DICKENS, Charles (1812-1870)
Plaque erected in 1903 by London County Council at 48 Doughty Street, Holborn, London WC1N 2LX, London Borough of Camden
Journalism and Publishing, Literature
CHARLES DICKENS 1812-1870 Novelist Lived Here
In the popular imagination, the city of London is still held in thrall to the pen of Charles Dickens. His residence in the city he so famously portrayed is commemorated with a blue plaque at 48 Doughty Street in Bloomsbury. While living there from 1837 to 1839, Dickens wrote several of his early novels, including Oliver Twist.
YOUNG AND FAMOUS
Dickens moved to number 48 from Furnival Chambers, Holborn, in March 1837, paying the substantial sum of £80 a year in rent. His newfound wealth – having previously lived in down-at-heel Somers Town as a child – was owing to the sensational success of his first novel, The Pickwick Papers, the first instalment of which had appeared a year earlier in March 1836. The serial was published as a companion to comic sketches, drawn at first by Robert Seymour and then by Hablot Knight Browne, who was to illustrate Dickens’ works for the next 23 years.
While living at Doughty Street, Dickens completed The Pickwick Papers (1837-38), wrote two new works – Oliver Twist (1837–38) and Nicholas Nickleby (1838–39) – and made a start on Barnaby Rudge (1841). He also forged friendships with several important figures in the arts, including the actor William Charles Macready and Thomas Carlyle, and secured election to both the Garrick and Athenaeum clubs.
Carlyle’s impression of Dickens from this time was that he was ‘a quiet, shrewd-looking, little fellow, who seems to guess pretty well what he is and what others are’.
TWO BIRTHS AND A DEATH
Dickens lived at the house with his wife Catherine (1816–79) and her younger sister, Mary Hogarth (1820–37). However the same year they moved in Mary died suddenly at the age of 17 in Dickens’s arms. Dickens was so traumatised by her death he was unable to write – the only hiatus in his long and prolific writing career.
Two daughters – Mary (1838–96) and Kate (1839–1929) – were born to Charles and Catherine Dickens in Doughty Street, and the favourable sales of Nickleby enabled him to move his growing family in December 1839 to a larger house – 1 Devonshire Terrace, Marylebone High Street. The property was controversially demolished in 1958, along with its London City Council plaque.
The blue wreathed tablet of 1903 pre-dates the opening of the house as a museum to Dickens in 1925, prior to which it had been under threat of demolition. Externally, 48 Doughty Street remains substantially as it was during Dickens’s time while internally the museum contains much to interest the Dickens aficionado, including the desk at which he wrote many of his books.