In a quieter part of London, nestled near the middle of a quaint little street is a lovely place that not many people seem to know about. 48 Doughty Street was Charles Dickens’ home from 1837 to 1839 and is the location where he wrote The Pickwick Papers, Nicholas Nickleby and Oliver Twist. It is now the Charles Dickens Museum, where I have been volunteering for the last few months. This may make you think I’m biased in its favour, but it’s genuinely a wonderful place, and here are five reasons you should give it a visit if you get the chance.
1. The museum is not just a collection of Dickens’ belongings, but a carefully curated experience.
Upon walking in, visitors will see letters written by Dickens hanging on one wall, and items such as maps, posters and playbills on the other, all of which relate to Dickens’ life (and to London at the time) in some way. The exhibitions in each room are designed to give you an understanding of what life would have been like at the time — not only for Dickens, but for his household as well. The furniture and everyday items are complemented by decor that forms a narrative. As you move from one room to other, there is an almost lived-in feel to the place; it’s not just a museum building or a house. It’s a home.
2. You are free to create your own experience.
Whilst there is a recommended order in which to look through the rooms, visitors are not obligated to follow this. You can look around at their own leisure and I have seen some spend hours perusing whilst others have been in and out in less than thirty minutes flat. If you take the time, though, each item on display has a certain significance you can find out about.
The reception also sells audio guides that enhance the whole experience and leave you with little kernels of knowledge you can use to impress strangers. Otherwise, the volunteers on duty are also vastly knowledgeable about many aspects of Dickens’ life.
3. Many of Dickens’ possessions are on display.
Maybe it’s the inner literature-fanatic in me speaking, but the prospect of seeing Dickens’ desk right in front of me, close enough to touch (but please don’t actually touch; you’d be surprised how many people need to be told that) will never cease to be exciting.
There are many items — ranging from paper knives and change purses to armchairs and cabinets — that Dickens owned at different points of his life. As mentioned before, you can also find some of his correspondences — so you get to see what his handwriting looked like. (He had a very swirly signature.)
As a bonus, photography is also allowed (without flash).
4. There are additional events held in the venue throughout the year.
Apart from the usual displays, the museum also hosts events such as tours around London and special exhibitions, as well as a housemaid’s tour around the house that happens every three weeks. Each special exhibition has a different theme so you can gain more in-depth insight about a specific aspect of Dickens’ life and work (whereas the house itself gives you a more general feel of things).
5. Finally, there is a cafe and a gift shop.
Whilst entry to the actual museum is ticketed, visitors are free to explore the cafe and gift shop. For those who can’t resist a souvenir or two, the gift shop has a range of merchandise from books to bags to postcards. There are also items related to the current special exhibition.
The cafe is set in a lovely little garden. It’s especially nice to settle into with a cup of tea and some cake after going up and down all those stairs in the museum (please note though, most of the building is access friendly). Otherwise, it’s just a quiet place to pass the afternoon.
And those are five reasons I think you should visit the Charles Dickens Museum. Let me know: have you been there before, or do you plan to visit? Are there any similar attractions you know of, because I would love to know about them.
If you would like more information on the museum, you can visit their website here.
Thank you for reading, and until next time.