Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. Dickens London. Oliver Twist.
With your back to Dr Johnson’s House, go diagonally right across Gough Square, turning right at the statue of Dr Johnson’s cat. On arrival at the flower bed, bear left and then right into Wine Office Court, where a little way along on the left the surging tide of modern urbanity is suddenly repelled by a time-worn step that delivers you into a true gem of bygone London:-
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
Rebuilt in 1667, this rambling tavern of creaking floors, cosy rooms and snug corners, possesses a timeless ambience that keeps the contemporary world firmly at bay. Portraits of those who have worked and supped here over the centuries gaze fondly down from its dark wooden walls. Dr Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith, Mark Twain, Alfred Tennyson and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – to name but a few – have all ducked beneath its low beamed ceilings to absorb its 17th-century atmosphere. Dickens, too, was a regular, and the table to the right of the ground floor restaurant’s fireplace is said to have been his favoured place.
This is believed to have been the pub that Dickens had in mind when, following Charles Darnay’s acquittal on charges of high treason in A Tale of Two Cities, Sydney Carton invites him to dine: ‘Drawing his arm through his own’ Sydney leads him to Fleet Street ‘up a covered way, into a tavern… where Charles Darnay was soon recruiting his strength with a good plain dinner and good wine’.
Leave Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese and turn right along Wine Office Court. Bear diagonally left past the circular plant-bed, and keep ahead to turn left back into Gough Square. Pass behind the statue of Dr Johnson’s cat and turn right through the covered passageway into Gunpowder Square. Keep straight ahead onto Printer Street, right along Little New Street, left onto Shoe lane and cross to its right side. Keep ahead until the road divides and Shoe Lane continues under Holborn Viaduct.
To the right of this grimy, shabby thoroughfare once stood Field Lane where Fagin’s den was located in Oliver Twist. It was swept away by the Holborn Valley improvement when Holborn Viaduct, the world’s first flyover which crosses over Shoe lane, was built in the late 1860’s.