Celebrating Charles Dickens – 8. Dickens’ literary connections, part 1…

London is redolent with sites which appeared in the books of Charles Dickens and, having had a look at his life, it’s time we turn our attention to some of the sites relevant to his writing. For the next two weeks, we’re looking at just a few of the many, many sites which feature in his novels. So, here’s seven places to get us going…

• Saffron Hill, Clerkenwell. Once a notorious slum akin to St Giles (see last week’s entry) and the city’s Italian Quarter, Saffron Hill is where Fagin and his gang of thieves operate in Oliver Twist and have their den.

• Chancery Lane, Holborn. Much of the novel Bleak House is set around this narrow street between High Holborn and Fleet Street – Tom Jarndyce kills himself in a coffee shop here in the novel and Lincoln’s Inn Hall – formerly home of the High Court of Chancery – also features.

• The Old Bailey. Some have suggested Dickens worked here as a court reporter although there is no compelling evidence he did so. But the the Old Bailey (the current building dates from the early 20th century, well after Dickens’ death) and Newgate Prison certainly featured in his books – it is here that Fagin is eventually hung in Oliver Twist.

• Child & Co’s Bank, Fleet Street. While the present building dates from 1878, Dickens is believed to have used the bank as the model for Tellson’s Bank in A Tale of Two Cities.

• St Dunstan-in-the-West, Fleet Street. In David Copperfield, David and his aunt, Betsy Trotwood, make a special trip to see the giants Gog and Magog strike the church bells. It also features in Barnaby Rudge and Dickens dedicated his Christmas story, The Chimes, to the church.

• Garden Court and Fountain Court (pictured), Middle Temple. Garden Court is where Pip lived in Great Expectations and where Abel Magwitch turned up to reveal himself as Pip’s benefactor. Fountain Court features in Martin Chuzzlewit as the site for the romance of Ruth Pinch and John Westlock.

• Golden Square, Soho. Mentioned in Nicholas Nickleby – Nicholas’ uncle, Ralph Nickleby, was thought to live in a previous building at number seven.

There’s some great books about London sites which appear in Dickens’ books – among them are Ed Glinert’s Literary London: A Street by Street Exploration of the Capital’s Literary Heritage and Michael Paterson’s Inside Dickens’ London as well as Paul Kenneth Garner’s 
A Walk Through Charles Dickens’ London.

2 thoughts on “Celebrating Charles Dickens – 8. Dickens’ literary connections, part 1…

  1. Please don’t forget the important Dickens connections with Cleveland Street W1 – his first home in London still stands on the corner of Tottenham Street. The Workhouse – one of the inspirations for Oliver Twist, is on the next block north – in the shadow of the Telecom Tower. There is a lovely button shop in what was the corner shop’s parlour on the ground floor – just like Mr Turveydrop’s seed shop!
    Dickens’s father was christened in Marylebone – and the family went back to that neighbourhood repeatedly.
    It was probably in that house that Dickens learned to read, and where he mastered shorthand – the family lived there twice!
    I think Sketches by Boz may have been influenced by the shops and inhabitants, and of course Cleveland Street is named on the old maps as Green Lane – which district used in Barnaby Rudge.
    If you want to know more – do look at my book Dickens & the Workhouse (OUP 2012), which give loads of information about the street in Dickens’s day, including some extraordinary discoveries. Enormous fun to have uncovered it all … in the process of helping save the workhouse from demolition.
    Kind regards – Ruth Richardson

    1. Thanks Ruth – I mentioned some of Dickens’ residences in an earlier post but only a couple of the 17 addresses the author lived in during the first 21 years of his life – thanks for mentioning this one and well done on the discovery! I understand there was a petition to save the workhouse – is that still active?

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