In centuries gone by, hundreds of roads in the capital used to be pedestrian only. When the car wasn’t even a twinkle in Henry Ford’s eye and not everyone owned a horse, walking was the dominant form of transport. In the past 100 years, war and technological advances (e.g. the motor car) have caused many of these alleys and other pedestrianised lanes and roads to be destroyed or built upon. However, one such road has managed to remain throughout history and is a charming little passage in the bustling West End.
Cecil Court is a 300ft long street linking Charing Cross Road and St Martin’s Lane. While today is it known as Booksellers’ Row, it has a long and varied history dating back to the 17th century. The land encompassing Cecil Court and the surrounding streets were bought by Robert Cecil, first Earl of Salisbury (1563-1612) in 1609. He served as Secretary of State under Queen Elizabeth I and King James I and was the principal discoverer of the Gunpowder Plot. He built the family seat, Hatfield House, in Hertfordshire in 1611. The Jacobean mansion continues to be the home for the Cecil family and the current Marquess of Salisbury, who still owns a lot of the land around Cecil Court. The first Earl of Salisbury bought four acres on the west side of St Martin’s Lane, from Newport Street to the south-west corner of the lane. It didn’t take long before the Earl built houses there to lease out. Cecil Court is believed to have been laid out in the 1670s by one of his descendants.
By the 18th century, Cecil Court housed some pretty unsavoury characters with residents appearing in court for various crimes. One particular character was an Irish Catholic woman, Mrs Elizabeth Calloway, who ran a brandy shop and alleged brothel in Cecil Court. In early 1735, she had taken out a £150 fire insurance policy with the Royal Exchange Assurance. In June 1735, she bought kindling, emptied her brandy barrels and was drinking locally with friends when a fire broke out at her shop. The blaze spread quickly and damaged 16 houses in neighbouring St Martin’s Court and four in Cecil Court. Mrs Calloway was charged with arson, but was later acquitted because she appeared to have genuine reasons for insuring her property. She testified at the Old Bailey: “The cook’s shop joining to mine, the wainscot of my closet was often so very hot that I was afraid it would some time or other be set on fire and for that reason I insured my house.” Witnesses also testified that Mrs Calloway was often concerned her drunken lodgers could set the house on fire with their candles. The fire inadvertently resulted in the death of local resident Anne Hogarth, the mother of famous satirical artist William Hogarth, who lived in nearby Cranbourn Alley. Her cause of death was deemed to be ‘shock’ from the fire.
Cecil Court quickly recovered with new properties being erected on-site. In 1764, a young child prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) and his family lodged with barber John Couzin at No.9 Cecil Court. Tickets for Mozart’s first London concerts were sold at Couzin’s shop. During his time there, the eight-year-old composer played twice for King George III. In 2011, a plaque was unveiled at the site to commemorate Mozart’s time in the capital. Read the rest of this entry
Charles Dickens Museum: Discover the man behind the books at the author’s only surviving London home
Charles Dickens is without a doubt one of our greatest authors. Although he was born in Portsmouth and died in Kent, he spent an awful lot of his life in London. During his decades in the capital, the writer lived in many residences, most of which no longer exist.
Today, the only remaining home is now a museum dedicated to his life and work. The author and his wife Catherine (1815-1879) moved to 48 Doughty Street in Bloomsbury in March 1837 – just a few months before Queen Victoria came to the throne. Previously they had been living in rented rooms at Furnival’s Inn in Holborn, but the birth of their first son Charles Jnr (1837-1896) meant they required more space. He signed a three-year lease on the five-floor Georgian terrace, costing around £80 a year. Built in 1807-9, the building is now Grade I-listed.
During the Dickens family’s three years in Doughty Street, Catherine gave birth to their eldest daughters Mary (1838-1896) and Kate (1839-1929), as well as raising their son Charles Jnr. Mrs Dickens’ 17-year-old sister Mary Hogarth also lived with the couple to help them with their expanding brood. Charles became very attached to his sister-in-law and she died in his arms following a short illness in May 1837. She is believed to have inspired several of his characters, including Rose Maylie in Oliver Twist and Little Nell Trent in The Old Curiosity Shop, among others.
While living at the Bloomsbury terrace, Dickens completed The Pickwick Papers (1836), wrote Oliver Twist (1838) and Nicholas Nickleby (1838–39) and started on Barnaby Rudge (1840–41). As he became more successful in his career and his family expanded, Dickens and the family left Doughty Street in December 1839 and moved to the grander 1 Devonshire Terrace in Marylebone. They lived at Devonshire Terrace until 1851 before moving on to Tavistock House, where the family remained for a further nine years. One Devonshire Terrace was demolished in the late 1950s and now an office block called Ferguson House stands on the site on Marylebone Road.
