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Chasing Rimbaud

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Poet in the City are involved in a campaign to see that 8 Royal College Street in Camden, the house once occupied by Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine, retains its cultural heritage:

In 1873 the two poets lived for a year in the house near Kings Cross and St Pancras stations. The poets had scandalized French literary society by running away together to the grubby streets of Victorian London, where they were astounded and fascinated by the uninhibited advance of industrialisation and urbanization. Their period living in Camden gave birth to some of their most important and influential poetry, as well as to the some of the most fascinating anecdotes about their lives. Most famously the poets eventually fell out over a herring, purchased by Verlaine from Camden Market.

In 1993 there was a danger that this building, dated 1828, might be demolished or so drastically altered by an unscrupulous owner that its artistic and architectural heritage might be destroyed. The local authority had it spot-listed, which means that extra steps would have to be taken by any developer before work can take place. It was also at the time put on the Buildings-at–Risk register of English Heritage. However, in spite of these measures the building, and the two on either side, were slowly collapsing.

An opportunity came when it was to be placed on the market. Many potential buyers were approached. One, who respects the history of the building, came forward in January 2007 with plans to convert it into a centre for Poetry and in particular for Rimbaud and Verlaine. It was saved. He has since been renovating it sympathetically, but the building still needs a long-term strategy to achieve its cultural ambitions.

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During 2007 a British charity, Poet in the City, became interested in taking it on. This had the good idea of leasing the building from its owner to a corporation, perhaps a French one, which would use it for its own functions but also subsidise a Centre here in accordance with the original aims. This building is located ten minutes from St Pancras International Railway Station, from where trains arrive from and depart to Paris on a journey of under two hours.

Poet in the City, led by Graham Henderson, is now looking for fresh ideas for such corporations or other arts or academic institutions which might sponsor the building. He has recently established a group of interested people under the banner of Friends of No. 8, which has held preliminary meetings. This group will advise on and manage future programmes of activities in the building.

If you can contribute practical, feasible and financially sensible ideas or suggestions, and/or would like to join the Friends of No. 8, which currently meets in central London, please approach Graham Henderson: graham@adventco.co.uk / info@poetinthecity.co.uk

Further: To London, for love / The house at poets’ corner

First posted: Wednesday, May 7th, 2008.

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  1. I would like to help in a practical capacity and to perhaps join Friends of No.8

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