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.