Craig recommends… Here’s my latest Charles Dickens Museum review. If you’re into literature then how about visiting the Sherlock Holmes Museum in Baker Street as well? Or maybe you can have a tour of Shakespeare’s Globe or see some historic manuscripts at the British Library. Keats’ House and Dr. Johnson’s House are also worth a try.
Charles Dickens lived at fifteen different addresses during his lifetime, and this four-storey townhouse in Doughty Street was his home between March 1837 and October 1839.
The house has been restored to its original Victorian appearance with some of Dickens’ furniture (not always original to this house), some of his letters and manuscripts, and some 19th-century portraits and paintings.
The highlight of the tour is the study where he wrote his first three novels: Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby.
You can also see his Regency-style drawing room, bedrooms, washroom and cellar. The basement kitchen has been decorated to resemble the Dingley Dell kitchen in Pickwick Papers.
This review originally appeared in his London blog
I went to the Charles Dickens Museum today, which wasn’t bad at all. I’m not going to pretend to be a fan of his work – I’ve never read any of his books. I’m the kind of guy who still reads The Beano – that’s more my level. I watched Jim Carrey’s animated movie of A Christmas Carol last year, and I vaguely remember the Oliver! musical from my youth, but that’s about it.
So when it comes to Dickens I’m much like the next man: I know who he is, and what he wrote, but don’t ask me to explain the plot of Pickwick Papers because I won’t have a clue. So why bother going to the museum?
Well… I went to another museum like this last year, Dr Johnson’s House, which is all about another London writer, Samuel Johnson, but I found that place to be quite dry and boring. So why did I enjoy the Dickens Museum more?
I think it’s because there’s so much more to see inside. Dr Johnson’s House was basically just a load of empty rooms with a couple of tables and chairs and a bookcase or two. But there wasn’t much of Johnson’s actual stuff on show. The Charles Dickens Museum is the total opposite – it’s chockablock with his personal possessions and mementoes.
Whenever I think of Dickens I always think of debtors prisons and workhouses, and scruffy little street urchins kicking stones along the side of the road, but judging by his Bloomsbury townhouse he was loaded! He’s got a four-poster bed, a piano, a comfy armchair and oil paintings over the fireplace.
When you enter the front door you’re given a little pamphlet-style book which you’re supposed to read as you’re walking around the house. There’s no audio-guide, which is unusual for a place like this, but the book is okay. It tells you what each room was used for, and there are some extra laminated sheets dotted around the tables to embellish the information on items of interest.
You can explore the entire house from top to bottom, including the kitchen and bathroom in the basement. And they’ve made a real effort to bring the rooms alive as well – the washtub room has got a line of dirty laundry hanging from the ceiling, for example, and in the comfy lounge you can hear an actor reading one of his novels through the speaker – as if Dickens is actually standing there reading it himself.
There are a couple of bedrooms upstairs with a four-poster bed, and the downstairs rooms and study are furnished with his bookcase and writing desk. Glass cabinets display interesting little extras like his personal letters, jottings and shaving kit.
The top of the house has an exhibition of Dickens memorabilia. They’ve managed to salvage a window frame from his old house (supposed to be the inspiration for Oliver Twist’s burglary scene), and some iron bars from Marshalsea debtors prison where they locked up his dad.
Even if you don’t care too much about Dickens (like me), I think I would still recommend giving it a go.
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There are plenty more literary events in London
If you enjoy this then try: Dr. Johnson’s House (walk it in 16 mins or catch a train from Russell Square to Temple); 18 Stafford Terrace (catch the tube from Russell Square to High Street Kensington) and Sherlock Holmes Museum (catch the tube from Russell Square to Baker Street).