Forget the dilapidation of Satis House and the misery of Mr Bumble's workhouse. Set aside the Dickensian doom and see the elegance and sophistication of Dickens' only surviving London home. As the family residence from 1837–1839, a trip here feels like a visit to someone's home rather than a museum. 48 Doughty Street has been restored to the state Dickens knew it. It is a pleasure to imagine the 25-year-old literary figure pacing the drawing room, working on Oliver Twist or Nicholas Nickleby; two books he wrote at this time.
A booklet provides a summary of each room and information on key features; the dining room table is beautifully set, ready to entertain Dickens' contemporaries. Commemorative plates show the influential figures that would have sat round this table, like William M. Thackaray. Sound recordings set the scene for a lively, social atmosphere; Dickens' footsteps clumping across the floorboards, out the door and onto the street. It is this moment in which it appears the writer has left the house, leaving you to have a good nose around. That is the intention; to give the sense that Dickens has popped out, and might return at any moment.
Here you can learn about Catherine Dickens' cold custard puddings, and other interesting facts about Victorian living. In the basement kitchen – and wine cellar discover the domestic uses of hedgehogs, commonly kept to eat insects that made their way into the kitchen. The infestation of vermin was a constant battle in the Victorian household. Extracts from his novels, displayed in the kitchen, illustrate how Dickens' home life informed his work.
In the washroom, you will see how the copper commonly used to wash clothes was also used for making the Christmas pudding. We are reminded of an excited Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol, listening to the pudding ''singing in the copper''.
Upstairs in the more refined drawing room, Dickens would regularly perform to an audience. On display is the plinth he made from which to read his creations to his fellow cultured acquaintances. You can sit and listen to extracts from Dickens' novels, as recordings by Simon Callow recreate the theatrical atmosphere.
Upstairs again is the bedroom where Catherine gave birth to two girls, and next door his beloved sister-in-law Mary Hogarth's room. It's in this room that Mary died unexpectedly at just 17; a tragedy Dickens struggled with throughout his life. Other items in the bedrooms relate to death, including a delicate sketch by J. E. Millais of the writer dead in his bed.
Hardships Dickens saw during his childhood are acknowledged. He spent a miserable period at Warren's blacking warehouse while his father was imprisoned at Marshalsea debtors' prison, from where a prison grille is now installed in the nursery.
Whilst the museum does acknowledge these darker events in Dickens' life, there is little commentary on Dickens' complexities as a husband and father. Many have heard of his attempt to separate himself from Catherine by building a wall across their bedroom. The focus rather is on Dickens as a rising literary figure – it was here that his fame rocketed – rather than a critical look at the works or psyche of the man.
The house is spotless, not a sign of clutter, and the well-shined floorboards make you want to take your boots off. It seems almost inconceivable that so many people were active here; friends, family, children and staff. This is not a criticism; the museum has a tranquil beauty that achieves a real sense of place. You will find no distracting interactives here. The subtle sound recordings are effective and the written text sits well amongst the furnishings.
Picturing Dickens and his family within these walls really does enhance our view of the life he led. The information provided is basic but informative, and the strength of the museum lies in the evocative atmosphere it achieves. A few rooms are dimly lit, making some features tricky to see. The variety of delicate materials on display make low lighting essential, but choosing to visit on a bright morning rather than a wintery afternoon would help. Perhaps we should embrace a Dickensian fondness for darkness. For Scrooge at least, darkness is after all, cheap.
The Charles Dickens Museum in London holds the world's most important Dickens collection with over 100,000 items including manuscripts, rare editions, personal items, paintings and other visual sources.
Based in 48 Doughty Street, the author’s only surviving London house, we offer visitors the chance to experience what Dickens’s home would have been like and learn more about the great novelist and social commentator.
Number 48 Doughty Street was an important place in the Charles Dickens's life where he lived from 1837 until 1839. He described it as 'my house in town'.
Two of his daughters were born here, his sister-in-law Mary died aged 17 and some of his best-loved novels were written here, including Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. However Dickens required more space for his growing family and moved to 1 Devonshire Terrace in 1839. The house remained a residential property, but was threatened with demolition in 1923, when the Dickens Fellowship acquired it. The Museum was opened in 1925 and has become the world’s finest Dickens-related collection.
The Museum is a registered charity (No. 212127) and governed by an independent Trust.
Children (6-16): £4
Under 6: Free
Charles Dickens Museum48 Doughty Street
London Greater London United Kingdom WC1N 2LX
Telephone: 020 7405 2127
10:00 - 17:00 (Last admission 16:00)