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Dickens's Bankside


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18 Great Guildford Street - Look north, past Tate Modern, and you will glimpse the dome of St Paul’s cathedral, a symbol of the City of London. The City provided settings for many of Dickens’s novels and just one example is the street of Little Britain, close to St Paul’s, which was where Mr Jaggers had his office in Great Expectations. Now turn your back to St Paul’s and make your way along Great Guildford Street to Lant Street Dickens was put in a lodging house in this street, while his father was incarcerated in the Marshalsea Prison. (You may have noticed some of the nearby streets refer to Dickens characters – Doyce, Copperfield, Quilp, Weller and Sawyer are all commemorated.)

Lant Street was where Mr Bob Sawyer held his bachelor’s party in Pickwick Papers. Chapter 32 opens with the words “There is repose about Lant Street, in the Borough, which sheds a gentle melancholy upon the soul.” Lant Street is now dominated by the Charles Dickens Primary School and look out for the colourful mosaic of the old London Bridge on the Toulmin Street wall of their playground. Note the chapel of St Thomas Becket towards the middle of the buildings on the Bridge.

St George the Martyr church - If the church is open, you will be able to see, in the east window, a picture of Little Dorrit. She is a small figure with a poke bonnet in the left panel.

St George's churchyard- Enter the churchyard through the Tabard Street gate and cross to the wall opposite, with two gateways. To the right of the gateways is a plaque with information about the Marshalsea Prison. Go through the gateway into Angel Place.

Angel Place -There is much to see in this alley to remind us of Little Dorrit. Begin with the wall of 213, Borough High Street (opposite the Harvard Public Library), where there are four pages from the novel. Now, as you retrace your steps along Angel Place and pass the gateway, look down at the paving slabs. Some of them have references to Little Dorrit. To reach the next stop is not entirely straightforward. Turn left out of Angel Place into Tennis Street and at the end turn right into Newcomen Street and look out for the King’s College Guy’s Campus on the left.

King's College, Guy's Campus - Walk towards three brick arches up a few steps some distance ahead. Once through the arches, look to your right. Set in the grass is a niche from one of the earlier London Bridges, which was put there in 1861 according to a nearby plaque. Seated in the niche is a statue of John Keats, who studied at Guy’s, but maybe it should also have a statue of David Copperfield. In chapter eleven of David Copperfield Dickens wrote “…but I know that I was often up at six o’clock, and that my favourite lounging-place in the interval was old London Bridge, where I was wont to sit in one of the stone recesses, watching the people going by, or to look over the balustrades at the sun lighting up the golden flame on the top of the Monument.”

The next stop is also not easy to find, so you may wish to visit The George Inn at 77, Borough High Street, first. This, too, was mentioned in Little Dorrit. Whether you take this detour or not, follow Borough High Street towards London Bridge and cross to the Southwark Cathedral side of the road. Go past the Barrow Boy and Banker pub on the left and look ahead for the City of London dragon holding the City’s shield. Immediately before the dragon, turn left down some steep steps to Montague Close.

Montague Close - The steps are sometimes known as ‘Nancy’s Steps’ and are referred to in chapter 46 of Oliver Twist. Noah Claypole concealed himself on the steps and eavesdropped on Nancy’s betrayal of Fagin’s criminal gang to Mr Brownlow and Rose Maylie. When Noah reported what he had heard, Nancy was murdered by Bill Sykes. Clink Street Bankside was notorious for its prisons and we have already visited the site of the Marshalsea.

Clink Street - Bankside was notorious for its prisons and we have already visited the site of the Marshalsea. Clink Street is named after the Clink Prison, which was burnt down during the Gordon Riots of 1780. Dickens took the Riots as his theme for Barnaby Rudge, although he concentrated on another prison, Newgate (on the site of the Old Bailey), rather than the Clink.

This is end of this walk but if it has given you a taste for exploring Dickensian London, try the Dickens Museum at 48, Doughty Street or the Museum of London at 125, London Wall, which has a ‘Dickens and London’ exhibition until 10 June 2012.

Walk devised by Tim Kidd 12th January 2012