“I know I have lounged about the streets, insufficiently and unsatisfactorily fed. I know that, but for the mercy of God, I might easily have been, for any care that was taken of me, a little robber or a little vagabond” – Charles Dickens
Luckily for him and us, he grew up to be one of our greatest writers – Charles John Huffam Dickens, born 200 years ago on 7th February 1812 in Portsmouth. But it is in London that we get to follow in his footsteps, see the places he lived and worked and which inspired his novels, especially if you travel with a private London Tour Guide!
A good place to start is on the Embankment near Charing Cross station, where the young Charles was sent to work in the rat infested Warren’s Blacking Warehouse. He was befriended by a lad by the name of Bob Fagin, a name he would make famous in Oliver Twist, although the character of the infamous Jewish fence was based on Ikey Solomon who employed young boys to thieve for him in the East End.
Dickens’ father had been imprisoned for debt in the Marshalsea Prison off Borough High Street. You can still see one remaining wall of the old prison. The experience would inspire his novel Little Dorrit. Whilst in the area check out the only gallery coaching inn left in London, The George.
Dickens would return to the Embankment area when he took rooms whilst working as a parliamentary reporter. David Copperfield would live here too. Around the corner Dickens was “fond of wandering about the Adelphi, because it was a mysterious place with those dark arches”. You can still find those dark arches down a side road, even though the Adelphi building has long gone. As an insomniac, he would wander the streets at night absorbing the sights, smells and atmosphere which he would evoke so effectively in his books.
Almost everywhere you wander in London, there are connections with Dickens. The bank that was the model for Telson’s Bank in A Tale of Two Cities, the restaurant where Mr Pickwick entertains, the church clock where David Copperfield and Betsy Trotwood make a special journey to witness the giants striking the bells and time their visit “to catch them at it at 12 o’clock”.
In Covent Garden is the office where he edited Household Words. Today it is above the Charles Dickens Coffee Shop! By publishing his stories in weekly or monthly installments he took his friend and fellow novelist, Wilkie Collin’s advice to “make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry, make ‘em wait”. Just around the corner is the graveyard where Lady Dedlock’s body in Bleak House is discovered.
For the complete post of Following the Footsteps of Charles Dickens by Gavin.