In the first of a new special series written in honor of the bicentenary of the birth of author Charles Dickens (he was born on 7th February, 1812), we take a look at the Charles Dickens Museum.

Housed in one of Dickens’ former London residences at 48 Doughty Street in Bloomsbury, this property is now the focal point for people wanting to find out more about the writer and his life as evidenced by the visit of Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, on Tuesday to officially mark Dickens’ birth.

Dickens lived in the property from 1837 to 1839 and it was here that significant family events, such as the birth of two of his children – Mary and Kate – and the death of his wife Catherine’s 17-year-old sister Mary took place (Mary’s tragic death is believed to be the inspiration for that of the character Little Nell in the novel The Old Curiosity Shop). It was also at the property that he wrote some of his most famous novels, including Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, and The Pickwick Papers.

A growing demand for space, however, led Dickens to move his household to 1 Devonshire Terrace in 1839. The Doughty Street house meanwhile, the only one of Dickens’ London homes to have survived, remained a residential property but in 1923 it was threatened with demolition and subsequently acquired by the Dickens Fellowship. The museum opened there two years later.

The museum now claims to hold more than 100,000 Dickens-related artifacts. The house is displayed as it might have been when Dickens lived there – artifacts on display over four floors include his personal possessions and furnishings as well as manuscripts, letters, first edition copies of some of his books and portraits, including R.W. Buss’ spectacular (and unfinished) Dickens’ Dream, showing the author at his country home of Gads Hill Place in Kent surrounded by many of the characters that he had created.

It’s important to note that from 9th April, the museum will be closed as it undergoes a £3.2 million project, called Great Expectations, which will involve the restoration and expansion of the museum. It is expected to reopen in December this year in time to celebrate a Dickensian Christmas.

For more on events celebrating Charles Dickens and his works this year, see www.dickensfellowship.org or www.dickens2012.org.

WHERE: 48 Doughty Street, Bloomsbury (nearest Tube stations are Russell Square, Chancery Lane or Holborn). WHEN: 10am to 5pm Monday to Sunday (last admission 4.30pm) COST: £7 adults/£5 concessions/£3 children (under 10 free); WEBSITE: www.dickensmuseum.com.

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• Dickens fever is well and truly upon us in the lead-up to the bicentenary of his birth in February and tomorrow the Museum of London opens its own unmissable exhibition, Dickens and London. Displays centre on the relationship between Dickens and the city and visitors will be able to follow in the great novelist’s footsteps as they visit some of the places which sparked his imagination as well as confront some of the great social issues of the 19th century – including childhood mortality, prostitution and poverty – and be taking on a tour of some of the age’s greatest innovations – everything from railways and steamboats to the Penny Post. Among the objects on display will be Dickens’ writing desk and chair, his bank ledger, excavated items from Jacob’s Island, a notorious slum which was located near Bermondsey, and manuscript pages describing an East End opium den which was featured in Dicken’s unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood (this, along with William Powell Frith’s celebrated portrait of the author, are being lent by the Victoria and Albert Museum). The exhibition also features a specially commissioned film looking at London after dark in Dickens’ time and today. Costumes from the upcoming BBC One drama series, Great Expectations, will also be on display and there is also a specially commissioned window display by acclaimed creative director and set designer Simon Costin showing a wintery London in the mid-19th century. The museum is also offering a new iPhone and iPad graphic novel app, Dickens: Dark London, which will take users on a “journey through the darker side” of Dickens’ London. Opens on 9th December (tomorrow) and runs until 10th June, 2012. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk. For more on Dickens, see www.dickens2012.org. PICTURE: Dickens Dream by Robert William Buss (Courtesy Museum of London).

New hoardings have gone up at Leicester Square celebrating the area’s history as work continues on an £18 million plan by Westminster City Council to revitalise the Leicester Square streetscape. The more than 160 square metres of hoardings feature 11 images spanning a period of 250 years (and selected from thousands of archive images of the square). Meanwhile in Trafalgar Square, the famous Norwegian Christmas Tree was lit in a ceremony last Thursday. The tree is an annual gift from the people of Oslo as thanks for British support during Norway’s years of occupation in World War II. It will be lit from noon until midnight every day until 6th January.

And, briefly…..London’s Kew Gardens has been voted the top visitor attraction in Britain at the British Airways magazine travel award while the London Eye and Tate Modern came runner’s up…..Figures released to mark the 10th anniversary of free admission to England’s national museums show that visitor numbers to the museums have more than doubled over the past decade…..and, the first woman Tube driver, Hannah Dadds, reportedly died at the age of 70.

On Now: The Flamboyant Mr. Chinnery: An English artist in India and China. This exhibition at Asia House in New Cavendish Street in the West End, focuses on the work of 19th century artist George Chinnery and features landscapes and portraits he painted while in China and India. Runs until 21st January. Admission is free. For more, see www.asiahouse.org.

• On Now: Miracles & Charms. The Wellcome Collection is hosting this exhibition which features two shows – Infinitas Gracias: Mexican miracle paintings, the first major exhibition of Mexican votive paintings outside of Mexico, and Charmed life: The solace of objects, an exhibition of unseen London amulets from Henry Wellcome’s collection. Runs until 26th February, 2012. For more, see www.wellcomecollection.org.

• 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.