OK, so infamous may be a better label but the journey of Scrooge – the star of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, is one of redemption.

Christmas is almost upon us so we thought he was an appropriate figure to look at for our Famous Londoners series this week (and yes, we know he’s a fictional figure!)

Scrooge, who first appeared in 1843 when Dickens’ novel was published, runs a London-based counting-house and subjects his clerk, the hapless Bob Cratchit, to a gruelling workload on low pay (even complaining about him having Christmas Day off).

Refusing to give anything for the relief of the poor, the incorrigible Scrooge retires for Christmas Eve and is subsequently visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, who thanks to his own greed and lack of charity is damned to wander the Earth for eternity. Marley then warns Scrooge that he risks the same fate and that, in a final chance for redemption, he will be visited by three spirits of Christmas – past, present and yet-to-come.

It’s not giving too much away to say that Scrooge, then experiencing these visions, repents and becomes a model of love and generosity, offering his help and support to Bob Cratchit and his family – particularly his ailing son, Tiny Tim (one of the best versions of the story is that of The Muppet Christmas Carol!)

There’s been much speculation over the years who was Dickens’ inspiration for the character with possible subjects including Edinburgh banker Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie, the theory being that while in the Scottish city to deliver a lecture on 1841,  Dickens misread Scroggie’s gravestone as being a “mean man” instead of a “meal man” (corn merchant).

Another theory says the character was based on John Elwes, born as John Meggot in 1714, who was noted for his miserliness. He apparently preferred, despite inheriting a fortune, to spend his nights in the kitchen with the servants so he didn’t have to light a fire in another room (although perhaps he just preferred their company), refused to pay for the maintenance on his house, dressed in ragged clothes and ate rotten food. Such was his thriftiness that Elwes, who was elected MP for Berkshire in 1772, apparently left some £500,000 to his two sons when he died in 1789.

As to where Scrooge’s counting house was located? The book never precisely locates it but there’s a few clues including that Bob Cratchit went on an ice slide in Cornhill, in the City of London, when making his way from work to his home in Camden and that Scrooge’s business was near a church tower. These two pieces of evidence have led some to place it alongside the church of St Michael’s, Cornhill, in Newman’s Court. Scrooge’s house, meanwhile, lies not too far away and is also close to a church leading some to place it at 45 Lime Street (now the home of Lloyds).

PICTURE: Marley’s ghost visits Scrooge in an original illustration by John Leech.

 

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St-Michael's-CornhillCredited as “the man who invented Christmas”, Victorian author Charles Dickens’ featured Christmas celebrations in many of his works – but none more so than in his famous story, A Christmas Carol.

Published 172 years ago this December, the five part morality tale centres on the miserly Londoner Ebenezer Scrooge who, following several ghostly visitations by the likes of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come, becomes a changed man and recaptures the essence of what Christmas is all about.

The book – whose characters (said to have been partly based on people he knew in real life) also include the abused clerk Bob Cratchit and his ever positive youngest son, Tiny Tim – is based in London.

Among key locations mentioned in the book is Scrooge’s counting house, said to have been located in a courtyard off Cornhill (it’s been suggested this is Newman’s Court, thanks to a reference to a church tower, believed to be St Michael’s Cornhill – pictured), the home of Scrooge (it has been speculated this was located in Lime Street), and the home in Camden Town where the Cratchits celebrate their Christmas (perhaps based on one of Dickens’ childhood homes in Bayham Street). City of London institutions like the home of the Lord Mayor, Mansion House, and the Royal Exchange are also mentioned.

The book, which apparently only took Dickens six weeks to write while he was living at 1 Devonshire Terrace in Marylebone, was first published on 19th December, 1843, by London-based firm Chapman & Hall. Based at 186 Strand, they published many of Dickens’ works – everything from The Old Curiosity Shop to Martin Chuzzlewit – along with those of authors such as William Makepeace Thackeray and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

A Christmas Carol‘s first print run of 6,000 sold out any Christmas Eve that same year and sales continued to be strong into the following year. Despite its warm reception by critics and popularity among the public, the book’s profits were somewhat disappointing for Dickens who had hoped to pay off his debts (he also lost out when he took on some pirates who printed their own version two months after its publication; having hauled them to court Dickens was apparently left to pay costs when they declared bankruptcy).

