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.