mm six-shooter was auctioned by Christie’s last year for £54,000.

After seeking medical attention Rimbaud begged Verlaine not to leave him once more, upon which the latter pulled out his gun again in the middle of the street. Rimbaud begged a passing policeman to arrest Verlaine, who spent two years in jail where he wrote 32 poems and converted to Catholicism. During the trial the nature of their relationship was the subject of intense and humiliating scrutiny.

Verlaine drinking absinthe in Café François 1er in 1892, photographed by Paul Marsan Dornac Verlaine drinking absinthe in Café François 1er in 1892, photographed by Paul Marsan Dornac

The pair met for the final time upon Verlaine’s release in 1875, by which time Rimbaud had given up his life as a poet. The next year he joined the Dutch Colonial Army, deserting four months later by hiding in the Javan jungle before stowing away on a ship back to France. He later became a coffee merchant in Harar, Ethiopia, before dying of bone cancer in 1991 aged just 37.

Verlaine went back to England, teaching at a grammar school in Lincolnshire. He returned to France in 1877 where he found renewed fame for his poetry as he simultaneously descended into drug addiction, alcoholism and poverty, spending his days in the absinthe cafes of Paris and sleeping in the slums before dying aged 51 in 1896.

Their poetry lived on in the 20th century, inspiring the work of Patti Smith, Jim Morrison and Pete Doherty. In his 1974, seven years after the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, Bob Dylan sang:

“Situations have ended sad/ Relationships have all been bad/ Mine have been like Verlaine’s and Rimbaud./ But there’s no way I can compare/ All those scenes to this affair / Yer gonna make me lonesome when you go.”

In 1955 Lionardo di Caprio starred as Rimbaud opposite David Thewlis as Verlaine in Total Eclipse, a cinematic account of the passionate affair between the two poets.

The 1967 Act only legalised homosexual acts between consenting adult males over the age of 21 in strict privacy. It took years for full equality before the law to be achieved and the fight for LGBTQ rights continues half a century later.

Today if you pass by the modern, sanitised incarnation of Camden Market and walk down Royal College Street you’ll see only a simple sign saying: “The French poets Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud lived here May-July 1873”. It’s a sober marker of what was in fact a thrilling and tragic tale of a fraught love affair that begun in poetry and romance and ended with a wet fish and a smoking revolver in a Brussels hotel room.

Property search


e.g. Oxford or NW3
Powered by Zoopla

Other Hampstead and Highgate property news

Halloween homes: how to create spook-tacular decor for ‘fright’ night

Dip into a witch’s brew of tricks and treats

New luxury development nears completion in Hampstead

The apartments have proven popular with just a few homes left for sale

Marylebone area guide: restaurants, high street, shops and schools

Your guide to things to do in Marylebone, including the best shops, cafes, restaurants and schools. PLUS our guide to property in NW1 and W1

Open House: Take a look inside the latest Hampstead Heath homes on the market

Both houses feature a cinema room and slim line framed windows, offering enviable views of the landscaped gardens

Transform your outside space by repointing your garden path

Richard Burr reveals how in five simple steps

Top ten things renters need to know

From losing your deposit to falling foul of unprofessional landlords, make your renting experience as easy as possible by reading these top tips

Revealed: How much it costs to buy a property in Camden per square metre

Property buyers are spending more than £12,000 for just a square metre in the north London borough, figures show

Sitting pretty: Everything you need to know before choosing a new sofa

Buying a new settee can be stressful. Three experts share their top tips and trends to plump for.

Hampstead new luxury penthouses already 50% sold to mostly local buyers

71 per cent of the two to five bedroom apartments have sold to families nearby, underlining an appetite for family-sized luxury new-builds in the area

Property of the week: Guildens

A rare opportunity to purchase an unmodernised house which has been in the same ownership for nearly 60 years

Need a new front door? Here’s how to revamp your old one and save money

Refreshing your home’s entrance is a big job. Richard Burr reveals his 5 top tips for a perfect paint job

9 autumn must-buys to cosy up your home

Whether you’re styling up a snug room, or just want to something comfy to curl up in now the nights have started to draw in, now is the perfect time to ‘fall’ into something luxuriously soft and snuggly. Or, you could tap into an Alpine theme and add a touch of cosy-cabin chic.

Hampstead area guide: shops, theatre, schools and the Heath

Your guide to things to do in Hampstead, including the best shops, cafes, restaurants and schools. PLUS our guide to property in NW3

The Conservative and Labour housing policies explained

The prime minister proposed the build of 25,000 extra social homes in two years, while Corbyn announced plans to implement a cap on rent increases

Five things buy-to-let landlords need to know going into 2018

From house price and rental yield statistics to minimising voids, here’s everything you need to know

The top six things that are likely to devalue your home, according to new research

Swimming pools and solar panels are among the most undesirable property features, new research has found

North London developers prepare to unveil luxury collection in Fortis Green

The Fortis Collection has used a number of locally sourced materials and prides itself on being “incredibly energy efficient”

Choose the right tools for the great autumn tidy-up

As you begin to rake leaves, trim shrubs and shape trees in the garden in autumn, we look at essential tools to help you get the job done quickly

For sale in Tufnell Park: top three

On the market now, we’ve found apartments with green private gardens and a luxurious two bedroom new build in Tufnell Park

New eye tracking technology reveals what buyers really look at when viewing a property

Research found that only four per cent of eye movement time is dedicated to considering property layout, repairs or structural features

British-Canadian designer Patrick Cox has sold his Little Venice pad for £2.75m, before moving to Ibiza

Fashion designer Patrick Cox has found a buyer for his 1,908 sq.ft (177 sq.m) Victorian villa in Little Venice, as he prepares to move to Ibiza and start on another ‘grand designs’ style property project

Tufnell Park area guide: schools, restaurants, station and The Dome

Your guide for things to do in Tufnell Park, including the best shops, cafes, restaurants and schools.

What’s the best conifer for you?

Conifers used to be seen as dull, boring and way too tall - think Leylandii and you get my drift - but so many new varieties are now on the market that you can add colour, architecture and form to your garden when everything else has entered winter dormancy.

What to consider before buying your first property

The help available - and pitfalls to avoid - for first-time buyers

Home of the Week: Striking five storey townhouse in Hampstead Village

Denning Road, Hampstead Village, NW3

Don’t miss the last weekend of London Design Festival

The annual celebration of all things design has taken the capital by storm this September. Make sure not to miss the last weekend before the festival closes its doors on Sunday.

Top tips for first-time landlords

We discuss climbing the buy-to-rent property ladder with first-time landlords and local industry experts.

Camden mews property transformed into couple’s forever home

A 1960’s Camden property has been redesigned using a number of locally sourced materials

For sale in St John’s Wood: top three

On the market now, we’ve found apartments with great natural light and spacious entertainemnt areas in St John’s Wood

Camden homes among hardest hit as London asking prices record biggest fall of the decade

Asking prices for homes in Camden have fallen an average of seven per cent in past month.

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

2017 © Archant Community Media Ltd

Terms and conditions | Cookie policy | Jobs at Archant