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Bloomsbury Project

Bloomsbury and the Bloomsbury Project

Bloomsbury People

What is the Bloomsbury Project?

The Leverhulme-funded UCL Bloomsbury Project was established to investigate 19th-century Bloomsbury’s development from swampy rubbish-dump to centre of intellectual life

Led by Professor Rosemary Ashton, with Dr Deborah Colville as Researcher, the Project has traced the origins, Bloomsbury locations, and reforming significance of hundreds of progressive and innovative institutions

Many of the extensive archival resources relating to these institutions have also been identified and examined by the Project, and Bloomsbury’s developing streets and squares have been mapped and described

This website is a gateway to the information gathered and edited by Project members during the Project’s lifetime, 1 October 2007–30 April 2011, with the co-operation of Bloomsbury’s institutions, societies, and local residents

Charles John Huffam Dickens (1812–1870)

a summary of his Bloomsbury connections

He lived in three different addresses in Bloomsbury, and had a brief connection in 1851 with a fourth

From 26 December 1823, when Dickens was eleven, to 4 April 1824, when he was twelve (his birthday was on 7 February), his parents rented a recently-built house at 4 Gower Street North, which was later renumbered 147 Gower Street (Michael Allen, Charles Dickens’ Childhood, 1988)

The plan was for Dickens’s mother to start a school in the house; Dickens recalled being sent round with circulars advertising the school, but no pupils came (John Forster, The Life of Charles Dickens, 3 vols, 1872–1874)

His father, John Dickens, was arrested for debt on 20 February 1824 and taken to the Marshalsea debtors’ prison, where Dickens’s mother and younger siblings soon joined him, while Charles Dickens was sent to stay with friends and to work in Warren’s Blacking Factory near the Thames at Hungerford Bridge

Dickens’s first married home was at 48 Doughty Street; he and his wife Catherine lived here from April 1837 to December 1839, when they moved to a larger house in Devonshire Terrace, near Regent’s Park, to accommodate their growing family (Michael Slater, Charles Dickens, 2009)

On census night, Sunday 30 March 1851, Dickens, along with his mother, two brothers, sister, and brother-in-law, was registered as a visitor at 34 Keppel Street, the house of Robert Davey, medical practitioner

Davey was John Dickens’s doctor; he had performed a painful operation on his patient’s bladder—without chloroformon 25 March in the Keppel Street house, and this was where John Dickens died, surrounded by family members, on the very night of the census (The Letters of Charles Dickens, vol. 6, 1988)

Later in 1851, in November, Dickens moved his family from Devonshire Terrace into his last family home, Tavistock House, situated to the north-east of Tavistock Square

Dickens called in the Cubitt building firm to enlarge and improve the house, with a large room which was to be devoted to amateur theatricals; the family lived here, next door to John Bate Cardale, the chief Apostle of the grand new central church of the Catholic Apostolic Church in Gordon Square until October 1860, when Dickens gave up the lease and moved permanently to his house at Gad’s Hill in Kent, his marriage having irretrievably broken down in 1858

Dickens’s sister Letitia married the engineer Henry Austin in St George’s, Bloomsbury, in July 1837

His second child and first daughter, Mary, was christened at St Pancras New Church in December 1837

Dickens’s twelve-year-old daughter Kate attended drawing classes at the Ladies’ College in Bedford Square in 1853-4 (registers in Bedford College archives, Royal Holloway, University of London)

Dickens had a close friendship with the celebrated mesmerist Dr John Elliotson, whose experiments in University College Hospital he attended in 1837–1838

In April 1864 Dickens spoke at a fund-raising dinner commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of University College Hospital; he recalled wandering about the waste ground near the top of Gower Street at the age of eleven, playing near “the site on which was afterwards built University College” (opened in 1828) and, on the opposite side of Gower Street, University College Hospital, which was opened in 1834 very close – though Dickens did not say so in his speech – to the house in Gower Street North where his mother had hatched her ill-fated plan to open a school early in 1824 (The Speeches of Charles Dickens, 1988)

He welcomed the opening of the Hospital for Sick Children in Great Ormond Street in an article, ‘Drooping Buds’, co-written with Henry Morley, in his weekly newspaper Household Words in April 1852 (The Uncollected Writings of Charles Dickens, 2 vols, 1968)

Dickens presided at a fund-raising dinner for the Hospital for Sick Children in February 1858, when subscriptions of over £3,000 were pledged; Dickens was appointed an Honorary Governor of the Hospital, and agreed to give a reading of A Christmas Carol in April 1858 in aid of its building fund (The Speeches of Charles Dickens, 1988)

While living at Doughty Street, close to the Foundling Hospital, Dickens rented a pew at the Foundling Hospital Chapel; he wrote to John Brownlow, the Secretary to the Hospital, in February 1840 relinquishing the pew, as the chapel was “too far from us now”, after the move to Devonshire Terrace

In March 1853 he co-wrote, with W. H. Wills, ‘Received, a Blank Child’ in Household Words, an account of the history and methods of the Foundling Hospital which took much of its information from John Brownlow’s Memoranda, or Chronicles of the Foundling Hospital, published in 1847 (The Uncollected Writings of Charles Dickens, 2 vols, 1968)

In Little Dorrit, published in monthly parts in 1855–1857, Dickens introduces the fiercely independent Tattycoram, a ‘handsome girl with lustrous dark hair and eyes’ who is taken on as a servant to the spoilt daughter of Mr and Mrs Meagles; Tattycoram has been brought up in the Foundling Hospital, founded by Thomas Coram, and deeply resents both her giveaway name and the patronising attitude of others towards her

Dickens and his friend Wilkie Collins collaborated on a story, ‘No Thoroughfare’, published in All the Year Round at Christmas 1867, a tale of mystery and mistaken identity concerning a young man who had been brought up in the Foundling Hospital

For more general biographical information about Charles Dickens, see his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

This page last modified 28 November, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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