Treasures of London – Charles Dickens’ writing desk and chair…

Charles Dickens’ desk and chair at the Charles Dickens Museum. PICTURE: Alyx Dellamonica (Licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Among the treasures to be found at Dickens’ former house (and now the Charles Dickens Museum) in Doughty Street, Bloomsbury, is the desk and accompanying chair where Dickens’ wrote several of his later novels including Great ExpectationsOur Mutual Friend and the unfinished The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Dickens purchased the mahogany pedestal writing desk as well as the walnut and fruitwood smoker’s armchair in 1859. He used them in the study of his final home at Gad’s Hill Place in Kent (Dickens also had an identical chair in his London office which is now in the New York State Library).

After the author’s death in 1870, the desk and chair – which feature in Luke Fildes’ 1870 work The Empty Chair and the RW Buss’ 1875 work Dickens’ Dream  – were passed down through the Dickens family until they was auctioned in the 2000s with the funds raised used to benefit the Great Ormond Street Hospital.

While the desk and chair had previously been loaned to the museum for display, in 2015 the establishment was able to purchase the desk and chair and make it part of its permanent collection thanks to a £780,000 grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

While the museum is currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, we include these details for when it reopens.

WHERE: 48-49 Doughty Street, Bloomsbury (nearest Tube stations are Russell Square, Chancery Lane or Holborn). WHEN: Currently closedCOST: £9.50 adults/£7.50 concessions/£4.50 children (under six free); WEBSITE: www.dickensmuseum.com.

10 London sites to celebrate Charles Dickens – 1. The Charles Dickens Museum

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.