Charles Dickens Tour, London

Charles Dickens Tour (Self Guided), London

Today's world's literature and mass culture are hardly imaginable without the works of Charles Dickens, recognized as the greatest British novelist of the Victorian era. A pioneer of “cliffhanger” endings, Dickens remains one of the most-read English authors whose writings never go out of print and have been repeatedly adapted to stage, screen and TV.

Dickens was born in Portsmouth in 1812, but moved to London at the age of 12. Many of his novels are set in the capital which he knew well and much loved. While some of the identifiable London locations associated with Dickens no longer exist, there are quite a few of them still in place.

Charles Dickens Museum at 48 Doughty Street is where some of his best works, namely: Oliver Twist, The Pickwick Papers, and Nicholas Nickleby, were penned. A noted drinker Dickens frequented a good number of pubs, including Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street, of which he was a patron. Safron Hill, formerly the infamous slum nicknamed the ‘little Hell’, is where Dickens set part of Oliver Twist. Newgate Prison, Cheapside appear in 8 of Dickens's novels, while St. Paul's Cathedral in 13.

If you wish to follow in the footsteps of the great author and his characters throughout the British capital, take this self-guided walking tour!
How it works: Download the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" from iTunes App Store or Google Play Store to your mobile phone or tablet. The app turns your mobile device into a personal tour guide and its built-in GPS navigation functions guide you from one tour stop to next. The app works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

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Charles Dickens Tour Map

Guide Name: Charles Dickens Tour
Guide Location: England » London (See other walking tours in London)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 15
Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.5 Km or 2.8 Miles
Author: clare
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Charles Dickens Museum
  • Gray's Inn
  • Staple Inn
  • Furnival's Inn
  • Barnard's Inn
  • Dickens House at 15 Took’s Court
  • Middle Temple Hall
  • Ye Olde Chesire Cheese
  • Safron Hill
  • Cock Lane
  • St Sepulchre’s Church
  • Newgate Prison
  • St. Paul's Cathedral
  • Cheapside
  • Lombard Street
Charles Dickens Museum

1) Charles Dickens Museum

Spread over the four floors of a typical Georgian terraced house on a private street in an affluent part of London, this museum holds the world's grandest collection of letters, paintings, rare editions, manuscripts, original furniture and other items relating to the life and work of Charles Dickens. Being the last standing London residence of the Dickens family, the property escaped demolition courtesy of the Dickens Fellowship which renovated it and set up in its quarters a museum in 1925.

Dickens and his wife Catherine moved into this house in April 1837, just a year after their marriage, together with their baby son Charley. Over the next two years, the Dickenses had two daughters born here: Mary in March 1838 and Katey in October 1839. It was also here that in May 1837 the author's beloved sister-in-law, Mary Hogarth, passed away, following a brief illness, at the age of 17. The girl inspired many characters in Dickens's books, and her death was also fictionalized as the death of Little Nell in “The Old Curiosity Shop” novel.

Dickens resided in this place until December 1839, during which time he had completed "The Pickwick Papers" (1836), "Oliver Twist" (1838) and "Nicholas Nickleby" (1838–39), and begun work on "Barnaby Rudge" (1840–41).

Perhaps the best-known item on display in the museum is the portrait of Dickens, known as Dickens' Dream, created by R.W. Buss, an original illustrator of "The Pickwick Papers". This unfinished portrait shows Dickens in his study at Gads Hill Place surrounded by the many characters that he created. Another key exhibit is the desk Dickens used at public readings of his works. Several days a week, visitors are allowed to physically handle the displayed items.

Operation hours: Tuesday - Sunday: 10:00 - 17:00
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Gray's Inn

2) Gray's Inn

Established in 1569, Gray's Inn is one of four Inns of Court in London, the other three being Lincoln’s Inn, the Inner and Middle Temples. The Inn of Court is a professional association for barristers and judges where they undergo training and which allow them to practice in England or Wales. The Inn of Court is both a professional body and provider of office accommodation for many barristers.

