City Walks: Dickens's 'Magic Lantern'
Born in Landport, Portsmouth in 1812, Charles Dickens's literary success began in 1836 with the serial publication of The Pickwick Papers and within a few years he had become an international literary celebrity. He created some of the world's best known fictional characters and is regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. He died in 1870 in Higham, Kent and is buried in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey.
Today's walk (started at lunchtime and finished after work) follows the City of London's "Dickens's Magic Lantern" self-guided walk, a wander through the city that was his home and inspiration. The walk starts at the Charles Dickens Museum, Doughty Street and ends at Doctors Common, Godliman Street, but with his resting place a stroll along the Thames away, I decided to extend the walk and end at Westminster Abbey.
Distance: around 5 miles.
48 Doughty Street was home to Charles Dickens from April 1837 to December 1839. It opened as The Dickens House Museum in June 1925, since renamed the Charles Dickens Museum. Mount Pleasant was used as the ironic home of the Smallweed family in Bleak House. In Dickens's time it would have been the site of Middlesex House of Correction (or Coldbath Fields Prison), it is now a vast Post Office complex. Farringdon Road follows the course of the old River Fleet and The Betsey Trotwood pub along there is named after David Copperfield's aunt. Pear Tree Court is thought to be the site where Oliver Twist sees the Artful Dodger and Charley Bates pick Mr Brownlow's pocket, the Clerkenwell Sessions House is the destination of Mr Bumble's visit to the City, and 54 Hatton Garden is the setting of police and magistrate's court run by Mr Fang where Oliver was taken after being apprehended as the pickpocket.
The Bleeding Heart Yard is used in Little Dorritt as the site of Cadby's rackrent properties and of Daniel Doyce's factory. Saffron Hill is the site of Fagin's den in Oliver Twist, with the One Tun claiming to be the pub The Three Cripples was based on. Cowcross Street (originally Cow-Crofts Street), where the animals were kept before transferring into Smithfield, once an open air cattle market - Dickens describes the conditions of the old market in Oliver Twist and Great Expectations. Snow Hill was once the location of, the celebrated tavern and coaching establishment, The Saracen's Head Inn which is described in Nicholas Nickleby.
St. Sepulchre’s Church was the church which rang the 08:00 bell to signal the executions at Newgate Street and Dickens observes this in Oliver Twist. Newgate Prison (1188-1902) once stood on the corner of Old Bailey and Newgate Street, it was burnt down in the Gordon Riots (1780) which Dickens described in Barnaby Rudge, and was rebuilt between 1780 and 1783. The Central Criminal Court once occupied buildings on the south end of Old Bailey and was the scene for many of Dickens's trials - Fagin in Oliver Twist, Magwitch in Great Expectations, and Charles Darnay in A Tale of Two Cities. Cock Lane was the site of The Fortunes of War public house where corpses of executed criminals or the work of Resurrection Men (grave robbers), like Jerry Cruncher in A Tale of Two Cities, were available for surgeons from St. Bartholomew's Hospital for dissection, which itself is mentioned in Pickwick Papers, and Betsey Prig, the nursing colleague of Sarah Gamp, is based in Martin Cuzzlewit. Nearby Little Britain is a long and winding street by the hospital and is the location of Mr Jaggers office in Great Expectations.
The Cross Keys Inn which stood at 25 Wood Street was where the 10 year-old Dickens arrived in 1822, by coach, from Kent. Guildhall is the setting for the trial for breach of promise in Pickwick Papers. Mansion House, home of the Lord Mayor of The City of London, featured in Gone Astraywhere Dickens imagines himself coming there while a dinner is being prepared, looking through the kitchen window and hoping that he would be called inside. The Bank of England is mentioned several times in Dickens’s novels. Cornhill has several Dickensian connections. References to theRoyal Exchange are to be found in many of Dickens’s works, including Sketches by Boz, A Christmas Carol, Little Dorrit and Great Expectations. St. Peter Cornhill is the place Dickens has in mind when Lizzie Hexam meets Bradley Headstone in Our Mutual Friend. Off Cornhill, in Change Alley, was Garraway's Coffee House and earns many mentions, notably where Mr Pickwick wrote his 'chops and tomato sauce' message to Mrs Bardell.
Lombard Street was where Dickens’s first great love Maria Beadnell lived, who was in part the inspiration for Dora Spenlow, later David's wife in David Copperfield. Cheapside was an important shopping area and features throughout English literature as well as making numerous appearances in Dickens's writing. Temple Bar, which once stood between Fleet Street and Strand marking the boundary of the City, is mentioned in Bleak House as 'a leaden-headed old obstruction'. It was removed in order to widen the road, spent several years out of London before being returned in 2004 to its present location as an entrance to Paternoster Square. St. Paul's Cathedral appears as a setting in many novels. In Master Humphrey's Clock, Master Humphrey goes to the top of the cathedral, then the tallest building in London, to take in a panoramic view across London. The Doctors' Common, sited on the corner of Godliman Street and Queen Victoria Street, was where five courts dealing with ecclesiastical, admiralty, matrimonial matters operated. Dickens worked there from 1828 to 1832 and it is described in Sketches by Boz and David Copperfield. When Dickens died in 1870 at his house in Gad's Hill Place, near Rochester, Kent it was presumed he would be buried at Rochester Cathedral but public opinion, led by The Times newspaper, demanded that Westminster Abbey was the only place for the burial of someone of his distinction. It was a private funeral, as per Dickens's instructions, made up of twelve mourners of family and close friends. On the coffin-plate and stone was the same simple inscription: Charles Dickens, Born 7th February 1812, Died 9th June 1870, as it was his wish"that my name be inscribed in plain English letters on my tomb... I rest my claims to the remembrance of my country upon my published works...".