Dickens’ bank, in Clerkenwell, is an impressive, well preserved building. It’s no longer a bank, but you’ll be relieved to hear that doesn’t mean it’s been converted into an overpiced Italian restaurant with waiters with dodgy Italian accents mispronouncing “calzone”. It’s rather off the beaten track. In Dickens’ time, affluent areas could stand cheek by jowl next to some of the worst slums in London.
Dickens’ bank stood in an affluent area, and Dickens lived in a similarly affluent area nearby, but to get from one to the other on foot he had to walk through an area known as “thieve’s kitchen”, the very place where he had the Artful Dodger show Oliver Twist how to pick a pocket or two. Dickens went on many a research trip in the slums for his novels, but much of what he wrote was right there around him, whenever he wanted to see it.
Many pubs in the area claim Dickens used to drink in them. The pub opposite Charing Cross station (built on the spot where Dickens worked in a blacking factory when he was a boy; he used the experience in David Copperfield) claims Dickens drank there.
The most famous pub in Fleet Street, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, lists Dickens as one of the many notables who drank there. Another famous pub, the Prospect of Whitby, down by the river in Wapping, does likewise, and cross the river to the Trafalgar Tavern in Greenwich and guess what? Yep, you guessed it, but apparently it was not just any Dickens pub, it was his favourite pub no less.
If all this is to be believed I’m surprised he ever had enough time to write! Or was sober enough! I wonder of there was a little fella going around London scamming pubs by claiming “I’m Charles Dickens you know.2 “Really” says the landlord, “well in that case yer money’s no good ‘ere, have a pint on the ‘ouse.”
In the days before photography and before newspapers had the technology to reproduce drawn images, you’d be amazed what you could get away with!
You can’t wonder around the Holborn area for long before stumbling across a house (or blue plaque where a house used to be), where Dickens once lived. Go down a narrow street heading south off Holborn towards the Chancery of Jaundice versus Jaundice fame, and there’s a Dickens house.
Head north of Holborn and the huge gothic-style Prudential Building as was, was built on the spot where Dickens once lived. Just yards away and there’s another Dickens home in beautiful Grays Inn Fields, and further north there’s another fine Dickens property which is now a Dickens Museum.
He lived in all these properties in the space of a very short time. You could be forgiven for thinking he had shares in Pickfords. But it was simple practicality – he was producing children at about the same rate as novels, so not only did he keep moving to more upmarket homes in keeping with his increasing affluence and standing in society, he also continually needed additional bedrooms and extra square footage.
One tourist spot in the area, just off Lincoln’s Inn Fields, is an ancient, nicely wonky, pitched roof wooden shop that nowadays sells shoes, of which if you have to ask the price you can’t afford them. It’s in the London A-Z, in guidebooks, on Wikipedia and in countless other publications, as Ye Olde Curiosity Shop.
The story goes that Dickens lived in the area and popped in the shop on occasion, and it was this place on which he based his novel The Old Curioisty Shop. You can almost see Little Nell coming out the front door. Only trouble is, it’s complete nonsense. Some time after Dickens’ death, the Victorian owner of what was an ordinary little shop, thought it would be a good marketing ploy to name his shop Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, as written about by Dickens. It certainly worked. Still does! For more info on The Charles Dickens Museum CLICK HERE.