Dickens would later give some public readings of the book, most notably as a benefit for the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children (his last public reading of the book took place at St James’s Hall in London on 15th March, 1870, just three months before his death).

The book, which has apparently never been out of print, went on to become something of a Christmas classic and has been adapted into various films, theatre productions, radio plays and TV shows (one of our favourites is The Muppet Christmas Carol, dating from 1992).

The only surviving London house lived in by author Charles Dickens – now occupied by the Charles Dickens Museum – reopens on Monday after a £3.1 million restoration and refurbishment. The redevelopment of the Georgian, Grade I listed townhouse at 48 Doughty Street in Bloomsbury – a project named Great Expectations – has seen the museum expand into a neighbouring property at 49 Doughty Street which now houses a visitor and learning centre and cafe. Inside the house itself, the rooms have been returned to their appearance during Victorian times and on display will be some of Dickens’ personal items which haven’t been seen before. They include a set of photographic prints from 1865 which depict a train crash in Staplehurst, Kent, in which Dickens was involved. The museum, which is where Dickens wrote Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby and finished The Pickwick Papers while living here between 1837-1839, was first opened in 1925. This year marks the bicentenary of Dickens’ birth (he was born on 7th February, 1812, in Portsmouth). For more on the museum and upcoming events there (including Christmas performances of A Christmas Carol and a series of special Dickensian Christmas walks), see www.dickensmuseum.com. For more on Dickens, see our earlier special – 10 London sites to celebrate Charles Dickens.

Historian and broadcaster AJP Taylor, known as ‘The History Man’, has been honoured by English Heritage with a blue plaque placed on his former home at 13 St Mark’s Crescent in Primrose Hill.  Taylor lived at the mid-nineteenth century semi-detached villa between 1955 and 1978 during the height of his fame. First appearing on television as early as 1942, Taylor was a regular on television discussion programmes between the 1950s and 1980s, and is described as one of the first ‘media dons’. He also wrote weekly columns in the press and books including the controversial The Origins of the Second World War. Married three times, he had six children and died of Parkinson’s disease in 1990. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/about/news/?topic=Blue%20Plaques.

On Now: A Dandy 75th Birthday Exhibition. This exhibition at the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury focuses on The Dandy, Britain’s longest running comic (officially recognised by the Guinness Book of Records), and follows its development from its birth with the release of the first issue on 4th December, 1937 (which, incidentally, was so popular it sold 481,895) through to this year’s issues including the final print issue released on 4th December this year (after which The Dandy goes digital). Runs until 24th December. Admission charge applies. For more see www.cartoonmuseum.org.

We’ve already mentioned Charles Dicken’s Doughty Street house (now the Charles Dickens Museum) and his many childhood homes, but where else in London did Dickens reside during his adult life?

Following his marriage to Catherine Hogarth on 2nd April, 1836, at St Luke’s Church in Chelsea, Dickens and his new bride settled into chambers the writer had taken the now non-existent Furnival’s Inn (the author had been living there prior to his marriage), the site of which  is now occupied by the Holborn Bars Building).

In January the following year the couple had their first child – Charles Culliford Boz Dickens – and shortly afterwards made the move to the property at 48 Doughty Street. As we mentioned, the house was where two of his children were born and where Catherine’s 17-year-old sister Mary died (her death is believed to be the inspiration for that of the character Little Nell in the novel The Old Curiosity Shop) as well as being where Dickens wrote some of his most famous novels, including Oliver TwistNicholas Nickleby, and The Pickwick Papers.

In 1839, however, the family upsized into a much grander property at 1 Devonshire Terrace in Marylebone near Regent’s Park. This property at what is now 15-17 Marylebone Road was demolished in the late Fifties but there is a sculptural frieze on the wall marking where the property once stood.

