Born the second child of a naval clerk then stationed in Portsmouth, Charles Dickens had what one would imagine was a fairly typical childhood for the son of a naval clerk, his family following his father John Dickens from one place to another – Sheerness, Chatham and briefly, in 1815, in London – as he took up different posts.
But in 1822, amid increasing financial difficulties, John Dickens was recalled to London and he and the family moved into a house at 16 Bayham Street in Camden Town in the city’s north, Charles joining them after completing schooling in Chatham (the house at number 16 Bayham Street is now commemorated by a plaque – it was demolished in 1910).
The family subsequently moved to another, recently built, premises at 4 Gower Street North (later renumbered 147 Gower Street) but soon after this, on 20th February, 1824, John Dickens was arrested over debt and taken to Marshalsea Prison where he subsequently resided with his family with the exception of Charles (the prison, in use since the 14th century, was closed in 1842 and finally mostly demolished in the 1870s – a single wall of the second prison on the site is all that remains).
Twelve-year-old Charles, meanwhile, was put to work in the Warren’s Blacking Factory (pictured) near Hungerford Stairs, which stood just off the Strand (it’s said to have stood roughly where Charing Cross Railway Station now stands). While doing so, he roomed firstly at a house in Little College Street, Camden Town, and then in rooms at Lant Street in Borough (which was much closer to the prison).
John Dickens was out of prison in May but Charles continued working at the factory for almost another year until his father’s fortunes improved and Charles, now living with the family once again – at 29 Johnson Street and then, after being evicted, at The Polygon in Somers Town (an area in St Pancras) – returned to school, becoming enrolled at the Wellington House Classical and Commercial Academy in Hampstead Road.
In 1827, his father’s finances once more having taken a turn for the worse, he began work as a solicitor’s clerk (but more of that later)…
PICTURE: A nineteenth century etching of Dickens at Warren’s Blacking Factory – Source: Wikipedia.