Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens

2 Comments on Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens, a former resident of Lant Street.

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With 2012 marking Charles Dickens 200th anniversary there will be plenty of celebrations of the life of this very special Briton. Most of Footprints of London’s walks have a Dickens connection at some point, and my walk “All Change at Kings Cross” is no different.

In Our Mutual Friend, Reginald Wilfer talks about the area that is now Goods Way as “a tract or urban sahara, where tiles and bricks were burnt, bones were boiled, rubbish was shot, dogs fought and dust was heaped by contractors”. This description was from before the great goods yards and food warehouses that were built by the railway companies in the mid 19th century. However  few years ago this description might also have been appropriate, the closure of the goods yards making this quite a desolate spot. However things are changing fast, with the opening of the University of the Arts in the old granary building adding a lively touch to Goods Way.

St Pancras Old Churchyard is mentioned in A Tale of Two Cities as a place where body snatchers practiced. As the place where Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein mourned her mother, and where many graves were dug up to build the railway line, there are lots of associations with the dead being disturbed. Theres even a present day coroners court. 

However theres another Dickens connection in the churchyard. Dickens schoolmaster M. L. Williams Jones is buried there, though he doesnt seem to have inspired the young Charles – he writes of his school – “I had no advice no counsel, no encouragement, no consolation, no assistance, no support of any kind from anyone” This was at the Wellington House Academy in Hampstead, where the sadistic headmaster was the inspiration for Mr Creakle in David Copperfield.

I’ll be exploring the area again on November 26th – click here for more details and tickets

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  • David

    Dickens also makes an appearance or two in my Euston Road and Revolution walk. One of the sites we visit is the fascinating Polygon in Somers Town – now a modern housing estate, but it was a very experimental housing development in London – begun in 1791 — by Jacob Leroux (who also built part of Canonbury in Islington). It had sixteen sides – each side consisting of two side by side three story houses. Initially a rather grand place to live – Mary Shelley was born in the Polygon in 1797 (to hear more about her family come on the walk), but it went down hill. One problem was immigration – the Polygon was taken over by French emigres who had fled the revolution – over a hundred of them were living in the Polygon by 1810. By 1827 it was mainly used for lodging the poor – and that year Charles Dicken’s family moved in, having being evicted from Johnson Street (now Cranleigh Street) in the same area. The Polygon appears in Bleak House – as the dilapidated “downtown’ residence of Mr Skimpole. This was about the time that Dickens left the Wellington House Academy (which he claimed as one of the best times in his eventful young life) and became a law clerk in Grey’s Inn. Dickens daily walk to work involved crossing the Euston Road and walking past the St Pancras New Parish Church (which had only recently been completed) twice a day. About ten years later his first daughter Mary was baptized in this church.

  • debbie pakulski

    There is a mild and tenuous Dickens link to the Bunhill Fields Cemetery that is a large part of the Finsburys Non Conformists walk too! Buried in Bunhill is one Mrs Lewson a very long time resident of Clerkenwell. She lived in Coldbath Square near Mount Pleasant – apparently for 116 years! She was born 1700, lived through 5 reigns and died in 1816. In her maturity it is claimed that Mrs Lewson never left her house for fear of catching her death of cold! She put ‘hog-fat’ on her face and her windows were never ever open – all to ward off fatal chills – well it certainly worked! Mrs Lewson even cut 2 new teeth in her 80’s!! And the link to Charles Dickens? Well it has been suggested that she was perhaps a role model for Mrs Havisham of Great Expectations fame – who knows? And why not after all? Except Mrs Lewson died a natural dath – for someone 116 years old!

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