London’s favourite literary son Charles Dickens not only lived in the capital — he gave it a starring role in his novels. Now go and see it for yourself. WORDS: Mastoor Khan
Few authors are associated as strongly with a particular city as Charles Dickens is with London.
He loved going for long walks and taking inspiration from the social topography, landmarks and characters that called Victorian London home.
He wrote 19 novels and is second only to Shakespeare in influence on the English language.
All strands of 19th century London life are there within the pages of his books.
And, luckily for us, many of his regular haunts and places where his most iconic scenes were set are still there — albeit sometimes hidden behind modern, high-rise buildings.
The Charles Dickens museum
His only surviving home. Dickens moved here as a young man, with his wife Catherine.
Today visitors can inspect his bedroom and the dining room where he held regular dinner parties for literary luminaries such as the novelist William Thackeray, and peruse private letters and family portraits.
Look out for special events, particularly at Christmas.
» 48 Doughty St, WC2 (www.dickensmuseum.com; 020-7405 2127). £3-£6. Tube: Chancery Lane
The Old Curiosity Shop
A minute from Lincoln’s Inn Fields, this evocative shop dates back to 1567.
While there may be some doubt as to whether this is the place Dickens actually based The Old Curiosity Shop on (in which Little Nell lived with her grandfather), it’s still worth visiting for the ancient beams and crooked walls.
The shop now sells designer menswear, not the assorted gothic artefacts of the novel.
» 13-14 Portsmouth St, WC2. Tube: Holborn
Lincoln’s Inn Fields
At the heart of London’s legal district, Lincoln’s Inn Fields is a large and charming public park.
Dickens worked briefly as a lawyer’s clerk, giving him an abiding contempt for the legal profession.
Tulkinghorn, the crooked solicitor in Bleak House, lived at No.58, and Lady Dedlock (who he was blackmailing) shot him from the park.
The old Court of Chancery stands at the other end of the square.
» Lincoln’s Inn Fields, WC2. Tube: Holborn
The Thames and Docks
Nothing evokes Victorian London like the ancient parts of the river front.
Nancy’s Steps — which go down to the water on the southern side of London Bridge — earned their name as the setting for the murder of Nancy by Bill Sykes in Oliver Twist.
Our Mutual Friend also opens with the dredging for bodies in the area between Southwark and London Bridge.
» Nancy’s Steps accessible from Montague Cl, SE1. Tube: London Bridge
All that’s left of this one-time Victorian debtor’s prison is a moss-covered wall, standing to the right of Southwark History Library in a private park.
Dickens’ father and family were incarcerated here in 1824, while, to his shame, 12-year-old Charles was put to work in a shoe-blacking factory.
Years later, Dickens wrote of poor Little Dorritt, heroine of the eponymous book, who is born and raised in Marshalsea thanks to her feckless father’s debts.
» Borough High St, SE1 Tube Borough
The Guildhall is the City of London’s civic headquarters.
Much of the current building dates back to 1666, though the site has been used since the 12th century.
Go inside and marvel at the magnificent medieval interior.
In The Pickwick Papers it provides the setting for the breach of contract court case of Bardell vs Pickwick.
» Gresham St, EC2. (020-7332 1313; www.guildhall.cityoflondon.gov.uk). Entry to the Great Hall is free. Tube St Paul’s
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
Snug and warm, with tons of atmosphere, this Fleet Street pub was a regular haunt for Dickens.
He wrote in the Chop Room under the portrait of poet and author Samuel Johnson.
The pub features in A Tale of Two Cities as the place Sydney Carton brings Charles Darnay to drink.
» 145 Fleet St, EC4. Tube: Blackfriars
The George Inn
A stone’s throw from Marshalsea, The George Inn is one of London’s oldest pubs and the only surviving galleried inn.
Now owned by the National Trust, it’s been famous as a coach terminus since the 17th century.
The George is frequented by Tip in Little Dorrit and also has Shakespearean links. Step inside for a pint of ale and be transported back to Victorian — even Elizabethan — times.
» 77 Borough High St, SE1 (020-74072 056). Tube: Borough
A Dickens taster
The Pickwick Papers
Dickens’ first novel. Loveable old gent Pickwick forms a club and travels about the country with his comic friends.
A protracted inheritance case in which Lady Dedlock, a poor sweeper boy, and mysterious law writer Nemo negotiate a web of intrigue. The opening sentence is simply ‘London.’
Pip’s life is transformed by a secret legacy, his love for the haughty Estella, and an escaped convict.
Oliver is an innocent orphan who escapes the workhouse and is befriended by a gang of pickpockets, led by Fagin and Bill Sykes.