The London Dickens Knew. Pickwick Papers. Thomas Coram.
Backtrack along Shoe Lane and go sharp right onto St Andrew Street and at the top end, go right through the hedge and into the stunning interior of:-
St Andrew’s Church. Just inside the door is the tomb of Captain Thomas Coram who began the Foundling Hospital in 1742. Opposite is a memorial to surgeon William Marsden (1796–1867). In 1827, Marsden found a young woman dying on the steps of the church and was unable to get her admitted to any London hospital without a letter of recommendation. This led to him founding the Free Hospital in Greville Lane in 1828. Queen Victoria became its patron in 1837, and asked that it henceforth be known as ‘The Royal Free Hospital’, under which name it still operates in Hampstead.
Exit the church and cross over St Andrew Street, pausing by the trees to glance back at the church clock, just as Bill Sikes did in Oliver Twist, whilst telling Oliver it was ‘hard upon seven! You must step out’. Turning your back on the clock, go right along St Andrew Street, cross the road and bear left over New Fetter Lane onto Holborn. Go over the crossing and veer left along the right side of the road until you arrive at the soaring red brick pile of the Prudential Building. Turn right through its gates and cross to the tiny porch on the opposite side.
A somewhat raddled looking bust of Charles Dickens gazes dolefully out from a Perspex case. The Prudential Building stands on the site of Furnival’s Inn, where Dickens lived from 1834 to 1837. During this time he began Pickwick Papers the work that set him on the road to literary fame.
The book was actually the idea of Robert Seymour (1798–1836), one of the most popular comic illustrators of the 1830s. In the autumn of 1835, he approached the publishers Chapman and Hall with a series of sketches he had drawn depicting the mishaps of a group of comical cockneys known as the ‘Nimrod Club’. The publishers, who had asked several authors to write the captions without success, contacted the young journalist Charles Dickens, who was starting to make a name for himself with his Sketches. From the outset Dickens was determined to keep overall control of the project, which was re-named Pickwick Papers, much to Seymour’s consternation.
On 17th April, 1836, Dickens invited Seymour to ‘take a glass of grog’ at his lodgings in Furnival’s Inn. The meeting, the only time the two men actually met, was tense, as Dickens demanded that Seymour change one of his illustrations. Dickens tried to be conciliatory, but Seymour having suggested that a younger and more adaptable artist might ‘suit Mr Dickens better’, cut the meeting short and left. The next day, having worked on the new designs as requested, he left a note of apology to ‘the best and dearest of wives’, went into his garden shed, and shot himself through the head.
Dickens moved quickly to recover from the blow of Seymour’s death and set about finding a new illustrator. Among those who expressed an interest was William Makepeace Thackeray (1811–63), who would later become Dickens’s chief rival amongst the Victorian literati. However, the job went to Hablot Browne (1815–82) who, having adopted the pseudonym Phiz to match Dickens’s Boz, remained Dickens’s principal illustrator for the next 23 years.
Whilst living here Dickens married Catherine Hogarth and when Pickwick Papers proved a great success he was able to mov
Whilst living here Dickens married Catherine Hogarth and when Pickwick Papers proved a great success he was able to move to a large house that befitted his new-found wealth and status. It is now The Dickens House Museum and is a veritable shrine to his life and times. This walk will end at the Dickens House Museum. .