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Dickens' London

Friday 18th May 2012

We set off in our coach at 8.15 wondering whether we would be drenched in the forecast rain or disappointed with the planned activities, having learned so much about Dickens' life from Jane Tapley's excellent biographical lecture in January. We were neither. The rain never appeared until we were on our way back to Cranleigh, and the activities gave us a good insight into the Victorian London where Dickens lived and worked.

We picked up Sue, our guide, in Cheapside and drove to Cornhill. Sue proved to be very knowledgeable and gave a continuous commentary on places we passed that featured in Dickens' novels. We stopped for coffee in 'the Counting House' pub, a fascinating building that used to be Prescotts Bank. It had a galleried landing and beautiful glass domed roof, with wood carving on every surface! Some of us had time for a walk, and visited St Michael's Church, mentioned in 'a Christmas Carol'.

After coffee we went on a coach tour of Dickens' London, driving the streets where Dickens [a well documented insomniac] walked at night observing people and places he used in his novels. Like all good novelists he wrote about what he knew first hand. Much of his work, we are told, was semi auto-biographical. We saw the Monument (David Copperfield and Great Expectations), the steps on London Bridge where Nancy was murdered, the street in Camden town where Dickens worked in the blacking factory as a 12 year old boy. We saw the remains of the wall of the Marshalsea Debtors' prison where Dickens father spent several years and features as the home of 'Little Dorrit', and many more places, too numerous to mention.

Lunch was planned for 'the Lamb', just round the corner from Dickens' London home in Doughty Street. The house, now a Dickens' museum, is being refurbished with a Lottery grant celebrating the bicentinary of his birth, so, sadly, we were not able to visit on this occasion.

After an excellent lunch we went to the Museum of London to see the 'Dickens and London' exhibition. It was fascinating to see some pages of Dickens original manuscripts, written with quill pens. His writing was small and difficult to read, more so because he was constantly crossing out and amending the text. How he would have marvelled at the computer and Microsoft Word! Dickens himself embraced progress and technology. He described his lifetime as 'this summer-dawn of time'. He saw the progress in travel from stage-coach to railways and steamships. He saw the introduction of the Penny Post and the electric telegraph.

The many other exhibits gave a real feel for the place and the time. I particularly liked the paintings and drawings, showing St. Pauls, Westminster and Big Ben and the Tower of London as giant structures that dwarfed the surrounding little streets and houses. How London has changed! However, no-one of course would want to return to Dickens' time and the poverty, filth, squalor and crime that he found round every corner. Yes, we enjoyed this peep back to Dickens time, but were all very happy to return to our comfortable life in 21st century Cranleigh.

Gail Delamare.