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From 1822, when the Dickens family settled in Camden, to 1860 when the author took permanent residence at his Kent home of Gad’s Hill Place, London was his home.

Emma Jolly, in the article Dickens and London

Emma Jolly writer, historian, genealogist
  1. Dickens and London

    … the great heart of London throbs in its Giant breast. Wealth and beggary,

     

    vice and virtue, guilt and innocence, repletion and the direst hunger, all treading

     

    on each other and crowding together, are gathered round it. 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.

    Master Humphrey’s Clock, 1841

    Portrait of Charles Dickens 19th century © Museum of London

    Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth on 7 February 1812, but lived much of his life in London. Although he died in Kent, his remains lie in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey where he was buried on 14 June 1870. The city fed his imagination and Dickens spent decades reproducing London’s streets, sights, smells, sounds and people in his many written works.

    As part of the 2012 bicentennial celebrations mentioned in the previous blog, the Museum of London has created a stunning exhibition celebrating Dickens’ links with the capital. Exhibits are drawn not just from the Museum’s own extensive collections, but from museums and archives across Britain. There are also particularly notable items, such as Dickens’ writing desk, from private collections.

                  Copyright Museum of London

    From 1822, when the Dickens family settled in Camden, to 1860 when the author took permanent residence at his Kent home of Gad’s Hill Place, London was his home. He explored it by day and, often, by night. As he walked mile after mile he planned stories in his head. Visitors to the Museum can hear a reading of Night Works, Dickens’ description of London after dark, whilst watching William Raban’s 19 minute specially-commissioned film, The Houseless Shadow, made in October 2011.

    Throughout those four decades, Dickens’ life changed dramatically. He went from schoolboy and then impoverished son of a prison inmate to the greatest celebrity of his time. His peers changed from workhouse orphans working alongside him at the blacking factory by Hungerford Stairs to famous authors, millionaires and aristocrats from across Europe and the United States.

    Hungerford Stairs 1830 by John Harley. Copyright Museum of London

    Hungerford Market, 1830 by John Thomas Smith © Museum of London

    It is thus remarkable that the Dickens and London exhibition captures so much of his own varied life along with the lives of his characters. We see blacking pots, for example, like those Dickens’ worked with in his childhood employment, sitting not far from the author’s bank ledger – a reminder of his later riches. There are displays on the theatre, which Dickens adored, including a footlight from Wilton’s Music Hall. Also featured are themes of childhood, death, transport, wealth and poverty.

    Dickens London Map © Museum of London

    Copyright Museum of London

    The full geographical area of the capital is covered: there is ‘A copy of Verses from the Year 1835, humbly presented to all the worthy inhabitants of the Parish of St Pancras’ in the north to household items excavated in 1996 from Jacob’s Island in Rotherhithe in the south east. St Pancras parish included Camden where Dickens lived and which inspired scenes from David Copperfield, A Christmas Carol and A Tale of Two Cities. Jacob’s Island is probably most associated with scenes from Oliver Twist, particularly that of the dramatic death of villainous Bill Sykes.

    Unlike in the British Library exhibition, the displays here are concerned with Dickens’ world – what many refer to as ‘Dickensian London’ – rather than a detailed focus on what he wrote. However, this does not detract from its success. And those who are interested in how Dickens wrote will delight in the presence of three original manuscripts: Dombey & Son (1847) and Bleak House (Nov 1851) from the Victoria & Albert Museum,

    Dickens's Manuscript for Bleak House © V&A images/Victroia and A

    Bleak House manuscript. Copyright V&A Images

    and Great Expectations (1861) lent by the Wisbech and Fenland Museum. Visitors can also experience Dickens’ work like its first readers by flicking through a replica copy of an instalment of Little Dorrit (Copyright V&A Images).

    Little Dorrit partwork © Museum of London

    I once researched a family who lived around the corner from Charles Dickens in Holborn. One of my first thoughts was did he ever know them or see them? Did they inspire any of the characters in his novels or short stories? Although it is almost impossible to find out, this reminded me that many of those who inspired Dickens are the ancestors of people living today. That specific family would have recognized a watchman’s box in the centre of the exhibition, that stood outside Dickens’ old home at Furnival’s Inn – the home that neighboured theirs.

    For family historians who have at least one ancestor who lived in London between 1820 and 1870, therefore, Dickens’ writing is a unparalleled source of relevant social and domestic detail. This exhibition provides an extension of that. The exhibits bring Dickensian London alive.

    Overall, for anyone with even a passing interest in either Dickens or the social history of Victorian London, this exhibition is not to be missed.

    Useful Links 

    www.Dickens2012.org

    http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/dickens

    http://www.dickensmuseum.com/

    http://charlesdickenspage.com/dickens_london.html

    http://charlesdickenspage.com/ruth_richardson-cleveland_street_workhouse.html

    http://www.bfi.org.uk/whatson/bfi_southbank/film_programme/january_seasons/dickens_on_screen

    http://twitter.com/Dickensbookclub

    Dickens and London tickets

    Adult £8 (£7 advance booking);Child/concession £6 (£5 advance booking);Under 5s FREE; Friends of the Museum FREE; Flexible family tickets are also available

  2. Not on ancestry: London parish registers #3 St Benet and All Saints Church

    st-benet-front

    This continues the description of Camden parishes not found on www.ancestry.co.ukTo help visualise where in London these are, take a look at the outline map of St Pancras parishes in 1903 at http://homepages.gold.ac.uk/genuki/MDX/StPancras/outline.htm

    Walk from St Mary Brookfield downhill into Kentish Town and you will find St Benet & All Saints in Lupton Street, towering over the backstreets. Like St Mary’s and St Anne’s Brookfield it is a High Victorian church with a High Anglican heritage. Situated at the north end of Kentish Town, bordering the modern borough of Islington, the church was originally part of the civil parish of St Pancras and the Pancras registration district. At the front of the church is a small raised garden, which is open for public use. The church is also referred to as St. Benet and All Saints Lady Margaret Road, Kentish Town. [1881/85] but it is not included in London Metropolitan Archives’ (LMA) records.

    The reason for the confused date of 1881/85 is that the parish has its origins in a mission church built on a small field given by St. John’s College, Cambridge “near a pond just off the Brecknock Road”. Father Frank Rowland opened the original church on 17th July 1881, but it was soon outgrown by its congregation. Eventually, this chapel became the church hall.

    The main church was designed by Joseph Peacock of Bloomsbury in 1884 and built quickly, with the foundation stone being laid on 13th June 1885. The saint’s name was chosen with reference to the Church of St. Benet’s, Paul’s Wharf, Queen Victoria Street – itself a corruption of St Benedict. The then vicar, Frank Oakley Rowland, consecrated the church only months later on All Saints’ Eve. Within a few years, the church’s hastily constructed foundations and a spring under the church, were creating several structural problems.

    In October 1908, the architects, Bodley and Hare, built a permanent chancel. But by 1925, the foundations of the whole were so unstable that the decision was made to take down the nave and rebuild it. London County Council condemned the old nave in November 1927. However, thanks to a legacy from a rich investor, Jeannette Elizabeth Crossthwaite (1845-1923), and “gifts of the faithful”, a new nave, with no aisles, was built in 1928 – again by Cecil G Hare. This was consecrated in November of that year by the Bishop of Willesden.  By the time of her death, Miss Crossthwaite was living at 51 St Charles Square, Notting Hill, but in 1871 she had been living at 106 Brecknock Road – not far from the site of St Benet.

    Today St Benet’s is the parish church of Kentish Town. Kentish Town CofE Primary School in Islip Street (originally Kentish Town National School) is connected, and there are some records relating to this school at LMA http://search.lma.gov.uk The parish registers for St Benet and All Saints continue to be retained by the church. The church’s own website http://www.saintbenets.org.uk/ contains further details.

    For more on the social classes of the parish in 1898-9, see the following page from Charles Booth’s Archive is at http://booth.lse.ac.uk/cgi-bin/do.pl?sub=view_booth_only&args=528970,185490,2,large,1

    Vicars:

    1881 Frank Oakley Rowland (perpetual curate)

    1887 Herbert Edward Hall

    1901 George Villiers Briscoe

    1906 Henry Tristram Valentine

    1913 Robert Caledon Ross

    1925 Harry Herbert Coleman Richardson

    1947 Cecil Eskholme Charlton

    Sources: the history section on http://www.saintbenets.org.uk/; Survey of London: volume 24: The parish of St Pancras part 4: King’s Cross Neighbourhood , Walter H. Godfrey and W. McB. Marcham (editors), 1952; John Richardson, A History of Camden: Hampstead, Holborn and St Pancras (Historical Publications Ltd, 1999); Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 4: North (Penguin) 1998; Camden Listed Buildings website; http://www.londongardensonline.org.uk

     st-benet-plaque

    st-benet-side-2

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