Prudential-Assurance-Building

The origins of the name of this part of central London, to the west of the City, lie in the fact that the Fleet River runs through the area (albeit, since the 18th century, underground).

Mentioned as far back as the 950s, the name Holborn comes from the Old English “hol” or “holh” (“hollow”) and “burne” or “bourne” (“stream”) and means the “stream in the hollow” with the hollow in this case being the valley over which the Holborn Viaduct was built in the 1860s.

The term ‘Holburne’ was either used to refer to a tributary of the Fleet or part of the river itself. There was a bridge which apparently bore the same name and spanned either the Fleet or its tributary up until the river was covered.

The street now known as High Holborn – the main street in the area – was originally a Roman road and by the 19th century had become a centre for the entertainment industry featuring theatres, restaurants and pubs (including one of our favorites, the Cittee of Yorke).

The street is also home to the Holborn Bar, which marked the boundary of the City of London and was once site of a toll gate – it’s now the site of the Royal Fusilier’s War Memorial.

Other famous monuments in the area include an equestrian statue of Prince Albert – the City of London’s official statue of him – which was removed from its position in the centre of Holborn Circus in the east of the area to a new position on the western side of the intersection during a renovation last year.

Now dominated by offices and some shopping precincts (these include a street market in Leather Lane), among other notable buildings are pre-Great Fire of London survivor Staple Inn (see our earlier post here), churches including St Andrew Holborn, and St Alban the Martyr, Holborn, and, to the east, St Etheldreda’s Church (see our earlier post here) and Ye Olde Mitre pub (see our earlier post here).

The area is also home to the Inns of Court Lincoln’s Inn and Gray’s Inn and the Grade II*-listed Prudential Assurance Building (pictured above), constructed on the former site of Furnival’s Inn in the late 19th century/early 20th century, as well as Hatton Garden, famous for being the centre of London’s jewellery trade.

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In which we continue our look at some of London’s connections with Dickens’ writings…

• ‘Oliver Twist’ workhouse, Cleveland Street. The building, recently heritage listed following a campaign to save it, is said to have served as the model for the workhouse in Oliver Twist and was apparently the only building of its kind still in operation when Dickens wrote the book in the 1830s. Dickens had lived as a teenager nearby in a house in Cleveland Street and was living less than a mile away in Doughty Street (now the Charles Dickens Museum) when he wrote Oliver Twist. Thanks to Ruth Richardson – author of Dickens and the Workhouse: Oliver Twist and the London Poor – for mentioning this after last week’s post.

• Clerkenwell Green. It is here that Mr Brownlow first comes into contact with Oliver Twist and, mistakenly suspecting him of stealing from him, chases him through the surrounding streets. Interestingly, the grass (which you would expect when talking about a green) has been gone for more than 300 years – so it wasn’t here in Dickens’ time either.

• Barnard’s Inn, Fetter Lane. It was here, at one of London’s Inns of Court, that Pip and Herbert Pocket had chambers in Great Expectations. Barnard’s Inn, now the home of Gresham College, is only one of a number of the Inns of Court with which Dickens and his books had associations – the author lived for a time at Furnival’s Inn while Lincoln’s Inn (off Chancery Lane) features in Bleak House and the medieval Staple Inn on High Holborn makes an appearance in his unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. And, as mentioned last week, Middle Temple also features in his books.

• ‘Dickens House’, Took’s Court. Renamed Cook’s Court in Bleak House, the house – located in a court between Chancery and Fetter Lane – was where the law stationer Mr Snagsby lived and worked in the book. It’s now occupied by music promoter and impresario Raymond Gubbay.

• London Bridge. The bridge, a new version of which had opened in 1831 (it has since been replaced), featured in many of Dickens’ writings including Martin Chuzzlewit, David Copperfield and Great Expectations. Other bridges also featured including Southwark Bridge (Little Dorrit) and Blackfriars Bridge (Barnaby Rudge) and as well as Eel Pie Island, south-west along the Thames River at Twickenham, which is mentioned in Nicholas Nickleby.

We’ve only included a brief sample of the many locations in London related in some way to Dickens’ literary works. Aside from those books we mentioned last week, you might also want to take a look at Richard Jones’ Walking Dickensian London,  Lee Jackson’s Walking Dickens’ London or, of course, Claire Tomalin’s recent biography, Charles Dickens: A Life.

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