One of the most interesting museums I’ve been in is most assuredly the Charles Dickens museum in Bloomsbury. A little diamond, close to King’s Cross Station, is the house Charles Dickens occupied at 48 Doughty Street for almost three years. His unassuming residence is almost hidden, save for a sign at the beginning of the road and the blue plaque sitting outside his house.
Charles Dickens, along with Jane Austen, are among my favourite writers, so when I found out about the museum, I thought it would be a great idea to visit! And was I right! The museum is open daily apart from Mondays, but once a month they do a housemaid’s tour, which is informative and entertaining at the same time. So, I booked a ticket for the Housemaid’s Tour on a dreary and cold Sunday morning and decided to go for it.
Let me tell you, it was amazing! The house is well-kept and cared for and is a cultural experience, as soon as you step in it. You have the feel of entering another era, just after the housemaid opens the door. In three floors plus the basement and the ground floor, this house is a typical house of the era. On the ground floor, there’s a dining room and a morning room, where Catherine Dickens used to deal with household matters and welcome visitors and with the drawing room on the first floor and the servants room on the third floor, I think this is a residence reflecting the early Victorian England.
But, let me give you a tour, resembling the one our lovely housemaid Susan (whose name apparently isn’t Susan; she was born as Jane) gave us. First stop was at the Dickens’ bedroom, where Charles and Catherine shared a bed. Astonishing I know, but at the first years of their marriage, young Mr. Dickens and his wife were happy together. Right next to the bedroom is the dressing room, where Dickens himself washed, shaved and dressed. Close to the master bedroom is Mary Hogarth, his sister-in-law’s, bedroom. Mary Hogarth died tragically some months after the Dickens’ moved in and affected Charles Dickens in such a profound way, that he was unable to write for a long time. As Susan explained, they went to the theatre and after they came back Mary wasn’t feeling well and she died in the morning, a young girl of just 17. Such a tragedy to befall the couple!
On the first floor, the visitor can find the drawing room and Dickens’ study. In the drawing room, Charles and Catherine Dickens entertained their visitors, because Charles established a wealthy social life when he first moved in 48 Doughty Street. You can even see his reading desk, where he possibly performed episodes from his novels, that allowed him to show his hands and body, so as to stay as close as possible to the characters he was playing. Next is Dickens’ study. Oh my God, the books! Beautiful tomes, some of them presented to him by his publishers and most of them various editions of his works, magazines and foreign editions. We can say that this was his kingdom and the place where the Pickwick Papers was finished and Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby were written. This is where his prolific work started and you are so conscious about it.
On the ground floor, is the entrance hall, with the dining room and the morning room. On the dining table there’s some fine china that I was deeply jealous of! Invitations for dinner were always sent, as Dickens wanted to be surrounded by his friends, probably because of his humble origins and the years he spent working at Warren’s Blacking Warehouse to support his family who were imprisoned at the Marshalsea debtors’ prison. This is the site that inspired him to write Little Dorrit of course. The morning room was in turn Mrs. Dickens’ kingdom. As Susan helpfully let us know, she wasn’t competent in household matters and her master had to teach her the ways. However, there was love in the family, reflected on the paintings shown there: of Charles Dickens, Catherine Dickens and their second daughter, Katey.
Down in the basement is the kitchen, scullery, washhouse and wine cellar. Very depressing-looking, they all show that the masters didn’t go there often. The washhouse copper was used to wash linen, but also interestingly to heat water for baths and steam puddings. In A Christmas Carol, Dickens describes a scene where Mrs Cratchit emerges from the washhouse with the Christmas pudding.
Along with the nursery and the servants room, this is a museum worth looking in to. Containing things that played a role in the Dickens’ daily life, the house provides a glimpse of the era and the daily life of an author that is still influential. To think that his career started within these walls and he was inspired to write and complete not only the three novels (The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby), but others as well, is mindbongling! Visiting the museum is a must for anyone and joining the housemaid’s tour is worth-it, in my opinion. However, you can just grad the museum guide and let yourself immerse in early Victorian London, without the sound of carriages!
The Housemaid’s Tour is available for booking here
You can also join the Oliver Twist walk starting from The Charles Dickens Museum.