A sepia photograph of medieval ruins.
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Narrative Structures: England’s Literary History in 11 Places

Discover the historic sites in England where famous writers found their inspiration.

England has a rich literary tradition rooted in invention and creativity. Over the centuries, millions worldwide have found their imaginations sparked by its historic places.

Here are some of the famous writers that have lived in, worked in, and been inspired by historic sites in England.

1. Where William Shakespeare was born

William Shakespeare, considered by many to be England’s greatest playwright, was born in this house in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, in 1564.

A black and white photograph of a large 2-storey timber-framed house.
The Grade I listed Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, between 1860 and 1922. Source: Historic England Archive. View image CC72/01244.

His father, John, had lived and worked here from around 1551. William inherited it in 1601, and it remained with descendants of the family until the late 18th century.

The house became a tourist attraction from at least the 1740s and was bought by the Shakespeare Birthplace Committee for preservation as a national monument in 1847.

It is now a museum in the care of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

2. Where Jane Austen wrote ‘Pride and Prejudice’

In the final years of her life, Jane Austen lived in a house in Chawton with her sister Cassandra, her mother, and her friend Martha Lloyd from 1809.

A black and white photograph of a two-storey brick house with a large front garden.
The Grade I listed Jane Austen’s House in Chawton, Hampshire. © Historic England Archive. View image AA031665.

Her genius flourished in this house. Her novels ‘Sense and Sensibility’, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Northanger Abbey’ were all refined and finished here. She also wrote ‘Mansfield Park’, ‘Emma’ and ‘Persuasion’ whilst living under this roof.

In May 1817, Austen moved to 8 College Street in Winchester for treatment for a short illness from which she died on 18 July 1817. Her mother and sister continued to live at the house in Chawton for the rest of their lives.

A black and white photograph of a 3-storey brick house.
The Grade II* listed 8 College Street in Winchester, Hampshire, in 1906. Source: Historic England Archive. View image CC76/00224.

While not widely known during her lifetime, her novels satirising England’s middle and upper classes in Georgian England gained greater popularity later in the 19th century. She is now regarded as one of England’s best known writers.

3. Where Thomas Hardy was inspired

Upwey Mill is a corn mill near Weymouth in Dorset. It was built in 1802.

A black and white photograph of a corn mill.
The Grade II* listed Upwey Mill near Weymouth in Dorset between 1865 and 1900. Source: Historic England Archive. View image OP10376.

One of England’s most popular novelists, Thomas Hardy, set most of his stories in the South West of England. Hardy named the area Wessex after the medieval Anglo-Saxon kingdom and gave fictional names to established places.

In his 1880 novel, ‘The Trumpet-Major’, Hardy used the mills at Upwey and Sutton Poyntz as inspiration for the story’s Overcombe Mill.

4. Where Bram Stoker found Dracula

During a stay in the North Yorkshire coastal town of Whitby in 1890, Bram Stoker discovered inspiration for his novel ‘Dracula’.

A sepia photograph of the ruins of a medieval abbey.
The Grade I listed Whitby Abbey in Whitby, North Yorkshire, between 1852 and 1893. Source: Historic England Archive. View image AL0126/022/02.

The first monastery at Whitby was founded in about AD 657 and became one of the most important religious centres in the Anglo-Saxon world. The shell of the 13th-century church of the Benedictine Abbey now dominates the site.

The atmospheric ruins of the Abbey, names on graves at the nearby St Mary’s Church, and the town itself inspired Stoker’s classic Gothic adventure.

A photograph of the ruins of a medieval abbey.
The ruins of Whitby Abbey in North Yorkshire. © Historic England Archive. View image DP072159.

It was here where Count Dracula arrived in England on the doomed ship Demeter, running aground on 8 August, the same date that Stoker first came across the name ‘Dracula’ in a book in Whitby library.

5. Where Agatha Christie plotted crimes

The detective fiction writer Agatha Christie and her husband Max Mallowan bought Greenway House in Kingswear, Devon, in 1938.

A black and white photograph of a landscape and garden with a 3-storey manor house to the right.
The Grade II* listed Greenway House in Kingswear, Devon, between 1890 and 1907. Source: Historic England Archive. View image CC52/00135.

Set in an elevated position overlooking the River Dart, Greenway House was built between 1780 and 1790. It was remodelled and extended in the early 19th century.

The couple used it as a holiday home. Having been born in nearby Torquay, Christie had known Greenway since childhood.

Greenway features as a location in at least two of Agatha Christie’s novels, including ‘Five Little Pigs’ from 1943 and ‘Dead Man’s Folly’ from 1956.

6. Where George Orwell wrote ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’

Eric Arthur Blair, better known as George Orwell, moved with his family to Canonbury Square in 1944 after a bomb destroyed their former home in Kilburn.

These tenement buildings helped inspire the ‘decaying home’ in ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, which Orwell started writing whilst here.

A photograph of a set of 4-storey terraced brick houses, with an orange book and a toy pig positioned on the railings outside.
27B Canonbury Square in Islington, London. © Historic England Archive. View image DP177898.

