There are not many sites associated with William Shakespeare to be seen in Southwark, even though he lived there from 1587 to 1613. At this period he wrote many of his famous plays including Hamlet, Macbeth and the Tempest. Macbeth had its first recorded performance in 1606 at the Globe Theatre.
The current reconstructed Globe Theatre was opened in 1997, close to the site of the original theatre.
We conclude our walk around the Dickens sites of Southwark in Southwark Cathedral. Not yet a cathedral in Dickens’ time, he knew it as St Saviour’s Church. At the time when Charles Dickens’ father was incarcerated in the Marshalsea Prison, and Dickens was staying in a nearby lodging house, he would have walked along Borough High Street each day, passing the church, to cross London Bridge on his way to work at the blacking factory.
There are no memorial to Charles Dickens in Southwark Cathedral, but there are connections to several other literary figures, including a memorial to William Shakespeare, portraits in stained glass of John Bunyan, Samuel Johnson, and Oliver Goldsmith, and the tomb of John Gower.
Borough High Street ends at London Bridge, but further west is Southwark Bridge which appears often in Little Dorrit. The current bridge was completed in 1921, while the bridge as it is in the novel was an iron bridge, built in 1819.
Little Dorrit crossed the bridge every day when she was working as a seamstress for Arthur Clennam’s mother. Mrs Clennam lived in a dark and gloomy house and in chapter three, Dickens describes the area in the eyes of Arthur.
“He crossed by St Paul’s and went down, at a long angle, almost to the water’s edge, through some of the crooked and descending streets which lie (and lay more crookedly and closely then) between the river and Cheapside . . . An old brick house, so dingy as to be all but black, standing by itself within a gateway. Before it, a square court-yard where a shrub or two and a patch of grass were as rank (which is saying much) as the iron railings enclosing them were rusty; behind it, a jumble of roots.”
Walking along Borough High Street, from Little Dorrit Court (see previous post), towards the Thames will bring you to the George Inn, a building that Dickens new well. Now owned by the National Trust it has been restored to its former glory as a coaching inn. In Dickens time, there were bedrooms upstairs, a bar for coach passengers and a coffee room which he patronised. He mentions the inn in Little Dorrit, as the place where Tip (Little Dorrit’s brother) goes to write a letter.
Leaving Angel Place (see previous post) and crossing Borough High Street brings you to Little Dorrit Court and then to a tiny children’s play area that is named after Little Dorrit. Amy Dorrit was born in the Marshalsea Debtors Prison and lived there all her life until her marriage near the end of the novel. Although other Dickens characters have been honoured with street names in the surrounding area this little playground is the most poignant.
The churchyard of St George the Martyr (see previous posts) backs onto the site of the former Marshalsea Prison. Behind the graves is a remnant of the prison wall and a gateway which takes you into Angel Place, a narrow alley which was actually part of the prison. Along the alley are plaques in the pavement with quotes from Little Dorrit, where Dickens describes the gloomy atmosphere inside the prison. Wall-mounted artworks combine original illustrations and text from the book.
Inside St George the Martyr church (see previous post) there are more connections with Charles Dickens’ novel Little Dorrit.
Amy Dorrit lives inside the Marshalsea debtors prison with her father. But one evening when she is late returning home and is locked out of the prison she takes shelter in St George the Martyr, sleeping there with the Burial Register under her head. A modern stained glass window behind the altar at the east end of the church has the tiny kneeling figure of Little Dorrit in the lower left corner.
The church is not open to the public except during services which are listed on the website.
In mediaeval times Southwark was the gateway for travellers coming into London from the south and especially Dover. In 1415, the Alderman of London stood on the steps of St George the Martyr, a church which has a prominent position on Borough High Street, to welcome Henry V on his return from Agincourt.
In the last chapter of Little Dorrit, Dickens has St George the Martyr as the setting for the wedding of Little Dorrit and Arthur Clennam.
Charles Dickens died on the 9 June 1870, so it will be the 145th anniversary of his death in a few days time. This month we will take a walk through Southwark on the south side of the Thames to visit some little known Dickens sites, mostly connected with the novel, Little Dorrit.
A few years ago on a trip to London we were staying in a hotel near Waterloo Station and walked east along Union Street passing The Charles Dickens pub. In this area a lot of the street names have Dickens connections, such as Copperfield Street and Pickwick Street.
Lant Street is where Charles Dickens lived in 1824 when he was only 12 years old. At this period his father was in the nearby Marshalsea debtors prison, and he had to leave school and work for 10 hours a day at a blacking factory. The house where he lived can no longer be seen but the former Lant St primary school is now known as the Charles Dickens Primary School.