While most of Dickens’ London residences are long gone, the Doughty Street premises nearly ended up consigned to the history books as well. By the 1920s and 1930s, demolition of Georgian properties was becoming popular with the government, the majority of those being part of the ‘slum clearance’ programme. Many homes from this period had not been maintained well over the decades, providing unsanitary and unsafe living quarters for predominantly poor Londoners. Forty-eight Doughty Street was ear-marked for demolition in 1923, but was fortunately saved by the Dickens Fellowship, founded 21 years earlier. They managed to buy the property and renovate it, opening the Dickens’ House Museum in 1925. In 2012, the museum was re-opened following a £3.1million restoration project and now encompasses neighbouring No.49.
After having it on my ‘to do’ list for some time, I finally paid a visit recently and really enjoyed it. Upon entry you are given an audio tour which guides you around the five floors, including the kitchen and the attic. The museum really brings to life the man behind the books – his complicated private life, his feelings about his tough childhood and his many inspirations. The rooms have been decorated as the author may have known it, in a typical Victorian style and often with his actual furniture – many of which had been bought from Gad’s Hill Place – the Kent home where the author died in 1870. If you’re a fan of Dickens or history, I highly recommend a visit.
- Charles Dickens Museum, 48 Doughty Street, Bloomsbury, WC1N 2LX. Nearest station: Russell Square or Chancery Lane. Open Tues-Sun 10am-5pm. Tickets: Adult £9, Child 6-16 years £4. For more information, visit the museum website.
For a guide to London’s Dickens landmarks, click here.
As the nights draw in, the thought of curling up with a good book (or your Kindle) in the warmth is an appealing prospect indeed. So any bookworms looking for inspiration for their next read, the Richmond Upon Thames Literature Festival is a good place to start.
Marking its 25th birthday, the annual festival of books and words will be popping up at locations across the borough. A host of events will be taking place between 4-27 November 2016, including workshops, talks, film screenings, performances, and Q&As from authors. Among the authors taking part include Kate Summerscale, Sebastian Barry, Diana Durke, Helena Kelly, Christopher Frayling, Sarah Moss, Simon Bradling and Andrew Lownie.
Award-winning science journalist Dr Jo Marchant will be exploring mind-body medicine, while biographer Anne Sebba will give an insight to the live and loves of Parisian women in the 1940s. Historian Lucy Worsley will be introducing her first children’s history book Eliza Rose with costumes, trivia and other Tudor fun. Other family activities includes storytelling and drawing with Axel Scheffler, a podcast workshop with spoken word artist Polarbear and family music workshops with The Streets. Meanwhile, among the entertainment will be a performance of The Merchant Of Venice and Ealing Studios film screening.
- Richmond Upon Thames Literature Festival takes place from 4 – 27 November 2016. Ticket range from free to £15 depending on event. Limited places so book in advance. Venues include The Bingham, Marble Hill House, Old Town Hall, Strawberry Hill House, Teddington Library and more. For more information, visit the Richmond Literature Festival website.
For a guide to what else is on in London in November, click here.
For generations, the tales of Alice In Wonderland have captivated millions of readers (and viewers of film adaptations) around the world. For me, I was first introduced to the story as a young child when I watched the 1951 Disney animated film adaptation and was enthralled by this upside down, magical world. I soon read Lewis Carroll’s original Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and the sequel Through The Looking Glass.
2015 marked the 150th anniversary of the first publication of Carroll’s masterpiece, originally written for a girl named Alice Liddell. To commemorate such a timeless and enduring story, the British Library have curated an exhibition of Alice memorabilia, featuring various publications, adaptations and illustrations.
The exhibition takes place in the Entrance Hall at the British Library with a step-by-side mini refresher of Alice’s adventures using different illustrations from across the decades on mirrors and 3D pop-ups of boxes, drinks and houses. Of course, one of the most familiar depictions of Alice is by Sir John Tenniel, who was commissioned by Carroll (real name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) to illustrate his novel.
Once you’ve passed through this, you enter the main exhibition (where you must put away your camera) and follow the history of the story’s conception to more recent re-tellings and illustrations. I was particularly stunned to see Carroll’s handwritten manuscript for the story, which he presented to young Alice Liddell for Christmas. To see his handwriting, the familiar plotline and his own illustrations (which he didn’t think were that great but looked pretty impressive to me) was really special. I was also interested to see a clip of a silent movie adaptation of the story from the early 20th century, which came out nearly 100 years before the last modern film adaptation I saw starring Johnny Depp.
