Widely regarded as one of the greatest novelists in history, Charles Dickens is celebrated around the world for creating some of the best-known and most-loved fictional characters.
The city of London is central to so many of his finest works – Oliver Twist, Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities to name just a few – that there has probably been no other author so closely associated with the city.
Any Dickens fans should seize the opportunity to walk the same streets as the famous writer and visit these iconic Dickens locations.
St Luke’s Church, Chelsea
Address: Sydney Street, Chelsea, SW3 6NH
Nearest Tube Station: South Kensington (Circle, District, Piccadilly)
This is where Charles Dickens married his first and only wife – Catherine Thomson Hogarth – on April 2nd, 1836, two days after the publication of the first part of the Pickwick Papers, his first great success. The couple would go on to have ten children.
St Luke’s Church was an ambitious building for 1824, costing £40,000 to build and designed to fit 2,500 people. Today, the neo-gothic church has the tallest nave (the central part of a church building) of any parish church in London (60ft) and a tower that reaches 142ft.
48 Doughty Street
Nearest Tube Station: Russell Square (Piccadilly)
This Bloomsbury address was Dickens’ London home and where the author penned Oliver Twist, the Pickwick Papers and Nicholas Nickleby.
Dickens had a three-year lease on the building – at £80 a year – and it’s where he attracted international fame as one of the world’s greatest storytellers. Dickens and his wife Catherine moved into Doughty Street in 1837, and raised the first three of their ten children here.
These days, the building houses a museum dedicated to Dickens. Here, you’ll be able to set foot in the author’s study, where he wrote an extraordinary number of newspaper articles, journal essays, short stories and novels. There’s also a programme of special exhibitions, workshops, performances and talks on Dickens’ life, work and legacy.
The museum is usually open Tuesday to Sunday between 10am and 5pm, with last admission at 4pm.
Lincoln’s Inn Fields and Fleet Street
Nearest Tube Station: Temple (Circle, District)
Lincoln’s Inn Fields is the setting for much of the legal action in Bleak House, serving as the home of scheming lawyer Tulkinghorn.
Dickens wrote that the house ‘is let off in sets of chambers now and, in these shrunken fragments of its greatness, lawyers lie in maggots in nuts’.
David Copperfield’s great-aunt Betsey Trotwood also lived in the area and you can visit the Betsey – the pub named after her – in Clerkenwell at 56 Farringdon Road.
A few streets South-West of Lincoln’s Inn in Portsmouth Street is the Old Curiosity Shop. Although the shop didn’t receive its name until after the book of the same name was published, it is widely considered to have been a hefty inspiration.
Heading East along Fleet Street brings you to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, an atmospheric pub dating from 1667, which Dickens himself visited and alluded to in A Tale of Two Cities.
Saffron Hill (Clerkenwell)
Nearest Tube Station: Chancery Lane (Central)
Arguably the best-known of Victorian London’s slums is Saffron Hill. It was the setting for part of Oliver Twist, enclosing Fagin’s hideout on Field Lane (Turnmill Street and Clerkenwell Road), which Dickens slammed as ‘a dirty and more wretched place [Oliver] had never seen’.
He added: ‘The street was very narrow and muddy, and the air was impregnated with filthy odours.’
Covent Garden and Seven Dials
Nearest Tube Station: Covent Garden (Piccadilly)
A trip to Covent Garden should be on the to-do list of every first-time visitor to London but especially so for Dickens’ fans as the area is rife with Dickensian relevance.
Dickens set portions of many of his novels in the Covent Garden area. One example is Arthur Clennam from Little Dorrit, who lived in a dreary little flat in the area. From the upper stories of 26 Wellington Street, Dickens lived and ran his newspaper All the Year Round. Today, the address houses the Charles Dickens Coffeeshop.
The Seven Dials area was one of Victorian London’s famous slums, immortalised by Dickens in his Sketches by Boz essay ‘Seven Dials’.
He described it, writing: ‘The streets and courts dart in all directions until they are lost in the unwholesome vapour which hangs over the housetops, and renders the dirty perspective uncertain and confined. The poor heaped upon the floor like maggots in cheese.’
Today, Seven Dials is rich with theatres, restaurants and high-end boutiques. However, you’ll get a heavy flavour of what Dickens was getting at with the labyrinthine streets and its architecture.