Gray’s Inn is known for its gardens, or Walks, which have existed since 1597. The Inn itself dates back to at least the 14th century.

Charles Dickens briefly played with the idea of pursuing a legal career and, in May 1827, started working as a junior clerk of Ellis and Blackmore which had offices at Gray’s Inn. Whilst at Gray’s Inn, he learned the Gurney system of shorthand in his spare time, a skill that later proved invaluable to him as a reporter and writer. Dickens worked here until November 1828 when he left to become a freelance reporter at the Doctors’ Commons.

Dickens mentions Gray's Inn in several of his novels, including "David Copperfield" and "The Pickwick Papers".
Staple Inn

3) Staple Inn

Looming over the Chancery Lane underground station, on the South side of High Holborn, is a set of rather crooked 16th-century Tudor-style black-and-white, timber-framed wooden buildings known as Staple Inn. A passageway wedged under the buildings leads into an inner courtyard that Dickens described in his last (and unfinished) novel "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" as a “little nook composed of two irregular quadrangles.”

It was here that Mr. Grewgious, one of the novel's lead characters lived. Dickens's novelistic descriptions of the spot still bear true today: “It is one of those nooks, the turning into which out of the clashing street, imparts to the relieved pedestrian the sensation of having put cotton in his ears and velvet soles on his boots.”

This courtyard was familiar to Dickens in the late 1820s because he worked in a solicitor’s office on the other side of High Holborn at Gray’s Inn, one of the four Inns of Court. Contrary to what the word “inn” usually means today – a “pub”, the Inn of Court is a professional association and a boarding school for young lawyers. Dickens also saw this 7-gabled roof building every day when he lived here as a young man, at the time when he started a career of journalist.
Furnival's Inn

4) Furnival's Inn

Furnival's Inn was an Inn of Chancery, which formerly stood on the site of the present Holborn Bars building, and was founded around 1383 when William de Furnival, 4th Lord Furnival leased a boarding facility to Clerks of Chancery who prepared writs for the king’s courts, assisted by apprentices who, as such, received a preliminary legal training. As a part of the Inns of Court, Furnival's Inn accommodated law students until the 19th century. After The Society of Furnival’s Inn was dissolved in 1817, the medieval building was demolished and a new block of flats, bearing the old name, was put in its place in 1818-1820.

Together with his brother Frederick, Charles Dickens resided at Furnival’s Inn from 1834 till 1837. He settled here out of necessity after having to repay his father’s debt in order to prevent him from going back to prison. Although he lived in scanty conditions, Dickens was particularly prolific during that period. Whilst lodging at the Inn, he started working on “The Pickwick Papers”, got introduced to London’s most important literary circles, and subsequently married Catherine Hogarth.

The "Martin Chuzzlewit" character John Westlock lives in Furnival’s Inn and describes it as "a shady, quiet place, echoing to the footsteps of the stragglers who have business there; and rather monotonous and gloomy on summer evenings. ... there are snug chambers in those Inns where the bachelors live, and, for the desolate fellows they pretend to be, it is quite surprising how well they get on".

Dickens's life at Furnival’s Inn is commemorated with a bust and a plaque attesting to his presence.
Barnard's Inn

5) Barnard's Inn

Barnard's Inn is one of the former Inns of Chancery in Holborn. Back in 1454, the inn was tenanted by Lionel Barnard, hence the name.

Today it is the home of Gresham College, a law school established in 1597, and one of a number of the Inns of Court with which Charles Dickens and his books had associations. In "Great Expectations", the main hero Pip lodged in Barnard's Inn with Herbert Pocket for a number of years following his arrival in London, which would have been circa 1820.

