Charles Dickens had a gift; he was able to vividly describe the streets of Victorian London like no other. He was able to soak up every little detail during his daily walks around the city, leading him to create visual scenes for his readers that would secure his place as one of Britain’s greatest writers ever.
“It was market-morning. The ground was covered, nearly ankle-deep, with filth and mire; a thick steam, perpetually rising from the reeking bodies of the cattle, and mingling with the fog, which seemed to rest upon the chimney-tops, hung heavily above… Countrymen, butchers, drovers, hawkers, boys, thieves, idlers, and vagabonds of every low-grade, were mingled together in a mass…” (Oliver Twist)
About Charles Dickens in London
With Charles Dickens’s London growing thanks to the Industrial Revolution, the rich got richer whilst the poorer areas sunk deeper into squalor and filth. This means that many of Dickens’ novels focus on the pickpockets, the prostitutes, the street vendors, the drunks, and the beggars rather than the grandiose buildings of 19th century London.
So how have the slums of the city changed over the years? From the East End to the West End, it’s time to relive Charles Dickens’s London.
#1 Brick Lane, East London
Whilst many normally head this way in search of a decent curry or on a Jack the Ripper tour, die-hard Dickens’s fans wander the streets in search of the Temperance Association mentioned in The Pickwick Papers.
Start your tour by visiting No160 Buxton Street which housed the monthly meetings “where the ladies sat upon forms and drank tea until such time as they considered it expedient to leave off.”
After wandering the side streets it is not uncommon to find yourself at either Leadenhall or Spitalfields Market both of which would have been popular meeting places and trading centers during the 1800s.
#2 The Commercial Center of the City
Once on Bishopsgate, head towards The Royal Exchange, a monumental building that today is home to both boutique shops and luxury bars but was once the financial hub of the city and appears in several works including A Christmas Carol and Great Expectations, although in both you will see it referred to as the “Change.”
While in this area you could head down Cornhill, past Scrooges counting house, to Lombard Street where George Yard is. There you will find George and Vulture. This pub was built back in 1746 and was a favorite watering hole of Charles Dickens himself as well as a location mentioned in The Pickwick Papers at least 20 times.
#3 St Paul’s Cathedral
Not only an iconic building that survived the bombings of World War II, this magnificent building, designed by Christopher Wren, features heavily in Charles Dickens’s work. It is also a place that he frequented himself for major events including the funeral of the Duke of Wellington in 1852.
#4 Fleet Street and Chancery Lane
By now, your feet may be asking for a break, and what better place to visit than a favorite drinking spot of the writer himself. Why not head to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese for a pint of ale and a traditional pork pie. The table to the right of the restaurant’s fireplace is said to have been where Dickens himself would sit.
With its creaky floorboards and cozy little rooms, this gloomy little pub has been a favorite of many literary greats including Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and P.G. Wodehouse as well as being alluded to in a Tale of Two Cities.
Fleet Street and Chancery Lane were well-known by Dickens, not only did he drink in the surrounding public houses he also frequented the “sponging house” on Cursitor Street where his father was held in order to prevent imprisonment.
#5 The Homes of Charles Dickens
Once the writer’s home and now a museum dedicated to him, 48 Doughty Street is where Dickens completed The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, and Nicholas Nickleby. With over 100,000 items including manuscripts and personal items, no die-hard fan can visit London without a stop off here.
#6 Holborn and Covent Garden
This is an area that held much inspiration for the writer. Head down Portsmouth Street, to The Old Curiosity Shop (feature photo), you won’t be able to miss it for the signage which is plastered across the side of the building.
Charles’ fourth novel of the same name, was originally published in installments it follows the story of little Nell and her vicious grandfather.
Feature photo by duncan c under the Creative Commons License
On the same street, you will find the George VI pub believed to be the original Magpie and Stump mentioned in The Pickwick Papers and always worth a visit to look at the traditional Victorian decor whilst enjoying cask ale.
# 7 A Final Resting Place
No Dickens tour would be complete without a stop-off at Westminster Abbey to visit the final resting place of such a great author. Poet’s Corner has many famous residents including Chaucer, Thomas Hardy, Tennyson, and Rudyard Kipling.
Where should I head at the end of my tour? Travel Tip
If you are thinking of grabbing a bite to eat why not book a table at Rules Restaurant, the oldest in London and a firm favorite of Dickens. If you are a bookworm and a literature fan though this is more than just another historical site relating to one author, this is a restaurant with many literary connections including H.G. Wells, Dick Francis, and John le Carré.
The Origins of a Christmas Carol by the British Library watch here:
For more information on visiting London go to Visit Britain for all your trip planning needs.