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.

 

Advertisements

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).