Beyond this old wall is the site of the old Marshalsea Prison, closed in 1842. This sign is attached to a remnant of the prison wall. Charles Dickens, whose father had been imprisoned for debt in 1824, used that experience as the Marshalsea setting for his novel Little Dorrit.'
Angel Place is through the gates.
This alleyway lies on the site of the Marshalsea prison where the author
Charles Dickens' father was incarcerated, and which featured strongly in his great book 'Little Dorrit'. The old prison wall still stands.
Thanks to an active local steering group, we now have new lighting, paving, and a new gateway to St George's Gardens.'
'The wall mounted artworks adapt the original illustrations of Little
Dorrit. The themes of wealth and poverty, freedom and imprisonment,
which run throughout the book, are visually explored. Children from the local St Joseph's and Cathedral Schools collaborated on the project and appear in the scenes along with their drawings.
This project was completed and opened on 25th September 2004, and was funded by Southwark Couuncil to make the area safer and easier to use.'
Five of the paving stones in the alley are inscribed.
'JOHN DICKENS, THE FATHER OF CHARLES DICKENS, WAS IMPRISONED HERE FOR DEBT FROM FEBRUARY TO MAY, 1824'
OF DICKENS' NOVEL,
WAS ONE RESIDENT
NOT A PRISONER'
'BUT, WHOSOEVER GOES TO MARSHALSEA PLACE ... WILL FIND HIS FEET ON THE VERY PAVING-STONES OF THE EXTINCT MARSHALSEA JAIL ... AND WILL STAND AMONG THE CROWDING GHOSTS OF MANY MISERABLE YEARS'
This is a quotation from Dickens's Preface to the 1957 edition of Little Dorrit, which describes his visit to the site of the prison in the same year as the publication. The full sentence reads:
'A little further on, I found the older and smaller wall, which used to enclose the pent-up inner prison where nobody was put, except for ceremony. But, whosoever goes into Marshalsea Place, turning out of Angel Court, leading to Bermondsey, will find his feet on the very paving-stones of the extinct Marshalsea jail; will see its narrow yard to the right and to the left, very little altered if at all, except that the walls were lowered when the place got free; will look upon rooms in which the debtors lived; and will stand among the crowding ghosts of many miserable years.'
'MELANCHOLY STREETS, IN A PENITENTIAL GARB OF SOOT, STEEPED THE SOULS OF THE PEOPLE WHO WERE CONDEMNED TO LOOK AT THEM OUT OF THE WINDOWS, IN DIRE DESPONDENCY'
This is from Chapter 3, which is a description of a Sunday evening in 'gloomy, close, and stale' London. Here is a slightly extended quotation:
'Maddening church bells of all degrees of dissonance, sharp and flat, cracked and clear, fast and slow, made the brick-and-mortar echoes hideous. Melancholy streets, in a penitential garb of soot, steeped the souls of the people who were condemned to look at them out of windows, in dire despondency. In every thoroughfare, up almost every alley, and down almost every turning, some doleful bell was throbbing, jerking, tolling, as if the Plague were in the city and the dead-carts were going round. Everything was bolted and barred that could by possibility furnish relief to an overworked people.'
'THERE WAS NOT ONE
STRAIGHT FLOOR FROM
THE FOUNDATION OF THE ROOF
THE CEILINGS WERE SO
FANTASTICALLY CLOUDED BY
SMOKE AND DUST THAT
OLD WOMEN MIGHT HAVE
TOLD FORTUNES IN THEM
BETTER THAN IN GROUTS OF TEA'
This is from Chapter 5, when Arthur Clenn looks through his dead father's house, and a longer reading of the paragraph gives a more graphic image:
'Dull and dark he found it. The gaunt rooms, deserted for years upon years, seemed to have settled down into a gloomy lethargy from which nothing could rouse them again. The furniture, at once spare and lumbering, hid in the rooms rather than furnished them, and there was no colour in all the house; such colour as had ever been there, had long ago started away on lost sunbeams—got itself absorbed, perhaps, into flowers, butterflies, plumage of birds, precious stones, what not. There was not one straight floor from the foundation to the roof; the ceilings were so fantastically clouded by smoke and dust, that old women might have told fortunes in them better than in grouts of tea; the dead-cold hearths showed no traces of having ever been warmed but in heaps of soot that had tumbled down the chimneys, and eddied about in little dusky whirlwinds when the doors were opened.'
Another view of the old prison wall, this time from Angel Place.
The presence of Dickens is all over this part of Southwark, as in Charles Dickens Primary School.
And the blue plaque is just about legible through the closed gates.
In George Inn Yard off Borough High Street:
'THE NATIONAL TRUST
THE GEORGE INN
It is known that the George Inn existed in
the late 16th Century although the present
building dates from 1677. Both Shakespeare
and Dickens knew the hospitality of the inn
which has continued right up to the present day.
The inn is now owned by The National Trust.'
The wall opposite offers more information:
'Records of this coaching inn date back to 1542
although the current building dates back to
1676 when it was rebuilt following a devastating fire.
During 1874 the north range was pulled down,
however, thankfully the southern range has survived
to be London's last galleried coaching inn.
William Shakespeare often frequented the inn,
as did the novelist Charles Dickens who referred to
The George in his novel Little Dorrit.'
Shakespeare, of course, died in 1616, and so must have used the pub which formerly stood here.
Several places in the area, such as Copperfield Street and Weller Street, bear witness to the perceived importance of Dickens in Southwark.
Moving away from Southwark, to Bloomsbury:
Lived in Tavistock
House near this
To me, stating that Charles Dickens was a novelist seems a little like saying that William Shakespeare wrote plays, but no matter. Dickens bought this from his friend the artist Frank Stone for £1500, which probably sounded like a bargain even way back then, but it needed a large amount of work doing, and the family couldn't move in until about four months later. He bought Gad's Hill near Rochester in 1956.
This building in Portsmouth Street (and Dickens was of course born in that town), is almost certainly the oldest shop in London, and may have been an inspiration to Dicken's novel The Old Curiosity Shop (1841).
Charles Dickens and Characters in Marylebone Road, London
Charles Dickens in Kingston upon Hull
Charles Dickens Connections in Kensal Green Cemetery, London
Charles Dickens, Edward Wortley Montagu, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
Charles Dickens and Cleveland Street, Fitzrovia: Literary London #8
Claire Tomalin: Charles Dickens: A Life (2011)