1824 was a tumultuous year for the young Charles Dickens. It was the year his father was committed to the Marshalsea Debtors Prison, and the year he was forced to help support his family by working at a blacking factory. According to the experts at the Victorian Web website, when the rest of the Dickens family moved into the Marshalsea, Dickens was left on his own at a boarding house in Camden Town. Later he moved to another boarding house in Lant Street in Southwark and much closer to the prison.
When Dickens senior was discharged from prison the family took up residence at a house in what now is Cranleigh Street in Somers Town which is just south of Camden Town. They remained at this address for some years before moving to another part of Somers Town. The Somers Town neighbourhood later became the setting for the Micawber family home in “David Copperfield”.
On previous trips to London we have tended to ignore Camden, the part of London north of Euston Station. This time we investigated some literary connections in Camden Town before enjoying a scenic walk along the Regent’s Canal to Regent’s Park.
Dylan Thomas and his wife Caitlin and their three children lived briefly in the basement of a house at 54 Delancey Street, and about 300m from Camden High Street. They were at this address in the early 1950s, and Thomas described the location as a horrible one opposite a railway bridge and shunting station. Still, he couldn’t really complain as the accommodation was provided for him by his friend Margaret Taylor, wife of the historian A J P Taylor.
Liz Byrski’s latest novel, “The Woman Next Door” is easy to read and enjoy, especially if you live near Fremantle, WA, where most of it is set. The story deals with ageing and pictured is one of Fremantle’s oldest buildings which happens to appear briefly as a setting in the novel. Now, aged gracefully to become Fremantle Arts Centre and Cafe, it was formerly a lunatic asylum, poor house, army barracks and technical college.
The Pillars of Hercules is another pub with literary connections. It’s in Greek Street in Soho, just across Oxford Street from Fitzrovia (see two previous blogs). Charles Dickens is known to have frequented this pub, but more interesting is the Dickens connection with the alleyway next to the pub. It’s called Manette Street, which Dickens fans will know relates to “A Tale of Two Cities”. When Lucie Manette and her father come to London they live in rooms in this alleyway, visited there by Mr Lorry from Tellsons Bank.
The Wheatsheaf, just across the road from the Marquis of Granby (see previous post), is another pub that was frequented by literary figures. In the 1930s, it was a favourite of George Orwell, and Dylan Thomas who first met his wife Caitlin in this pub.
On the other side of Tottenham Court Road from Bloomsbury, is an area known as Fitzrovia which has a large collection of tiny pubs. Literary types seemed to frequent these pubs in the decades before, during and after the Second World War. The Marquis of Granby, in Rathbone Street, was a favourite drinking hole of T S Eliot and also of Dylan Thomas.
This pub is a pleasant place to have a meal, a coffee and cake or a quiet drink, and is not too crowded, at least during the day.
The area surrounding Russell Square is closely associated with the Bloomsbury Group, that collection of writers, philosophers and artists that was so influential in the first half of the 20th century. The poet, T.S. Eliot, was on the periphery of this group with Virginia and Leonard Woolf publishing his poem “The Waste Land” in 1923.
T.S Eliot’s later poems were published by Faber and Faber, the company where he also worked as an editor. Faber and Faber were located in a building, on the north western corner of Russell Square, which is now part of the University of London.