Tuesday 7 February 2012

What the Dickens! A bicycle ride?

Seeing as we are celebrating what would have been the 200th birthday of that great writer, orator, and erstwhile superstar Charles Dickens, how about a themed bicycle route. This velocipede was probably coming into the market in the 19th Century, though I don't know how much it would have been to Dickens's taste!

I haven't read many of his works, but the ones I know referred to various areas of London - and of course much of his early life was based in around Southwark and Bloomsbury.

In his day, Dickens spent hours on end walking around the squalid, smelly, overcrowded streets of London. Apparently the insomniac in him meant that he could walk up to 15 miles on a particularly sleepless night. Dickens's time was not wasted though, since it was during these nights that he gained the inspiration to write such fine works as Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities and Oliver Twist.

A number of the areas he passed and frequented (including various pubs) have been mentioned in his novels.

If only the modern bicycle had been available at that time. Sadly, the workaholic in him meant that Charles Dickens died at the ripe young age of 58 and did not actually get to see the new two-wheeled inventions of the late 1800s. Imagine how much more ground he could have covered during those nocturnal outings, and even more observations from the 'burbs and the shires!

So, here's a quick cycle tour which takes in some of the significant London spots where the great author lived and walked.


The Borough/Southwark
Marshalsea Debtor’s Prison, Borough High Street – Dicken’s father was imprisoned here in 1824 for his bad debts. The prison was featured in Little Dorrit.

Lant Street – Dickens found temporary accommodation here to be near his family while they were in Marshalsea prison.

St George the Martyr, Borough High Street – Dickens featured St George’s in Little Dorrit. There is a representation of Little Dorrit in the east window.

The George Inn, Borough High Street – a coaching inn frequented by Dickens and featured in Little Dorrit and Pickwick Papers.

Warren’s Blacking Warehouse, Hungerford Stairs (Hungerford Bridge) – as a teenager Dickens took a job here polishing boots. Featured in David Copperfield.

York Water Gate and The Adelphi (now York House), Strand/Villiers Street – Dickens lived here for a short time.

Covent Garden
Charles Dickens Coffee House, 26 Wellington Street – the offices of All the Year Round, Dickens’s magazine were based here (1859-1870).

Covent Garden – an actual working market rather than a tourist spot. It was featured in Oliver Twist and Pickwick Papers.

Seven Dials, junction of seven streets including Monmouth Street, Mercer Street, Shorts Gardens, Earlham Street – setting of the most notorious slums in London in the 19th century and described by Dickens in Sketches by Boz.

Bow Street Magistrates’ Court, Bow Street – was featured in Oliver Twist and Barnaby Rudge. The court closed in 2006 and is being developed as a luxury hotel.

Charles Dickens Museum, 48 Doughty Street – location of the former family home (1837-1839) and where Dickens wrote Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby.

Dickens worked as a solicitor’s clerk in the inns of court in London and featured them in his different works - Lincoln’s Inn (Bleak House), Gray’s Inn (David Copperfield, Pickwick Papers) Staple Inn (The Mystery of Edwin Drood)

The City
Church of St Dunstan-in-the-West, Fleet Street – the church bells chiming in A Christmas Carol are referenced here and Dickens also refers to the church in Barnaby Rudge.

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Pub, Fleet Street – Dickens regularly frequented this place. The pub in Fleet Street described in A Tale of Two Cities is assumed to be this pub.

Smithfield, West Smithfield – Pip goes walking around this area in Great Expectations, while Bill Sikes and Oliver walk through the market before robbing the Maylies in Oliver Twist. Dickens criticised the location of the former live cattle market in the heart of London in his 1851 essay A Monument of French Folly.