Posts Tagged ‘bloomsbury’

charles dickens museum, doughty street, bloomsbury, london, pickwick papers, oliver twist, nicholas nickleby

The Charles Dickens Museum at 48 Doughty Street, Bloomsbury, London, occupies a typical Georgian terraced house which was Charles Dickens’ home from March 1837 to December 1839. Here he completed The Pickwick Papers, and wrote Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby

There was one place in London that was open on Christmas Day, and which welcomed many visitors and tourists through its doors. Even its cafe was open. Given that the novella A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens first published on 17 December 1843 and never out of print since, has had such a significant impact upon the British Christmas, it is perhaps unsurprising that the Charles Dickens Museum just off Gray’s Inn Road in Bloomsbury in central London, should open on Christmas Day.

But what was it that inspired Dickens to bring to his reader images of joy, warmth and life, and to contrast it with unforgettable images of despair, sadness, coldness and death? Dickens’ sources for the tale appear to be many and varied, but are principally the humiliating experiences of his childhood and his sympathy for the poor. So what happened to Dicken’s when he was a boy?

Charles John Huffam Dickens was born 7 February 1812 in Landport, Portsmouth in England, the second child of John and Elizabeth Dickens, who went on to have five more children, two of whom died in infancy. John Dickens worked as a clerk in the Navy Pay Office in Portsmouth, but he didn’t manage his finances very well and lived beyond his means, and the family moved home frequently. In 1816, they moved to Chatham, Kent, where Charles spent much time outdoors but he also read voraciously. The family moved again in June 1822 to Bayham Street in Camden Town, London, though Charles remained in Chatham to continue his education, where he lodged with his schoolmaster William Giles. Charles joined his family in September but didn’t attend school as his father could not afford the fees.

At the end of 1823, the family moved to a brand new six-roomed house at Gower Street North in Bloomsbury, with the intention of opening a school in a better part of town to be known as ‘Mrs Dickens’s Establishment’. But the school never got off the ground, and there is no evidence that a single pupil ever enrolled with Mrs Dickens.

charles dickens, hungerford stairs, blacking factory, charing cross railway station

Hungerford Stairs at the river end of Hungerford Street, Strand, London. The blacking factory where Dickens laboured as a boy of 12 was at 30 Hungerford Street, where Charing Cross railway station is now sited

1824 was to be a nightmare for the whole family. When the family’s cousin and former lodger, James Lamert offered employment for Charles at his blacking factory, his parents immediately accepted as the income could help to pay for the extra expense of their new home. On 9 February, only two days after his twelfth birthday, Dickens left his home in Bloomsbury and walked the three miles to Warren’s Blacking Factory close to Hungerford Stairs from where a ferry crossed the River Thames.

But on 20 February, John Dickens was arrested for his failure to repay a debt of £40 and he was sentenced to Marshalsea debtor’s prison in Borough High Street, Southwark. Under English law at the time, offenders were imprisoned indefinitely until the debts were paid. That someone in prison was unable to work to earn the necessary money to repay those debts, nor the accumulating prison fees, did not enter into the logic of the punishment, and debtors often died in these prisons through starvation and the terrible living conditions.



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