In the novel, Dickens presents Barnard's as “the dingiest collection of shabby buildings ever squeezed together in a rank corner as a club for Tom-cats.” “A flat burying-ground [with] the most dismal trees in it, and the most dismal sparrows, and the most dismal cats, and the most dismal houses... the windows of the sets of chambers into which those houses were divided, were in every stage of dilapidated blind and curtain, crippled flower-pot, cracked glass, dusty decay, and miserable makeshift; while To Let To Let To Let, glared from empty rooms, as if no new wretches ever came there, and the vengeance of the soul of Barnard were being slowly appeased by the gradual suicide of the present occupants and their unholy internment under the gravel.”
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Dickens House at 15 Took’s Court

6) Dickens House at 15 Took’s Court

Built in 1720 and named after Thomas Tooke of London Esquyre, Dickens lived here during his time as a parliamentary reporter. It is said to be the place where the writer created the character of Ebenezer Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol" which was reputedly based on his tight-fisted neighbor.

In the novel "Bleak House" the place was renamed Cook’s Court and was the office of the meditative law stationer Mr Snagsby who "dealt in all sorts of blank forms of legal process, in skins and rolls of parchment, in paper - foolscap, brief, draft, brown, white, whitey-brown, and blotting; in stamps, office quills, pens, ink, India rubber, pounce, pins, pencils, sealing wax and wafers; in red tape and green ferret; in pocket books, almanacks, diaries and Law lists; in string, boxes, rulers, inkstands (glass and leaden), penknives, scissors, bodkins, and other office cutlery." He was "the high standard of comparison among neighboring wives, a long way down Chancery Lane on both sides.”
Middle Temple Hall

7) Middle Temple Hall

Stepping into the Middle Temple is like stepping back into Dickensian London. Dickens wrote of it: “You can read on its gates: ‘Who enters here leaves noise behind’.” Over the centuries, a host of historic figures, such as Charles Dickens himself as well as Sir Walter Raleigh, William Makepeace Thackeray and others, became members of the Middle Temple.

At Middle Temple Hall, South of New Court and Essex Court, lies Fountain Court with its monkish atmosphere, ducked into which the law students often dine. The fountain here is mentioned by Dickens in "Martin Chuzzlewit".

Another lovely spot is the Garden Court, a leafy plaza within a view of the Thames, which appears in "Great Expectations". This is where Pip, the main character, was living when the convict Abel Magwitch turned up one night to reveal a life-altering secret. In the book, Pip says, “We lived at the top of the last house and the wind rushing up the river shook the house that night, like discharges of cannon or breakings of a sea.” Pip comes home on that storm-lashed night and gets a message at the gate of the Temple: Don’t go home. But of course he does...
Ye Olde Chesire Cheese

8) Ye Olde Chesire Cheese

Quite possibly London's most iconic public house, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese has been around since the days of Pepys and Wren, and is known for its literary associations, having seen among its regulars, at some point, such luminaries as Samuel Johnson, G.K. Chesterton, Mark Twain, George Orwell and Charles Dickens. Established in 1538, this is one of London’s oldest pubs, rebuilt shortly after the Great Fire of 1666. Certain parts of its lower cellars are even older.

The building was previously home to a monastery, and as such has a dizzying array of chambers, cellars and tunnels underneath. The small portion of the pub above ground consists of a wood-panelled dining room and a small bar, which usually has sawdust sprinkled on the floor. Located on Fleet Street, London’s former historic home of Britain’s major newspapers, ‘the Cheese’ has long been a popular haunt of weary hacks seeking sustenance.

Charles Dickens had been known to frequent this place, and it is alluded to in his "A Tale of Two Cities": following Charles Darnay’s acquittal on charges of high treason, Sydney Carton invites him to dine, "drawing his arm through his own" Carton leads him to Fleet Street "up a covered way, into a tavern … where Charles Darnay was soon recruiting his strength with a good plain dinner and good wine".

Presently owned by Sam Smith’s Old Brewery, this pub is an unmissable opportunity to soak in the watering-hole atmosphere of yesteryear’s London, walking in the footsteps of a few literary greats (and many lesser drunks).

Opening Hours: Monday-Saturday: 12:00 - 23:00.
Safron Hill

9) Safron Hill

Once at the heart of London’s most infamous rookeries or slums, Saffron Hill is forever associated with Charles Dickens’ 1838 novel "Oliver Twist" and particularly with one of its lead characters, the arch criminal Fagin.