For anyone that has loved the Alice stories as a child or an adult, I thoroughly recommend the exhibition. It was a real trip down memory lane to see those Tenniel illustrations I knew so well as a child. In fact, I think maybe now I should re-read the novel again. Also on site for the duration of the exhibition is an Alice In Wonderland pop-up shop, featuring books, memorabilia and other Alice-inspired gifts.
- The Alice In Wonderland exhibition is on from now until 17 April 2016. The British Library, 96 Euston Road, NW1 2DB. Nearest station: Euston, King’s Cross or St Pancras. Opening hours vary. Free entry, but donations welcome. To find out more, visit the British Library website.
For a guide to what else is on in London in March, click here.
Just like the streets of New York City are renowned as the location to thousands of films, the lanes and roads of London are home to many a literary creation. Some of English literature’s most memorable characters have walked the streets of our iconic city, such as Mary Poppins, Oliver Twist and Sherlock Holmes.
After the success of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic mascot trails around London, Wild In Art teamed up with the National Literacy Trust this summer to create an interactive street art project which promotes literacy. Over 50 benches, shaped as open books, were created by different artists depicting different stories and characters.
The benches have been dotted around London in four areas – Bloomsbury, the City Of London, Greenwich and the South Bank from Waterloo to Tower Bridge. After the exhibition ends on 15 September, the benches will then go up for sale at a public auction at the Southbank Centre on 7 October, with proceeds going to the Literacy Trust.
Earlier this week, I followed the City Trail from the Tower Of London to St Paul’s Cathedral, taking photos when possible (when people weren’t sitting on them!). Here’s a gallery of just some of the benches.
- Books About Town finishes on 15 September 2014. For more information and maps of the trails, check out the Books About Town website.
For Metro Girl’s blog on the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympics mascot trail, click here.
For a guide to what else is on in London in September 2014, click here.
Friday 7th February 2014 would have been Charles Dickens’ 202nd birthday (not that anyone lives anywhere near that long, obviously!). Nearly two centuries after his first works were published, the author is still considered a legend in the literary world and is still read by millions across the world in many different languages.
Many visitors (and residents) come to London in search of Dickens every year. Sadly, many of the locales he frequented or wrote about are long gone, but there are still some homes in existence and sites for those wanting to make a Dickensian pilgrimage. Metro Girl has composed a list of where to find your own Dickens experience. To help you find them, we have marked some on the map below.
- Charles Dickens Museum
Dickens lived in this Bloomsbury house from March 1837 until December 1839 when he wrote Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. He had a three-year lease on the property, costing £80 a year. Now a museum, the Georgian house contains many artefacts and rare editions. Open daily 10am-5pm. Tickets: Adults £8, Children £4. Charles Dickens Museum, 48 Doughty Street, Bloomsbury, WC1N 2LX. Nearest station: Russell Square. For more information, visit the Museum website. For Metro Girl’s review of the museum, click here. (No.1 on map)
- Westminster Abbey
Charles Dickens was buried in Poets’ Corner on 19 June 1870 – five days after his death. This went against his own wishes to be buried in his home county of Kent in Rochester Cathedral. Tickets: Adults £18, Children £8. Westminster Abbey, 20 Dean’s Yard, Westminster, SW1P 3PA. Nearest station: Westminster. For more information, visit the Westminster Abbey website.
- Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
This famous pub on Fleet Street has stood on the site since the 16th century, with the present building rebuilt after the Fire of London in 1666. As a young reporter, Dickens is known to have drunk here and also featured the establishment in his novel A Tale Of Two Cities. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, 145 Fleet Street, EC4A 2BU. Nearest station: Blackfriars. (No.2 on map)
- Charles Dickens’ Coffee House
A café on the ground floor of Dickens’ former offices at No. 26 Wellington Street near Aldwych. The building housed the author’s offices for his weekly magazine All The Year Round and he also resided in an apartment in the building following his separation from wife Catherine. 26 Wellington Street, WC2E 7DD. Nearest station: Covent Garden. (No.3 on map)
- The Old Curiosity Shop
This 16th century shop was actually named The Old Curiosity Shop after Dickens’ 1840/41 novel of the same name was published, probably in a bid to cash in. However, given that Dickens lived in the area for many years, it is likely he visited it. Regardless, it’s unusual to have such an old shop still in use. The Old Curiosity Shop, 13-14 Portsmouth Street, WC2A 2ES. Nearest station: Holborn. Read Metro Girl’s blog post on the history of the shop. (No.4 on map)
- Angel Place (Marshalsea Prison – demolished)
A brick wall is all that is left of Marshalsea Prison, where Dickens’ father John was imprisoned for debt in February 1824 when the author was just 12. Two months later, his mother and his three younger siblings also ended up at Marshalsea. Dickens, who was working at Warren’s blacking factory at Hungerford Stairs in Charing Cross at the time, visited them at the prison every Sunday until he was able to move closer at lodgings at Lant Street (the road is now home to a primary school named after him), a few minutes walk away. He used his experiences to write Little Dorrit, where the main character is born at Marshalsea. Today, Angel Place is an alley running along the brick wall leading from Borough High Street (near the John Harvard Library) going down to Tennis Street (near Southwark Coroner’s Court), SE1. Nearest station: Borough.
