10 ways to have a Dickens of a Happy Christmas in London
Guest blog post by Chris Osburn at tikichris – part of the Festive Tube Map series
I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach! – Ebenezer Scrooge (A Christmas Carol)
It’s time for another Christmas in London. Bah humbug? Nothing of the sort! London is a wonderful place to be during the festive season. And as an American expat living here, nothing’s more Christmassy than A Christmas Carol by one of this city’s greatest writers, Charles Dickens. A great way to get into the Yuletide mood while sightseeing in London is to visit some of its sites that were key to understanding Dickens and his era.
Not so much one for literary scholars but one for everyday folks keen to explore London and view it through a Dickensian lens, here’s a list of ten places – some world famous others not even all that well known among lifelong Londoners – to visit for a Dickens of a great Christmas.
Queen Victoria was the first British monarch to use Buckingham Palace as an official royal residence. Although she and Dickens came from very different backgrounds, they were two of the best known personalities during their day. It is said of the Queen that she was a fan of the novelist and that she read a number of his works and even attended a performance of plays he directed early in his career. Dickens met with Queen Victoria at least once at Buckingham Palace in 1870, three months before his death. While there, why not check out the current exhibition in the Queen’s Gallery.
Houses of Parliament
As a teen, Dickens worked as a Parliamentary reporter. His time spent as a political journalist was fundamental to shaping his views and writing style.
Charles Dickens is buried in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey with only a small stone with simple inscription reading “Charles Dickens/Born 7th February 1812/Died 9th June 1870” marking the spot.
Red Lion Inn
Dickens was known to have enjoyed a tipple here, as did characters in some of his stories. Even young David Copperfield asked for glass of the Genuine Stunning Ale and received it with a kiss.
Obviously this popular family attraction wasn’t around during Dickens’ time, but with its The Ghost of Christmas live action ghost story running now until the 5th of January and promising “a wintery whodunnit full of scares and surprises”, a visit here might be just the thing to get into the spirit!
Covent Garden Christmas Lights
Oliver Twist, Pip, John Trotter and more characters from Dickens’ novels passed through here, as certainly the writer did himself. Today, Covent Garden is an excellent place to take in the best of London old and new. And with its annual Christmas Lights and related festivities, now is a perfect time to pay a visit.
Charles Dickens Museum
Located at 48 Doughty Street where Dickens lived from 1837 to 1839, the Charles Dickens Museum is a must-see destination for a thorough and historically accurate opportunity to learn about the fascinating life and times of the famed author.
Dickens was no stranger to this now hip and trendy quarter of London. Nor were his colourful characters. Clerkenwell Green is where Fagin (who’s den was just up the street at Saffron Hill) and the Artful Dodger taught the innocent Oliver Twist how to pickpocket. Round the corner on Sekforde Street is the Finsbury Savings Bank, where Charles Dickens used to do his banking.
For a bit of extra Christmas cheer, check out this year’s Snowman performance at Sadler’s Wells theatre which promises reindeer, Father Christmas and loads of Christmas adventure.
Old Spitalfields Market
Perhaps no area of London retains as much of a Dickensian feel as the East London area of Spitalfields. Check out the Old Spitalfields Market on Thursdays and Sundays, rove the backstreets around Petticoat Lane and see the cosmopolitan melting pot that is London in full glory along Brick Lane. This market also makes for the ideal spot to pick out unique and quirky Christmas gifts if you are lacking in inspiration this year!
Not actually ever visited by Dickens, this restyled and reconstructed 18th century pub on the water at St Katharine Docks and restaurant was opened in 1976 by Cedric Charles Dickens, the great grandson of the writer who firmly believed “My Great Grandfather would have loved this inn”.
Please, sir, I want some more. – Oliver Twist (Oliver Twist)
Has this brief list have you hankering for a full-on immersion into all things Dickens? To be sure there are many more places in London related to the famous author and his prolific work. Among the many excellent resources out there about Charles Dickens is the highly recommendable David Perdue’s Charles Dickens Page.