I’ve only read two of Charles Dickens’ works, A Christmas Carol and Great Expectations, but I’m still a fan of one of the 19th century’s most famous writers. This year marks the 200th anniversary of his birth (he was born on February 7, 1812 and ironically for me, I was born on the day he died, June 9, just some 115 years later). All around the world celebrations are being held to mark this occasion, but none are more festive or significant than those in London, the city where he would spend the majority of his life. Here is a list of sites one can check out in London that are associated with Dickens.
Charles Dickens Museum
48 Doughty Street, London, England
From 1837 to 1839, Dickens lived in this Georgian terraced house in London’s Holburn neighborhood, which today is occupied by the Charles Dickens Museum. The building was threatened with demolition in 1923 but was saved by the Dickens Fellowship and officially opened to the general public as a museum in 1925. Rooms are decorated in early Victorian decor and feature countless personal possessions of Dickens including manuscripts, letters, and portraits. It was here that he wrote Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. The most famous of the house’s exhibits is the portrait by R.W. Buss known as Dickens’ Dream, which shows Dickens in his study surrounded by many of the characters he had created in his works of fiction.
(Note: The Museum is actually closing on 10 April until December of this year for renovations much to the dismay and disappointment of many.)
An area of northwest London, Dickens’ family lived at 16 Bayham Street and characters from works such as A Christmas Carol (the Cratchits), David Copperfield (the Micawbers), and Dombey and Son (Polly Toodle’s family) were supposed to have lived here. Today Camden Town is host to London’s most popular open-air market. I visited the market when I was in London in 2005 and while perhaps the produce was good, other wares were a bit too off beat and extreme for my taste (lots of incense related products, clothing that wasn’t really my style). Although a friend did find a pair of Doc Martens boots in excellent condition.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
A pub often frequented by Dickens, the building today dates from 1667 when it was rebuilt after the Great Fire. It’s said to be the place where the characters Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton eat in A Tale of Two Cities, when Darnay was “soon recruiting his strength with a good plain dinner and good wine.”
In David Copperfield, the eponymous character passes time by stopping on old London Bridge and gazing at the flame atop the monument. The Monument was constructed to mark the site of the origin of the devastating fire that destroyed most of London in 1666. Today visitors can enjoy the same view that David Copperfield did some two centuries earlier.
District of London named for a fruit, vegetable, and flower market that was designed in the 17th century; the Covent Garden Theater is also here. The character David Copperfield buys flowers for Dora in the market and attends Julius Caesar at the theater. And the character Pip from Great Expectations spends the night at the Hummus Hotel in Covent Garden when given a note from Wemmick not to go home.
Be sure to see if anything is going on where you live in celebration of Dickens’ 200th birthday. And if a trip to London is just not in the financial cards, read one of his works. It’s the next best thing.