A Complete Face Lift at Dickens House Museum

On my first visit to The Dickens House Museum a few years ago I came away thinking what a very disappointing experience it had been. As a Dickens fan I had had high hopes of the visit.

Dickens House Museum (Jan 2008)

Dickens House Museum (January 2008)

Dickens House (Jan 2013)

The Dickens House Museum (January 2013)

On Friday 4th January after our stay at Hampton Court Palace we decided to visit the newly re-opened Museum to see whether matters had improved.

The Dickens House Museum is the only remaining London home that Dickens occupied and that was for only about two years. It was at a time when he was not long married, was making a name for himself and it was here that he wrote Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. The address is 48 Doughty Street in Bloomsbury, WC1.

Number 48 Doughty Street was an important place in Charles Dickens’s life where he resided from 1837 until 1839. Dickens described the terraced Georgian dwelling as ‘my house in town’.

Two of his daughters were born here, his sister-in-law Mary died aged 17 in an upstairs bedroom and some of Dickens’s best-loved novels were written here, including Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. However Dickens required more space for his growing family and moved to 1 Devonshire Terrace in 1839. The house remained a residential property, but was threatened with demolition in 1923, when the Dickens Fellowship acquired it. The Museum was opened in 1925 and has become the home of the world’s finest Dickens-related collection.” From the Dickens House Museum website.

I have to concur with what fellow WordPress blogger “Visiting Houses and Gardens” said about it here. However, the house has been closed for renovations [The Great Expectations Project] for a good part of 2012 – the Dickens Bicentenary Year.

It reopened in December last year and a great amount of work must have been done during that time. With the help of National Heritage Lottery Funding the adjacent house was purchased and that now houses all the offices, the shop, cafe and other requirements for this modern age of “Heritage Visiting”. Number 48 is now purely Dickens’ Home as it might have looked at the time that he lived there – 1837-1839.

We are invited by the Museum to : “Step this way”

“Visitors to 48 Doughty Street can see the house as it might have been when Dickens lived here.  Rooms are decorated in the early Victorian style that Dickens would have favoured and personal posessions of Dickens from his lifetime as well as manuscripts, letters and portraits are on display.”

So, on entering number 49 we were directed into the front room of this house where there was a shop and the cash desk. We were handed a guidebook each with instructions to return it on leaving the Museum. From there we stepped into number 48 and toured the house that Dickens knew and we enjoyed (and learned from) the experience.

Dining with Dickens

Dining with Charles Dickens

This Way!

This way to the Sitting Room, Everyone!

First Floor Sitting Room

The Dickens Family Sitting Room at Christmas

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12 comments on “A Complete Face Lift at Dickens House Museum

  1. Yes. I too plan to go back soon post-rennovations. Just received my new ArtFund card (which gives free admission) so my camera and I will be visiting soon. The sitting room upstairs still looks drab. Have they tackled the stairs? Maybe you’ve just given me a plan for next weekend!

    • Yes, free entry! I’m an Art Fund member too. Yes, the stairs much better but have to agree that the sitting room was still not quite right. Why, for heaven’s sake didn’t they light the Christmas Tree candle lights? No flash photography; so my pictures look a bit grainy. I await your verdict with interest. It will certainly be a more professional write-up than my little piece.

  2. mary says:

    I hated it from the fake Dickens-y plates to his shadow on the stairs. I agree it was gloomy before but how I loathe this kind of stage-set titivation.

    • A very negative comment, Mary. I’m sorry you were disappointed. I always try to find something positive in every experience. I don’t know what the ideal way to present such a property would entail. I certainly haven’t come across it yet.

  3. Here’s a comment from Diana. She had a problem trying to post it here :

    It’s certainly unrecognizable from how it looked when I saw it in the 1980s – it was quite a mess then, but a jolly mess, full of books and curios. I have to agree with Mary, I don’t like fakery like the plates and the shadow. My idea of how to present an author’s house is as close to the way it really was in his day, as possible. Obviously maintenance and replacements have to be done, but to employ the current buzz-type museum trends, like “interactive exhibits” and tourist wares makes me flinch. Some I’ve loved most are the Carlyle house and Keats’ house (which I saw years ago, they may have been modernized too), Dove Cottage (was lucky enough to see it when no one else was there), Abbotsford, Charleston and Monk’s House, Haworth thirty years ago…and Jane Austen’s house is making a valiant effort to retain its spirit despite its popularity! That said, I have visited one house where showmanship and interactivity were the point, to dazzling effect: Dennis Severs’ house, which I was lucky enough to visit not once but twice, while he was still alive. I hope this doesn’t sound curmudgeonly, but I’m somebody whose favorite museum was the Pitt-Rivers before renovation, where you saw candles made out of stormy petrel birds with the original Victorian naturalist’s handwritten notecards beside them…All that said, from the lovely pictures Dickens’s house looks as if it has all the right cozy atmosphere, and perhaps just one or two “commercial” touches.

    • Thank you, Diana. As I said before, I try to take something positive from each experience and my purpose here is merely to record my thoughts and feelings and tell about places I have visited. I read that Abbotsford is particularly well done and Charleston and Monk’s House look very natural and relaxed from the pictures. You were very lucky to visit Sever’s House when he was still alive. I was disappointed not to feel the ‘magic’ on my visit a few years ago although it was a fascinating experience. If anyone can suggest the solution to Diana’s WordPress posting problem please let us know!

  4. Simon T says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever been inside, and nor had I realised how brief his stay there was. I was more interested in wandering down Doughty Street to see where E.M. Delafield had lived!

    • You haven’t missed much, Simon and it’s quite expensive. My wanderings in the first place were to see where Winifred Holtby and Vera Brittain lived. Then I noticed the Dickens House. Didn’t know that EMD also lived in Doughty Street.

      • Simon T says:

        Only during the war – she lived next door to the house VB and WH were in, actually (that is, if the information in PL in Wartime is accurate!)

  5. Thanks Simon. I will have a look next time I’m passing down Doughty Street. Must read her other Provincial Lady books!

  6. I visited yesterday. I didn’t mind the shadows or the decals: I much prefer them to 1960s linoleum! I think the children will love them. I’ve written my diary entry and once I’ve sorted the pics I’ll add my latest muse to VisitingHousesandGardens. However, I do think £8 is too steep – £5 would be enough (especially as the whole of Temple Newsam is only £5).

    Nothing on the mantle pieces though… I do find naked mantlepieces a strange curatorial omission…

    • You are obviously much more observant than me, vhg but I’m relieved to be slightly exonerated ;-). Good job we have our Art Fund cards. Yes, £8 steep but this is London and I guess overheads are high in Bloomsbury, whereas here in Leeds …. Yes, shame about the mantle pieces and for you the Christmas Tree will have been dismantled too. Look forward to reading your report eventually.

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