This Sunday morning why not join Richard Jones for a tour of the London of Dickens and Shakespeare? The walk departs from outside Borough Underground Station at 11.30am and heads straight to the remains of the place that truly came to haunt Charles Dickens’s imagination – the Marshalsea Debtors Prison.
When Charles was twelve his father, John, was imprisoned here and the rest of the family, with the exception of Charles and his sister, moved into rooms in the prison with him.
Charles was found lodgings elsewhere in London and was sent to work at Warren’s blacking warehouse (located where Charing Cross Underground Station stands today). Left to his own devices the 12 year old boy roamed all over London and, in so doing, gained a terrific insight into and knowledge of the capital’s streets.
This period of his life stood him in good stead in later life as the knowledge that he gleaned came to permeate the pages of his novels in such away that he became the undisputed chronicler of Victorian London, at least until his death in 1870.
Indeed, the blacking warehouse would also prove useful in the creation of one of literatures most enduring villains. During his time there Dickens was befriended by an older boy who looked out for him and showed him a great deal of kindness. So, perhaps it was rather unfair for Dickens to use Bob Fagin’s name in Oliver Twist!
Having looked at what still remains of the Marshalsea Prison, the walk will take in a wonderful Victorian garden which was specially constructed by one of the 19th century’s greatest philanthropists to provide a green space, and fresh air, for the poor of the district
Next, you will stand before one of London’s most poignant spots, the Cross Bones cemetery where the prostitutes who worked in the brothels owned by successive Bishops of Winchester were buried and where, later, the paupers of the area were buried.
It was only re-discovered during recent work on the Jubilee line extension and has been adopted by the local people who now treat it as a shrine to the “Outcast Dead.”
Via the site of the Tabard Inn, from whence Chaucer’s pilgrims set out for Canterbury, and the George Inn, London’s only surviving coaching inn, which dates from the 1670’s, the walk will arrive at the very steps on which, in Oliver Twist, Nancy betrayed Bill Sykes and Fagin to Mr Brownlow.
There then follows a stroll along the banks of the Thames, passing the remains of a medieval Bishops Palace and the site of the Clink Prison to reach the plaque that marks the location of 17th century London’s most famous theatre, the Globe Playhouse, famed as the place where many of Shakespeare’s plays were first performed under the watchful gaze of the Bard himself.
From here, the walk ducks down a sinister little alley, where one of the most gruesome entertainments in London’s history was carried on, to arrive on the opposite side of the river from St Paul’s Cathedral.
Here you will enjoy an unmatched view of Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece whilst, at the same time, having the opportunity to sit in a rare survivor from Shakespeare’s day, a stone seat where generations of ferrymen once sat as they waited to take their passengers back across the river Thames.
So, why not blow away those Sunday morning cobwebs on a journey through a part of London that loomed large in the lives and works of two of the greatest figures of English literature?
After the walk you can enjoy lunch in one of the riverside pubs, pay a visit to the Clink Prison Museum, visit the new Globe Playhouse or enjoy the art at Tate Modern.