- Gray’s Inn
After leaving Wellington House Academy, Dickens got a job as a junior clerk working in the offices of Ellis and Blackmore at Holborn Court in Gray’s Inn in May 1827. He worked there for 18 months, before leaving to become a reporter. The site of Holborn Court is now known as South Square. To access South Square, you can walk through Gray’s Inn Gate on High Holborn – next to the Cittie Of York pub. South Square, Gray’s Inn, Holborn, WC1R 5HP. Nearest station: Chancery Lane. For more information about Gray’s Inn, visit their official website. (No.5 on map)
- Holborn Bars (Furnival’s Inn – demolished)
The Holborn Bars building is built on the site of Furnival’s Inn – a 14th century Inn of Chancery which was attached to Lincoln’s Inn. Dickens rented rooms at the Inn between 1834 and 1837, during which time he worked as a political journalist and started to write The Pickwick Papers. Unfortunately, the Inn was demolished in 1897, with Holborn Bars being built on the site soon afterwards. Holborn Bars, 138-142 Holborn, EC1N 2NQ. Nearest station: Chancery Lane. (No.6 on map)
- 15 – 17 Marylebone Road (1 Devonshire Terrace – demolished)
Dickins and his family lived at 1 Devonshire Terrace in Marylebone from 1839 until 1851. The building was demolished in the late 1950s and now an office block called Ferguson House stands on the site. A mural of Dickens has been carved into the wall, featuring the author and some of his creations, including Scrooge, Barnaby Rudge, Little Nell and Granddad, Dombey and daughter, Mrs Gamp, David Copperfield, and Mr Micawber. 15-17 Marylebone Road, NW1 5JD. Nearest stations: Regent’s Park or Baker Street.
- 22 Cleveland Street
Dickens lived in this house as a boy on and off from 1815-16 and 1828-31. The Georgian building was a few doors down from the Cleveland Street Workhouse – which is believed to have inspired the workhouse where Oliver Twist was living at the beginning of the novel. The Grade II-listed, 18th century Workhouse building still exists, but is under threat of demolition. To find out about the campaign to save the Cleveland Street Workhouse, click here. Cleveland Street, W1T. Nearest station: Goodge Street.
- Chandos Place and Charing Cross Station (Warren’s Blacking Warehouse – demolished)
The site of the TGI Fridays restaurant on 6 Chandos Place was one of the two locations of Warren’s Blacking Warehouse, where Dickens had to work 10 hour days to pay for his board after his father John was imprisoned at Marshalsea from 1824-25. Initially, Dickens worked on Hungerford Stairs, near the present site of Charing Cross station, where he earned six shillings a week pasting labels on bottles of boot polish. He later worked slightly north at the site on Chandos Place. Dickins hated his time there, which inspired many of his later tales. Today, a blue plaque is on the TGI Fridays building commemorating him. Nearest station: Charing Cross.
- Le Méridien Piccadilly Hotel (St James’ Hall – demolished)
The Le Méridien Piccadilly Hotel stands on the site of St James’ Hall – where Dickens gave his last public ‘Farewell Readings’ in March 1870 – less than three months before his death. St James’ Hall was a Victorian, Gothic designed music hall which stood on the quadrant between Piccadilly and Regent Street. It was demolished in 1905, with the Piccadilly Hotel built on the site four years later. 21 Piccadilly, W1J 0BH. Nearest station: Green Park or Piccadilly Circus. (For a review of the Terrace restaurant at the Le Meridien Piccadilly, click here).
- Alternatively, if you really like Dickens, you can also do a pilgrimage to Kent (where he spent his early years in Chatham and died in Higham) and visit Dickens World The Grand Tour in Chatham, which is about 50-60 minutes on National Rail from London Victoria.
For more of Metro Girl’s blog posts on London history, click here.