Among the works Dickens wrote while living here were The Old Curiosity Shop, A Christmas Carol, Martin Chuzzlewit and David Copperfield. Six of Dickens’ children were born while he lived in this property. During this time, Dickens also made his first visit to North America and also travelled with his family in Europe for considerable periods.

In November 1851, Dickens moved the family again – this time to Tavistock House, located Tavistock Square in Bloomsbury. The property was demolished in 1901 and the site is now occupied by the headquarters of the British Medical Association (there’s a blue plaque commemorating Dickens’ time here).

Among the works Dickens wrote while living here were Bleak House, Hard Times, Little Dorrit and A Tale of Two Cities. The last of Dickens’ 10 children were born here – Edward Bulwer Lytton Dickens, later an Australian MP – and it was while living here, that in 1858 he separated from his wife Catherine. Dickens also put on amateur theatricals in the property.

Dickens’ time at Tavistock house ended around 1860 when Gad’s Hill in Kent became the main family home.

PICTURE: A section of the sculptural frieze depicting Dickens and some of his characters on the building that now stands at what was 1 Devonshire Terrace now in Marylebone Road. PICTURE: grahamc99 

• Next year – 7th February to be precise – marks 200 years since the birth of celebrated 19th century novelist Charles Dickens and to mark the bicentenary, London institutions are among those across the country organising a raft of exhibitions under the banner of Dickens 2012. First up for us is a new exhibition launched this week at the British Library. A Hankering after Ghosts: Charles Dickens and the Supernatural explores the way in which Dickens used supernatural phenomena in his works (remember the ghosts of A Christmas Carol anyone?), while at the same time placing them in the context of the “scientific, technological and philosophical debates of his time”. The exhibition includes a letter from Dickens to his wife Catherine written in 1853 (this alludes to a disagreement which arose between them after Catherine became jealous of the attention Dickens was paying to another lady; he apparently used mesmerism to treat Catherine’s “nervous condition”), an article in an 1858 Household Words magazine in which Dickens questions the motivation of the spirits who supposedly tapped out messages to spiritualists, and, a 1821 copy of The Terrific Register: or, record of crimes, judgements, providences and calamities, a publication which was one of Dickens’ favorite reads as a youth. There is a range of accompanying events including talks by Dickens’ biographer Claire Tomalin (author of Charles Dickens: A Life) and John Bowen, author of Other Dickens: Pickwick to Chuzzlewit. Admission is free. Runs until 4th March. For more, see www.bl.ukImage: Courtesy of British Library

• The Art Fund has launched an appeal to have Yinka Shonibare’s Ship in a Bottle, currently sitting atop Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth, relocated to a permanant home outside the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. The fund, which has kick started the campaign with a £50,000 grant, needs £362,500 to buy the work – a scaled down replica of Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory – which has been on display in Trafalgar Square since May, 2010, but is due to be removed in January next year. The replica work features 80 cannon and 37 sails, set as on a day of battle, and is made out of materials including oak, hardwood, brass, twine and canvas. For more, see www.artfund.org/ship/.

• The historic ship HMS Belfast, moored on the Thames between London Bridge and Tower Bridge, has been closed until further notice after a section of gangway which provides access to the ship collapsed earlier this week. Two contractors received minor injuries in the collapse and staff and visitors were evacuated by boat. The HMS Belfast is described as the most significant surviving Royal Navy warship from World War II and later served in places like Korea. It contains extensive displays on what life was like aboard the vessel. Keep on eye on www.iwm.org.uk for more information.

Now On: Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. Hyde Park’s annual festival of all things Christmas is on again and this year’s festive offerings include, an ice rink, circus, giant observation wheel, rides and the chance for younger people to visit Santa Land as well as a plethora of opportunities to purchase presents at the Angels Christmas Market and warm-up with some of the fare available at eateries including the Bavarian Village, English Food Fair, and Spiegel Saloon. Winter Wonderland is free to enter and open between 10am and 10pm daily. Runs until 3rd January. For more, see www.hydeparkwinterwonderland.com.