Oliver Goldsmith Boz Prince henry's Room Dickens First Story


Proceed clockwise round the church and, having passed Goldsmith’s Buildings, stroll by the tombstones of the churchyard to the railing where you will find the grave of Oliver Goldsmith (1730–74).


Although Goldsmith was long dead by the time Dickens was born, he was one of his favourite boyhood authors and remained so for the rest of his life. Goldsmith’s only novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1762) was a great influence on Dickens’s early work, particularly Pickwick Papers. Dickens gave his youngest brother, Augustus, the nickname Moses, in honour of Moses Primrose the Vicar’s son. Forster in his life of Dickens explains how, when this nickname was ‘facetiously pronounced through the nose’ it became ‘Boses and being shortened became Boz’, which was the pseudonym that Dickens adopted in 1836, and under which much of his early work appeared.


Backtrack past Goldsmith’s Building and go right to exit the Inner Temple via the arched gateway. Almost immediately on the right is the entrance to:-

Prince Henry’s Room. This small yet beautifully preserved room dates from 1610, and was named after the eldest son of King James I. Originally a tavern called the Prince’s Arms, in Dickens’s childhood the building was occupied by Mrs Salmon’s Waxworks, which Charles certainly visited and to which ‘perspiring Wax Works’ he later sent David Copperfield.


Exit Prince Henry’s Room and turn right along Fleet Street. Pause outside the premises of the bankers Messrs Hoare and Co. to gaze across the road at:-


St Dunstan’s Church, whose magnificent clock, dating from 1671, is said to have been the first clock in London with a double-sided face, and the first to have the minutes marked on the dial. Its chief glory, however, lies in the two ancient giants that wearily lift their clubs every fifteen minutes and make half-hearted attempts to strike the bells. Sadly their efforts are frequently drowned out by the noise of the Fleet Street traffic. In David Copperfield, David and his aunt, Betsy Trotwood, make a special journey to witness the giants strike the bells, and time their visit ‘to catch them at it at twelve o’clock’. In 1830 the old church was demolished and the clock sold to the Marquis of Hertford who re-erected it at his house in Regent’s Park. Over 100 years would pass before, in 1935, the clock was returned.


Continue to the traffic lights. Cross over Fleet Street and a little way along on the right, dive into the grim, dark passageway named Hen and Chickens Court.


It admits you into a chilling, claustrophobic courtyard, where beneath your feet, hefty iron grilles cover precarious drops into mean looking cellars where all manner of horrors might be lurking. You are standing at the rear of 185 Fleet Street where Sweeney Todd ‘the Demon Barber’ had his premises. His murderous, though fictional, escapades first appeared in print in 1847, and so captured the public imagination, that he became the most successful of all the Victorian melodramas. His habit of murdering his clients and conveying them by way of an underground tunnel to nearby Bell Yard, where Mrs Lovett kept a meat pie shop, struck a chord with a reading public who were far more dependent on outside caterers than we are today!


Return to Fleet Street. Turn right, and enter the gates of St Dunstan’s. The present building dates only from 1829 to 1833, but is an excellent early example of Gothic Revival architecture. It was in the tower of this church that Toby Veck (known as ‘Trotty’ on account of his gait) was subjected to a sequence of visions in Dickens’s second Christmas book The Chimes.



It is worth going into the porch set back beyond the clock to view three of London’s oldest statues, which depict King Lud and his two sons. Lud was the legendary founder of London and these weatherworn statues once stood over Lud Gate (one of the medieval entrance points into London - Ludgate Hill, the road that runs down from St Paul‘s Cathedral commemorates it) until it was taken down in the 18th century. These statues now lie abandoned and forgotten in this quiet recess away from Fleet Street.


Continue along Fleet Street. Take the next right and pause outside the 17th-century gatehouse, which is all that survives of:-


Clifford’s Inn. Dickens, in Our Mutual Friend, has left an enduring, albeit uncomplimentary, portrait of it. John Rokesmith, having followed Mr Boffin along Fleet Street, asks if he would ‘object to turn aside into this place – I think it is called Clifford’s Inn – where we can hear one another better than in the roaring street?’ Mr Boffin ‘glanced into the mouldy little plantation, or cat-preserve, of Clifford’s Inn, as it was that day, in search of a suggestion. Sparrows were there, cats were there, dry rot and wet-rot were there, but it was not otherwise a suggestive spot.’


Backtrack along Fleet Street and continue past St Dunstan’s Church and keep ahead over Fetter Lane. Just past the bus stop bear left into:



Johnson’s Court, and follow it as it meanders between tall buildings of differing ages and styles. This twisting thoroughfare is perhaps one of the most important sites on the walk, for here stood the office of the Old Monthly Magazine, a small-circulation periodical in whose December 1833 issue Dickens’s first published story ‘A Dinner At Poplar Walk’ appeared.

Dickens later recalled how ‘stealthily one evening at twilight, with fear and trembling’ he had dropped the story ‘into a dark letter-box in a dark office up a dark court in Fleet – street’. When he found that they had published it, he was so overcome with emotion that he ‘walked down to Westminster Hall, and turned into it for half an hour, because my eyes were so dimmed with joy and pride that they could not bear the street, and were not fit to be seen there’. Although he received no payment for his work, he wrote a further nine stories for the magazine and thus took his first tentative steps to becoming the ‘inimitable Boz’.