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  • Writer's pictureMemorySeekers

Charles Dickens - Room by Room Tour

We enter the museum at 49 Doughty St, next door to Dickens actual home, this cleverly allows for the shop and cafe to leave his actual property undisturbed by modern distractions.

Watch our full video guide here or continue with our blog version.

It is a typical Georgian terraced house which was his home from 25 March 1837 (a year after his marriage to Catherine) until December 1839. So less than 3 years.

We visited just before Christmas and the whole property has been dressed for a wonderful victorian Christmas.

Let’s move room by room starting in the basement.

The kitchen would have been Catherines domain, an accomplished cook and housekeeper; she published a book of recipes in 1851 entitled What shall we have for dinner that gives us insight into the sort of food the dickens would have eaten. Features things like lobster cutlets, rabbit curry, rice dumpling and mashed and brown potatoes. They also loved cheese and many recipes feature this ingredient.

December would have seen a hive of activity in the kitchen with food that we class now as traditional christmas fare, like turkey, plum pudding and mince pies actually being eaten all year round.

A hedgehog might well have been seen in the kitchen to eat insects that were constantly attaching the food. Hygiene was very important to victorians.

By the time Charles and Catherine left Doughty St they had three children under the age of three and employed four servants.

The preparation room as its name suggests was for preparing food and storing dry goods, as well as a place to store domestic items like candles. This property did not have gas lighting so they would have replied to oil lamps and candles.

The room is dressed to show some of the wonderful treats and puddings and jellies that would have been created here ready to head up to the dining room.

Through the window you can catch a glimpse of the wine cellar that Charles used to lavish fine wines on his guests but more importantly it was a cool dark place to store his rare Madeira wines.

This tiny wash house is where clothes and water was heated for the house. The brick cooper in the corner had a copper bowl and wooden lid heated with coals underneath.

Interestingly Dickens mentions a cooper in A Christmas Carol where the Crachet family boiled their christmas pudding.

Heading up the ground floor we arrive at the front door and grand hallway that dickens once walked. The museum holds a large collection of personal belongings, portraits, and original manuscripts, and you can see some of these on the hall walls and in the corridor. Here his cane, a bag, and money purse amongst other things.

The 8 day chiming clock made by London clockmaker John Bennett is still in working order today.

Just off the hallway is the lavis dining dress today for Christmas day.

Charles was only 25 when he moved into the house, his fortunes changed from his early life and becoming a literary sensation, this dining room would have been an ideal place for intimate social occasions, to wine and dine journalists, authors and many leading artists. Catherine would have been a busy, glamorous hostess juggling family life with the fame her husband was gaining. They rented the property for £80 a year on a three year lease.

Moving into the Morning room, this was used mainly for Catherine and the Children. She would deal with household matters, spend time with the children, welcome visitors or write a letter. Charles travelled all the time and so Catherine would write to him. Many of the letters give us a sense of how happy they were in those early days. Of course we know they would ultimately separate in 1858.

There are young portraits of the couple in this room. You can also see some personal items of Catherines including a copy of her recipe book.

The elegant staircase takes us from the hallway up to the first floor,

The phrase Deck the Halls, meaning to decorate for christmas has been put into practice in the house and here on the banisters as they are dressed in holly ivy and bows. Victorians would often collect or buy greenery to make garlands, centerpieces and door wreaths for the festive period.

On this floor, we have the drawing room and study and here you can cross back into 49 Doughty street so see an exhibition called Technicolour Dickens a new addition to mark the 150th Anniversary of his passing including new colourised portraits.

The exhibition shows how images of Dickens were consumed and circulated throughout his life and following his death. As well as clothing, personal items and descriptions by those who knew and saw him.

After dinner guests would retire to the drawing room for drinks and entertainment. Dancing, music amater dramatics and parlour games were popular pastimes for the dickens. The christmas tree is set in this room, decorated in handcrafted wooden decorations and presents neatly wrapped under the tree ready for the big day.

The original reading desk that Dickens used when delivering his public readings can be viewed in this room. He designed it himself and even took it on tour with him to America in 1867.

The study is probably the most important room in the house. In this room Dickens completed Pickwick Papers, wrote Oliver Twist and Nicolas Nickleby.

Filled with a vast collection of books, many now showcasing his life's work, Charles had a strict routine, writing from breakfast till lunch he might then visit his club or work on one of his charitable ventures or even take a long walk.

The desk and chair are from a later property he owned and was purchased into the collection from a private owner in 2015. Writing on this desk Charles wrote much of his later works, Great Expectation, A Tale of two Cities and his final unfinished work, Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Moving to the second floor,we arrive at the small dressing room of Charles. Here he washed and shaved and dressed himself. He always dressed well and commented how you feel better when so. This court suit is this only surviving example of Dickens clothing and he only wore it once for a special occasion hosted by Edward Prince of Wales.

The Dickens bedroom is dominated by the grand 4 poster bed, Catherine gave birth to Mary and Katy in doughty street they would ultimately have 10 children by the time they separated in 1858.

On the vanity desk are articles relating to the separation and a serpent ring owned by Catherine. There is a large mirror in the room, Dickens was known for impersonating his fictional characters to get to know them better, he may well have done so in front of this one.

The Dickens room experienced a tragic event in THe Mary Hogarth room. Mary was Catherine’s sister and lived with them for a year. After a theatre trip Mary returned home collapsed and died of a heart failure.

This shocked the household and affected Charles for the rest of his life. As a result of Hogarth's death, Charles missed the publication dates for The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist.

Also in this room is an open draw relating to the Death of Charles.

This includes a copy of his unfinished work as mentioned earlier, a lock of hair and the remains of a rose that was placed on his grave.

Moving on from this sad room we climb the last flight of stairs to arrive in the nursery and servants quarters. The children slept and played in this room. Charles was an affectionate father, and spent as much time as he could with them when not traveling. He had fun nicknames for each of them.

Part of the nursery is taken up with artifacts from Charles difficult early life. His father was sent to prison for debt in 1824 and Charles at the age of 12 was forced to work at warren’s blacking factory. He pasted labels and tops on bottles.

The servants quarter was a basic but spacious room and the house maid would have slept in here. The walls are littered with quotes from Dickens campaigns for the working class.

Charles Dickens Died at the age of 58, on the 8th June 1870 having suffered ill health for many years. He is buried in poets corner at Westminster abbey.

If you would like to visit 48 Doughty St then visit this website for further details and booking information.

You can also watch out full video virtual guide to his home


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