Thursday , February 27 2020
Photo of Charles Dickens' study
Study Credit, Newangle Copyright, Charles Dickens Museum

Visiting the Charles Dickens Museum in London

Last month was my first time to visit London during the Christmas season. I was so excited to see all the holiday decorations in the city with my brother. It was also a perfect week for us to try out the Charles Dickens Museum, a lovely five-story brick home in Bloomsbury, London. The maximum admission price is reasonably set to £9.50 per adult, which equates to just under $13 a ticket.

Dickens lived from 1812 to 1870. His works are still highly regarded today by readers, including the classic tale A Christmas Carol. As one might expect, that book has a prominent part in the Dickens Museum. It’s true not only of the regular exhibition rooms, but also in the special exhibit called Beautiful Books: Dickens and the Business of Christmas. This special collection is on display through April 19, 2020.

There’s quite a lot of space for visitors to explore, because today the Museum occupies the section next door, too. You could easily dedicate a couple of hours or more for your visit as you complete the self guided tour. Since the gift shop, café, and garden are all situated on the ground floor, you might want to stop there first. The gift shop sells a variety of items, but the beautifully bound red books caught my eye. We had a laugh over the dishes, including a bowl with the memorable Oliver Twist quote “Please sir, I want some more.”

When you go to the basement level to explore the kitchen, scullery, and wine cellar, watch out for any tall members of your group. One of the doorways does not go as high as the others, as my brother nearly discovered in the painful sense.

Photo of five first edition Charles Dickens Christmas books
First editions of Charles Dickens’ Christmas books (Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum)

That being said, these rooms offer some neat replicas of items that the household staff would have used. Clothes hang on clothes pins by a window. Fake food is laid on the table in the kitchen, leaving you to imagine the hustle and bustle involved with entertaining guests. The Museum also has little coloring pages or activities to hook the interest of any children in your group. During my visit, there was a station to make Advent cards, in keeping with the Christmas season theme.

Venture back upstairs to continue exploring the 19th century from the perspective of Dickens and his family. A silhouette of the great author is at every level, placed right by the steps as if to beckon you to the next part. The family resided here only from 1837 until about 1840. However, every room offers a wealth of information about their lifestyle, Dickens’ routine, and even amateur theatrical productions in the house. I loved seeing his study, writing implements and his letters. Information throughout the house connects the artifacts to the books he wrote. Other artifacts include his “only surviving suit” and the engagement ring of his wife, Catherine.

I mentioned the Beautiful Books exhibit earlier. It delves more into the intricacies of Victorian publishing and how Dickens was actively involved in how it evolved. As the country grew more from industrialization, printing and therefore books became much more affordable. in addition, literacy rates were increasing. In 1843, the first printed Christmas cards hit the market and were a success with customers. It was the right decade for Dickens to release Christmas stories.

Of Dickens’ Christmas books, A Christmas Carol was the most popular. Several first editions of it and his other Christmas books are on display. It was truly exciting to see printed copies that his readers cherished and enjoyed. Some books are open to a certain page to allow visitors to see illustrations by John Leech. The colors are still remarkably vibrant in these artifacts. Right away, I found myself thinking about film versions of A Christmas Carol.

Photo of a trial edition of Charles Dickens' book A Christmas Carol
‘A Christmas Carol’ trial edition (Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum)

A number of books were bound nicely in red material and then decorated with gold colored lettering and designs on the covers. Since publishers took advantage of consumer interest in giving books as gifts, there are also books that are more opulently decorated. The level of detail in the craftsmanship is something to marvel at. If those are too big and not travel friendly, there’s no need to go digital just yet. Try out a miniature edition for size.

Both the permanent collection and the special exhibition rooms are fascinating to study as you go through the Museum. I’ve visited quite a number of museums in London since 2015. This one definitely ranks as one of my favorites. Being so centrally located in London, do carve out time in your itinerary to see it. As you move through the different levels of the house, you’re likely to find yourself in a festive mood rather than in a “Bah, humbug!” mindset.

The Charles Dickens Museum is located at 48-49 Doughty Street, Bloomsbury, London. From January – November, it is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Check the website in advance for the December schedule and to stay informed about any planned closures.

About Pat Cuadros

Pat Cuadros earned a B.A. in Art History at the University of Virginia on a full scholarship. Pat is a frequent reviewer of all things Washington, D.C., but she's also covered events in Canada and London. Highlights in her work include articles on Simon Callow, Ian McKellen, Mark Rylance, Derek Jacobi, and Ndaba Mandela.

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