Christmas at the Charles Dickens Museum
By Kerry Law
If ever there were a perfect time to visit the Charles Dickens Museum, it’s Christmastime. If you don’t feel festive after a visit to this beautiful townhouse, family home of one of the world’s most loved writers, just call yourself Scrooge!
No. 48 Doughty Street is now (having expanded into no. 49) London’s Charles Dickens Museum. The rooms, full of the author’s furniture and other personal belongings, are kept as if the family has just departed for a few days over Christmas.
Exploring the house, all the way up to the third floor, satisfies those of us who dream of a nose around someone’s home. Dickens wrote Oliver Twist, The Pickwick Papers and Nicholas Nickleby here, and in his study you can see the writing desk at which he wrote Great Expectations. Being a social chap, Dickens also entertained regularly and you can snoop around the dining table, before walking around the kitchens and scullery, and taking the stairs up into the family bedrooms and nursery. At this time of year the holly and ivy are, literally, decking the halls and giving all visitors a warm and festive feeling.
For Dickens is ‘the man who invented Christmas’—or certainly our modern-day way of celebrating it: the decorations, the mince pies and figgy pudding, the thoughts of family, merriment and charity. It was the latter that inspired Dickens to write his novella A Christmas Carol: having been moved by the plight of the poor, Dickens thought that a work of fiction could raise the issue of child poverty and inspire the public to consider those less fortunate than themselves at Christmastime.
This most famous of Christmas tales is the subject of a new exhibition within the house, ‘A Ghost of an Idea: Unwrapping A Christmas Carol’. On display are the rarely seen earliest pencil sketches of Ebenezer Scrooge meeting the ghosts, drawn by artist John Leech for the first edition published in 1843. That first edition, on sale just six days before Christmas, was a huge success (one critic declared it ‘a national benefit to every man and woman who reads it’), selling 6,000 copies up to Christmas Eve. It has never been out of print since.
Throughout the house are costumes from the brand-new film The Man Who Invented Christmas, starring Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens. All are fine examples of Victorian fashions but it’s the costumes of Marley’s ghost and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come that bring a touch of film magic (the latter being particularly eerie).
Although A Christmas Carol was no doubt his most famous Christmas tale, Dickens wrote several others with a festive theme, and rooms around the house give us snippets of these and the stories behind them. It’s worth noting at this point that although the museum is accessible to wheelchair users, as an old townhouse with narrow hallways and lots of stairs, I would recommend that you take babies in carriers rather than buggies or pushchairs. The subject matter would also be of more interest to slightly older children rather than toddlers (or perfect for grown-ups carrying sleeping babies).
For those looking for something extra special this Christmas, the Charles Dickens Museum hosts several wonderfully atmospheric open evenings in December (booking essential) alongside a number of seasonal events, including:
- New special performances of all five of Dickens’s Christmas books—A Christmas Carol, The Chimes, The Cricket on the Hearth, The Battle of Life and The Haunted Man, presented in the traditional fashion of Dickens’s own public readings by actor James Swanton.
- Candlelit performances of A Christmas Carol by acclaimed actor and Dickens performer Dominic Gerrard, with ingenious puppetry animating the words of Ebenezer Scrooge.
- Readings of A Christmas Carol by the great Dickens authority Professor Michael Slater MBE.
- A host of festive treats, performances and music all day on Christmas Eve.
The Charles Dickens Museum is open 10am to 5pm daily in December, and Tuesday to Saturday in January. Find it at 48 Doughty Street, London WC1N 2LX. Tickets (for the museum and exhibition) cost £9 per adult and £4 per child (under 6s free).
‘A Ghost of an Idea: Unwrapping A Christmas Carol’ is on until 25 February 2018. For more information, including dates and booking for special events, visit www.dickensmuseum.com.
All photos courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum.