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Dickens House at Doughty Street London

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Map of Doughty Street in London

Dickens House at Doughty Street London

Dickens lived in various London locations, including an upmarket house in Fitzroy Street, another place in Westminster, and in 1822, a little house in Bayham Street, Camden Town. The family were poor, and Dickens' father ended up arrested and imprisoned for his unpaid debts. Dickens was sent to work in a boot-blacking factory, where for a time, he worked alongside a boy called Bob Fagin, putting labels on bottles of boot polish. Later, however, he was able to continue the education he had broken off during his family's poverty, and after two years at Wellington House academy, he joined a law firm in Holborn Court as a junior clerk.

It was writing, however, that would transform Dickens' financial prospects. After the success of his early stories and sketches, Dickens was commissioned to write a story to accompany a series of sporting cartoons, a project which would grow into The Pickwick Papers and which gave him enough solvency, in 1836, to marry. So, Dickens and Catherine Hogarth were married at St Luke's church in Chelsea. When Catherine became pregnant with their first child, the couple moved to Dickens' most famous residence at 48 Doughty Street.

The move, from poky rented quarters to a porter-manned home on a private street was perhaps as great a leap as Dickens' writing career took, serialising both Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby simultaneously over the next two years. This short period also marked a transition in his work from the straightforwardly comic purpose of Pickwick to the social reforming overtones of Twist and Nickleby. This was the period of Dickens' imposing himself on literary society. He developed friendships with poets and novelists, most notably, Thomas Carlyle, and was elected to the Garrick and Athenaeum clubs. When his third child was born, however, he moved to a larger house at Devonshire Terrace in Regent's Park, and soon after began his first lecture tour of America, an occupation which would keep him away from England for long periods at a time.

The house at Doughty Street was saved from demolition in 1923, and is now the Dickens House Museum. It holds a collection of rare Dickens memorabilia, including manuscripts, rare editions and paintings as well as original items of furniture. Each of the rooms over four floors is decorated in the Victorian style, with items once belonging to Dickens himself. The Museum also houses a research library which keeps an additional photographic collection, and can be used by appointment.

© David Thorley, 2007

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