The Charles Dickens Museum, 48/49 Doughty Street
I wonder how much of London in 2013 Charles Dickens would recognise? He first came to live in the city at the age of ten, in 1822, when it had a population of about one million. Ten years later it was approximately one and a half and by the time he was forty it was two and a half million. Yes, there are individual buildings, for example churches, the Tower of London, and certain palaces that, because of their importance and their strength, have been there for centuries, as well as a fair number of Georgian buildings and early pubs that have survived, but a great deal of the more vernacular examples of architecture have given way to “progress” or have changed beyond recognition.
The age of steam, with its hungry need for rail cuttings and stations, swept away some of the old domestic dwellings. The shifting of the docks downstream and away completely rewrote the activity of the Thames. The Second World War did not help preserve the fabric of the city, and the enormous expansion in the twentieth century (Greater London now has a population of 8,173.000) and the advent of motorised vehicles, have certainly aided the obliteration of signs of the world of the horse and the rickety slum.
Murdstone and Grinby’s warehouse was at the waterside. It was down in Blackfriars. Modern improvements have altered the place; but it was the last house at the bottom of a narrow street, curving down hill to the river with some stairs at the end, where people took boat. It was a crazy old house with a wharf of its own, abutting on the water when the tide was in, and on the mud when the tide was out, and literally overrun with rats. Its panelled rooms, discoloured with the dirt and smoke of a hundred years, I dare say; its decaying floors and staircase; the squeaking and scuffling of the old grey rats down in the cellars; and the dirt and rottenness of the place; are things, not of many years ago, in my mind, but of the present instant….. (David Copperfield, Chapter 11)
In fact the blacking factory where the young Dickens worked was on Hungerford Stairs, now lost beneath the embankment at Charing Cross, but it was real to the young author and very much representative of the riverside in central London before the banks were built up and the water born traffic ebbed away downstream.
A mist hung over the river, deepening the red glare of the fires that burnt upon the small craft moored off the different wharfs, and rendering darker and more indistinct the murky buildings on the banks. The old smoke-stained storehouses on either side, rose heavy and dull from the dense mass of roofs and gables, and frowned sternly upon waters too black to reflect even their lumbering shapes. The tower of old Saint Saviour’s Church, and the spire of Saint Magnus, so long the giant warders of the ancient bridge, were visible in the gloom; but the forest of shipping below bridge, and the thickly scattered spires of churches above, were nearly all hidden from sight. (Oliver Twist, Chapter 46)
the Martyr, one of 51 designed by Sir Christopher Wren, still stands, though it
is dwarfed by modern blocks. St
Saviour’s became Southwark Cathedral in 1905, or more correctly, the
Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St Saviour and St Mary Overy (which derives
from over-the-river), but the nave
was rebuilt in 1840 and the modern additions and surrounds, not least the
railways connecting London Bridge with Cannon Street and Charing Cross, have
obscured some of its splendour. The
actual bridge on which Nancy arranged her fateful meeting, was opened in 1831,
so was actually very new in this description (the 600 year old Old London
Bridge having been demolished at the same time) but this in turn was dismantled
and replaced by a box girder construction in 1973, with the stones being
transported and reassembled in the Arizona Desert, having been bought by oil
tycoon Robert P McCulloch. The flavour
of the Dickensian river has long since evaporated. Church of St Magnus
Dickens, whose novel Oliver Twist was selling well, wrote this description upstairs in
The Foundling Museum, Brunswick Square
It is perhaps a coincidence that Foundling number 18,607 was baptized John Brownlow in the Hospital Chapel in 1800. This gentleman was later to become Secretary of the society and a friend of Dickens. Was he the model for Mr Brownlow, whose heart was, large enough for any six ordinary old gentlemen of humane disposition, who rescued Oliver from Mr Fang?
Gerrard Street, where Jaggers entertained Pip and friends
Anyway, though London careers into the twenty-first century and beyond, with the Shard now dwarfing St Saviour’s, and Seven Dials no longer being, a maze of streets, courts, lanes and alleys…. lost in the unwholesome vapour which hangs over the house-top; Jaggers’s home in Gerrard Street now being occupied by Chinese; Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross Road were not developed until after Dickens’s death; the houses that the family lived in after Doughty Street, in a Devonshire Terrace in Marylebone (not the current one in Bayswater) and in Tavistock Square have long since disappeared; but London is still London, quite distinct in style from Paris, New York, or Rome, and there is still something Dickensian for all to experience.
The Dining Room at 48 Doughty Street
The bed where Mary Hogarth died, May 7th 1837.
"I have lost the dearest friend I had....."
Not far away, close to the restyled Covent Garden, is the Lamb and Flag pub, its stained wood and rickety stairs little changed in over two centuries, and well-known to Dickens. A step away from this, in
And, despite the change in the ethnic mix of
But when all is said and done, there are things perhaps we must not lament about the passing of time. Search for a hot water tap in Dickens’s rooms in
Cholera first struck
in 1831 (6,536 deaths), returned in 1848-9 (14,137 deaths) and again in 1853-54
(10,738 deaths). Much as the romantic
may imagine the days of Charles Dickens at No 48 Doughty Street to have been
colourful and cosy, not all progress is to be decried.
Goodwin's Court, off St Martin's Lane, dating from about 1690