Born in India in 1903, Orwell’s writings reflect the extraordinary experiences of his own life. Educated at Eton, he rejected a life of academia, choosing instead to join the British imperial police in Burma, where he became revolted by Britain’s oppressive rule.

After resigning, he lived in poor areas of East London, washed dishes in Paris, and worked on hop farms in Kent to escape the bourgeois lifestyle he resented.

7. Where William Wordsworth wrote ‘Home at Grasmere’

The poet William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy moved to Dove Cottage in Grasmere in the Lake District in 1799. It remained their home for the next 8 years.

A photograph of a 2-storey cottage.
The Grade I listed Dove Cottage in Grasmere, Cumbria. © Historic England Archive. View image DP056060.

One of the earliest poems Wordsworth wrote at Dove Cottage was ‘Home at Grasmere’. Despite challenging conditions and ill health, he settled here, enjoying married life and writing some of his most memorable works.

In 1808, the Wordsworths moved to a more spacious house. The following year, their friend, the essayist Thomas De Quincey, took up the tenancy of Dove Cottage.

8. Where Lord Byron couldn’t afford to live

After the dissolution of the monasteries between 1536 and 1541, Newstead Abbey was acquired by Sir John Byron in 1539 and converted into a country house.

It eventually passed to the 6th Lord Byron, the famous poet George Gordon Noel Byron.

A photograph of a grand abbey house with a large pond in the foreground.
The Grade I listed Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire. © Historic England Archive. View image DP046146.

Living there sporadically between 1808 and 1814, existing debts on the estate resulted in Newstead’s sale in 1817.

Byron cultivated a notorious reputation during his lifetime. His sense of adventure took him to Greece to support their fight for independence from the Ottoman Empire. He died there in 1824. His body was brought back to England and buried in the family vault near Newstead.

9. Where great writers read

Built between 1823 and 1847, the British Museum was designed as a quadrangle with an open courtyard.

A black and white photograph of a grand circular library.
The Library and Reading Room of the Grade I listed British Museum in London, between 1945 and 1980. Historic England Archive. © Historic England Archive. View image AA98/05954.

Between 1852 and 1857, the quadrangle was filled with the Round Reading Room and its walls lined with bookcases and shelves. Its design, by architect Sydney Smirke, was inspired by the Pantheon in Rome.

Originally, applications to use the Reading Room had to be made in writing. Early successful applicants included Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Bram Stoker, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Oscar Wilde and Virginia Woolf.

10. Where the Brontë sisters wrote

The Haworth Parsonage was home to the three literary sisters Charlotte, Emily and Anne from 1820 onwards.

It was in this house that, as children and young adults, the Brontë sisters wrote some of their most famous novels, including Charlotte’s ‘Jane Eyre’, Emily’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ and Anne’s ‘Agnes Grey’.

A black and white photograph of a 2-storey parsonage house.
The Grade I listed Haworth Parsonage, now the Brontë Museum, in Haworth, Bradford, West Yorkshire. Source: Historic England Archive. View image WSA01/01/24005.

In contrast to Jane Austen, the sisters were working women, and their writing reflects a broader spectrum of English society.

They were also deeply inspired by the rugged Yorkshire landscape surrounding the village of Haworth, bringing it to life for millions worldwide in the pages of their novels.

12. Where Charles Dickens wrote ‘Oliver Twist’

Dickens wrote two of his best-loved novels, ‘Oliver Twist’ and ‘Nicholas Nickleby’, and worked on others while living at 48 Doughty Street in London.

When the writer moved here in 1837, London’s population had boomed to 1.65 million.

A close up photograph of a house with a green door and a sign that reads 'THE DICKENS HOUSE'.
The Grade I listed Dickens House at 48 Doughty Street in Camden, London. © Historic England Archive. PLB/K010862.

The city’s streets and their everyday characters inspired him to put London at the heart of many of his stories, and his depiction of the dirt, smells, and bustle of Victorian London gives readers a window into the past.

Dickens moved to Doughty Street at a time of evolving humanitarian and social philosophies, when the Chartism movement aimed to gain political rights and influence for the working classes. Dickens captured this spirit through his writing, with vivid characterisations of ordinary people and places.

11. Where Marx and Engels researched ‘The Communist Manifesto’

Chetham’s library opened its doors nearly 350 years ago and is the oldest free public reference library in the English-speaking world.

It holds more than 100,000 volumes of printed books, as well as manuscript diaries, letters, deeds, prints, and paintings.

A photograph of a grand library.
The Grade I listed Chetham’s Library in Manchester. © Historic England Archive. View image DP220360.

Established in 1655 by Humphrey Chetham for scholars and the education of ‘the sons of honest, industrious and painful parents’, the library has been in continuous use ever since, today operating as an independent charity, open to readers and visitors free of charge.

A photograph of a grand library.
Chetham’s Library in Manchester. © Historic England Archive. View image DP220353.

The library was also the meeting place of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels when Marx visited Manchester in the summer of 1845. Here the pair would meet in a window seat and conduct research that ultimately led to their work on ‘The Communist Manifesto’.

Further reading

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