We’re celebrating the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens this year so it’s only fitting that we look at a building which has been, rightly or wrongly, associated with one of his books.

Located at 13-14 Portsmouth Street in Westminster, The Old Curiosity Shop now operates as a shop selling handmade fashions and footwear but the building apparently dates back 1567, making it a strong contender for the title of London’s oldest shop.

The name – The Old Curiosity Shop – was apparently applied to the building some years after Dickens first published his story, The Old Curiosity Shop, in the weekly serial, Master Humphrey’s Clock, in 1840 and 1841. The belief subsequently arose that it was this building the author had in mind when writing the book which tells the tale of Little Nell and her grandfather, a shopkeeper, and their interactions with the evil moneylender Daniel Quilp.

The claim is disputed by some, author Ed Glinert among them. In his book Literary London: A Street by Street Exploration of the Capital’s Literary Heritage he says the model for Dickens’ building was located at either 24 Fetter Lane or 10 Orange Street near Leicester Square and notes that at the end of the novel, Dickens said the building had long since been pulled down.

The Grade II* listed building, which survived the Great Fire of 1666 and the Blitz of World War II, is said to have been made from wood taken from old ships. Apparently at one stage it was a dairy which belonged to an estate awarded by King Charles II to one of his mistresses.

For more, see www.curiosityuk.com.

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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