Delightful Literary Days Out Near London That All Book Lovers Should Do

Laura Reynolds
By Laura Reynolds Last edited 6 months ago
Delightful Literary Days Out Near London That All Book Lovers Should Do
Literary days out: Jane Austen's House in Chawton, a square, redbrick building, seen from across the road through bunches of daffodils growing on the village green.
The house where Jane Austen lived in Chawton, Hampshire, is open to the public. Photo: iStock/AmandaLewis

From Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, to Rudyard Kipling, Virginia Woolf and George Bernard Shaw, there are museums and visitor centres dedicated to Britain's most famous writers all over south-east England (in addition to the capital's own literary locations, of course), many easily reachable with a day trip from London. Whether you're a literature fan yourself, or you're looking to impress a bookworm, plan your bookish day out here.

Jane Austen's House, Chawton, Hampshire

An etching of Jane Austen wearing a bonnet
Image: public domain

It would be misleading to say that Jane Austen wrote all of her six novels in this village cottage, for although they were all published while she lived here, starting with Sense and Sensibility in 1811, she'd been working on early versions of some of her novels since 1795.

Jane, her sister Cassandra and her mother moved into this house in 1809, and the author lived here until a couple of months before her death in 1817, when she moved to Winchester to seek medical treatment.  These days, visitors can wander through the rooms arranged as they were when Austen was in residence, and view objects including her writing table, and first editions of some of her novels. The garden is open to visitors, there's a small gift shop, and the museum regularly has temporary exhibitions, adding further flavour to Austen's life and work.

Jane Austen's House, Chawton, Hampshire, GU34 1SD.

Charles Dickens' Birthplace Museum, Portsmouth, Hampshire

Literary days out: a terrace of four redbrick townhouses-  the one one the left has a blue plaque mounted on the front.
The house on the left, with a blue plaque, is where Charles Dickens was born. Image: public domain

With its back to the dying embers of the roaring A3, the front of The Charles Dickens' Birthplace Museum couldn't be more different, set in a smart terrace that wouldn't look out of place in Bloomsbury. A blue plaque above one window, and a small notice board are the only signs that this is anything other than an (admittedly quite posh) residential house.

Inside, there's a bizarre sense of things coming full circle, as the house where Charles Dickens made his entrance into this world in 1812 is now home to the couch where he made his final departure, some 58 years later (and 100 miles from here, at Gad's Hill Place). Letters written by Dickens himself, as well as photographs and paintings of him and his family, are among the items on display. The bedroom in which he was born is open to visitors, with a small notice commemorating the occasion, and the rest of the house is decked out in Regency-style decor. Charles Dickens only lived in the house for three years, until his family moved to Fitzrovia, so it's unlikely that the abode had any formative influence on his later writing.

The museum also acts as starting point for The Dickens Trail, an eight-mile route around Portsmouth connecting 14 locations linked to the author.

Charles Dickens' Birthplace Museum, 393 Old Commercial Road, Portsmouth, P01 4QL.

Charles Dickens Museum, Broadstairs, Kent

A headshot of Charles Dickens in older years
Image: public domain

Unlike his birthplace, the Charles Dickens Museum in Broadstairs did influence some of of the writer's plots and characters — though he never actually lived here himself. Instead, this house belonged to an eccentric-sounding friend of Dickens, a Miss Mary Pearson Strong, whose interactions with the clifftop wildlife is believed to have inspired the "Janet! Donkeys!" incident in Betsey Trotwood.

The museum features in our selection of fantastic days out in Kent to do by public transport, no car required.

Dickens House Museum, 2 Victoria Parade, Broadstairs, CT10 1QS. See also: London's own Charles Dickens Museum, and Gad's Hill Place in Kent, former home of the aforementioned sofa, where Dickens spent his final years. The town of Rochester is also dripping in Dickensian history and links.

