Dickens London walk that takes you to Temple Bar. A Tale of Two Cities. Sweeney Todd.
Your Dickens London walk continues around Lincoln's Inn Fields and goes by way of Bell Yard to Fellet Street where we view a building that features in A Tale of Two Cities. We also touch upon the grisly tale of Sweeney Todd.
Backtrack to Lincoln’s Inn Fields and turn right. Keep ahead until you arrive at the classical, Ionic- columned frontage of:-
The Royal College of Surgeons. The building was originally built by George Dance and James Lewis between 1806 and 1813. In 1835 it was completely rebuilt by Sir Charles Barry, although he did keep the grand portico with its giant Ionic columns.
Commenting on the lawyers of Lincoln’s Inn, Mr Boythorn in Bleak House says that they should have their “necks wrung and their skulls arranged in Surgeon’s Hall, for the contemplation of the whole profession, in order that its younger members might understand from actual measurement in early life, how thick skulls may become!’ Today you can do likewise, as all manner of gruesomely fascinating artefacts and anatomical specimens - lawyers skulls excepted - are now on display and open to the public in the college’s two museums.
Continue ahead back towards the gate of Lincoln’s Inn, which you can see in the distance. Immediately before it, turn right into Serle Street, then left into Carey Street. The building that dominates its right side is The Royal Courts of Justice, comprising the Civil courts and also the appeal courts, both Civil and Criminal of England. They are open to the public but be warned that cameras are not allowed inside the building.
On the left you will pass The Seven Stars Pub, which dates back to 1602, and which is named for the seven provinces of the Netherlands. Immediately after the Royal Courts of justice, turn right into Bell Yard, which is the title of Chapter 15 in Bleak House and which has changed beyond recognition since Dickens described it as ‘a narrow alleyway.’
It was here that the four orphaned Neckett children lived in an upper room in Bleak House, cared for by the eldest, Charley, who goes out to do washing jobs to support her siblings. It was also in Bell Yard that Mrs Lovatt had her pie shop at which she sold the finest and tastiest meat pies in London, albeit the main ingredients were supplied by Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and consisted of his murdered clients!
Turn right and pause opposite the monument in the centre of the road. This is:-
Temple Bar. This pedestal, surmounted by a bronze griffin, marks the boundary between the Cities of London and Westminster and is the point at which Fleet Street ends and Strand begins. The Temple Bar that Dickens knew was removed 1878. In Bleak House he described it as ‘that leaden-headed old obstruction, appropriate ornament for the threshold of a leaden-headed old corporation.’ In 1888 the leaden-headed old obstruction was transferred to Theobald’s park in Hertfordshire and there lay largely forgotten and terribly neglected for over 100 years. But in 2004 it was brought back to central London, restored, and then re-erected next to St Paul’s Cathedral where it can be now be admired by all those who visit St Paul’s. The picture to the right shows Temple Bar at its new location.The statues of Queen Victoria and her son Edward as Prince of Wales are by Sir Edgar Boehm - who is reputed to have died in 1890 whilst in the process of making love with Edward’s sister, Princess Louise!
Cross over the road using the island on which Temple Bar stands. This is a very busy road so the utmost caution is called for. Directly opposite Temple Bar when you have crossed you will find:-
Childs Bank. This particular building dates from 1878, when its predecessor was demolished with the removal of Temple Bar. In A Tale of Two Cities Dickens renamed is Tellson’s Bank and described it thus:-
‘Tellson’s Bank by Temple Bar was an old-fashioned place even in the year 1780. It was very small, very dark, very ugly, very incommodious. Any one of the partners would have disinherited his son on the question of rebuilding Tellson’s. Thus it had come to pass that Tellson’s was the triumphant perfection of inconvenience. After bursting open a door of idiotic obstinacy with a weak rattle in its throat, you fell into Tellson’s, down two steps, and came to your senses in a miserable little shop, with two little counters; where the oldest of men made your cheque shake as if the wind rustled it, while they examined the signature by the dingiest of windows, which were always under a shower-bath of mud from Fleet Street, and which were made the dingier by their own iron bars proper and the shadow of Temple Bar.
It was outside Tellson’s bank that the mysterious Jerry Cruncher was wont to sit on the ‘wooden stool made out of a broken backed chair cut down.’ He was a character that was ‘as well known to Fleet Street and the Temple as the Bar itself - and almost as ill-looking.’