Back in the 19th century, Saffron Hill was known as Italian quarter which took its name from the saffron that used to grow in the area but was gone by the time Dickens wrote the book. As well as Fagin’s lair, the street is also home to the salubrious pub The Three Cripples, a favoured watering-hole of Bill Sikes, the main antagonist in the "Oliver Twist" novel. During Dickens’s time, The Three Cripples was apparently the name of a lodging house in Saffron Hill, located next to a pub called The One Tun.

The area also inspired Dickens to write another, minor masterpiece "A Christmas Carol" after visiting a ragged local school here in September 1843 and being powerfully struck by the horror he witnessed. The children were already thieves and prostitutes, illiterate diseased and unwashed.

A squalid neighbourhood, home of paupers and thieves, Charles Dickens describes it in "Oliver Twist" as "a dirtier and more wretched place he [Oliver] had never seen. The street was very narrow and muddy, and the air was impregnated with filthy odours... Covered ways and yards, which here and there diverged from the main street, disclosed little knots of houses, where drunken men and women were positively wallowing in filth; and from several of the door-ways, great ill-looking fellows were cautiously emerging, bound, to all appearance, on no very well-disposed or harmless errands.”
Cock Lane

10) Cock Lane

This small street in the City of London takes its name probably from having been a breeding ground for cocks – cock fighting was a highly popular sport in the 17th-18th centuries.

Prior to that, in the Middle Ages, the street was known as Cokkes Lane and was the site of legal brothels. In 1762, 25 Cock Lane was the site of one of the great faked supernatural manifestations, now known as the "Cock Lane Ghost" and used generically for the ghost stories without basis in fact. Charles Dickens is one of several Victorian authors who alluded to the Cock Lane Ghost story in several of his books.

Fascinated with ghosts as he was, most likely due to his childhood nursemaid Mary Weller, Dickens made reference to the ghost in "Nicholas Nickleby" as Mrs. Nickleby, one of the novel's lead characters and a source of much of its comic relief, claims that her great-grandfather "went to school with the Cock-lane Ghost" and that she knew "the master of his school was a Dissenter, and that would in a great measure account for the Cock-lane Ghost's behaving in such an improper manner to the clergyman when he grew up." Dickens also briefly mentions the ghost in "Dombey and Son" and "A Tale of Two Cities", where Jerry Cruncher of Tellson's Bank moonlights as a body snatcher.

In addition to the ghost, another of the lane’s claims to fame was that the Great Fire of London of 1666 finally halted at the intersection of Cock Lane and Giltspur Street, once known as Pye Corner, now commemorated by the Golden Boy of Pye Corner.
St Sepulchre’s Church

11) St Sepulchre’s Church

The sight of St. Sepulchre's Church, once set opposite the infamous Newgate prison, chilled many a soul of passers-by for centuries as its bell marked the time of impending executions. Tolling at eight o’clock in the morning indicated that the executions were to take place that day, a fact Dickens duly observes in "Oliver Twist".

Before public hangings were moved to Newgate in 1783, the condemned criminals were hauled off to Tyburn, past St. Sepulchre's, where every death cart stopped outside the church and the prisoners received a nosegay.

For almost 140 years, there was another, rather more ghoulish tradition whereby a bellman was employed to go through a tunnel linking the church to Newgate on the night before the execution. Upon giving "twelve solemn towles with double strokes" on his handbell, he recited: "All you that in the condemned hold do lie, Prepare you, for tomorrow you shall die; Watch all and pray, the hour is drawing near That you before the Almighty must appear; Examine well yourselves, in time repent, That you may not to eternal flames be sent: And when St. Sepulchre's bell tomorrow tolls, The Lord above have mercy on your souls. Past twelve o'clock!"