Roald Dahl Museum, Great Missenden

Literary days out: a whitewashed terraced house with a huge mural of the BFG and the words 'flushbunkingly gloriumptious' painted on the front.
Ah yes, maybe that's why the street puts us in mind of the BFG. Photo: David Hillas

Strolling down the narrow, historic high street of Great Missenden, you can well imagine the BFG peering curiously into each of the upstairs windows, before plucking Sophie from her orphanage bed.

The Roald Dahl Museum & Story Centre wasn't Dahl's home — that was a cottage on the outskirts of the village — but since 2005 has been home to a charity set up to celebrate his work and children's literature as a whole. Dahl's manuscripts and personal correspondence are on display, and his famous writing hut — inspired by the writing shed of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas — has been relocated to the museum from his cottage nearby. Beyond these artefacts, the museum is a modern, inviting and inspiring space, with storytelling sessions, workshops and other events and activities to endear literature to children. It features in our selection of niche and unusual museums to visit near London.

Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, 81-83 High Street, Great Missenden, Bucks, HP16 0AL.

Bateman's, Burwash, East Sussex

Literary days out: an elegant Jacobean manor house with several chimneys, surrounded by a neat lawn.
This is what the royalties of The Jungle Book can buy you. Photo: Mike Prince

Think of Rudyard Kipling — he of The Jungle Book fame — and a Jacobean manor house in the rolling Sussex countryside probably isn't what comes to mind.

It'd be remiss to say that the Sussex wildlife inspired Kipling's most famous work, The Jungle Book, as that had been published eight years before he and his wife acquired Bateman's — in fact, the majority of his work had been written by this point, though his poem If wasn't published until a few years later.

Kipling died in 1936, and his wife Caroline three years later, at which point Bateman's was bequeathed to the National Trust — meaning it's largely preserved as it was in Kipling's time. His study still contains his desk, covered in ink spots, and a day bed complete with cigarette burns. The Exhibition Room is home to more artefacts, including Kipling's Nobel Prize.

Bateman's, Bateman's Lane, Burwash, East Sussex, TN19 7DS. He's also commemorated with a blue plaque in Villiers Street in London, and another in Southsea, Portsmouth, just a couple of miles from the Charles Dickens' Birthplace Museum, though their time in the city didn't overlap.

Lamb House, Rye, East Sussex

Literary days out: Lamb House, at the end of a cobbled street in Rye
Lamb House; a quaint building, in a quaint street, in a quaint town. Photo: Jim Linwood

Novelists Henry James and E F Benson both lived at Lamb House — in fact Rudyard Kipling, a keen motorist, used to drive the 20-odd miles over from Bateman's to visit James, who had retreated there when his play Guy Domville had failed on the West End stage in the 1890s, and went on to write his novels The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors and The Golden Bowl there.

H.G Wells, Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox Hueffer (later Ford Madox Ford) were regular visitors to the terraced town house, tucked away down a winding cobbled street. Sadly, the room where James did much of his writing was destroyed in the war, but visitors to the National Trust property today can visit the Green Room or Parlour, the only surviving space where both James and Benson are known to have written. The King's Room, where George I stayed after being washed ashore in a shipwreck in 1726, is also open to the public.

Lamb House, West Street, Rye, East Sussex, TN31 7Es. Have a read of our full guide to visiting the town of Rye.

Monk's House, Lewes, East Sussex

Author Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard are closely associated with the Bloomsbury Group of writers, artists and intellectuals who were based around that area of the capital. But from 1919 until Leonard's death in 1969, they owned Monk's House, a weatherboarded cottage close to Lewes in East Sussex. T.S. Eliot, E.M. Forster, Roger Fry and Lytton Strachey are among the famous names known to have visited them here, as well as Virginia's artist sister, Vanessa Bell.

Owned by the National Trust now, Monk's House still contains many of the couple's personal possessions, including her writing desk — she wrote many of her novels in a small weather-boarded writing room at the bottom of the garden.

Monk's House, Rodmell, Lewes, East Sussex, BN7 3HF. Read our complete guide to visiting the town of Lewes.

Just a few miles away, in Firle, is Charleston Farmhouse, another haunt of the Bloomsbury Group, former home of artists Vanessa Bell (Virginia Woolf's sister) and Duncan Grant. Focus here is more on visual art than literature, with regular exhibitions, festivals and events.

