Arts Editor | Mimi Markham
With Freshers’ Festival and a busy term approaching, day-trips may be at the back of everyone’s mind. However, London is full of hidden treasures and the Charles Dickens Museum is a great place to spend a couple of hours.
Only walking distance from King’s Cross, the museum blends into its row of tall Georgian terrace houses. Already, it is possible to detect the inspirations for Dickens’ novels. The neat houses, complete with separate servant kitchens, were a short walk from the nineteenth-century workhouses and slums. A few doors down, there is a door knock that curiously resembles the ghostly face of Jacob Marley.
Inside, the museum reconstructs the home of Charles Dickens during his brief tenancy between 1837 and 1839. It is a cosy space, full of Victorian knick-knacks, ornate furniture and plenty of books. The route begins in the grand dining room before progressing to the dimly-lit kitchen and scullery. The stairs are steep and winding, but lead the way to Dickens’ book-filled study where visitors can view pages from his original manuscripts. Although Dickens only lived here for a short while, this is the location where he produced some of his most iconic work: he worked on The Pickwick Papers, and he completed Oliver Twist and Nicolas Nickleby.
In the drawing room, visitors can find the pedestal from which Dickens performed passages from his books, including his own personal copies. Looking closely, it is possible to see his annotations and amendments in the margins.
One floor above, the bedroom of Mary Hogarth, Dickens’ sister-in-law, has been recreated with heart-churning detail. She died in this home, aged seventeen. This deeply affected Dickens and her character shines through in his later novels.
On the top floor, visitors can find the old nursery and servant’s bedrooms transformed into an exhibition exploring Dickens’ uncertain childhood. When his father was imprisoned for debt, Dickens was forced to leave school to work in Warren’s Blacking Warehouse, where he spent ten-hour shifts labelling bottles of boot blacking. The cold attic, which houses bars from the Marshalsea prison, is a world away from the comfortable life downstairs.
The museum currently holds an exhibition about Victorian writers and the sciences. It aims to contest the notion that the arts were at odds with the sciences during the nineteenth-century. It shows how Dickens’ novels helped to challenge ideas about childhood illness, leading to the development of paediatrics and the opening of Great Ormond Street Hospital. Dickens himself was scientifically minded and the exhibition demonstrates the nods to contemporary theories in his work.
Even Dickens aficionados can learn something new about the writer, while more casual readers can enjoy the journey back into the nineteenth-century.