That customs finally died out with the Newgate prison being demolished in 1902 to make way for the Old Bailey, but the handbell – that once added misery to the condemned – is still seen today in a case on one of the pillars inside the church.
St. Sepulchre's is open on Wednesdays between noon and 3pm or at other times by special arrangement. There is no charge but donations towards the church's upkeep are welcome.
Newgate Prison

12) Newgate Prison

A notorious prison that once stood on the corner of Old Bailey and Newgate Street, at the original site of a gate in the Roman London Wall, Newgate was London’s main prison infamous for public executions held outside and drawing large crowds. Built in 1188 and demolished in 1902, the prison was extended and rebuilt many times throughout its 700+ year service.

Dickens was fascinated by prisons all through his life and campaigned powerfully for the executions to be taken inside the prison walls. He was alive when the legislation requiring that was finally passed in 1868. Passionate social critic as he was, Dickens visited Newgate several times and on 6 July 1840, together with his friend and fellow writer William Makepeace Thackeray, witnessed a public hanging of François Benjamin Courvoisier.

Dickens also mentions Newgate in a number of his works, namely:
- In the 1836 sketch "A Visit to Newgate" (written for inclusion in the collected work Sketches by Boz).
- In the "Oliver Twist" novel, he describes Fagin’s last night alive in Newgate, and Oliver's witnessing his hanging.
- In "Barnaby Rudge", Hugh, Dennis, and Barnaby are imprisoned at Newgate in cells refitted after the prison was burned down during the Gordon Riots in 1780.
- In "Great Expectations”, Wemmick and Pip visit the prison while Pip is awaiting the arrival in London of Estella.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
St. Paul's Cathedral

13) St. Paul's Cathedral (must see)

Ludgate Hill, one of three ancient hills in London, has been the site of a place of worship since 604 AD. The present building on the hill is St Paul’s Cathedral, and it is quite rightly one of the most famous of London’s landmarks and the most visited cathedral in the world, after St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Between 604 and the Great Fire of 1666, there had been several churches on the hill, and after the last one was destroyed in the Great Fire, Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to build a new, bigger one. He had to make five different designs of the building before one was finally chosen; work began in 1675 and the cathedral was officially opened in 1711.

The interior of the cathedral is very beautiful with the inner dome painted with 8 monochromes by Sir James Thornhill, depicting the life of St Paul. The inner dome holds three galleries: the internal Whispering Gallery takes its name from the unique acoustics – a whisper against the wall on one side of the gallery can be heard on the other side. Above this is the external Stone Gallery and above that is the external Golden Gallery.

In the Nave there are three chapels: on the North aisle are the All Souls Chapel and the St Dunstan’s Chapel; on the South aisle is St George and St Michael Chapel. The Knights Bachelor Chapel and the OBE Chapel are to be found in the crypt.

The tombs of Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and Sir Christopher Wren are also in the crypt, along with tombs and memorials to many others who have made a great contribution to the nation, including artist and musicians. Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral was held here, and of course, the marriage of Prince Charles to Lady Diana was celebrated in the cathedral.

***Charles Dickens Tour***
St Paul’s Cathedral, as a setting, is featured heavily in many novels by Charles Dickens. In "Master Humphrey’s Clock", for example, Dickens describes Master Humphrey going up to the top of St Paul’s Cathedral, then the tallest building in London, for the panoramic city view. He writes: ‘Draw but a little circle above the clustering house tops, and you shall have within its space, everything with its opposite extreme and contradiction, close beside’.

Another Dickens's work – "David Copperfield" – takes Peggotty to the top of St. Paul’s to enjoy the impressive views over London, which is something visitors still do today.

The area around the iconic cathedral Dickens knew well and frequented himself for various reasons, including major public events, like the funeral of the Duke of Wellington in 1852.