Milton's Cottage, Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire

Now, you could make a 'paradise found' type joke on arrival at Milton's Cottage, but we suspect the staff have heard that once or twice before. The redbrick cottage, part of nearby country estate The Vache, is where John Milton completed his epic poem Paradise Lost, though he only lived here for a couple of years.

In addition to his poetry, the museum shines a spotlight on his wider writing, including his political and social pamphlets, and displays objects including the Milton family chair, a lock of his hair, and first editions of his works.

It's one of the oldest writer's house museums in the world, having been bought for the nation and opened to the public in 1887, following a campaign supported by Queen Victoria.

Milton's Cottage, 21 Deanway, Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire, HP8 4JH.

Shaw's Corner, Hertfordshire

George Bernard Shaw with white beard, reading a book
Image: public domain

For 44 years from 1906, Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw and his wife Charlotte resided at Shaw's Corner, a former rectory in a remote part of Hertfordshire, first renting it and then buying it outright. The name was a nickname given to the Edwardian villa by locals after Shaw and his wife moved in, and later became its official moniker.

Pygmalion, probably Shaw's best-known work, was written in published in 1912, when he lived at Shaw's Corner, and today the National Trust property can be visited by guided tour. See his study and drawing room, and some of the collection of thousands of books that the couple amassed. Other objects on display include a Best Screenplay Oscar for the film adaptation of Pygmalion, Shaw's collection of hats, and a bust of Shaw by renowned sculptor Rodin.

Shaw's Corner, Ayot St Lawrence, near Welwyn, Hertfordshire, AL6 9BX.

Stratford Upon Avon

Literary days out: a beautiful thatched cottage in a well-kept garden
Anne Hathaway's Cottage in Stratford Upon Avon. Photo: Christopher Eden via Unsplash

Stratford Upon Avon can be reached by train from London in a couple of hours, and the whole picturesque town is basically one giant shrine to possibly the most famous writer in history, William Shakespeare.

A whistlestop tour of The Bard's hometown includes Shakespeare's Birthplace, where the family lived when he was born, and which he inherited on his father's death. Then there's Shakespeare's New Place on the site of the now-demolished home where he spent the last 16 years of his life. Anne Hathaway's Cottage, on the edge of the town, is the childhood home of Shakespeare's wife.

Then there's Shakespeare's Schoolroom, where The Bard apparently learned to read and write, and the Shakespeare Memorial Fountain (which was actually intended as a tribute to Queen Victoria), as well as Tudor World, a living history museum showing what the town was like during Shakespeare's lifetime.

The Royal Shakespeare Company has its base in the town, treading the boards at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the Swan Theatre — though it's not only Will's work that gets an airing on these stages.

And then, of course, there are the local businesses jumping on the Bard's bandwagon; Shakespeare in Love bridal boutique, Shakespaw Cat Cafe...

TLDR: Stratford Upon Avon is nuts for Shakespeare — the whole town is basically one giant immersive experience.

Stratford Upon Avon is 2-3 hours by train from either Euston or Marylebone.

The real-life Hundred Acre Wood, East Sussex

Literary days out: a miniature wooden door mounted onto a tree trunk in a forest
Owl's House in the real-life Hundred Acre Wood. Photo: Londonist

The Winnie the Pooh children's stories by AA Milne take place in the Hundred Acre Wood. While you won't find that on a map, it's based on part of the Ashdown Forest in Sussex, to the extent that some of his landmarks, such as the Heffalump Trap and the Lone Pine Tree, are still recognisable today.

Perhaps best-known is the Pooh Sticks Bridge, a wooden bridge where you can play the charming game. Also nearby is Pooh Corner, a tea room/museum/shop dedicated to all things Winnie the Pooh.

Why here? AA Milne and his family lived in nearby Cotchford Farm — that still exists today too, though it's privately-owned, so don't go snooping around.

Find out more about exploring the real Hundred Acre Wood.

Last Updated 18 August 2023

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