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.