*** Harry Potter Movie ***
Other than architecture- and history buffs, nowadays Harry Potter fans also have their reason to visit St. Paul’s Cathedral. The point of interest for them is the spectacular spiral Geometric Staircase (also known as the Dean’s Stair) that appears to be floating out of the walls of the Cathedral’s South West Bell Tower. Recognizable from “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”, this winding staircase leads to the astronomy tower and is where students climbed up the stone steps towards Professor Trelawney’s Divination classes held in a classroom atop a Hogwart’s North Tower. It was also featured in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” as the Turris Magnus staircase. To view the staircase, you will need to enter the Cathedral on a visitor ticket.

***Shakespeare Walk***
The medieval St Paul’s Cathedral, predecessor of Sir Christopher Wren’s landmark dome design, was one of the largest European churches of its time, whose spire dominated the skyline of London until it burned down in the Great Fire of 1666. During Shakespeare’s lifetime, the area around St Paul’s was very different to what it is today.

Apart from being the centre of religious, political, cultural and social life in the city, the Cathedral was also the heart of London’s book trade and its environment was quite important in shaping the literary works of that period. By 1600, Shakespeare was the most published professional dramatist, and the first editions of his plays including Titus Andronicus, Richard II, Richard III, 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV, Much Ado About Nothing, and The Merchant of Venice were all bought and sold in St Paul’s Churchyard. It is also very likely that Shakespeare himself scouted the local bookshops for content that would furnish him with source material for his own work. In large part, the environment of St Paul’s shaped Shakespeare’s writing and influenced its survival and reception.

Why You Should Visit:
An architectural masterpiece and symbol of London during the War.
There is always much to explore, both above ground and in the crypt.

You have to pay for the entrance of this cathedral. Buy tickets online to save time. You can also buy an audio tour at the entrance.
To really appreciate the interior, you should climb the steps to the dome (which should take a good 30 min.) You will find an external viewing area at the top.
Part way up there is also a whispering gallery from which you look down into the church from above.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 8:30am-4:30pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

14) Cheapside

Back in the 19th century, Cheapside was an enormously popular shopping district. It figures throughout the history of English literature and makes numerous appearances in Dickens’s writing. In "Great Expectations", Pip described the adjacent street market of Cheapside as "all asmear with filth and fat and blood ... the great black dome of St Paul's bulging at me."

Charles Dickens, Jr. wrote in his 1879 book Dickens's Dictionary of London: "Cheapside remains now what it was five centuries ago, the greatest thoroughfare in the City of London. Other localities have had their day, have risen, become fashionable, and have sunk into obscurity and neglect, but Cheapside has maintained its place, and may boast of being the busiest thoroughfare in the world, with the sole exception perhaps of London-bridge."

Today, Cheapside is still a busy retail destination widely known for the wide range of outlets and offices, as well as the City's only major shopping centre, One New Change, at the St Paul's end.
Lombard Street

15) Lombard Street

Home to many financial institutions, as well as an affluent residential area, back in the 19th century Lombard Street accommodated Smith, Payne & Smiths Bank at 1 Lombard Street. The bank manager George Beadnell lived next door, at 2 Lombard Street, where in 1831 he and his wife gave dinner to some of their friends and those of their daughters. Among the invited was the 19 year-old Charles Dickens whose career as a parliamentary reporter was just about to begin.

Beadnell's third daughter, Maria, captivated the young man’s heart which he described as being pinned ‘like a captured butterfly’ to the black velvet trimming on one of her dresses. The young Dickens walked to Lombard Street in the early hours just to gaze upon the place where Maria slept. He remained devoted to her for four years until 1833, when Maria returned from overseas and their relationship ended.

Maria was part of the inspiration for Dora Spenlow, David’s wife in "David Copperfield", and reappeared in real life in 1855 when, as Mrs Winter, she wrote to Dickens asking for a meeting. The anticipation of such a meeting was very high, but Dickens was deeply disappointed, finding Maria ‘toothless, fat, old and ugly’. She made another fictional appearance as Flora Finching, Arthur Clennam’s former love, in "Little Dorrit".

Dickens's first novel, "The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club" (more commonly known as "The Pickwick Papers"), features a group of men travelling around England and staying, among other places, in London inns, such as the George and Vulture on Lombard Street.

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