IT WAS MORE THE HOUSE — a late Regency row house in Holborn that I knew would have similarities with the two mid-19th c. houses I own in Brooklyn — than any particular connection with Charles Dickens that brought me to 48 Doughty Street. After all, I had read only one of Dickens’ novels, Great Expectations, and that was because we had to in high school.
But I ended up learning a great deal about the author’s biography and the world he inhabited from the virtually untouched Charles Dickens House, below, a museum since 1924, furnished to accurately convey how the young Dickens and his wife Catherine lived as renters there in the late 1830s. The upwardly mobile couple stayed only two-and-a-half years before moving on to larger quarters, while Dickens wrote Nicholas Nickelby and Oliver Twist, became father to two more of an eventual ten children, entertained in grand style, and was every bit the gentleman scholar.
The surrounding streets, in Holborn and neighboring Clerkenwell, hold intriguing pubs and lunch spots, duly noted for future reference. We had a beer in the Jerusalem Tavern, an artful re-creation of a vintage 18th century public house that totally fooled me, and peeked into two more: the impressively ancient Cittie of Yorke, which Dickens frequented, opposite a half-timbered medieval survivor on High Holborn, and the over-the-top Princess Louise, a Victorian fantasia of etched glass.
All five stories of the Dickens house are open to view, from the kitchen and scullery in the basement to the curved-wall dining room and ‘morning room’ on the ground floor, the formal parlor and Dickens’ study on the floor above, and bedrooms on the two top levels. Some furnishings come from his estate.
The Lady Ottoline, half a block from the Dickens house, is appealingly serene.
London seems to cherish its Deco, rather than renovate it out of existence.
There was an old shop on the site of the Jerusalem Tavern until 1990, when a clever renovation based on historic research created the current pub.
From an inscription inside an archway at the base of this extraordinary building: “Original building erected 1545-1589 by Vincent Enghame and Another. The front after various alterations was restored to its original design in 1886.”
There was a pub on the site of the Cittie of Yorke from 1430, says a posted sign. It was rebuilt in 1695, and in the 1890s, the building “which had been showing regrettable signs of decay was partially demolished and reconstructed in its present form. Much of the old material was carefully preserved and incorporated in the present building.”
How about that Princess Louise? (She was one of Queen Victoria’s daughters.) Here we ran into a Yorkshire couple from the Jerusalem Tavern, also on a self-guided historic pub tour.
In Dalston, another neighborhood entirely, late in the evening, I passed this Art Deco beauty, now an art cinema.